Dispatches: Lahore 2/3

There are also moments of great solitude to be found amidst the clamor. Wazir Khan’s Masjid might be the most beautiful mosque in the world (Wazir Khan was a friend and trusted ally of the emperor Shah Jahan, and shared his love of building – the hamaam, or baths, he built on the palace grounds are also worth a look). To find it isn’t so easy: you must notice an unmarked little stone gateway off to the side of a cacophonous street full of utensil bazaars and giant steaming woks of milk for tea. To enter the mosque of Wazir Khan after that fray is to enter a heterotopia, an “other space” as moving as there is. The noise dies away and a thousand pigeons flocking from side to side of the courtyard animate some sixteenth-century spirit. It’s a haunted, benevolent place. Then back out towards children clinging five to a Vespa, their dads weaving desperately between knife sellers and kebab wallahs, dodging donkeys and low-hanging arches.

Another religio-cultural influence that Lahore possesses in greater quantities than any other city is that of Sufism. The mystical sect of Islam is commemorated with hundreds, maybe thousands, of shrines to Sufi saints, many of which are difficult to find. One nestles just outside the colonial-era King Edward Medical College, which resembles a sort of hot-weather Hogwarts. These shrines, in any case, are fascinating to see if one’s experience of Muslim culture is limited. They are a proof of the mutiplicities of Islam and a rebuke to the repulsiveness of any orthodoxy that wishes to curb their crazily blissful peacefulness. The Sufi, of course, are also responsible for qawwali music, and Lahore is full of qawwali performances. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the famous Pakistani vocalist, was a Punjabi, and at the shrines you imbibe something of the flavor of the intoxicating gentleness that defined him.

Cont. [1] [2] [3]

Published on July 25, 2006 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

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