Sheesh Mahal: Pathway Of Mirrors
"Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, The lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star, Lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, Neither of the east nor of the west, Whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light." Surah an-Nur (The Verse of Light) is the 35th verse of the 24th Surah of the Quran
- Craftsman: Ustad Naqqash Rafaqat Ali
- Fresco Artist: Aakif Suri
- Location: Lahore, Punjab
One of the most magnificent examples of the use of light and illumination in architecture is the Sheesh Mahal or Palace of Mirrors in Lahore. As the name suggests, the walls and ceiling of the palace are adorned with a complex mosaic of convex mirrored glass (ayina-kari) and stucco tracery (monabat kari) which reflects ‘light upon light’ to dazzling effect.
Taking inspiration from this Mughal-era marvel, master craftsmen were engaged to create ayina-kari panels of motifs lifted from the Sheesh Mahal on a scale never done before. A fresco artist recreated the frescoes of the palace on a large scale. High tech digital projections of footage captured from the palace represent the seamless blending of the past and present and the timeless brilliance of this architectural jewel.
The Sheesh Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century, and according to local legend was a gift for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is located within the Shah Burj or King’s Pavilion in the Lahore Fort and comprises a large central hall with rooms on either side and towards the back. The stately columns of the hall are adorned with exquisite pietra dura or stone-inlay work using semi-precious stones in delicate floral motifs. More of the same work is seen around the arches while the walls are decorated with elegant stucco tracery using more floral arabesques and swirls. The delicate ornamentation continues in the marble jaalis or cutwork screens found in the alcoves and terraces. And then of course there is the glittering mirror-mosaic work covering the ceilings and walls of the chambers.
In the 18th century, Maharajah Ranjit Singh established a kingdom in the Punjab and declared Lahore his capital. He eventually took up residence in the Lahore Fort and the Sheesh Mahal became one of his favourite retreats. Much of the coloured glass and porcelain is thought to have been added under his guidance. Wall frescoes with Sikh themes and motifs are also from this period. The craft of ayina-kari was promoted under Sikh rule and similar work adorns Ranjit Singh’s own samadhi or final resting place in Lahore.