Minar-e-Pakistan is one of the most publicized monuments of the country, which has become the emblem of national identity of Pakistan. Inaugurated in October 1969, Minar-e-Pakistan marks the passing of Lahore Resolution on March 23, 1940 by the All India Muslim League (AIML) at Minto Park, Lahore. The resolution marking the anti-colonial struggle called for separate states in the Muslim majority areas of the Indian subcontinent.
Twenty years later, on March 23, 1959, a resolution was unanimously passed by the members of Municipal Corporation Lahore, for building a suitable monument to commemorate the passing of the momentous resolution that led to the making of Pakistan. A 22-member Pakistan Day Memorial Committee was constituted under the chairmanship of Commissioner Lahore, to deliberate on the matter. Apart from the official members, a number of notable members of Lahore’s intelligentsia, such as Saeed Saigol, Adam Jee, Naseer A. Shaikh and Mian Muhmmad Shafi were part of the Committee. Nasreddin Murat-Khan, then Advisor to West Pakistan Government on Architecture was also made member of the Committee.
The Committee decided to hold a public competition for inviting concepts and design of the monument to commemorate the Lahore Resolution. When a number of design proposals, including one for a mosque and hospital, were turned down by the Committee, Murat-Khan who was a Russian born Pakistani architect volunteered to design the monument and the national park, and took responsibility for supervising its construction, ultimately rendering all of the major services free of charge. Such was his commitment to the nation.
The foundation stone was laid by Akhtar Hussain, Governor West Pakistan, on March 23, 1960 who continued to push the government to raise funds for the project. On November 2, 1962, the design was approved by the committee and few months later January 1963, it was finalized and the work commenced in earnest.
The story of the making of the Minar is the allegory of the making of Pakistani nation. In league with the generation of Founding Fathers of Pakistan, who came from all over the world, to become the building blocks of a new nation, the architect of the national monument, Minar-e-Pakistan, came from the Islamic neighborhood of what is now the Russian Federation. Born in 1904 to a Turkic Kumyk-Muslim family in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan in former Soviet Union, Murat-Khan studied in Leningrad State University (now Saint Petersburg State University) and obtained multiple degrees in civil engineering, architecture and town planning from the Institute of Architects, Town Planners and Civil Engineers in 1930. For over a decade, he survived the turbulence of the Stalin era, and worked at senior level positions as Chief Engineer and Chief Architect in the 1940s in Leningrad. Murat-Khan planned and designed many buildings of the former Soviet Union, which includes a Lenin Memorial. As a political exile, he lived and worked in Germany from 1943 to 1949, before arriving in Caledonia ship to Karachi and reached Lahore by train, with his wife Hamida Akmut, a Turkish citizen of Austrian and Pakistani descent, whom he met in the refugee camp in Germany, to make Pakistan his homeland in the summer of 1950.
Murat-Khan’s father-in-law was Dr. Abdul Hafeez Malwada, another unrecognized hero of early Pakistan, whose elder brother, Barrister Hafiz Mian Abdul Aziz, had served as the Mayor of Lahore for many years. As an Aligarh graduate from Lahore who had earned a PhD from Germany in Radiochemistry and Explosive Chemistry in 1908, after independence, he became one of the early pioneers of Pakistan Ordnance Factories at Wah Cantt. As a specialist in weapon technology and explosive materials, he is credited to have made extraordinary efforts to build and develop medium and high-tech weapons for Pakistan Armed Forces. As a Pan-Islamist, he had been critical of the British imperialism and was banned from returning to India.
As a leading international figure in weapon production industries, he was among the first ones of those highly qualified Indian-Muslim professionals working around the world, who decided to join Pakistan at the call of the Founding Father of the nation, Quaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Dr. Hafeez had abandoned a lucrative career in an American defense production company to help equip Pakistan with its first line of armed defence.
He was primarily responsible for inviting his Russian born and bred son-in-law, Murat-Khan to work for Pakistan. True to his expectations, Murat-Khan became one of the pioneer architects of early decades of Pakistan, who worked not only on a large number of private buildings, but also worked for the government on major architectural projects.
Murat-Khan started off as a Garrison Engineer in the Military Engineering Service (MES) Rawalpindi before being hired as Executive Engineer for Public Works Department (PWD) at Wah Ordnance Factory. He then was reassigned in 1951 as Special Architect, PWD, where he designed the buildings of the Nishtar Medical Hospital. He then became the Consulting Architect to the PWD from 1953-1958. Murat-Khan also prepared the designs for the Mansehra Mental Hospital, the Sahala Police Training College, the Sinclair Hall in Forman Christian College, the Fortress Stadium and Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, the Textile College, Faisalabad, the Divisional Public High School in Faisalabad, and Divisional Public High School in Lahore among many other buildings, townships, residences and structures. It was in the heydays of his professional practice that he volunteered to give up the government job and establish his own architectural firm, 'Illeri H.N. Murat Khan and Associates' to undertake the commission for the national monument.
The architect and engineer of Minar-e-Pakistan, Nasreddin Murat-Khan was one of those Muslims from the Islamic world who chose to become the citizens of Pakistan at its inception, with a purpose and commitment to build a citadel of nation. He saw the opportunity to materially translate Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan as a multi-cultural community in the shape and form of the Minar-e-Pakistan. Reading the design concept of Minar-e-Pakistan is like a voyage of visual discovery of the signs, symbols and metaphors of Pakistani nationalism.
The total height of the Minar is 70 meters. The actual site of the Lahore address where Quaid stood to make the speech was turned into a “memorial rostrum” around which “the oblique like tower symbolic of the infinite capacity of nation to expand” was built, enclosed by crescent shaped lawns and lakes on which the maps of East and West Pakistan were laid. Within the tower, two flights of staircases of 334 steps, one from East and the other from the West, joined in the landing to a common ground, were created to “symbolize equal spiritual contribution by both wings”.
At the interior of the base of the Minar, there are floral inscriptions on ten converging white marble commemorative plaques. The inscriptions include the text of Lahore Resolution in Urdu, Bengali and English, and Delhi Resolution’s text. On different plaques, Quranic verses and 99 attributes of God are inscribed in Arabic calligraphy, in addition to the inscription of the national anthem of Pakistan in Urdu and Bengali, excerpts from the speeches of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in Urdu, Bengali and English, as well as few couplets of Allama Iqbal.
Just as cultural heritage of Pakistan is built on the edifice of past civilizations, the Minar was built up on a progressive layer of raised platforms, which “reminds us of aspiring to spiritual heights from a humble start”. It starts with uncut Taxila stones, hammer-dressed stones, chiseled stones, and leading to polished white marble surface, on which the Minar-e-Pakistan stands firm and tall, symbolic of “the line of eternal progress”. All the materials procured for the work were locally sourced, and the stones were transported from Hazara, Swat, Taxila among other parts of Pakistan.
By October 31, 1968, the construction work had come to an end. It had taken eight years to complete the project. The total cost incurred including the construction of the monument and the landscaping of the national park was around 7 lakhs. The money was collected by imposing an additional tax on the cinema and horse racing tickets.
With each passing decade, the layers of dust of time thicken on the national memory. Like an ungrateful family, we tend to take for granted the selfless contributions of the first generation of Pakistanis who laid the foundations on which the entire structure of national edifice is built. Like many unnamed soldiers of Pakistan Movement, the name and contribution of Murat-Khan, the eminent architect and engineer of the national monument, has faded away over time, despite being a recipient of the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz (Medal of Excellence) conferred upon him by the then President of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan in 1963, for his contribution to the architecture in Pakistan.
The many decades of his work for building the architectural infrastructure for Pakistani people, including schools, hospitals, colleges and stadiums, stands eclipsed from public knowledge, along with nine years of solid hard work, from planning and designing of Minar-e-Pakistan to the procurement of materials and the execution of the civil works. True to the world of signs and symbols that he lived in, it is claimed by the family that he died of a broken heart. With no previous history of ailment, he passed away due to a cardiac arrest on October 15, 1970, exactly a year after the Minar-e-Pakistan was made open to public, without his formal participation.
This year, October 15 marks the 48th death anniversary of an unsung hero of Pakistan, Nasreddin Murat-Khan, who gave the young nation its national monument, which truly is an architecture marvel and symbol of national freedom. He clearly saw and understood the mission of Pakistan, as “a bold and new experiment in the world of Islam.” His oeuvre of letters and architectural plans in his family archive are the testament of the commitment, vision and contributions of the first generations of Pakistanis, who became the citizens of the country by choice and laid the foundations of nation building.
The writer is the former Director of National College of Arts, Rawalpindi campus & Vice President of the Council of Social Sciences.
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