Bara Katra is situated to the south of the Chauk, very near the river Buriganga, which formerly washed its foot. It is a magnificent building of grand scale, and is one of the most important remains of the Mughal period in Dhaka. It is of the type of Katra building (enclosed quadrangle) with a gigantic frontage towards the river, it served the purpose of a caravan serai. Aulad Hasan reports two inscriptions belonging to it. The one lavishes high praise on this lofty structure and states that its foundation was laid by Abul Qasim in 1053 A.H. (A.D. 1644). The second reads: “Sultan Shah Shuja Bahadur was famed for deeds of charity – wherefore being hopeful of the mercy of God his slave Abul Qasim al-Husaini, al-Tabtaba, as-Simnani, built this sacred edifice endowing it with twenty-two shops attached to it, on the rightful and lawful condition that the officials in charge of the endowment should expend the income derived from them upon the repairs of the buildings and upon the poor, and that they should not take any rent from any deserving person alighting there in, so that pious act may reflect upon the monarch in this world and they should not act contrariwise, or else they would be called to account on the Day of Retribution. The inscription was composed by Sad ud-Din Muhammad Sherazi, 1055 A. H. (A.D. 1646).
Bara Katra Dhaka
Bara Katra Dhaka
Bara Katra is now in ruins. Its northern wing has completely disappeared (pl. 21.2). The eastern and western sides are preserved to some extent, while the southern row still exists in its complete form. But new buildings have been erected in the central courtyard, and alterations have been made in the existing structure. The idea of its original plan can be gathered from Rennell’s map. It appears to have consisted of an open quadrangle, enclosed on four sides with arcaded rooms, with main entrance on the north and the south. The southern wing presents a magnificent river frontage, 223 feet long, and in its prime glory it must have been an object of great attraction to the visitors coming on boat from afar along the river Buriganga. This wing consists of a lofty three-storeyed gateway in the middle, flanked on either side with two-storeyed structures and ending at the two corners with octagonal hollow towers in three storyes. The flanking structures have smaller arched entrances below and residential rooms with window openings towards the river above. The main gateway is prominently projected, and forms a tall fronton bordered with minarets. Externally, a high half-domed arch is carried up to the top of the second storey, the underside of the half-dome being decorated with plastered net-work. Above the apex of the arch open the windows of the third storey, while along the vertical sides plastered panels show a variety of forms including four-centred, cusped, horse-shoe, and flat arches, between which doorways open into guard rooms. From here we are led into an octagonal domed chamber, 27’ 3” in diameter, the ceiling of which is neatly plastered and decorated with net-pattern as well as foliaged design of an elaborate kind. Traces of original application of colour are also found. The structures, flanking the gateway, were originally decorated with rows of blind merlons in order to demarcate the two stages. The subsidiary arched entrances in the ground-floor open into long barrel-vaulted passages. The corner towers show panelled decoration in the faces of the two lower stages, while the third has window openings. From the courtyard side two flights of steps, one on either side of the gateway, lead up to the second storey. Here we have a row of oblong rooms, faced with a continuous verandah on the north. The third storey over the main gateway has also a similar room and verandah. These upper storeys were probably reserved for visitors of high personage.
On the whole the monument is very strongly built of plastered brick-work with elaborate arrangements for comfort and living, and the builder had every right to declare:
“To this lofty building which proppeth high heaven By this slave Abul Qasim foundation was given. What a building! It putteth high heaven to shame; A copy of Paradise ye might it name.”
But to-day the old glory has been lost in the over-crowded and unsightly huts and shops, and in the uncouth habits of the indigent that find shelter in the dark chambers and dirty niches. Man, in his neglect, has forgotten the value of magnificence that is his heritage.