Pothohar is home to many historical mosques, which are located in almost every notable village of the region. Most of them have been either renovated or rebuilt, but in the process lost the original beauty of the structures and their stately outlook. Some of these have still survived with the original splendour intact. The mosques that have endured the hardships of time are noted for beautiful murals and woodwork which reflect the craftsmanship of Pothohari artisans.
There are many historical mosques in every old mohalla of Rawalpindi, which are noted for their exquisite architecture. The most prominent is the Jamia mosque – famed for beautiful mural paintings. These are not found in other mosques in Rawalpindi. The mosque is built in a rectangular plan and superimposed with three domes, flanked by two minarets. The Jamia mosque is a great specimen of Muslim architecture of the 20th century. Nowhere in Potohar is there such a grand mosque with such striking beauty, although there are many three-domed mosques in different towns and villages of Pothohar. It seems that the inspiration might have been drawn from the Mai Qamro mosque in Islamabad, which is the second oldest mosque after Giri in Taxila. The Mai Qamro mosque is a three-domed structure situated in Bagh Joghian village in Islamabad.
Apart from Jamai mosque Rawalpindi, Kot Fateh Khan mosque in Attock district is also noted for beautiful mural paintings which were built somewhere around 1890. Sardar Fateh Khan was a notable chief of the area during the British period, who laid the foundation of the mosque, which today gives the village its identity. It has a rectangular plan: with three domes, flanked by two minarets. The interior of the mosque is adorned with paintings. The mosque is a prototype of the historic mosque at Wah Gardens.
Mai Qamro mosque, which is located in a small village of Bagh Joghian in Islamabad, is a great specimen of Gakhar architecture which seems to have been built in the early sixteenth century. The mosque resembles the Lodhi-period mosques in Delhi. Mai Qamro mosque is built in a rectangular plan and crowned with three squat domes. The southern dome of the mosque has caved in whereas two others are in a fairly good condition. It is noted for three-arched entrances. The central entrance is flanked by two recessed arches that lend beauty to the façade of the structure. Above the arched entrance, one finds beautiful cut-brick ornamentation. Such embellishment cannot be found in the entire Pothohar region. The dressed stone has been used to construct the mosque. Formerly, it was lime-plastered, the traces of which are still visible on the façade of the mosque. The mosque of Mai Qamro was the prototype for all other mosques in the Pothohar region. Barring the Giri mosque at Taxila, all other mosques were influenced by Mai Qamro mosque. Three-domed mosque in Rawat Fort believed to have been built by Sultan Sarang Khan Gakhar is also a real prototype of the mosque of Mai Qamro. The inspiration was taken from the mosque of Mai Qamro while building the mosque of Sultan Sarang Khan Gakhar.
Sarai Kharbuza, Kuri and Rohtas mosques are also historic mosques which are noted for their embellishments.
Like other districts in Pothohar, Chakwal is also home to a large number of historic mosques. Some of the stone-built mosques are located in different villages of Chakwal district, of which those in Muna, Siral, Fim Kassar, Minwal and Kot Iqbal villages are quite prominent. The distinctive features of these mosques are mural paintings and woodwork which reflect the aesthetics of the builders and the craftsmanship of the artisans of Pothohar. The Jamia mosque of Muna village, which now lies in a crumbling condition, is noted for floral designs and woodwork. Ornately carved wooden doors and mural paintings are distinctive features of the Muna Jamia mosque. The façade of the Muna Jamia mosque is engraved with attractive floral designs. As such, all the mosques of Siral, Fim Kassar, Minwal, Muna and Kot Iqbal are stone-built structures whose façades are tastefully decorated. The artisans appear to have spent considerable energy and time in making the floral and geometric designs of the façades of the mosques of Chakwal. Similar stone-built structures are found in Padhri village in Domeli tehsil of Jhelum. Pindi Gheb and Jand tehsils of Attock district have also some stone-built mosques which are famous for stone carvings, woodwork and mural paintings. The mosques of Makhad Sharif in Jand tehsil are also noted for beautiful wood carvings.
Mai Qamro mosque, which is located in a small village of Bagh Joghian in Islamabad, is a great specimen of Gakhar architecture which seems to have been built in the early sixteenth century. The mosque resembles the Lodhi-period mosques in Delhi
The interior of the Jamia mosque of Muna is adorned with floral designs. Paintings of palm date trees are also very well done. The Fim Kassar mosque also carries an interesting variety of floral designs. The southern and northern walls of the mosque depict some floral designs. In fact, the southern wall also depicts a wall clock.
Kot Iqbal mosque, which is located 4 km from Fim Kassar village, is also adorned with floral designs. Interestingly, one finds a painting of Karbala on the southern wall of the mosque. Any inquisitive and a keen visitor would note that the depictions of holy Islamic cities and sacred spaces are found in the tombs and shrines of Sufi saints of Pothohar. However, the representations of the Holy Ka’abah and Masjid al-Nabawi are a recurrent theme in mural paintings of tombs and shrines in this region. Some of the most illustrious paintings are found in the tombs of Pir Syed Hyder Ali Shah at Jalalpur Sharif, Jhelum, Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi (1834-1911) at Maira Sharif and Khwaja Amir Ahmed at Basal Sharif both in Attock district.
The wooden doors of Siral, Muna and Fim Kassar mosques are ornately carved. One does not find such highly crafted doors in entire Pothohar. Apart from these mosques, one also finds an ornately carved door in the Jamia mosque of Chawali in Chakwal district. The Chawali Jamia mosque is noted for the wooden carved door to the entrance and wooden pillared hall in Chakwal district. I have also seen some of the fabulously carved wooden doors in the Muslim mansions of Siral, Neela and Gulyana villages. The house of Sultan Khan in Siral village has some splendidly carved doors. Similarly, the house of Mahar Khan and Kabas Khan in Neela village is noted for brilliantly carved wooden doors and a wooden ceiling. Likewise, Qasr-i-Amir mansion in Gulyana has some of those richly engraved doors that one fails to find elsewhere in Gujar Khan tehsil. Some of the abandoned Muslim mansions and Hindu and Sikh havelis also possess absolutely outstanding wooden doors.
The author is an anthropologist. He may be contacted at email@example.com. Excerpts have been taken from the author’s new book “Reflections on the Pothohar Heritage” published by Emel Publications. All photos are by the writer.