The Akbari Sarai (Palace of Akbar) is a large oblong shaped courtyard situated between Jahangir’s Tomb and Asif Khan’s Tomb in Lahore city in Punjab province of Pakistan. This unique Mughal era structure was built in 1637 to host travellers and caretakers of Jahangir’s Tomb. It also served as mail station known as dak chowki.
The court historian to the Emperor Shah Jahan, Abdul Hamid Lahori, mentioned the original name of the building as “Jilu Khana-e-Rauza (attached court of the tomb) in his book the Padshahnama. The name Akbari Sarai began to be called during the reign of Islam Shah Suri in mid-1550s, not during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar.
The Sarai measuring 797 feet by 610 feet covering 12 acres of land is bordered by a raised terrace containing 180 cells with front verandas and a common passage. The Sarai has four Burjes in its corners containing elaborate chambers feature an elliptical hall in front with a veranda and an octagonal room in the back.
It is accessible by two stately entrances on its north and on the south. Featuring typical Mughal style art, these gates are beautifully adorned with frescoes and Ghalib Kari (a network of ribs in stucco and plaster applied to curved surfaces in each archway). Its topographies including the decorative elements, the style of the structure, the size of the bricks used for construction; the Sarai and the eastern entrance gateway to the Jahangir’s tomb, featuring a large double storied iwan linked by four other smaller arched niches, are believed to have been built in the same period.
To the west of the Sarai, in the middle of the row of cells, is a mosque from the Suri period with three splendid domes. Although most of the fine artwork is already gone, its sandstone facing decoder with inlay work is graceful. The cells which line the complex and its gateways date from the Shah Jahan period in the mid-1600s.
The Sarai actually served as a state guesthouse and was administered by a Shahna (official caretaker) and several assistants. It also had a physician and a resident baker. Fodder for animals, hot and cold water, and bedsteads were provided free of cost.
During the Sikh era, Maharajah Ranjit Singh converted the complex into a cantonment of one of his foreign generals called Musa Farangi. It was also used as a private residence. Likewise, during the British era, it was used as a rail depot and severely damaged following the construction of the nearby rail line.
The Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s Tomb is the most glorious edifice in Lahore, Pakistan. The tomb complex is sited in Shahdara – on the right bank of Ravi River, to the northwest of the Walled City of Lahore. In fact, it is the only Mughal tomb surviving intact in the region and is considered as the second most magnificent structure known for its beauty and texture after Taj Mahal in Agra, India.
The garden where the tomb is erected had been the most favourite place of Jahangir and his wife Noor Jahan. It was constructed by Nawab Mehdi Qasim, a special curator of emperor Akbar. When Meher-un-Nisa, title with Noor Jahan, became the Queen of India, she took the garden in her custody and further enhanced its charm with the beautiful trees and fountains due to which it was called Dilkusha Garden. Historically, this place served as a point of departure and arrival to and from Kashmir for Jahangir and Noor Jahan.
Emperor Nuruddin Salim Jahangir (1605-1627), the son of Emperor Jalal-Ud-Din Akbar (1556-1605) and father of Emperor Shah Jahan (1627-1658), was the fourth Mughal ruler in the subcontinent. Like his father Akbar the great, emperor Jahangir also made Lahore the centre of official affairs which resulted in the significant growth of the city during the rule of Akbar and Jahangir. When Jahangir died in the foothills of Kashmir near the town of Rajauri on 28 October 1627, his entrails were separated and sent to be buried in Kashmir and his body was transported to Dilkusha Garden in Lahore for burial.
Official records suggest that Emperor Shah Jahan was the head designer of the tomb who wished to construct a ‘Tomb befitting an Emperor’ to honour his beloved father. On the other hand, most historians believe his wife Noor Jahan had more influence over the construction of this tomb complex. The major bases that convinced historians was the profound Persian influence throughout the area as well as her inspiration from the tomb of her father, Itmad-Ud- Daulah, in Agra that reflects the design of the Tomb of Jahangir.
Besides leading the entire architecture of Jahangir’s tomb, empress Noor Jahan played a role in designing the gardens which resulted in making Lahore her permanent resident after Jahangir’s death. There’s also enough evidence that suggests the construction of this grand mausoleum was mostly financed by Noor Jahan rather than the imperial treasury. It took about ten years, from 1627 to 1637, to build the grand mausoleum at a total cost of one million rupees of the time.
Later, during the Sikh regime, the tomb was used as army headquarters and as a private residence. During the time, it was desecrated, damaged, and precious pieces of art in the inner chambers were destroyed and pillaged. The tomb complex almost lost its prestige after the fall of the Mughal empire, particularly during the Sikh rule and British occupation. The British used the complex for coal dumping during the construction of a railway line which also separated Jahangir’s tomb from that of his wife’s. However, the British later restored the tomb complex and Akbari Sarai to its former glory. Image of the tomb was used on the 1,000 Pakistani Rupee note until 2005 but no longer printed yet is still in circulation.
Jahangir’s mausoleum is set in a large quadrangle measuring 500 (600 gaz) meters to a side and is covered with a thick wall. The complex could be accessible by two grand entrances located to the west and east. The eastern entrance gate of Jahangir’s tomb was destroyed because of the river the garden and is currently accessible by the western gate that features a small mosque and accessible through the Akbari Sarai – a square enclosure reachable from two gates standing to the north and south facing each other. The gate is artistically decorated with pietra-dura work – white marble inlaid in red sandstone – retains its unique glory. The arch of the gate is skillfully associated with the sun and the stars and present a beautiful example of human excellence.
Entering through the gate provides a panoramic view of the tomb which is surrounded by a retch of a magnificent garden laid out in the Persian Chahar Bagh scheme (Islamic paradise garden). The garden is separated into four squares by paved walkways (Khiyabans) and two bisecting channels of water designed to reflect four rivers that flow in the paradise (Jannat). All four squares are further divided into sixteen smaller squares with pathways and fountains in between.
Jahangir’s great grandfather Babur chose to be buried in a tomb open to the sky, following the Sunni tradition, but the construction of Jahangir’s mausoleum with a flat roof compromised the conventional tradition as Jahangir was said to have explicitly forbade the construction of a dome. Standing gracefully on a 5 feet high podium and square in plan measuring, the 22-foot-tall single-story mausoleum measures 267 foot (100 gaz) to a side. The main grave is surrounded by forty rooms and every room has a corridor attached with a different design from the other. These rooms were used by Islamic scholars to recite the Quran in the al era in order to reward the king soul. The corridor around the mausoleum is adorned with a very elegant mosaic, floral frescos and verses from the holy Quran. Carved marble jali screens admit light in various patterns facing toward Mecca. The rooftop is remarkable, with intricate marble work on the ceiling that resembles a Persian carpet. Its vaulted bays reflect Timurid architectural style from Central Asia.
The four octagonal minarets topped with white marble cupolas measuring 100 feet in height rising from the corners are decorated with zigzag inlay of brilliant white marble and yellow stone. Each one of the minarets is 5 floored, easily accessible, and provide a scenic view of the city. Badshahi Mosque lies opposite the tomb of Jahangir and the fun fact is that these structures have been built in such a way that only three minarets of the tomb are visible from the mosque and, vice versa. The exterior of the mausoleum, including the lowest stage of the towers, is clad with red sandstone facing with rich panel decoration inlaid with marble decorative motifs. The geometrical perfection and exquisite symmetry combine to reflect dexterity and human excellence simply admirable in this piece of art.
Jahangir’s grave is situated at the centre of the mausoleum in an octagonal chamber 8 meters in diameter. It is connected to the outside of the tomb by four hallways facing the four cardinal directions. The floor is beautifully decorated with floral designs using a variety of stones including four types of 400 years old original marble while walls are decked with mosaic samples. The tomb was constructed in a Mughal style influenced by Safavid-style architecture from Persia, which may have been introduced into the Mughal Court by Noor Jahan – who was of Persian origin.
The cenotaph is laid out as a takhtgah – built upon a 1.5 ft high podium measuring 9ft by 6 ft which serves as a Takht, or “throne”. It is decorated using white marble on which beautiful floral fresco work is done with precious and semi-precious stones including Aqeeq, Suleiman, Sapphire, Zehar Mohra (Bezoar Stone) and Ubri Marble. The platform of the cenotaph is 2.5 ft from the podium made with white marble. The cenotaph has 99 traditional attributes of Allah decorated with pietra dura inlays. The flat top of the cenotaph is engraved with Quranic verses. The inscription to the feet side confirms the Persian influence, reads, “This is the illuminated grave of His Majesty, the Asylum of Pardon, Nooruddin Muhammad Jahangir Padshah 1037 AH”
The Original Building
There is another notion that the tomb structure was a three-story building and there was a Baradari on the existing building (Pavilion with 12 doors) where Jahangir’s grave amulet was built. During the Sikh rule, on the orders of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, several Mughal era buildings were undermined including the Jahangir’s tomb. The Baradari was said to removed from Jahangir’s tomb and reassembled at the garden (Hazuri Bagh) located between Badshahi Mosque and Lahore Fort which is standing even today. After extracting Baradari, Ranjeet Singh installed a temporary wooden roof which was replaced with a permanent concrete roof by the British, but the structure never looks the part of work done in the Mughal era. The roof of the tomb had intricately carved marble grill which was also removed by the Sikhs and sent to Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, India. To fill the space, lime plaster had been done on the roof of the mausoleum.
Well respected for their architectural marvel, floral designs, geometrical patterns, extensive application of natural colours, pietra-dura work, and use of precious and semi-precious stones for ornamentation, the Mughals have earned a name for their aesthetic brilliance. The intricate work inside and outside this massive complex is the testament of the marvellous art the Mughals have demonstrated. Visiting Jahangir’s tomb is always a rewarding experience. The two other complexes in Shahdara Bagh – Asif Khan’s tomb and Akbari Sarai – built by Shah Jahan are worth the visit and give a deep insight into the glorious days of the Mughal empire.