Dhaka Guide Part 1 – MUGHAL MOSQUES OF DHAKA
A TYPOLOGICAL STUDY
Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) conquered Bengal in 1576 and in the subsequent years of his rule (1583-1605) Dhaka formed only a frontier outpost. During the time of his son and successor Jahangir (1605-1627) Dhaka rose to prominence at the instance of Subahdar Islam Khan (1608-1613), who in 1610 transferred here the capital of Mughal Bengal from Rajmahal and renamed it Jahangirnagar. From then onwards, with a short break from 1639 to 1659 when Subahdar Shah Shuja’s residence was at Rajmahal, Dhaka continued to retain the status of a provincial capital for the next one hundred years. During this period there was all- round development of the Mughal city of Dhaka which, according to the accounts recorded by some foreign travelers like Sebastian Manrique (1640), Nicolai Manucci (1663), Tavernier (1666), Thomas Bowrey (1669-79) and William Hedges (1686), appears to have extended upto the Buriganga in the south, Tongi in the north, Jafarabad-Mirpur in the west and Postogola in the east. In 1717 Murshidabad was made the capital of Bengal by Subahdar Murshid Quli Khan. Dhaka therefore lost her status as a capital town and henceforth continued to have been ruled by the successive naib- nazims on behalf of the Murshidabad nawabs till the middle of the 19th century. During this niabat period further extension of the city does not appear to have taken place, but the building activities in the city were not completely stopped as will be seen below.
With the shifting of capital from Rajmahal to Dhaka there ushered in a new era in the history of Mughal architecture in Bengal. The Governors or Subahdars as they were called appointed in regular succession to rule the country from this time onwards, were either of royal blood or in some way closely associated with the royal family, and many of them were keen lover of art and architecture. It was under their dynamic rule political stability prevailed throughout the country and as such they had the opportunity to erect buildings drawing inspiration largely from their parent and traditional styles of Upper India. The example of governors was also followed by the nobles, notable government officers and by private persons alike. The city of Mughal Dhaka was thus gradually expanded and embellished with numerous magnificent buildings which took mainly the form of palaces, mosques, tombs, hammams, fortresses, katras, idgah and bridges. In such a deltaic land of Bengal where no building stone is available and no hard wood grows, all these structures of Dhaka were built of brick with lime mortar. These short-lived materials combined with the pitiless forces of nature and the thoughtless piracy of man caused the disappearance of a large majority of the erections in Mughal Dhaka. But many still survive some of which are now either in ruins or repaired even to the extent of giving them a modern look, while others in fairly good State of preservation although with subsequent restorations and repairs by the successive department of archaeology. The aim of the present paper is not however to discuss the Mughal architecture of Dhaka as a whole, hut to study the nature and evolution of the various types of a particular kind of building — that of the mosque. The study has been attempted to make in the context of the mosque architecture of the Indian sub-continent in particular and of the wider Islam in general.
Of the surviving Mughal monuments of Dhaka a large majority are mosques, which produce varieties of types. Among them the single- domed or kiosk mosque, although smaller in number in comparison to other types, is perhaps of no less importance or of no little interest. The kiosk mosque — a square structure surmounted by a dome, was very popular in all ages throughout the Islamic world erected both at the royal and private initiative since perhaps they involved less expenses in construction. This kind of building in Islam may be regarded as a successor monument of the chahartaq — a Sassanian fire temple consisting of a square hail topped over by a dome (Fig.1). The earliest known example of the type is the Hazara Mosque in Bukhara supposed to have been built towards the end of the 8th or the beginning of the 9th century. The type was subsequently practiced in Persia under the Karakhanids, the Seljuks and so on, while in Turkey during the Beylik as well as the Ottoman periods. In India the chahartaq designed structure did not start purely as a mosque but as a tomb such as the tomb of Iltutmish (c. 1235) at Delhi. Pure mosques of this nature are rare in Upper India during the Sultanate period but in the Mughal period they were common. A large number of such mosques are known in the Sultanate Bengal dated from the middle of the 15th century, i.e., the mosque adjoining the tomb of Khan Jahan (c. mid 15th century) at Bagerhat, Binat Bibi Mosque (1456) at Dhaka, the Goaldi Mosque (1519) at Sonargaon, etc. Such kind of mosques were also built in the Mughal period, which are located both in the city of Dhaka and in other parts of the country, the earliest being perhaps the Bibir Masjid (1628) at Sherpur in Bogra. The best example of the type in Dhaka is undoubtedly the Allakuri Mosque (c. 1680) at Muhammadpur. In plan the mosque appears to have been directly influenced by the earlier Mughal or Sultanate examples of the land but in elevational and other details it bears the stamp of the imperial Mughal architecture of North India. Unlike the Sultanate or the earlier Mughal example the Allakuri Mosque is distinguished by the semi-octagonal mihrab niches, plastered surface of the walls, horizontal parapet, corner towers rising high above the parapet and ending in solid kiosks with small cupolas, the dome being placed on octagonal drum and crowned by lotus with kalasa finial. But what of the building really calls for special attention is that it provides four axially projected frontons with bordering ornamental turrets. Its idea must have been borrowed from the four axial iwan type gateways of the Persian influenced Upper Indian standard Mughal mosques such as the Jami Masjids of Delhi (1644-48), Agra (1648) and the Badshahi Mosque (1674) of Lahore.
A large majority of the extant Mughal mosques in Dhaka are of the rectangular three-domed type. The type was so much popular that outside Dhaka also they are found to have been built at every nook and corner of Mughal Bengal. Such a mosque style, which is perhaps an elaboration of the Persian Iwan-i-Karkha type at Muhammadiya (Fig. 2) or the musalla at Mashhad (Fig. 3) appeared for the first time in the Indian sub-continent during the Lodi and Sun periods such as the Bara Gumbad Mosque (1494) at Delhi and the Rohtasgarh Mosque (1543) in Bihar. The type continued to have been practiced and elaborated in the subsequent period under the Mughals. The Mughal standard mosques in Upper India are always distinguished by a three-domed sanctuary of which the central dome was invariably given prominence by making it larger than the flanking ones. The Jami Masjids of Fathpur-Sikri, Delhi and Agra are some examples. The Mughal three-domed prayer chamber without the addition of sahn with surrounding riwaqs ̶ a rectangular covered type was at times regarded as a perfect mosque plan by itself. The mosque beside the Taz Mahall at Agra (1634), the Little Moti Masjid (1662) in the Delhi Fort and the Sunehri Mosque also at Delhi is some of the superb examples of the style. In imitation of these Upper Indian examples the Mughals introduced the construction of three-domed type mosques in Bengal, the earliest extant specimen of which is the Kherua Mosque (1582) at Sherpur in Bogra. In the city of Dhaka two varieties of the three-domed type mosques are known (i) Mosque with uniform domes and (ii) Mosques with a large central dome. In the first case the three equal square bays arc covered with three equal domes. The mosque of Khwaja Shahbaz (1679) behind the mazar of the three national leaders is the only known extant example of its kind in Dhaka. But outside Dhaka a good number of mosques of the type are recorded such as the Khondokartola Mosque (1632) at Sherpur in Bogra, Shah Niamatullah Wali Mosque (c. mid 17th century) at Firozpur in Nawabganj and the Arifil Mosque (c. late 17th century) at Sarail in Brahmanbaria. In the other case the internal disposition of the building shows a large square central bay and a smaller rectangular bay on either side. The entire three bays arc covered with domes, but the central bay being the largest, the dome over it is naturally bigger than the flanking ones. It is worth noticing that in covering the flanking rectangular bays with domes the Mughal architects and artisans in Dhaka seem to have been in trouble. They, however, overcame the problem by adopting a clever trick. To create a circular base for the dome the rectangles have first been made square above by introducing two half-domed vaults on the east and west sides and then the actual dome has been placed on a further series of pendentives. The type is represented by a large number of examples both from Dhaka and other parts of Mughal Bengal. Khwaja Ambar Mosque (1677-78) at Kawran Bazar (Fig. 4), the Lalbagh Fort Mosque (1678-79) and Mariam Saleh Mosque (1706) beside the Balaka Cinema Hall are some of the best examples of the type in Dhaka.
Of the other varieties of Mughal mosques in Dhaka mention may be made of a type consisting of a single rectangular hall covered with five domes above — a large central dome and two other smaller ones on it’s either side in the same line, which correspond respectively to the large central square bay and the flanking smaller rectangular bays below.
Kartalab Khan Mosque (1700-04) on the Begumbazar Road is the lone example of the type, which seems to be a development of the three- domed style set by the Lalbagh Fort Mosque (Fig. 5) or Khwaja Ambar Mosque (Fig. 4) cited above. An earlier example of the type is the Tenga Masjid of Iswaripur (c. early 17th century) in Satkhira. But here in the Satkhira example all the five hays, unlike those of Kartalab Khan Mosque, arc each an independent walled-up square apartment but connected by axial doorways.
A rare and interesting type of Mughal mosque in Dhaka is represented by the Azimpura Mosque (1746) beside the Azimpur Public Cemetery. The mosque style produced by Azimpura Masjid — a large central dome flanked on either side by a half-domed vault (Fig. 6) — is noteworthy in the sense that the type, so far known, is nowhere found earlier in the Indian sub-continent. But outside India in Turkey i was a very popular practice in the Ottoman standard mosques where in the sanctuary wing two or four half-dome are always in the sides of the large central dome (Fig. 7). It is from these Ottoman sources that the idea of the Azimpura Mosque type in Dhaka might have been derived. It seems that the influence came either through the Armenians who settled in Dhaka during Mughal rule, or through the fortune seeking immigrant artisans from the Ottoman empire who perhaps came to Mughal Dhaka by sea-route along with the merchants of the Middle- Eastern countries.
It has been frequently mentioned by Mirza Nathan in his Baharistan-i-Ghaybi that the Mughals constructed Bungalow type buildings in Bengal, which were perhaps of both religious and secular character covered either with do-chala or chau-chala vaults. But unfortunately only a few of them exist today, which are either mosque or tomb, or annexe to the mosque. The Churihatta Mosque (l650) and the Armanitola Mosque (1716) in the locality of Armanitola in Dhaka, each of which is covered entirely with a chau-chala vault, provide the two extant examples of independent Bungalow type building in Mughal Bengal. The chau-chala vaulted roof of these mosques of Dhaka is suggested to have been development from the North Indian pyramidal type noticed over the facade of Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra (1612-13) near Agra as well as over Itimad ud-Daula’s tomb (1628) at Agra. But the very name Bungalow itself is suggestive that it is of Bengali origin and takes its derivation from the chau-chala huts of the land.
And even the pyramidal coverings of the above mentioned Upper Indian Mughal buildings, shaped like chau-chala vaults, were perhaps due to the influence of the Bengali craftsman who started migrating to the imperial Mughal court towards the end of the 16th century. In Bengal chau-chala hut roof was first translated in brick architecture by the Sultanate craftsmen, noticed over the bays of the central nave of the Shatgumbad Mosque (c. mid 15th century) at Bagerhat and the Chhota Sona Mosque (1493-15 19) at Firozpur in Nawabganj. A rare example of the single chau-chala vaulted structure is also known in the Sultanate Bengal such as the Shabekdanga building (c. Husayn Shahi period) at Bagerhat.
One more variety of Mughal mosques in Dhaka consists of a rectangular structure with three longitudinal aisles cut by a number of bays and covered originally with a hat roof of wooden planks. The mosque of Farrukh Siyar (1703-06) located a few yards away from the southern gate of the Lalbagh Fort is a lone example of the type not only in Dhaka but also in the whole of Mughal Bengal. Mosques with three longitudinal aisles are not uncommon in the Sultanate Bengal such as the Chhota Sona Mosque and the Bara Sona Mosque (1526) in Gaur. The internal disposition of the present Farrukh Siyar Mosque might have thus been dictated by the Sultanate examples of the land, but the idea of its flat-roof must have been borrowed from Upper India such as to be seen in the double-aisled Nagina Masjid of Fathpur-Sikri.
It is worth mentioning that some of the Mughal mosques of Dhaka such as Kartalab Khan Mosque, Mirdha’s Mosque (1704-05) in the Atishkhana quarter and the Azimpura Mosque (Fig. 6) furnish an extra-ordinary speciality being built on high vaulted platforms. Scholars differ as to the purpose and motive of the vaulted rooms underneath the platforms. S.M. Taifoor thinks that the ground-floor rooms were originally meant for a madrassa. But this view perhaps needs a little modification since the upper divisions of these platforms were perhaps reserved for study purpose and in case of Mirdha’s Mosque there is a separate madrassa building on the north- east corner above the plinth. According to A. Karim the vaulted chambers of Mirdha’s Mosque, not unlike those of Kartalab Khan Mosque which are still used as shops, were also originally built as shops. He argues: ‘it is fairly logical to suggest that the construction of shops underneath the platform provided a permanent source of income for the maintenance of mosque and also of the madrassa’. But it seems untenable that the vaulted chambers opening towards the compounds of such mosque-cum-madrassas would be used as noisy market. Because in that case the main purpose of these religio-educational institutions would have undoubtedly been disturbed and hampered. It is rather very reasonable to think that these vaulted rooms, containing book-shelves on their walls, were originally devised to be used as dormitory for students and teachers of the madrassa. It is in this context that all these Mughal buildings of Dhaka should be regarded as ‘Residential Madrassa Mosques’.
Mosques on vaulted platforms were not built in the Sultanate Bengal. The idea of such Mughal mosques in Bengal must have come from outside perhaps directly from North India, where a number of examples are to be found in the Tughlaq and Lodi periods such as the congregational mosque of Firoz Shah (1354) in the Kotla of Firuzabad and the Bara Gumbad Mosque (1494), both in Delhi. Again the influence of such Upper Indian mosques came no doubt from those of early Islam. The Fatimid mosque of Salihal-Talai (1160) in Cairo, which was built on a high vaulted terrace, provides an example. Underground vaults were also erected in the Fatimid great eastern and western palaces, which in turn must have ‘come originally from the Abbasid architecture of Baghdad and Samarra where a large number of buildings are known to have been erected with underground vaulting’s.
Varieties of mosques thus produced during Mughal rule in Dhaka, not unlike those of the Sultanate Bengal, are all of the covered type without any surrounding cloister and open courtyard. The type was no doubt dictated by the climatic conditions, particularly the heavy rainfall in the land. Very often the mosque is fronted by an open plastered platform or court, or the whole is enclosed by an outer wall with a gateway in the cast or other sides. Although brick was the chief or perhaps the only building material, a few mosques such as Khwaja Ambar Mosque and Khwaja Shahbaz Mosque furnish examples of their door-frames and pulpits being made of black stone.
In the above pages only the representative examples of the various types of Mughal mosques in Dhaka have been mentioned by way of discussing their origins and development. About twenty-two extant mosques are however known, dated from the 17th to the early 19th century and scattered over in different parts of the city with larger number along the left bank of the old Buriganga (see map of Dhaka city at the end). To make our study purposeful and easily understandable all these mosques, considering their varying ground-plans and roofing patterns, have been arranged in the following typological order:
Hayat Bepari Mosque (1664)
Allakuri Mosque (c. 1680)
Bibi Meher Mosque (1814)
Churihatta Mosque (1650)
Armanitola Mosque (1716)
i) Mosque with Uniform domes
Khwaja Shahbaz Mosque (1679)
ii) Mosques with a large central dome
Islam Khan-ki-Masjid (c. 1635-39)
Navarai Lane Mosque (c. mid 17th century)
Shayesta Khan Mosque (1664-78)
Chauk Masjid (1676)
Khwaja Ambar Mosque (1677-78)
Lalbagh Fort Mosque (1678-79)
Musa Khan-ki-Masjid (c. 1679)
Satgumbad Mosque (c. 1680)
Khan Muhammad Mirdha Mosque (1704-05)
Mariam Saleha Mosque (1706)
Sitara Begum Mosque (1815)
Sitara or Star Mosque (c. early 19th century)
Darogah Amiruddin Mosque (c. early 19th century)
Type with a central Dome and Flanking Half-Domed Vaults Azimpura Mosque (1746)
Kartalab Khan Mosque (1700-1704)
Farrukh Siyar Mosque (1703-04).