‘Neevin Masjid’, the name is strange but trust me the place is stranger. You will find this mosque inside the Lohari Gate of Walled City Lahore. As you traverse the giant arches of this ancient Lohari Gate take your way to the Naya Bazaar inside Chowk Matti and on your left amidst the cluster of shops you will find a narrow gate of this mosque. If you are unable to locate it you can ask anyone around about it.
Neevin Masjid Background and Location
As you enter the small gate of the mosque, you will be awestruck by the mysterious built of it. This 500-years-old mosque is 25 feet below the ground level. A 26 stepped staircase will take you down into this gorgeous but small mosque. That’s the beauty of this mosque and it has been built the same way. Most of the people are unaware of this wonder hidden inside Lohari Gate. Its depth made it known as Neevin Masjid as ‘neevin’ in local language means low-level.
Architects and historians do claim that this mosque is one of its kind in the world and no other similar example is so far found even in the sub-continent. This mosque is comparatively smaller in size than the other known mosques of Walled City Lahore. It has an open courtyard on the western side of which lies the mosque’s prayer chamber.
The courtyard is an open space and on one side are the ablution area and a rest area. If we see the construction of this mosque, it has a three low domed structure with three openings on its face. The design and structure of the mosque is simple but the style and depth is a point of inquisitiveness.
Now let’s come to the history of this mosque. It is said that this mosque is of Lodhi period and was constructed by Zulfiqar Khan who served as the Governor of Lahore Haybat Khan in 1460s. Historians and reference books state that the mosque was built in the same years.
The question must be arising in your mind while reading this piece that why a mosque was built at such a lower ground level? Historic accounts by Dr Abdullah Chughtai state that the Mosque was built on the foundations of an old temple and the structure and ground level was not changed. He established his argument by exemplifying different temples which were constructed below the ground level in ancient times. The other mosques seen in Lahore like Wazir Khan, Golden Mosque, Saleh Kamboh Mosque or even the Badshahi Mosque are either on ground level or on a raised masonry.
So this argument remains, but accounts by Dr. Abdullah Chughtai do make sense if we read about different temples of this region and examine their built and structure. Even if we get into the historic references of walled city Lahore development we see that the earliest settlements were inside the Lohari Gate and this is endorsed by the invasions and settlements of Ghaznavid Rule as well. This mosque also affirms the footprints of the Lodhi Dynasty in Lahore, as does the tomb of Malik Ayyaz for the Ghaznavid rule.
It is also claimed by historians that there were two mosques of similar kind. Amongst the two Neevin Mosques, the one situated inside Yakki (Zakki) gate, another gate of the Walled City of Lahore, does not exist anymore and might have been replaced by a 20th century buildings. Even the location of it is not very clearly mentioned in the history accounts. Fortunately this mosque inside the Lohari Gate managed to exist.
When we visit the mosque, we do not see any antiquity in the structure, like any fresco or arches of past. The original fabric has been replaced by the new one. That is because the locals of the area have been restoring and maintaining the mosque on their own. The funds for this purpose are collected by the shopkeepers or the local associations which are spent on the maintenance.
In my opinion, it should have been a protected monument, but unfortunately this Mosque does not have a status of a Monument even. This Mosque should be enlisted among the Monuments of Lahore, as it is so far an ignored. We don’t find much information about it on the web or in many books too. The Mosque is not a tourist site, but can be developed as the Imam is hospitable and has a pleasant personality who is willing to welcome tourists.
There is another thing unique about this Mosque. We do read and come across facts that during the Sikh and British rules many Mosques were used for other purposes like gunpowder factory or stables. It is surprising that this Neevin Masjid underwent no change during the Sikh or British Rules. The use of Badshahi Mosque, Sonehri Mosque, Mariam Zamani, Moti Masjid and many others was changed during different rules, but the sanctity of Neevin Masjid was never harmed in any era. So I can say that there is some blessing with this Mosque that it never got damaged during the history.
I know that throughout reading this piece a question must be striking your mind that what happens to the mosque during rains, floods and monsoon. Yes, this is an interesting mechanism that water management is an excellent work and art piece inside this mosque. The drainage system has never been changed and it is the same since Lodhi period. The Imam of the Mosque and the locals I met with while visiting this piece of art, told me that despite being 25 feet below the ground level, there has never been a complaint of sewerage or drainage of water system. This is the most imperative characteristic of this mosque.
Well, my dear readers, don’t be astonished, it is no miracle rather it is the scientifically designed mechanism with which the drainage and sewerage system was built. The fact is that there are two wells or water tanks constructed underneath the floor called ‘gharki’ in local language. These water tanks or wells are functional since the construction of the mosque for almost more than 500 years now.
The water used in the mosque for ablution, toilets and even the rain water goes into those wells and is dispersed from there and the system is functional without any problem. In my opinion this mechanism itself is a wonder and no one could ever figure it out. I think our new generation especially from the fields of architecture should study this mosque as a case of architecture and carry out research on it. I wish that this mosque is converted into a tourist spot soon and the restoration is taken up for its better maintenance.
(The writer is a media professional and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)