Sadequain, Ceiling of Lahore Museum and the Art of Murals

Posted on July 30, 2007
Filed Under >Darwaish, Architecture, Art & Literature, Culture & Heritage, People
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Lahore Museum’s glorious edifice stands on Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam, also known as The Mall Road, opposite to 100-year old Allama Iqbal Campus of the Punjab University. Blended with the elements of old tradition of Mughal architecture, the Museum is conspicuous among all the structures build during the British period on Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam. Founded by Prince Albert Victor, The Prince of Wales, and opened for public in 1894, it is in fact Pakistan’s largest museum and holds the country’s richest cultural and historical materials.

Lahore Museum has many galleries and one of the most famous one is the Central Miniature Painting Gallery. As we enter the Miniature Paintings Gallery of Lahore Museum and lift our head up, we can observe the mural painted on the ceiling by one of the most gifted painters of Pakistan, Sadequain Naqqash (Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi: 1930-1987). A mural is a very large image, such as a painting or enlarged photograph, applied directly to a wall or ceiling.

According to

The roots of art of murals can be found in the universal desire that led prehistoric peoples to create cave paintings — the desire to decorate their surroundings and express their ideas and beliefs. The Romans produced large numbers of murals in Pompeii and Ostia, but mural painting (not synonymous with fresco) reached its highest degree of creative achievement in Europe with the work of such Renaissance masters as Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. In the 20th century, the mural was embraced by artists of the Cubist and Fauve movements in Paris, revolutionary painters in Mexico (e.g., Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros), and Depression-era artists under the sponsorship of the U.S. government (e.g., Ben Shahn, Thomas Hart Benton).

The people of Pakistan were introduced to the art of murals by Sadequain. Lahore Museum’s ceiling, painted in 1973, is based on poet Allama Iqbal’s idea of ‘Khudi’ or ‘Self’, evoking the spirit of man to triumph over odds. It depicts man’s search for knowledge and ultimate triumph. Unlike most of Sadequain’s paintings and drawings which are full of angst, melancholy subjects and negation of his personal self in the tradition of the ‘fakeer’ show man at his most decadent and hypocritical, his murals always reflect optimism. Its interesting to note that Sadequain sold very few paintings in his life and most of his work was public.

Sadequain painted the ceiling of Lahore Museum in 1973, living and working in the building for six months. As Niilofur Farrukh writes in DAWN:

The mammoth painted ceiling of the Central Gallery at the Lahore Museum takes its inspiration from Iqbal’s verse ‘Sitaroon say agay jehan aur bhi hein, abhi ishq kay imtihan aur bhi hein’ (there are many worlds beyond the stars and many challenges yet to be met), the artist puts Adam and Eve on the centre stage and challenges them to harness the untapped energy of the universe. Curled in a cocoon like embryos the male and female figures seem to anticipate the moment of awakening. The panorama that surrounds them is a tightly knit constellation of stars and planets in motion. The large discs are depicted as a kinetic mass with halos that open up in a spiral of waves. This timeless process of destruction and construction in the skies, with large meteors spewing debris in their wake to herald the birth of new planets is shown against the dense black space of infinite galaxies. This allegorical references point both to the vast resources available to man and the constraints of time put on him to complete the mandate.

Another one of his early mural of mid 60s called Saga of Labor, based on the dignity of labor is housed in the Turbine room of Mangla Dam. ‘Saga of Labor’ is probably the largest mural in Pakistan.

“Saga of Labor” – Portion of the Mural at Mangla Dam – largest mural in Pakistan 200 ft x 70 ft

The other famous murals of Sadequain include The Treasures of the Times – A mural for the State Bank in Karachi (100 x 12 ft) in 1961, a mural at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital, Aligarh Muslim University (70 x 12 ft), Banaras Hindu University (70 x 12 ft), Geological Institute of India (70 x 25 ft). Then there are murals like War and Peace, Darkness and Light which can be viewed here. Click here for a very interesting slide show of Sadequain’s murals.

The mural below was painted by Sadequain in 1968 for Punjab University’s library.

One of the old Karachi Airport manager, Mr S. Hassan Shamsie, purchased several paintings of Sadequain in the mid and late 50s. These paintings were hung on the pillars of the foreign departure lounge. The most significant of them was a 1957 mural (40 ft long) on display on the railing of the departure hall of the old airport. All these murals and paintings remained there till the 80s. They are now in the house of a former DG Civil Aviation Authority in Islamabad. This mural and the paintings are public property and must be returned to the Karachi Airport.

I couldn’t find more details about Jinnah Hospital and old Karachi Airport murals so it would be great if any of the readers can tell us more about them, with images preferably. There is another mural by Sadequain in Paris at the PIA office at Champs Elysee. It was then PIA Chairman, Air Marshall Asghar Khan’s idea who felt that a PIA office in Paris needed to show off Pakistan’s greatest painter. There is another one in Lausanne at the Swiss Fair foreign commissions. I don’t have much details on that. Share with us if you know of any other mural by Sadequain.

Sadly, while working on his second ceiling at the Freer Hall in Karachi (above), the painter took ill and died leaving the work incomplete. Freer Hall was later named as Sadequain Gallery. I am not sure if there are many artists in Pakistan today, following the foot steps of Sadequain and keeping the art of murals alive in Pakistan. I only know of one young sculpture Jabbar Gul whose mural is placed in the entrance of Learning Resource Building of the State Bank. It documents the history of the Bank through the varieties of coins issued since independence.

Note: Most of the images have been taken from the book The Holy Sinner, Sadequain and for the rest of the images, links have been provided in the post. Click for enlarged view. A short version of this post was also published at Metroblogging Lahore in 2005.

25 Comments on “Sadequain, Ceiling of Lahore Museum and the Art of Murals”

  1. Owais Mughal says:
    July 30th, 2007 10:49 pm

    I’ve been lucky enough to see his mural in the turbine room of Mangla Power Station in 1992 and the one in Lahore Museum in 2005. I’ve been to Lahore museum couple of times in childhood but in 2005 trip I was able to appreciate the collection more than ever. One of them was this Sadiquen mural at the ceiling.

  2. khairsoomro says:
    July 31st, 2007 3:42 am

    Sadequain was definitely the greatest visual artist Pakistan ever produced. His paintings on Faiz’s poetry were simply awsome. I saw them a very longtime ago in Dawn but the majesty of those paintings still haunts me.

  3. Sayed Zeeshan says:
    July 31st, 2007 7:08 am

    His paintaings on Ghalib’s poetry are absolutely majestic. So are his paintings on the poetry of Iqbal and Faiz. We are proud to have had such a genius among us.

    This painting is about Ghalib’s following verse:
    Shoridge kay hath say sar hai vabal-e-dosh
    Sehra meiN ay khuda koi deewar bhi nahi

  4. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    July 31st, 2007 8:31 am

    Dear Darwaish: Not to quibble, but it is ‘University of The Punjab’ and not ‘Punjab University’. Will be back with comments on your otherwise excellent post.

  5. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    July 31st, 2007 9:03 am

    Sadequain had gone to France in 1964 at the invitation of the French Section of the International Association of Plastic Arts where his work evoke great interest. Here is a quote from one French art critic Barnett Conlan:

    “Unlike some of the contemporaries from Pakistan and India, Sadequain does not appear to owe very much to Western Art, but stems directly from his own Muslim past and from the natural forms met with in the country around Karachi. In all his forms he goes back to the native calligraphy. The Kufi character with its remarkable beauty of abstract pattern would seem to be at the basis of his art. Here one can, perhaps, find a parallel with ancient Chinese art which took its source from the brushwork involved in the writing of Chinese ideogram”.

    Source: ‘Art in Pakistan’ by Jalal-ud-Din Ahmed.


  6. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    July 31st, 2007 9:21 am

    Jalal-ud-Din Ahmed writes:

    “Preeminent in this group of younger painters is 31 year-old (in 1964) Sadequain, who won an international award at the Paris Biennale of Young Artists in 1961. A prolific painter, Sadequain works with astounding speed. During the summer of 1960, for example, he painted more than a hundred large-sized paintings and murals, and put them up for the first one-man show in many years that filled both floors of the Art Council galleries in Karachi, and left out many more paintings and drawings for which space just could not be found.”

  7. Darwaish says:
    July 31st, 2007 10:05 am

    Alvi Sb, you are absolutely right technically :) but I am sure you know that everyone calls it Punjab University. You may not find many people in even Lahore who call it ‘University of the Punjab’. Thanks for pointing it out anyways.

    The post just attempts to cover his murals. It would be really great if you or someone else come up with a post on Sadequain’s calligraphy, paintings etc or his personal life. Not much has been written about his personal life except for a few articles by Syed Abid Ali.

  8. Aamir says:
    July 31st, 2007 1:05 pm

    I hate to be the killjoy, but given how all the ATP discussions get shifted towards various and conflicting interpretations of Islam, is anyone else also waiting with bated breadth for the arrival of the “this painting is unislamic! (insert irrelevant religious verse)” crowd…

    Oh, and the paintings are beautiful.

  9. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    July 31st, 2007 3:04 pm

    The Saga of Labor

  10. Desichef says:
    August 1st, 2007 9:46 pm

    This comment is slightly off the current topic. Does anyone know how to get a reprint of the photos displayed in the museum? My mother’s photo is in the Pakistan Freedom Movement gallery, and I would love to have a reprint of it. In my last visit, the guard would not let me take a camera in. What is the best way to get that picture, and whom should I contact?

  11. Samra Waheed says:
    August 2nd, 2007 7:16 am

    What a wonderful piece on one of the greatest painters of modern times. Yes, I agree that there is much more to tell about Sadequain.

    Here is what one of the closest friends of Sadequain wrote about his last days, in an article in Daily Times. Worth reading.

    He had died of various complications in the OMI hospital, some two weeks after I had him shifted there from the Jinnah Hospital. The well-known heart specialist who was supposed to be looking after him at Jinnah was not doing a very good job. Disgusted with his

  12. AKM says:
    August 3rd, 2007 10:04 am

    Great post. I was wondering if you could also throw some light on Mohatta Palace project in Karachi. I believe its a multimedia project about Sadequain.

  13. Abbas says:
    August 9th, 2007 12:43 am

    Great post. I am so happy to see people writing about true colors of Pakistan.

    @Desichef: You sould talk to Museum director and ask him. Since its your mother\’s photograph so I don\’t think you will have any problem getting it. Cameras are not allowed but you can get special permission from Museum authorities.

  14. basit says:
    August 27th, 2007 9:03 am

    His paintaings on Ghalib

  15. October 6th, 2007 11:12 pm



  16. November 4th, 2007 4:29 pm

    In the TV programme “Takra” didar parvez Bhtti so Many Q to Sadequain and sudunly Sadequain show of Hand we see the hand and camera also show close up of Sadequain hand then I realize the finges of Sadequain look like Allah Name.the TV programme in B/W.
    He is Great Man, I am syed Tahir Abbas Rizvi I am calligraphy Painting artist so many time in the day think Sadequain.
    I am working after the high imagine in paint word (Haroof) in small & big scale. I have my own style that I just finished calligraphy Painting two weeks ago and I am eager to use it as well as other outstanding work. Please recommend anyone who you think is like calligraphy Painting. I need people to see my work. I have a relationship with local galleries that would like to see my work and the said plan solo exhibitition.Take a moment to check out examples of my work at

  17. December 23rd, 2007 7:46 am

    my name is fidahussain changazi 27 male from quetta pakistan i m fine artist mein ney balochistan councile kalam khaan sey kaam sikaa merey nass nass mein art hein muji shok ta kaam karney ka but halaath ney muji artist too banadiya magher degree nahe hein merey pass jaib mein saqain ko ki kaam ko deik ta hoon tooo muji sahe maano mein asain style nazar aata hein mein impress hoon ithney badey usstaad sey salam hein ess azeem usstad ko sadaiqain usstad ney fan ki koye intiha nahe artist hein tooo sadiqain ess ki kaam ki koye saani nahe duss koye saqain nahe aaye ga agher fan ki bat karye puri dunya mein sadaqin jahsey inssan nahe mily ga nahe aaye ga agher aaj agher zinda hota mein uss ki kadmo ko choom ta uss kay haat ko choom ta mein ney vist kya hein saqain art gallary ko mein mind deil sey nahe apney meain sey un kay kaam ko deik ta hoon saqin ney mashriq e art ko permot ki hein aagher aaj mashriqi art hein sadaqain kay dam sey merey duwa hein sub ko allah kamiyab karye merey sub artist sey request hein kay ki c artist ko ki c artist sey compairr nahe karna q kay sub apni apni jagah pay important koye ki c sey zayada nahe khuda jaan hein kon acha ….

  18. maroof khan says:
    December 31st, 2007 12:37 pm

    my pleasur to see ur website

    -fine artist maroofakhan ,curator arts council of pakistan

  19. Zari Jamil says:
    February 5th, 2008 12:27 pm

    I have never seen “Quest for Knowledge” in PU but I will definitely go and check it out.

    Thank you for wonderful post and very informative comments. This website is amazing.

  20. March 13th, 2008 10:08 am

    His monumental murals, in excess of thirty-five, represent unparalleled body of artistic endeavor by any artist of the country. These murals adorn the halls of State Bank, Frere Hall Karachi, Lahore Museum, Punjab University, Mangla Dam, Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University, Indian Institute of Geological Sciences, Islamic Institute in Delhi, and Abu Dhabi Power House to name a few. To put it in perspective, his paintings and calligraphies in the building of Islamic Institute in Delhi alone cover more than seven thousand square feet.

    Sadequain painted his earliest murals at Jinnah Hospital and PIA head quarters in 1950s. These murals have disappeared and their fate is unknown.

    In 1961 he painted the huge mural (62′X10′) in the Head Office of the State Bank of Pakistan at Karachi, titled “Treasures of Time,

  21. Muhammad Hirji says:
    March 22nd, 2008 8:01 pm

    I don’t know if any of you know this but Saadequain was also something of a poet. Although his poems went largely unpublished Dawn did a peice about them a few years back.

  22. Mir Tabassum Mairaj says:
    April 30th, 2008 10:29 pm

    Some one has written about the street numbers in Islamabad and these are not in proper sequence. There is another mistake in numbering the streets and one can observe this in sector G-10/4 and other sectors as well that some of the numbers have been repeated, for example there is a street 44 and a gali 44, a streeet 45 and gali 45. Who ever planned this way must have some logic, a very rare one.

  23. Hina says:
    July 31st, 2008 2:28 am

    Urdu Poetry

  24. gemma00 says:
    October 9th, 2008 10:45 am

    dis site z v prettily xpressz lahore.

  25. November 8th, 2009 8:15 am

    Very nice mural, thanks for interesting post. Im murals and ceiling painting artist, if you interesting my artworks, please visit my webpage – interior painting. ;)

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