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.
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.
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)
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
Ancient Structures and Buildings which No Longer Exist Today
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".