Thatta is an old city that has a past that is as extensive as it is rich. As the medieval capital of Pakistan’s Sindh province, Thatta has come to know many different rulers over its long history. These various rulers and their respective cultures have all left their impact on this diverse city, but perhaps no one has left more of an impression on the city than the 17th-century Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. What was his impact you may ask? The Shah Jahan Mosque, otherwise known as the most beautiful mosque in all of Pakistan.
After rebelling against his own father, Emperor Jahangir, Shah Jahan sought refuge among the Sindhi people of Thatta. Touched by their warm hospitality towards him, Shah Jahan decided to erect one of the most beautiful mosques in the world right there in Thatta.
It is believed that Shah Jahan even paid for the complex’s construction entirely with money from his own imperial coffers. The city had been almost totally wiped out by a flood in 1637, just 10 years before the mosque’s construction, so it must have been quite a sight to see such a grand and colourful building tower over the nearly destroyed city.
The majestic building has served as the town’s main mosque since its central parts were completed sometime between 1644 and 1647. However, it is important to note that the building was not officially consecrated until 1647, and the building’s eastern complex was not completed until 1659, during the rule of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Emperor Aurangzeb made efforts to restore the building in 1692, as did Murad Ali Khan Talpur in 1812, but modern conservation efforts on the mosque have not been done to the same degree as some of the other notable mosques in Pakistan. Nevertheless, the site remains very well intact and incredibly radiant in its appearance. The mosque has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site ever since 1993.
According to legend, the building’s initial mihrab, the marking in a mosque’s wall that signifies the direction in which the Ka’ba within Mecca lies, was incorrectly aligned. Desperate to correct their mistake without starting over, the builders decided to approach the Sufi mystic Makhdum Nooh to fix their mistake. It is said that the mihrab’s alignment was corrected overnight after the Sufi mystic prayed to God to fix the mishap, after which he became a venerated saint in Islam. Of course, while it is more fun to believe in this myth, records exist which show that the mihrab was rebuilt and properly aligned a century after the mosque was originally constructed.
The mosque’s architecture is what makes this site so unique, as well as a must-see on anyone’s trip in the Sindh region of Pakistan. The building is a mix-match of styles from Turkish, Persian and Timurid influences around Central Asia. The building is very rare in that it is one of the only mosques around to feature absolutely no minarets. However, the mosque does boast 93 domes, more than any other building in all of Pakistan.
Its open layout, grand size and hard brick and tile work makes the building pleasantly acoustic. When one’s voice reaches 100 decibels or more, they can be heard from one end of the main dome to the other, while prayers in the main prayer hall can echo throughout the entire structure. The main prayer hall lies west of the central courtyard. The courtyard itself is rectangular in shape and has four iwans, or portals, with each one facing in a different cardinal direction. The entirety of the courtyard is encompassed by a gallery of 33 arches, but perhaps the most stunning feature of the entire complex is its blue-tiled reflection pool that is the centrepiece of the site’s garden.
The site displays an abundance of geometric designs within its masonry. The intense combination of turquoise and magenta tile work throughout the structure can cause one’s eyes to become lost in the seemingly infinite patterns within the mosque’s mosaics. The inside of the main dome is decorated with stellate patterns of blue, white, red, and yellow tiles to represent the heavenly aura of the sky. The walls of the main dome are littered with beautiful Arabic calligraphy as well. The mosque is considered by many to be the most impressive and beautifully done exhibit of tile work in all of Pakistan and India combined.
Alongside the Makli Necropolis, the Shah Jahan Mosque is one of Thatta’s must-see sites. If you ever find yourself wandering through or around Pakistan’s Sindh province, then be sure to stop by for the amazing memories this site is sure to create. Go experience a piece of some of Pakistan’s finest history, you won’t be disappointed.