Dhaka is pre-eminently the city of the Mughals. The monuments that now lie in and around Dhaka have been mostly erected by, or under, the Mughals. But it has never been the good fortune of Dhaka to welcome a Mughal emperor or to inspire him to build a palace or a pleasure resort here, as he was wont to do in his capitals at Delhi, Agra or Lahore. However, five Mughal princes graced this city, and some of them attempted to leave behind a memorial of their own. To these were added the lofty mansions of the Mughal governors and nobility. The mosques, tombs and fortifications gave variety to noble pavilions and joyous gardens. But changing circumstances in the history of Dhaka and mutability of time both combined to lay their ruinous hands on this monumental heritage. A destructive nature and human neglect have accelerated the decay of the monuments. The fate of the city in British times, reduced as it was to a mofussil town, chilled the remaining interest in its glorious past. The city lingered on with its dark circuitous lanes of the Mughals, ruinous structures peeping hither and thither, and at places towers and domes casting their deep shadows on the water of its old companion the Buriganga. The muazzin’s shrill cry went up from the tops of mosques only to keep a link in the Dhaka of old and modern.
From the early 19th century modern Dhaka gradually emerges into occasional prominence. A new wave of enthusiasm for European style and manners created new buildings, which adorn the old Mughal city, now cleaned and tidied up. The ruinous structures were removed and the charming Ramna came up on the foundations of old. Lofty and spacious buildings raised their heads between 1905 and 1912, only to forecast the coming changes of 1947 and continue the progress onward to the new glory of Dhaka.
The monuments that now remain here may not be of high artistic or architectural excellence, but they are important in so far as they keep up the chain of history, and at the same time display, even in their romantic ruins, the glory that once belonged to them. They will always interest those who would like to have a diversion from their busy occupations and look for a moment the eternal life of the city. There is charm and romance, but no glamour.
Date and Type
The historical monuments, erected in and around Dhaka, belong to Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. The Muslim monuments range in various dates, and include mosques, tombs, fortifications, caravanserais, bridges and other secular buildings. The important buildings of the Christians are the churches, which go back to 17th century A.D. The Hindus have their maths or temples, which, though founded in very remote antiquity, not definitely known, have been mostly remodelled in later periods. The Sikh Sanghats go back to 17th century, but their architectural remains show a complete adaptation of Muslim style. All these monuments are built in brick.
The earliest Muslim buildings in and around Dhaka are mosques and tombs, which go back to the period of Independent Sultans, The most obvious features of these buildings show unplastered walls with brick surfaces having carved designs on them, sometimes mixed with enameled tiles. They always have octagonal minars at the corners and simple arched entrance without any pretence of giving prominence to it. Above the entrance the parapet and the cornice are gently curved, and the dome, which is semi-circular, rests directly on the roof without the intermediary of a base or a drum. The interior is a pillared hail, pillars being used to support the domes. These are the broad features, on the basis of which a visitor can easily distinguish these monuments. The best example of this kind is the mosque at Rampal near Vikrampur. In Dhaka, Binat Bibi’s mosque, though plastered later and its dome rebuilt, still retains the curved cornice and parapet on the back side.
With the coming of the Mughals Bungalow type of buildings came into prominence, and these are referred to in a number of places in Baharistan-i-Ghaibi. They have generally a rectangular hail with plastered walls, relieved with arched panels, and the roof firmed of cross vaults with each segment slightly curved and the ridge of joining rounded. The shape of the roof very nearly resembles the canopy on the top of I’timad-ud-Dowla’s tomb at Agra, and obviously is of North Indian origin. The best examples of this type are the Churihatta Mosque near the Chauk and the tomb inside the Dhaka High Court. These roofs fundamentally differ from the local Bengali style of hut roof which has always bent and drooping eves. This latter example can be seen at the Dhakeshwari temple and the Begumbazar mosque near the Jail [Dhaka Central Jail].
The other great change that the Mughals introduced into this province is the mosque style consisting of three domes on the roof and the facade, being relieved with panels, pierced with triple archways the central archway is slightly bigger than its fellows and set in a projected fronton. Sometimes these archways open under a semi-dome. The parapet is straightened and further enlivened with blind merlons. The domes have a definite base or drum and hence gain in height. Sometimes the central dome is bigger. The corner minars are crowned with plastered kiosks. The interior is one rectangular hall. The pillars of the pre-Mughal time are completely given up. Single-domed mosques and tombs also continue, but everywhere the central doorway is given prominence. In fact, the fashion of erecting monumental gateways had come to Dhaka in the time of Shah Shuja. The finest examples of this type are the Bara Katra Gate, and the Southern Gate of the Lalbagh fort. These are the important elements which constitute the Imperial Mughal style at Dhaka.
The finest period of Mughal architecture at Dhaka was the viceroyalty of Shaista Khan and Prince Muhammad Azam, when some of the best buildings were erected probably with the help of masons imported from Agra and Delhi. Thus we can, with some justice, speak of three sub-phases of the
Mughal architecture at Dhaka: Pre-Shaista Khani Style, Shaista Khani Style, and Post-Shaista Khani Style. But it must be forewarned that Shaista Khani Style does not mean a style invented by Shaista Khan. It only refers to that phase of the Imperial Mughal Style that is seen in Dhaka during his long vice royalty of twenty-five years.
This Mughal style continued in 18th and 19th centuries, especially in religious buildings, like mosques and tombs, but deterioration can be marked in the use of ornamental merlons (which are now generally scratched in plaster), net-work designs in plaster, over-abundance of pinnacles, and the application of colour to the merlons. The European style gradually intruded first in the secular buildings and then in religious ones. The first thing to be copied was the pillar with Corinthian capital, the acanthus leaf of which was rudely outlined in plaster. Then came the semi-circular arch with prominent key-stone. The vaulted roof of the Mughal type was given up and iron girders were used for support. The first building of this type is the Gateway Building of the Nimtali Kothi, now office of the Asiatic Society of Pakistan. We also find a flourish of decorations in plaster, noticeable in most of the 19th century buildings of Dhaka. The Gothic arch may also be seen, anti coupled windows or triple windows of European type are also occasionally found. The present windows in Chota Katra Gateway are examples of this type. Besides, we get buildings erected in purely European style, like the Dhaka High Court or the State Bank Building.
The Christian churches are all built in European style, but the Tejgaon Church shows influence of the contemporary Mughal style in its facade.
The Hindu temples show varying types and designs. We have here single-spired temple, with or without the verandahs on the sides; panch-ratna (i.e., having five spires on the roof) type of temples; shrines with typically Bengali roof, or as at Dhakeshwari, the spire consists of the super-imposition of such roofs, which gradually recede as they go up, and finally end with Kalasa finial. In one case the private chapel in Raja Babu’s house has been turned into a public place of worship. All these betray some influences of Muslim architecture.
The only Sikh Sanghat, which has retained its old feature, is that existing at Shuja’tpur behind the public library (now handed over to the University of Dhaka). The ground-plan of this building is an exact copy of Bibi Pari’s tomb except for the corner minars and the monumental arched openings which are absent here.
Ramna Group of Monuments Lalbagh Group of Monuments Chauk Group of Monuments Old Town Monuments Dhanmandi Group of Monuments On way to Tejgaon