Dhaka Guide Part 2 – MUSLIM MONUMENTS OF DHAKA
Charming is thy glory and attractive thydemeanour, Thou art the epitome of the prosperous life of the Mughal days. Thy outward behaviour is different from what thou concealest, In thy acts are hidden the cultures of Asia. Dhaka, the Garden City, the Queen (of the cities) of the East.
Thus sang a bard by the name of Khalid Bengali in the early part of the 20th century in a poem, which one would like to regard as an ode and a fitting tribute to the splendour, grandeur, beauty and magnificence of the city of Dhaka or Jahangirnagar.
Dhaka has figured prominently in the writings of various authors and travelers from where we can get a glimpse of old Dhaka. It is generally known that the celebrated capital of the Mughal Province of Bengal, Dhaka, came to limelight in the 17th century when Islam Khan. Governor under Emperor Jahangir transferred the capital from Rajmahal to Dhaka. Thomas Roe mentioned that Dhaka was “a chief city” of Bengal. Dwelling on the building art, W. Terry states that “the materials of their best buildings are brick or stone, well-squared and composed. The Mahometans have faire churches which they call mosquits, built of stone.” The mosques referred to by Terry are not built of stone, but by bricks.
There is no doubt that the golden period of Dhaka dawned with the Viceroyalty of Nawab Shaista Khan in 1664. The extra-ordinary pomp and grandeur of the then Dhaka might be gleaned from the pages of William Hedges’ Diary, written in 1682. “At 9 in the morning I went to wait on the Nabob, who after one- fourth hour’s attendance, sent officers to bring me into his presence, being sat upon a large canopy of state made of crimson velvet, richly embroidered with gold and silver fringes, supported by four bamboos plaited over the gold”.
Bradley-Bin in his Romance of an Eastern Capital wrote. “It is pre-eminently a Mussalman city-a city of mosques built by the faithful.” The city of Dhaka, it must be observed, had more than one period of decay. During the reign of Emperor Alumgir its splendour was at the height, and judging from the magnificence of many of the ruins both in the heart of the present city and its environs, “such as bridges, brick causeways, mosques, serais, gate-ways, palaces and gardens, most of them now over-grown with woods, it must have vied in extent and richness with many of the great cities we know of, not excepting Gour.”
Bishop Heber, who paid a visit to Dhaka in 1824 considered it as a wreck of its former grandeur, all the noble edifices having sunk into shapeless ruins, overgrown with jungle. However, regarding Fort Aurangabad, he mentions, “The Castle which I noticed and which used to be the palace, is of brick, yet showing some traces of the plaster which has covered it. The architecture is precisely that of the Kremlin of Moscow.” It is, however, hard to compare Mughal style of building with European architecture. Charles D’Oyly, the District Magistrate of Dhaka in the early 19th century, preserved the grandeur and magnificence of the Mughal monuments of Dhaka through his beautiful paintings for posterity.
Though Dhaka appears to be pre-eminently a Mughal city, its recorded history is traced back to the pre-Muslim times. N.K. Bhattasali is of opinion that Dhaka is an old city, older than that of the Mughals us several iconographical objects of the Buddhist and Brahmanical periods, especially sculptures, have been found in and around Dhaka city.
Dhaka came into the limelight of history even during pre-Mughal days. that is in the 15th century, as attested by a number of architectural monuments, particularly mosques, forts, gateways. etc. Some of the pre-Mughal edifices which have defied the onslaught of nine and testify the vast growing Muslim population are the Mosque of Binat Bibi, the Mosque and Gateway at Naswallah Gulli as well as the old forts in the central jail compound, now destroyed. Mirza Nathan, the author of Baharistan-i-Ghaibi refers to the two old forts which were built by Beg Murad Khan on the eastern and western side of the Dhulai Khal or canal long before Islam Khan made Dhaka the capital of Mughal Bengal.
Mughal suzerainty in Bengal was established during the reign of Emperor Akbar whose able commander Munim Khan defeated Karrani ruler Daud Shah in 1575. After the death of Munim Khan, Daud Shah again revolted but he was disarmed by Khan-i-Jahan in the battle of Rajmahal. Thus Bengal became a part of the Mughal Empire in 1576.
It was, however, left to Islam Khan, the Mughal Governor under Emperor Jahangir to make Dhaka the provincial capital of the Subah or Province of Bengal. The transfer of the capital from Rajmahal to Dhaka was facilitated by the rebellion of the refractory Afghan leader Usman Khan, the depredation caused by the Mughs in the eastern region, the revolt of Musa Khan, son of Isa Khan and also that of Pratapaditya, one of the Bara Bhuiyans or Twelve Zamindars, and raids of the Ahoms and the Portuguese, and lastly the change of the river course near Rajmahal. Therefore, Dhaka became the centre of political gravity in 1608 and it was renamed Jahangirnagar by Islam Khan after his master and liege Emperor Jahangir.
As rightly pointed out by Mirza Nathan, the modest military outpost suddenly emerged as an important and thriving city, a centre for trade as well as nucleus of art and culture. The splendour and glory of Dhaka lasted only about a century from 1608 to I7l7. But in fact, the grandeur and Ostentation of the imperial city departed soon after the departure of Azimush-Shan from Dhaka in 1706. The decline of the city of Dhaka set in with the transfer of the seat of the Government to Murshidabad.
It is presumed that Islam Khan lived in an old fort which existed in the Jail compound in Chauk Bazar, which was, however, thoroughly renovated by him. It had been destroyed long time ago and the only reminiscences one could have are the old names of gates by which the area was known, that is, the Purab Darwaza or Eastern Gate and Pachim Darwaza or Western Gate. Not only an area is known after him as Islampur, but his memory is still borne by the Bagh-i-Badshah or Imperial Garden where he was buried. The shrine of Chisti Bihisti which commemorates the first Mughal Governor of Dhaka is now in the High Court compound. His mortal remains were later taken out and interred in a Lomb under the shadow of his ancestor Sk. Salim Chisti at Fathpur Sikri, near Agra. Besides there is a mosque named after him.
After the death of Islam Khan, Dhaka was administered successively by a host of Subadars or Provincial Governors. The viceroyalty of Shah Shuja (1639-60) witnessed a remarkable phase of building activities, as illustrated by the Bara Katra, Idgah and the Churihatta Masjid.
The viceroyalty of Mir Jumla for three years from 1660 to 1663 was very significant as drastic measures were taken to extirpate the marauding pirates by the construction of three water forts in and around Dhaka, namely the Sonakanda Fort at Bandhar, the Idrakpur Fort at Munshiganj and Khizirpur (Hajiganj) Fort in Narayanganj. The Tongi Bridge and the Pagla Bridge, both destroyed long time ago, still bear Mir Jumla’s keen interest in road communication, basically inspired by military expediency.
The most legendary figure among the Governors of Dhaka is undoubtedly Nawab Shaista Khan, the most celebrated administrator and prolific builder. The period of Dhaka’s greatest prosperity and eminence began with the viceroyalty of Shaista Khan. Syud Hussain writes, “Shaista Khan’s viceroyalty was the longest and on the whole the most memorable in the annals of Dhaka. He erected several mosques and other public buildings, their particular style of architecture being known as the Shaista Khani whose traces are still evident in the city”. Bradley-Birt also lavished praise on Shaista Khan’s munificence and personal liking for building art. “Noble buildings were designed and executed with all the skill of Muhammadan art to beautify the city. No Viceroy or Governor has so impressed his memory upon Dhaka. It is truly the city of Shaista Khan. When Shaista Khan went out through the west gate, it was closed with the inscription that it should remain closed until rice should be sold again at the price of 320 seers or 8 maunds to the rupee”.
Nawab Shaista Khan had the privilege to administer the Province of Bengal for two terms, one from 1664 to 1677, and the other from 1680 to 1688. His long and eventful viceroyalty ushered in an era of Dhaka’s peace, prosperity and magnificence, as observable in the innumerable mosques, tombs, and bridges. The most picturesque of these monuments are Shaista Khan’s Masjid, Chawk Bazar Masjid. Lalbagh Fort Masjid, Tomb of Bibi Pari which led to the development of the Shaista Khani style of architecture.
During the viceroyalty of Ibrahim II a palace was erected at Zinjira on the opposite bank of the river Buriganga, corresponding to Bara Katra, the two being joined by a wooden bridge which disappeared long time ago. An octagonal tower and a few rooms are alone standing. Azimush Shari, the grandson of Emperor Aurangzeb, who succeeded Ibrahim II in 1696, founded a palace at Posts which has been carried away by the river. The name of the Deputy-Governor Farrukh Siyar, son of Azimush-Shan is associated with the Mosque of Lalbagh, known as Farrukh Siyar’s Mosque.
The glory of Dhaka ebbed with the transfer of Diwani or revenue administration from Dhaka to Murshidabad in 1704 and the subsequent shifting of the capital to Murshidabad in about 1707.
Dhaka sank into oblivion until 1857 when it became the scene of the Freedom Movement, the memory of which is still borne by the memorial erected at Bahadur Shah Park. However, the political insignificance of the city continued till 1905 when it became the capital of East Bengal and Assam, a newly created province.
The glory that was acquired in 1905 unfortunately evaporated again after the annulment of the Partition of Bengal in 1911. The subcontinent was divided and the state of Pakistan was created in 1947 and Dhaka became the capital of the Province of East Pakistan. The state of Pakistan proved short-lived, and in the Freedom Movement of 1971 East Pakistan eclipsed leading to the creation of an independent sovereign state with Dhaka as its capital.
The city of Dhaka is studded with beautiful monuments of architectural importance. Dhaka witnessed the growth and development of the art of building right from the reign of Sultan Mahmud Shah with the construction of Binat Bibi Mosque in 1457. The monuments of Dhaka included many tastefully designed and structurally balanced edifices, belonging to pre-Mughal. Mughal and post-Mughal periods. The buildings are both religious and secular in nature, namely the mosques, tombs, shrines, Hindu temples, Sikh temples, churches on the one hand and forts, palaces, caravanserai, bridges and public buildings on the other.
The spectacular and creative phase of Bengal architecture under the Sultanate is demonstrated by the harmoniously balanced skillfully planned and beautifully carved and decorated monuments of pre-Mughal times. Time universal employment of brick as building and decorative material in the absence of stone led to the evolution of “the only one wholly brick style in Bengal with its individual characteristics”. It also ultimately paved the way for the introduction of pointed arch, vault and dome, curvilinear cornice and a kind of curved roof, prompted by incessant rain. During the pre-Mughal phase terracotta, stone carvings and glared tiles adorned finest monuments of Gaud, Hazrat Pandua, Bagha, Bagerhat, and Goaldih. But with the advent of the Mughals a tremendous change took place in the style and technique of building art Though characteristic brick and terracotta architecture of pre-Mughal Bengal lost us delicate charm under Mughal dispensation, yet the basic elements of Mughal architecture were not completely divorced of re-Mughal features, as evident in the building materials used and certain structural and decorative devices to be obtained at Dhaka, and elsewhere in the country. In the words of Mortimer Wheeler. “The arrival of the Mughal did not am once make itself felt in the architectural form, but by the middle of the seventeenth century something approaching a standard imperial pattern had begun to emerge in the architecture of the vice regal capital of Dhaka.”
Like the pre-Mughal monuments the Mughal edifices were mostly built of bricks. Stone as building material made headway in the Tomb of Bibi Pan at Lalbagh Fort. Besides, stones were used as casing materials to add strength to the brick core of the structure. In the use of arch, two-centred variety was replaced by the traditional four-centred and stilted arch, recalling Persian influence. Multifoil arch, half-domed portal, bulbous and shoulder domes on octagonal drums, flutings in the dome, sunken panel and plain plastered wall are some of the typical features of Mughal architecture of Bangladesh.
Evidently, the early phase of Mughal architecture of Bangladesh was marked by the fusion of pre-Mughal and imperial Mughal styles and decorative devices, as demonstrated by the typical curvilinear cornice and terracotta ornamentation, to be seen at Atia Mosque, Tangail. The later phase of Mughal building art, particularly in the second half of the 17th century was marked by the predominant influence of imperial Mughal architecture observable at Delhi, Agra, Fathpur Sikri and Lahore. But the surviving Mughal monuments of Dhaka and elsewhere in the country fail to provide that aesthetic beauty and decorative fineness inherent in the classical Mughal buildings of the period of Shahjahan. The Mughal builders in Dhaka introduced ornamental parapet, horizontal cornice in place of curved cornice, paneling of the walls with niches and rectangular frame. In the realm of decorative art Mughal masons and artisans introduced a new trend of ornamentation, deviated from elegant carved designs, delicate stone carvings and applied lime and plaster and occasionally glazed tiles to the wall-surface, making them dull and unattractive. Ornamental patterns, such as rosettes, lotus petal base and other decorative motifs were carved in plaster.
The formative phase of Muslim architecture in Bengal began in the later part of the thirteenth century in the monuments of the newly conquered regions of Tribeni, Chhoto Pandua and Molla Simla in the District of Hughli, such as Zafar Khan Ghazi’s Mosque at Tribeni, dated from the 13th century.
Following the pattern, the earliest surviving Muslim monument in the city of Dhaka is also a mosque, called Binat Bibi’s Mosque at Narinda dated 1456. It was built during the reign of Sultan Mahmud Shah of Ilyas Shahi dynasty. Though at present the mosque is a shamble due to repeated extension, renovation and plastering, yet its planning conforms to the single-domed square type built by Musammat Bakht Binat, daughter of Marhamat, according to an inscription, the mosque demonstrates all the interesting pre-Mughal features like a modest single-domed structure with octagonal corner towers, curved battlements and cornice, drumless-dome, mihrab projection in the qibla wall. At present the mosque has nothing but its age to recommend ii. Curiously enough, though the present Dhaka is preeminently a Mughal city, yet the metropolis was once beautified by a large number of pre-Mughal monuments, such as mosques, gateways, forts and tombs. Mirza Nathan states in the Baharistan-i-Ghaibi that the strong pre-Mughal fort of Dhaka constituted a land-mark of the city. Besides, in the western pan of the old city near the Central Jail, in the Naswallah Gulli, there are still ruins of a gateway and its adjoining mosque which bear testimony to pre- Mughal architecture of Dhaka. According to an inscription the lofty gateway, was created by Khawaja Jahan during the reign of Mahmud Shah I, in l459.
The principal specimen of Mughal architecture in Dhaka is the mosque. Architecturally speaking, the splendid mosques are unique examples of provincial version of the imperial Mughal architecture, though certainly they are not blind copies. Under Mughal dispensation building style underwent drastic change compared to the pre-Mughal brick and terracotta architecture. Mughal mosques had to suit themselves to new forms and techniques.
Bengal, a riparian country with immense alluvial soil deposits, is a brick building region as stone and marble quarries are totally absent though a few examples of stone structures and stray stone elements are observable, such as the Tomb of Bibi Pan in the Lalbagh Fort and the Mosque of Malik Ambar in Karwan Bazar. The Mughal mosques are all erected with bricks. But the carved ornamentation in brick of the pre-Mughal period was replaced by hat surface decoration of plastering. The plaster-cut designs are of various geometrical shapes and floral patterns. The cornice tended to be more horizontal than curvilinear as observable a pre-Mughal structures. The paneling of walls with niches and rectangular frames now adorn the walls of the Mughal mosques. The arch no longer retained two-centred pointed variety but recoursed to four-centred type, occasionally stilted. Though double dome was a conspicuous feature of imperial Mughal architecture as observable in the tomb of Humayun at Delhi and the Taj in Agra. It was totally absent in Bengal. The domes of the pre-Mughal buildings gained some prominence as a result of the introduction of drums, as seen in the Lalbagh Fort Mosque, the so-called Satgumbad Mosque, the Mosque of Khan Muhammad Mirdha, and others. Imitated from the fortress architecture of the Mughals, pillared or plastered kiosks-rising at the corners over the towers are seen at the Southern Gate of the Lalbagh Fort as well as the corner towers of the Tomb of Bibi Pan, the Satgumbad Mosque. Slender pinnacles are typical Mughal features observable in the Mosque of Kartalab Khan, rising over the parapets as well as over the roof of the do-chala annexe.
Mughal mosques of Dhaka can best be studied according to their ground plans and distinctive architectural features. Initially they can be divided into (i) single-domed square type; and (ii) multi-domed rectangular type; (iii) Char-chala roof type.
(i) Single-domed square type
1. Mosque of Allakuri, 1680
Following the pre-Mughal tradition of single-domed square type of mosques initiated in Bengal in the Mosque of Molla Simla, Hughli, dated 1375, reworked in many such monuments at Gaud, Goaldih and Bandar in Narayanganj, and particularly in the Mosque of Binat Bibi, the Mosque of Allakuri in Katajur area, is an elegant structure of considerable importance. Dated 1680, it is 121/2 feet in each way internally. The tall staged corners were capped with plastered kiosks, the projected front on the north, south and east, providing entrance, the broad shoulder dome -with the usual lineal, the slender pinnacles that once bordered the parapet, plaster-cut decoration of the wall are all reminiscent of the typical Mughal features observable in most of the Mughal monuments of Dhaka and elsewhere in the country. The qibla wall is relieved with three, mihrab, enclosed within rectangular frames. The dome raised on an octagonal drum is built on squinches and crowned by a Kalasa finial.
Mosque of Hayat Bepari, 17th century
Hayat Bepari, a well-known merchant of the period of Shaista Khan is stated to have built a mosque near the old Dhulai Khal, which is now filled up. The mosque is a simple structure having a single- domed prayer chamber, in imitation of the Mosque of Binat Bibi, a pre-Mughal building, lying nearby.
Mosque at Nava Rai Lane, 17th century
An interesting religious structure stands like many other Mughal mosques on a raised plinth at Nava Rai Lane in Islampur area. The mosque has an elaborately carved facade and is entered by a central multi-foil arch and two trefoil arched doorways at the sides. The qibla has three elegant, nihrahs, enclosed by panels. It is dated from the 17th century.
(ii) Multi-domed rectangular type
1. Islam Khan’s Mosque, early 17th century
Situated at 38 Aulad Hussain Lane, the Mosque of Islam Khan, dated early 17th century is the oldest surviving Mughal monument in Dhaka. As such it is erected in Pre-Shaista Khani style. It conforms to the rectangular type of building which became the traditional form of mosque architecture under Mughal dispensation. The founder of Dhaka, Subahdar Islam Khan was credited with the construction of a large number of monuments including an old fort which included his residence in the Jail compound area, which had been destroyed long time ago. He also laid down many streets and spacious roads, one of which still hears his name as Islampur Road. Dani observes, “He allotted quarters to his men and established the town with mosques, one of which is called Islam Khan-ki-Masjid.”
Shaista Khan’s Mosque, 17th century
The Mosque of Shaista Khan, dated from the 17th century, lies on the hank of the river Buriganga, just behind the Mitford Hospital. Belonging to three-domed rectangular type, the mosque has been renovated after it caught fire in such a way that it almost lost its original Mughal architectural features. Yet as gleaned in the writings of D’Oyly, “Shaista Khan’s Mosque is said to have begun by Man Singh as a Hindu temple in the reign of Jahangir, hut later completed by Sail (Shaista) Khan as a mosque. It is faced inside and outside with flat tiles covered with sentences from the Qur’an in embossed characters. In the architecture of this edifice-its panel work, pointed arches and hexagonal minarets-a composed variety is beautifully conspicuous. The ornaments are seen where the most classic test would probably have placed them… It was originally surmounted by three domes”. D’Oyly is certainly wrong when he says that it was previously a Hindu temple.
Shahi Mosque, Chauk Bazar, 1676
Lying to the west of the Chauk Bazar, the Mosque erected by Shaista Khan has been renovated, extended and modernized to such an extent as once picturesque Shaista Khani monument could never have been recognized or identified, had there been no inscription. Placed over the central doorway, the inscription states that it was the work of the prolific Mughal Governor Shaista Khan. Standing on a high platform or tahkhana, 10 feet high from the ground level, the mosque, now a sprawling edifice, was a modest three-domed oblong structure, having close affinity with similar Shaista Khani mosques, such as the Lalbagh Fort Mosque, Karwan Bazar Mosque, Mosque of Haji Khawaja Shahbaz, etc. Its original measurement was 50 feet by 26 feet. The Shahi Mosque demonstrates all the typical features of Mughal architecture, namely, the four-centred arch, corner towers capped by cupolas, panelled decorations in the facade.
Lalbagh Fort Mosque, 1678-79
One of the finest examples of Shaista Khan’s unstinted patronage towards the development of religious architecture was the mosque at Lalbagh Fort, dated 1678-79. Built on a small platform, the mosque, measuring 6 feet long by 32 feet wide is an oblong structure of considerable interest, roofed over by three fluted bulbous type of domes, resting on drums. Serving as a model for later Mughal mosques of Dhaka, particularly, the Mosque of Haji Khawaja Shahbaz, Mosque of Malik Ambar, Mosque of Khan Muhammad Mirdha and the Mosque of Musa Khan, the Lalbagh Mosque is entered by three arched doorways adorned with cusped arches above with half-domes below.
Lalbagh Fort Mosque
The facade is embellished with rectangular panels, each containing multi-cusped arches. Buttressed by four octagonal towers, capped by cupolas, the mosque demonstrates straight parapet instead of curvilinear cornice of the pre-Mughal type, adorned with blind merlons. Internally the prayer hail is divided into three unequal bays by two lateral arches, the side bays being smaller in width. As pointed Out by Dr. Dani, “In order to cover the smaller bays with domes clever trick has been resorted to by introducing a half dome on the side as an intermediary stage, on which the actual (tome springs on a further series of pendentives.”
Mosque of Haji Khawaja Shahbaz, 1679
Lying to the south-east corner of the Suhrawardy Garden are the mosque and the tomb of Haji Khawaja Shahbaz, who was known during the viceroyalty of Shaista Khan as “Malik-ut-Tujjar” or Merchant Prince. Standing on a raised platform, the spacious and beautiful mosque is oblong, measuring 68 feet by 26 feet externally, roofed over by three shoulder domes. It is buttressed by four octagonal tapering corner towers, capped by cupolas, and is entered by three multifoil arched doorways, flanked on either side by lofty slender pinnacles, the central one being wider than the side ones. The monotony of the facade is relieved by panelled decorations and blind niches. There are two more entrances on the northern and the southern sides. Three mihrabs of elegant designs carved in the qibla wall with a projection of the central niche at the back. The outer arch of the central niche springs from tastefully carved pillars tapering and smooth, and is adorned with floral designs at the spandrels. The interior prayer hall is effectively divided into three hays by two multi-cusped lateral arches.
Mosque of Malik Ambar, Karwan Bazar, 1679-80
Near Hotel Sonargaon on the Mymensingh Road, lies an old Mughal mosque whose glory has been tarnished by the ruthless renovations and alternations. It is known as the Mosque of Malik Ambar, which was erected according to an inscription fixed over the central doorway, in 1679-80. Conforming to the so-called Shaista Khani style of architecture, it is built on a tahkhana or platform, as observable in the Mosque of Khan Muhammad Mirdha, the Mosque of Musa Khan and the Mosque of Kartalab Khan. This simple and unpretentious three-domed oblong structure was once approached during the Mughal time by a brick built bridge, now destroyed. Though it is built of bricks, black Stones were used particularly in the construction of mihrab and mimbar and in arches for casing brick core.
Mosque of Khan Muhammad Mirdha, 1704
A picturesque mosque stands in splendid isolation in the area called Atish Khan in Lalbagh within a stone’s throw of the famous Lalbagh Fort Mosque. Built by one Khan Muhammad Mirdha during the rule of the Deputy—Governor Farrukh Siyar, the mosque conforms to the three domed oblong planning. It is raised like that of Musa Khan’s Mosque and Kartalab Khan’s Mosque, on a high platform or tahkhana, about 16 feet above the ground. It retains all the classic Mughal features of architecture observable in the 17th and the 18th century mosques.
Mosque of Khan Muhammad Mirdha
Mosque of Khan Muhammad Mirdha (Courtesy Archeology Dept.)
Mosque of Musa Khan, 18th century
Situated in the north-western corner of the Dhaka Hall compound, the Mosque of Musa Khan, son of Isa Khan, was erected by Munawwar Khan, son of Musa Khan. Dated from the time of Shaista Khan it is an exact copy of the Mosque of Haji Khawaja Shahbaz with the difference that its tahkhana is much raised. It is an oblong three-domed structure buttressed by usual four corner towers and entered by three arched doorways from the east. Constant repair and renovation has made the mosque very dull and monotonous.
The Satgumbad Mosque, late 17th century
The so-called Satgumbad or seven-domed Mosque lies in the Muhammadpur area and it structurally belongs to the traditional three- domed oblong type of Shaista Khani mosques so common in Dhaka. Built on a solid and spacious platform, in fact, it recalls the Lalbagh Fort Mosque, the Mosque of Khan Muhammad Mirdha and the Mosque of Haji Khawaja Shahbaz, but it is locally known as Sat or seven domed, due to the four octagonal hollow towers erected at four corners to strengthen the structure; the towers are double-storied, each storey having arched panels and windows, surmounted by cornice and capped by domes with kalasa finials, planted on lotus bases. The mosque is entered by three—arched doorways from the cast, the central one being slightly larger than the side ones. The central entrance shows multi-foil arches, while the side ones merely have much decoration applied to their exterior faces. Slender pinnacles rise from each side of the doorways.
The Satgumbaz Mosque
The chaste appearance of the facade is enhanced by panelled decorations. Inside there are three concave mihrabs in the qibla wall. The transition from the square to the circle of the dome is made by pendentives. As usual domes rest on octagonal drums, embellished with blind merlons.
Churihatta Mosque, 1649
Situated in the locality of Churihatta or Bangle Market near Chauk Bazar, the mosque dated 1649, is rather an extraordinary edifice in the sense that it was roofed over by char-chala vault rather than domes. Though considerably extended and renovated the original prayer hail still retains this peculiar feature. Bradley-Birt’s observation that the mosque was previously a Hindu temple cannot be endorsed, as he suggested that the temple was later converted into a mosque. From architectural standpoint and indispensable elements, prescribed by Muslim rituals, a temple can never be changed into a mosque at least as the present structure shows and secondly, it. is highly improbable that a Hindu officer of Shah Shuja erected the mosque. On the contrary, as pointed out by Dani, it was erected by Muhammad Beg. Yet the possibility of the existence of a Hindu temple is corroborated by a Persian chronogram inscription, as stated by S.M. Taifoor.
Mosque of’ Kartalab Khan (Murshid Kuli) 1700-04
Erected by Murshid Kuli or Kartalab Khan in the year 1700-04 the mosque, raised on a tahkhana, in the Begumbazar area is one of the most impressive Mughal edifices in Dhaka. Unlike the three domed oblong mosques observed at Lalbagh, Atishkhana and many other mosques of the three-domed type, Kartalab Khan’s Mosque is roofed over by seven domes, based on octagonal drums. All the typical Mughal features of architecture are represented in this edifice, such as bulbous dome, four-centred arches in the facade, providing entrance to the interior, slender pinnacles, battlemented parapets, kalasa finial on lotus base, octagonal corner towers, capped by cupolas. The most curious architectural features of the mosque are the do-chala or two- segmented hut-shaped structure, on the north, which is used as the residence of the imam. Similar do-chala buildings are to be seen in the Pilkhana area, dated from the 17th century, and in the gateway of the Mosque of Shah Muhammad at Egarasindhur, Mymensingh, also 17th century. It. was later recreated in concrete shape in the mosque at the compound of the Education Extension Centre behind Dhaka College, dated from the 20th century. Still another interesting clement that marks the importance of Kartalab Khan’s Mosque is the stepped wall or Bauli, which was found in many North and South Indian Muslim monuments.
The Great Idgah, 1640
On the side of the Satgumbad Road lies a dilapidated single- walled open prayer place for congregational prayer on occasions of the Idd festivals, which is popularly known as Idgah. According to an inscription fixed over the central mihrab, it was erected during the vice— royalty of Shah Shuja in the year 1640. Consisting of a brick platform, measuring 245 feet by 137 feet, the most surviving elements are to be seen in the western or qibla side, about 15 feet high. Originally it had a curtain wall on all the four sides, the western side only escaped the ravages of time. The western wall has in the centre a semi-octagonal mihrab with a four-centred stilted arch, decorated with multi-cusped arches. On both the sides of the central mihrab are to be seen shallow subsidiary niches, some of which are still preserved. Above the mihrab runs a band of horizontal cornice, topped by battlemented crestings.
1. Tara or Star Mosque
One of the most attractive, highly impressive and gaudily ornamented mosques of Dhaka, belonging originally to the 18th century hut thoroughly renovated to give it a decorative mantle in the 20th century, is Tara or Star Mosque. Situated in the Armanitola area, it was erected by one Mirza Ghulam Pir, as a three-domed oblong edifice. But the over enthusiastic and zealous merchant, named Ali Jan Bepari completely remodelled and reconstructed it with extremely delicate and richly coloured tiles of variegated patterns. In the decorative scheme, star motif was universally used, justifying its appellation. All Jan has added a new verandah to the mosque on the cast and spent lavishly in importing Japanese materials; Japanese and English decorated China clay tiles to improve the inner and outer show of the mosque.
Tara or Star Mosque
It is now a five-domed structure two domes having been raised on an extension on the northern side without any respect to its antiquity, architectural style and decoration.
Koshaituli Mosque, 1919
One of the most ornate mosques of Dhaka is undoubtedly the Koshaituli Mosque, built by Abdul Ban Bepari and others. It was first erected in 1919, but subsequently it was extended in 1945, and renovated and ornamented in 1971. Conforming to the three-domed oblong mosque plan, Koshaituli Mosque’s chief attractions lie in its fluted domes, slender pinnacles, tall, tapering octagonal corner towers, ornate parapets, Kalasa finials, exquisitely beautiful ornamental patterns, arabesques, floral designs, intermixed with inscriptions in tile and chini-tikri or china cut-pieces. The colour blue holds predominance and the whole appearance of the mosque provides a wonderful spectacle of how architecture could merge with decorative art. The interior presents a gaudily colourful vista with richly ornate multi- cusped mihrabs.
Bait-al-Mukkaram Mosque. 1960
One of the landmarks of the present day Dhaka is the Bait- al-Mukkaram Mosque built in 1960. Erected at the initiative of Haji Latif Bawani, it covers the largest floor space of about 60,000 square feet. Founded on a podium, it is ambitiously planned, mdelled on the Holy Ka’ba, hut demonstrating many interesting features of Moorish architecture, such as slender tall pillars, horse-shoe arches and patio. Bait-al-Mukkaram’s main prayer hail is supported by huge columns inside.
Mosque of Sansad Bhaban or House of Parliament, 20th Century
Designed by a renowned American architect Louis Kahn, the mosque built inside the Sansad Bhaban is quite extraordinary. Devoid of the traditional arch, dome, vault of Arabian, Turkish, Persian and Indo-Islamic architecture, the mosque is a chaste open space in which geometrical abstraction and interplay of light and shade create a deeply religious atmosphere. In the words of Attlio Petruecioli, “Certainly no one can deny that the Bait-al-Mukkaram mosque is the biggest building in Dhaka. Kahn’s aim, of course, was not to build a gigantic Islamic edifice but rather a place that was an expression of religious spirit and assembled collectivity”.
B. Tombs and Shrines
Development of tombs in Muslim architecture of Bengal was not of that distinctive quality tempered with aesthetic sensibility as that of mosques. Architecturally speaking the Lomb buildings of Bangladesh, and more particularly Dhaka are either square or rectangular. The only supposedly octagonal tomb in Bangladesh is the 17th century octagonal edifice at Nauda, Rajshahi. All the interesting specimens of tombs in Dhaka belong to the Mughal period and these are the tombs of Bibi Pan, Bibi Champa, Hazrat Chisti Bihisti, Haji Khawaja Shahbaz, Dara Begum, Begum Bibi and Gulzar Bibi, all dated from the l7th century.
C. Forts, Palaces, Bridges & Other Buildings
The type of fortress architecture as found at Delhi, Agra, Lahore or Fathpur Sikri cannot be found in Bangladesh, due to the fact that it was a province under [he Imperial Mughal rule, and secondly, the building art was based more on bricks rather than stone and marble. However, there are two kinds of forts, namely palace-fortress and water torts. The only existing relic of military architecture in Bangladesh is the Lalbagh Fort, known as Fort Aurangabad. As noted earlier, Mirza Nathan stated that Dhaka had a very strong tort. It is corroborated by S. M. Taifoor, who says, “Islam Khan reconstructed the old fort of Dhaka which stood in the compound of the present Central Jail… A considerable part of the fort existed when lastly Nawab Jasaret Khan, the first Nayeb-Nazem of Dhaka stayed there. The fort had two main gateways known as Purba Darwaza or Eastern Gate and Pachchim Darwaza or Western Gate by which names the mahallas are still known”. The palace of Azimush Shan (1697-1703) which was observed and compared by Bishop Heber with “the Kremlin of Moscow”, was washed away by the river Buriganga. Similarly, the Fort of Chittagong, built by Umid Khan, commonly known as Anderkilla or ‘Inner Fort’, no longer exists. Even the most ambitiously planned Fort Aurangabad, started by Prince Muhammad Azam was left incomplete by Shaista Khan.
Lalbagh Fort or Fort Aurangabad, 1679
Dated from the late 17th century, Fort Aurangabad is an interesting relic of Mughal military architecture, belonging to the most glorious period of Dhaka’s history. However, excepting some of the gates and portion of the battlemented wall not much of it is left for the posterity. The existing fort consists of two impressive gateways on the north and the south, about 800 feet apart. It is about 2000 feet long east-west, and there are bastions between We southern gate and the south-western corner and most of the western side. Dr. Nazimuddin gave a graphic description of this picturesque monument. He writes, “It occupies the south western part of the old city, overlooking the Buriganga on whose northern bank it stands as a silent sentinel of the old city. Rectangular in plan, it encloses an area of 1082 feet by 800 feet and in addition to its two graceful lofty Gateways on the south-cast amid north-cast corners and a subsidiary small unpretentious gateway on the north, it also contains within its fortified parameter a number of splendid monuments, surrounded by attractive garden”.
The Lalbagh Fort is not a siege fort; rather it is a palace-fortress, duly fortified for defensive purpose. Over the defenses are terraced wall, pierced with a number of rectangular door openings and decorated, on the inner side with sunken panels. Between the southern gate and the south-western corner there are five semi-octagonal bastions, filled with earth to rampart level.
Lalbagh Fort or Fort Aurangabad
Though structurally incomplete, the Southern Gateway was magnificently planned and brilliantly executed. In conformity with the characteristic features of the Mughal style of architecture, it is a three- storied building, the upper storey having been left incomplete. The facade is dominated by four-centred arch, flanked by slender octagonal minarets. To the left and the right of these minarets are to be seen a deep plastered semi-octagonal alcove below and an oriel window in two stages above with a cupola as its crowning feature. The corners of this embellished gateway are crowned with small domed kiosks, two of which still remain. The central archway leads to a square domed hail having guard rooms on the sides. Aulad Hasan writes, “Amir-ul-Umra nawab Shaista Khan did not continue the work, the fact that his daughter, Bibi Pan died while it was in the process of construction, leading him to consider it unlucky”. Thus when Prince Azam left Dhaka to join his father Aurangzeb in his campaign against the Marhattas, Shaista Khan temporarily resumed the work and left it incomplete when his daughter and wife of Prince Azam suddenly expired.
There are also a few water forts in and around Dhaka, erected to check riverine inroads of the Magh and Portuguese pirates. Dated from the 17th century, these are the Idrakpur Fort in Munshiganj, Sonakanda Fort near Bandar, Khizirpur or Hajiganj Fort in Narayanganj.
Caravansaries or Katras, 17th century
(i) Typically like any other medieval city of the subcontinent,
Dhaka could also boast of a number of caravansaries built during the
Mughal period. These are the Bara (big) Katra (P1. 8), Choto (small)
Katra, (P1. 9) and Mukim Katra.
Built by Mir Abul Qasem in 1644 the Bara Katra is a magnificent building, belonging to the period of Shah Shuja. This impressive caravansary occupies an extensive area on the bank of river Buriganga, the northern wing of which disappeared long time ago. It enclosed a quadrangle with living rooms on all the four sides, the southern side presenting an impressive river frontage. This wing measuring 223 feet long, is planned in a grand scale and is embellished with all the features of the imperial Mughal style. It consists of a massive three-storied gateway in the middle, the remaining portions being two-storied and bounded by prominently projected octagonal tower. There are guard rooms, vaulted halls and octagonal cubicles, providing living accommodations in different stories.
Imitating the Bara Katra, but much smaller in size, is the Mukim Katra, erected by Mir Muhammad Mukim during the vice-royalty of Mir Jumla. Dated 1662 it lies towards the south-eastern side of Chauk circular road. It now ceases to exist. Yet the locality retains the name after the Mukim Katra.
About 200 yards cast of the Bara Katra lies the Choto Katra in Hakim Habibur Rahman lane.
Modelled on the Bara Katra, the Choto Katra was built during the time of Shaista Khan in 1663. In the words of Dani, “This Katra is of similar plan and structure as the Bara Katra, but it is smaller in size. Its northern and southern gateways, though much altered recently, are still in existence. The surrounding building around the courtyard also survives in many modern additions and alterations. The river frontage still catches the eye with its three-storied gateway by the new European style triple windows and the crowning minarets have taken away the very soul of the Mughal architecture. The inner side of the gateway has a new porch added in this century. The building has now completely lost us original form and appearance”.
Curiously enough such place names as Maya Katra and Nawab Katra clustered round the Islampur Road and Chauk Bazar bring back nostalgic memory of the good old Mughal days.
Mughal Governors of course built many highways, roads, bridges and causeways. Some of the most fascinating bridges, now completely razed to the ground, maintained considerable architectural pretensions. These may be gleaned from the sketches of Charles D’Oyly. At least four ambitiously planned and skillfully executed bridges, dated from the Mughal period, in and around Dhaka, are the Pagla Bridge, Bridge of Hayat Bepari, Bridge of Malik Ambar, and the Tongi Bridge.
Lying about five miles to the east of Dhaka on Dhaka-Narayanganj road, the Pagla Bridge is in titter ruin. Tavernier noticed it in 1666:
“Half a league lower appears another river called Paglu [Buriganga], upon which there is a fair bridge of brick, which Mirza Mola [Mir Jumla] caused to be built. This river comes from the north-cast; and half a league upward appears another river called Qadamtali, that runs from the north over which there is another Bridge of brick”. Bishop Heber visited Dhaka in 1824 and found the Pagla Bridge in a tolerably good condition. As he said, “It is a very beautiful specimen of the richest Tudor Gothic, but I know not whether it is strictly to be called as Asiatic building, for the boatmen said the tradition is that it was built by a Frenchman”. The Pagla Bridge was neither erected by a Frenchman as the name of the builder has been mentioned as Mir Jumla by Tavernier much earlier, nor the pointed arches can be called Tudor Gothic. In fact, Tudor Gothic arch is far more elongated than the two- centred or four-centred pointed arches, universally used in Muslim monuments. It has been aptly described by Dani, “The Bridge is in ruins, but even in its present condition it has a romantic appeal. The construction speaks of the great Mughal taste. The bridge consisted of three open arches, each arch being four-centred and stilted and a further blind arch at either end. The spandrels of the arches are decorated with prominent rosettes and the base of the arches is provided with semi-circular cut-waters. But of great importance are four octagonal hollow towers, one at each corner. These towers have multi-cusped arched openings and are further relieved with deep panels while a fluted dome crowns their heads”.
There are or rather were a number of Mughal bridges within the city, such as the Armanitola bridge over the Dhulai Khal, which has been filled up, the bridge built by Malik Ambar near Hotel Sonargaon, in the present Mymensingh Road, and bridge erected by Hayat Bepari, a tradesman of Shaista Khan’s period, and the Tongi Bridge. There are at present no traces of these excellent works of architectural importance. The Tongi Bridge was said to have been built by Mir Jumla. D’Oyly drew a line picture of the Tongi Bridge, which was blown up by the British during the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 to prevent the advance of mutinous native soldiers. Erected during the 17th century, the Painam Bridge in Sonargaon and the Mir Kadim Bridge, the Bridge at Killa Tajpur and the Taltala bridges are definitely reminiscent of similar bridges erected in Dhaka city.
Audience Hall and Bath house (Hammam Khanas)
Mughal architecture of Dhaka city is also represented by several audience halls and bath houses or Hammam Khanas. There are quite a few Hammam Khanas in Mughal Bengal, the most interesting edifice of which is the Audience Hall and Hammam Khana at Lalbagh Fort.
In the Lalbagh Fort there is a curiously shaped two-storied building, situated between the northern and the southern gates. Built during the vice-royalty of Shaista Khan, the ground floor of the Hammam Khana consists of a central hail, measuring 26 feet 7 inches by 18 feet 3 inches, flanked on either side by a square apartment. The spacious hail with 3 arched entrances on the east was provided with an ornamental rectangular Lank in the middle with fountains in it. In the words of Dr. Nazimuddin, “Across the fountain on western thick wall an arched entrance, opening under a half-dome, gives access to the main ‘Hammam’ chamber on west, originally provided with a raised platform in the centre tastefully decorated with glazed tiles of variegated colours..”. All the chambers in the ground floor are covered by flat squat domes. The upper floor is divided into a central rectangular hail and two square chambers on either side. The windows on the east and west walls were originally screened with jalis or perforated stone slabs. The significant elements that make the Hammam Khana below and the audience chamber above most attractive are its curvilinear comic and do-chala hut-shaped roof. The edifice has been cleverly renovated by the Department of Archaeology with a view to reveal its original features.
Regarding the Palace of Zanjira on the opposite bank of Dhaka, Taifoor says, “Nawab Ibrahim Khan (1689-1697) built a palace in Jazira or Jinjira beyond Buriganga River almost opposite to the Bara Katra palace. The palace is now extinct, but its broad foundation with deep moat all round and a few broken walls and buildings are clearly visible”. It is presumed that there was a Hammam Khana at the Jinjira palace, now destroyed, which recalled its prototype at the Lalbagh Fort.
Architecturally speaking, Dhaka may be regarded as a city in transition. The transformation of the pre-Mughal city of the 15th century through the Mughal phase and its emergence into the 20th century marks it as one of the most thriving and architecturally rich cities of the world. There has never been such a surfeit of mosque building during the last few decades in any part of the country as in Dhaka, and the tall tapering glistening minarets do certainly break the monotony of the skyline, and the chanting of azan at a time from hundreds of mosques in the different mahallas make it a city of mosques in the truest sense of the term.