Places and Structures of Ancient Bengal: Paintings and Pictures

Ancient Bengal (Bangladesh, west Bengal, Tripura, Orissa and Bihar and some parts of Assam) was the land of ancient civilization and cultures where it possessed a rich culture of its own at the same time different ancient civilizations and cultures met the original one and a new civilization emerged. Historians and archeologists have found some of the most ancient places and structures in this region. Here i want to show some rare pictures of ancient Kingdom of Bengal which i have collected from net and i am grateful to the original artists and photographers who have taken those pictures at different times, including some paintings. I also express my gratitude to Tanjirian of skyscrapercity and Mr. Ershad Ahmed.

Bengal, 1760
Bengal, 1760
Map of Bengal, 1893
Map of Bengal, 1893
Bengal Partition, 1905
Bengal Partition, 1905
Independent Bangladesh
Independent Bangladesh
West Bengal (to India)
West Bengal (to India)

The Ancient City of Gaur, West Bengal

Gaur (City of) one of the largest medieval cites in the Indian subcontinent, was the capital of Independent Sultanate of Bengal from c. 1450 AD to 1565 AD. Located on the eastern strip of land between the Ganges and the Mahananda rivers, in lat. 24°52' N. and Long. 88°10' E., south of the present town of Malda, its ruins spread over nearly twenty miles in length and four miles in breadth.

The first inscription of Gaur, dated December 1457, during the reign of Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud I (1435-1459), on a bridge erected by him on the road from the kotwali darwaza (gate) in the south to the north of the city, suggests the date of transfer of the capital from pandua. One may not, therefore, accept abm habibullah's view that the capital was transferred in the early part of the fifteenth century during the reign of Sultan Jalaluddin. The visiting Chinese delegates during his reign clearly mentioned going to Pandua, then the capital of Bengal.

Minhaj-us Siraj, visiting the renamed capital forty-five years after its conquest in 1205 by bakhtiyar khalji, saw mosques and madrasas built by him, which are not extant today. Since the embankments protecting the city were constructed in 1227, these buildings could not have been washed away by the river.

It has been postulated that the earlier city of Laksmanavati (later as lakhnauti) was located at the same site.

Gaur remained the capital of Bengal till 1565 when sulaiman karrani transferred it to tandah in the west. The Mughal general munim khan brought it back to Gaur in 1575 and was perhaps instrumental in constructing the lukochuri darwaza the eastern side of the fort, which is generally ascribed to shah shuja, subahdar of Bengal in the first half of the seventeenth century. But Shah Shuja had never lived at Gaur. Gaur was finally abandoned in 1575 due to the outbreak of plague.

Ruins at the Antient City of Gour formerly on the Banks of the River Ganges; an aquatint by Thomas Daniell, 1795
Ruins at the Antient City of Gour formerly on the Banks of the River Ganges; an aquatint by Thomas Daniell, 1795

Kotwali Darwaza

Kotwali Darwaza named after the city police (persian Kotwal) stationed to guard the southern wall of the city of gaur. It is now in ruins and it is hardly possible to draw an accurate picture of it. Abid Ali (Memoirs of Gaur and Pandua, Calcutta, 1931) measures the central arch of the gateway as 9.15m high and 5.10m wide, and speaks of 'battlements east and west of the gateway with apertures ... to fire on an enemy'. According to him, on each face, both inside and outside, there were sloping semi-circular towers. At present, only the external towers with a huge convex outline with rows of arrow-slits can be partially discerned. 

Presently, the Darwaza, marks the dividing line between India and Bangladesh, and is, therefore, a crowded place. No doubt the consequences will be felt by the structure sooner or later. (Source: Banglapedia)

Cutwally (Kotwali) Gate at Gour, an aquatint by James Moffatt, 1808
Cutwally (Kotwali) Gate at Gour, an aquatint by James Moffatt, 1808
The Kotwali Gate, Gaur, Bengal by Samuel Davis
The Kotwali Gate, Gaur, Bengal by Samuel Davis
"Kutwallee Gate" by Thomas Daniell, 1835
"Kutwallee Gate" by Thomas Daniell, 1835
The Kotwali Gate in the 1860s by John Henry Ravenshaw
The Kotwali Gate in the 1860s by John Henry Ravenshaw

Dakhil Darwaza

Dakhil Darwaza literally an entrance gate, (Ar. dakhil, Per. darwaza), is the largest structure of its kind in the architectural history of Sultanate Bengal.It was the main entrance to the citadel of lakhnauti, the Muslim name of gaur(per. Gawr). The gateway was the most solid and most elegant entrance portal ever erected in Bengal.

The architecture of the gateway is an impressive one, and such an impressing structure could be built only when architecture has attained its full fruition. On this ground, it may be suggested that the Dakhil Darwaza was built in the Husain Shahi period. Antorio de Britto, the Portuguese interpreter (1521 AD), speaks of 'a mosque round the corner in front of Dakhil Darwaza'.

Dakhil Darwaza, 1817
Dakhil Darwaza, 1817
Dakhil Gate. South View; a photo by John Henry Ravenshaw, 1860's
Dakhil Gate. South View; a photo by John Henry Ravenshaw, 1860's
Dakhil Gate, At present
Dakhil Gate, At present

Minar of Firoz Shah (Estd.c.1487-88)

The picture represents Firoz Minar (also known as the Pir Asa Minar) in the abandoned ancient site of Gaur in West Bengal. The Firoz Minar is a Victory tower which was constructed in 1486 by Firoz Shah. Victory towers sch as these were often built by Indian rulers to commemorate the success of important battles. The Firoz Minar is 84 feet high and can be climbed through an internal staircase leading to a platform at the top. 

 Pir Asa Minar or Firoz Shah Minar; a watercolor by Seeta Ram, 1817-21
Pir Asa Minar or Firoz Shah Minar; a watercolor by Seeta Ram, 1817-21
Firoz Shah Minar,  by Thomas Daniell, 1804
Firoz Shah Minar, by Thomas Daniell, 1804
Gaur. Minar; a photo by John Henry Ravenshaw, 1860's
Gaur. Minar; a photo by John Henry Ravenshaw, 1860's
Recent Photo, After restoration
Recent Photo, After restoration

Chhoto Shona Mosque Estd.1493-1519, Bangladesh

Chhoto Shona Masjid (Small Golden Mosque) is the another splendour of muslim art and culture in greater Bengal. One of the most graceful monument of the Sultanate period is the Chhota Sona Masjid or Small Golden Mosque at Gaur in greater Rajshahi now Chapai nababganj, Bangladesh. Built by Wali Muhammad during the reign of Sultan Alauddin Husain Shah (1493-1519). Originally it was roofed over with 15 gold-gilded domes including the 3 Chauchala domes in the middle row, from which it derives its curious name.

Chhoto Shona Mosque, 1817
Chhoto Shona Mosque, 1817
Chhoto Shona Mosque
Chhoto Shona Mosque | Source
Chhoto Shona Mosque, Front View
Chhoto Shona Mosque, Front View | Source
Main Entrance
Main Entrance

Boro Shona Masjid (The Grand Golden Mosque) Estd.1526 AD

The folowing pictures are of a very old mosque, called "Boro Shona Masjid" or The Great Golden Mosque of Gour. Its ruins can be found in Maldoho, West Bengal, India, very close to the India-Bangladesh boarder. "The mosque is comprised of eleven entrances, two buttresses, four corner towers and a spacious courtyard which is almost seventy metres in diameter. The building is faced in plain stone and the doors would originally have been framed by mosaics of glazed coloured tiles in floral patterns. Built in 1526 by Sultan Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah it is the largest building still standing in Gaur." (Source: British Library). This very ancient mosque is also known as Qutub Shahi Mosque. It was built in the honour of saint Nur Qutub-e-Alam, son of saint Makhdoom Alaul Haque Pandvi, by Makhdum Shaikh, the descendant and fellow of the saint. The mosque was known as Sona Masjid due to its earlier gilded wall surface and crowns of the turrets.

Shona Mosque, 1817
Shona Mosque, 1817
 Barah Durwazah (Big Entrance of Golden Mosque) (1870)
Barah Durwazah (Big Entrance of Golden Mosque) (1870)
Entrance (recent pic)
Entrance (recent pic)
Boro sona Masjid (recent pic)
Boro sona Masjid (recent pic)

The Ancient City of Sonargaon, near Dhaka, Bangladesh

Sonargaon The administrative centre of eastern Bengal under the Muslim rulers of Bengal survives at present in the name of an upazila in the Narayanganj district and the 'golden village' (its literal meaning)is now a township about 27 kilometers to the southeast of Dhaka. It is difficult to locate exactly the medieval city, but from the extant remains it appears to have embraced a wide tract bounded on the east, west and south by the Meghna, the Shitalakhya and the Dhaleshwari respectively and on the north by the Brahmaputra.

Sonargaon emerged as the capital of an independent Sultanate under Fakhruddin mubarak shah (1338-1349) and his son ikhtiyaruddin ghazi shah (1349-1352).

From the capture of Sonargaon by Shamsuddin iliyas shah (1352) down to the coming of the Mughals it was a provincial metropolis except for a period when it became a capital city under the house of isa khan Masnad-i-Ala. After the fall of musa khan (1611), Sonargaon became one of the sarkars of the Mughal subah of Bengal. With the establishment of the Mughal capital at Dhaka Sonargaon must have fallen fast into decay. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Panam-Nagar was developed in a part of medieval Sonargaon. (Source: Banglapedia)

The province of Dhaka was brought under Islamic rule in the 13th century, first by the Delhi Sultanate then by the independent sultans of Bengal, after which it was taken by the Mughals in 1608. Sonargaon was the capital of sultans of Bengal from the 13th century until 1608 when Islam Khan, the Mughal Governor, transferred the capital of the whole province to the nearby city of Dhaka, now the capital of Bangladesh. Ghiyas-ud-din Azam Shah ruled Bengal from 1368 to 1373. His mausoleum at Sonargaon was carved from a single black of hard black basalt and surrounded by a pillared enclosure. (Source:British Library)

Panam road, Sonargaon, 1875
Panam road, Sonargaon, 1875
Panam Road, Now
Panam Road, Now | Source
View through the central arch of an ancient bridge over a canal, Sonargaon. 1870
View through the central arch of an ancient bridge over a canal, Sonargaon. 1870
View looking over a bridge, Sonargaon, 1870
View looking over a bridge, Sonargaon, 1870
Old Goaldih Mosque, known as the Puarana Masjid, Sonargaon
Old Goaldih Mosque, known as the Puarana Masjid, Sonargaon
Old Goaldih Mosque, At Present
Old Goaldih Mosque, At Present
Ruins of the Tomb of Gyas-ud-din Azam Shah by W. Brennand, 1872
Ruins of the Tomb of Gyas-ud-din Azam Shah by W. Brennand, 1872
Tomb of Gyas-ud-din Azam Shah, The Ruler of Independent Bengal
Tomb of Gyas-ud-din Azam Shah, The Ruler of Independent Bengal | Source
Tomb and mosque of Khundar Muhammad Yusuf, Sonargaon, by W.Brennand, 1872
Tomb and mosque of Khundar Muhammad Yusuf, Sonargaon, by W.Brennand, 1872
Tomb and mosque of Khundar Muhammad Yusuf, Recent Photo
Tomb and mosque of Khundar Muhammad Yusuf, Recent Photo
Old bridge, called Dullalpur pul, Sonargaon, 1872
Old bridge, called Dullalpur pul, Sonargaon, 1872
Dulalpur bridge
Dulalpur bridge | Source

Boro Katra (The Grand Caravansary),Dhaka, Estd. circa 1643

Bara Katra an architectural relic of Dhaka city. It is situated to the south of Chawk Bazar close to the bank of the river Buriganga. It was built many years before the Lalbagh Fort and was the tallest and the most attracting structure of Ancient Dhaka City.

Originally, the Katra enclosed a quadrangular courtyard with 22 rooms on all of its four sides. Two gateways were erected, one each on the north and south. The ruins consist of an edifice having a river frontage. The southern wing of the structure was planned on a grand scale and was marked with an elaborate three-storeyed gate containing an octagonal central chamber. The remaining portion was two-storeyed and encased by projected octagonal towers. The gateway structure is rectangular in plan. It is lofty in height and its fronton is projected towards the river.

The Bara Katra contains two inscriptions in Persian: one records that it was built in 1053 AH (1643-44 AD) and the other contains the date 1055 AH (1645-46 AD) and confirms that Shah Shuja, The Governor of Bengal who was also the son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and brother of Awrangzeb Alamgir, gave the building to Mir Abul Qasim to be used as a Katra on the condition that the officials in charge of the endowments (waqf) should not take any rent from any deserving person alighting therein. (source: Banglapedia)

Boro Katra ,1823
Boro Katra ,1823
Boro Katra ,1823
Boro Katra ,1823
Boro Katra ,1870
Boro Katra ,1870
Boro Karta, Recent Pic.
Boro Karta, Recent Pic.
Front Gate
Front Gate
Tower
Tower

Lalbag Kella ( The Lalbag Fort), Dhaka, Estd. 1678

This reddish fort in Dhaka is the greatest monument of Mughal era in the greater Bengal. It is one of the few mughal forts still standing in the subcontinent. It was originally built by the mughal Prince Muhammad Azam, son of Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir in 1678 but he couldn't finish it. His uncle and later the ruler of Bengal Shaista Khan continued the construction work but he stopped it after the death of his daughter Pari Bibi thinking the fort as ominous. After the capital city was shifted from Dhaka to Murshidabaad, Dhaka gradually lost its imperial importance so was the Lalbag fort. But it was totally abandoned when the East India Company captured Bengal. Many years after that, the ancient glory of the fort has been revived after the independence of Bangladesh, yet some part of it has been perished for good. But the following pictures testify how magnificent this fort was in the past.

Young Prince Mohammad Azam with his father Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir, Man standing behind the emperor is Shaista Khan (purple dress).
Young Prince Mohammad Azam with his father Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir, Man standing behind the emperor is Shaista Khan (purple dress).
Bastion of the Lal Bagh, Dacca; an etching by Charles D'Oyly, 1816 ( this part no more exists )
Bastion of the Lal Bagh, Dacca; an etching by Charles D'Oyly, 1816 ( this part no more exists )
Lalbagh Fort, south entrance, south view, 1870
Lalbagh Fort, south entrance, south view, 1870
Lalbagh Fort, south entrance, north view, 1870
Lalbagh Fort, south entrance, north view, 1870
The Main Gate, 1870s
The Main Gate, 1870s
Lalbagh Fort, 1904
Lalbagh Fort, 1904
Lalbagh Fort (Recent Pic)
Lalbagh Fort (Recent Pic)
Entrance Gateway
Entrance Gateway
Wide View
Wide View
Pori Bibi's [daughter of Shaista Khan] Tomb, Lal Bagh, 1904
Pori Bibi's [daughter of Shaista Khan] Tomb, Lal Bagh, 1904
Tomb of Pori bibi, Recent Pic.
Tomb of Pori bibi, Recent Pic.

Chowk Bazaar, Dhaka

Chawk Bazaar is a well known bazaar in Lalbagh, Old Dhaka, Bangladesh. It dates back to the Mughal period. Chowk Bazaar is one of the most famous business and social meeting center of Dhaka in the Mughal period. Even after 400 years it is still famous as before. It is one of Dhaka's old town market and it formed in the place where other old markets once were.

In 1702 Murshid Kuli Kha named the market "Padosha" or "Badshahi Bazar’. From 1733 to 1734 his son in law Murshid Kuli Kha II renovated the market. Its thought to have started in Munsil times and for Mursid Kuli Kha the market was established.

The Chouk (or Marketplace) and Husseinee Delaun; by Charles D'Oyoy, 1827
The Chouk (or Marketplace) and Husseinee Delaun; by Charles D'Oyoy, 1827
The 'Chowk' or market place of Dacca; a photo by Johnston and Hoffman, 1880
The 'Chowk' or market place of Dacca; a photo by Johnston and Hoffman, 1880

Shat Masjid, Dhaka

Of all the Mughal mosques in Dhaka, the one that most appeared in old pics and photos were the Shat Gambuj Masjid (Mosque of Seven Domes). Shat Masjid (Mosque of Seven Domes) is thought to be constructed by Subadar Shaista Khan. In fact, if you look at old books or magazines with pictures of Dhaka, there will usually be a pic of this mosque. There are two reasons for this. For one, in addition to the standard Mughal three domed prayer hall, the corner turrets also had domes on top, which gave the mosque a unique appearance. More importantly perhaps, was its dramatic and picturesque location on the edge of the Buriganga flood plain. People visiting today, however, see a very different vista. After the devastating floods of 1988/89, a dam (the Beri Bund) was constructed along the western edge of Dhaka to protect it from flooding. The area behind the mosque was drained and filled up, and now is full of buildings. So, the scenic aspect of this mosque no longer exists. However, happily, the building itself, under protection of the Directorate of Archaeology, survives unchanged and in a good state of preservation.

Shaat Masjid by D'Oyly, 1820's
Shaat Masjid by D'Oyly, 1820's
Shat Masjid
Shat Masjid
Shat Masjid, Before the Dhaka Protection Dam was built
Shat Masjid, Before the Dhaka Protection Dam was built
Shat Masjid, Recent Photo
Shat Masjid, Recent Photo

Ancient Structures and Buildings which No Longer Exist Today

Kotwali Gate, Gaur
Kotwali Gate, Gaur
A Mughal structure in the middle of water, Perhaps Built to spend leisure time, By Charles D'Oyly
A Mughal structure in the middle of water, Perhaps Built to spend leisure time, By Charles D'Oyly
Mosque of Syuff Khan,  Dhaka by Charles D'Oyly, 1814
Mosque of Syuff Khan, Dhaka by Charles D'Oyly, 1814
A Mosque at Maghbazar, Dhaka
A Mosque at Maghbazar, Dhaka
An ancient Mosque, location unknown, Dhaka
An ancient Mosque, location unknown, Dhaka

Ancient Bengal was one of centers of Muslim arts and culture in South Asia. There are some structures which have got very unique architectural design which are found not anywhere but in Bengal. The series of structures built here was not a discreet attempt rather they were built by the independent rulers of Bengal over time. The Kingdom of Bengal, which was the richest land of the South Asia and also of the contemporary world in the medieval, lost its sovereignty in 1757 to British East India Company who were only allowed to run business here since 1600's. Soon after losing independence Bengal also lost its cultural glory and legacies, and many structures became ruins over time. Its not before the independence of Bangladesh, since then the structures have revived much of its past glory. As Bengal has now spited into many parts due to different national and political viewpoints, many ancient structures are now in India i.e. west Bengal which was also a part of independent Bengal before 1757. Despite the fact that Bengal has lost its old glory and boarder many years back, still we hope for a Bengal which is no less than the ancient "Golden Bengal".

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Comments 17 comments

Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago

Sad to read how the majestic Bengal kingdom ended up. The photos and paintings are awesome and excellent rememberance of the past.


Naim Hasan profile image

Naim Hasan 5 years ago from Dhaka Author

Thanks Ingenira for your comment.


Alkama Siddiqui 5 years ago

Very informative. It tells as much as pages of history books. Thanks Mr. Hasan. Keep up adding more.


Naim Hasan profile image

Naim Hasan 5 years ago from Dhaka Author

thanks Mr. Siddiqui


Maliha 5 years ago

Very good documentation


Soyful 4 years ago

Great information. Very well put together. Keep up your good work.


Naim Hasan profile image

Naim Hasan 4 years ago from Dhaka Author

thanks maliha and soyful for your comments


Ghosheti Khala 4 years ago

Very Impressive photos of the Golden Bengal! These photos should always inspired us to work for the benefit of our country. We hate those leaders of our present days who are engaged with the conspiracies against our country.


Naim Hasan profile image

Naim Hasan 4 years ago from Dhaka Author

thanks khala for your comment.


upal19 profile image

upal19 4 years ago from Dhaka

It's a tremendous work. I've bookmarked this site. Thanks Naim.


Palash Sarkar 4 years ago

Bengaler History Ta Kintu 1257 Theke Suru Nay.History Bolte Gale Akdam Suru Thekei Bala Uchit.Kabe Bengaler Janma.Kivabe Bibartan Hote Hote Aj Kothay Ese Poucheche Sabtai Bola Uchit.Majher Theke Suru Karata Bibhranta Karar ProcestaMatro.Itihas Je Lekhe Take Samosto Sankirnotar Urdhe Uthte Hoy.Rajnitir Rang Hay Itihasher Kono Rang Hay Na.


Naim Hasan profile image

Naim Hasan 4 years ago from Dhaka Author

Palash apnake dhonnobaad. ami ekhane jeshob chhobigulo diyechi shegulo 1200 er por theke aanka, er ager kono sthaponar purano chhobi/paintings ami khuje paini, ar chhobbi gulor pashapashi shei shomoy kar itihash ta bolbar cheshta korechi, ekhane amar bektigoto kono motamot ami deyni. kintu amra jani je banglar itihash 4500 bochhorer purano, kintu ei sholpo porishore shob kichhu lekha shombhob hoye otheni, asha kori onno bangali hubbers ra likhben, ar itihash ashole ki? ami mone kori itihash hocche rajniti, orthoniti, shongskriti, dhormo e shob kichhuri biboron, ar itihash shobshomoy objective hoy na, karon itihash nije nije lekha hoy na, kau ke itihash likhte hoy, tai ekhnae itihash subjective o hote pare. Nawab Siraj ke British itihash jebhabe dekhay, amara bangali ra shebhabe dekhi na, amader itihash bhinno kotha bole, ar ekhane porom shotto mittha bole kichu nei. Shadhin Bangladesh er manush hishabe amra banglar shadhin shotta ta kei shob shomoy age dekhe thaki, asha kori apni amar kotha ta bujhte perechhen. Dhonnobaad


samsudin arshad 3 years ago

Add Your Comment.looking and searching gor photos of RAJABAZAR MOSQUE IN SUKRABAD Dhaka. If you have one l would be very grateful. Asslamualalkum


Muhaiminul Islam Rahi 3 years ago

great collection.... it would be helpful for architecture students as well for me. much informative.


Naim Hasan profile image

Naim Hasan 3 years ago from Dhaka Author

thanks mr. arshad and rahi for stopping by, i would see if any images of that mosque is found :)


Messbaul Alam 3 years ago

Very helpful to know the past


hubba 2 years ago

etihaas diye bibechona korle banglar joto kisu banga hoyese ta ekti prachin shovvotar mrittu ghotanor jonno'e .jade'r kolaane atoshob bivrati ghotano tara aaj prithibir shovvo desher dhabider,amader durvaggo je shomoye'r bisshaghotok shontan'der karone aamra nije'der jaatishottar shothik mormo na buje aajo onno jati o taa'der vasha, shonskriti'r mughdo chaukar hoye bahoba kuranor chestae lipto aasi ! pub desh theke ottikar'je prithibir shovvota'r suchona shei gourabmoy pub deshe'r basninda hishabe nijeder chenar janar onek proyojon ja shottikar vhabe jaatir purno-jagoron'er maddome nije'der shomriddo otit o oitijjo firiye aanarr kaaj'a aamade'r utshah jugabe.

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