Worrel Kumar Bain
Malda, also spelt Maldah or Maldaha is a district in West Bengal, India. It is the gateway to North Bengal. This District comprises with 2 Sub- Divisions, 15 Blocks and 2 Municipalities under the administrative control of Jalpaiguri Division. This District is bounded on the North by North Dinajpur District (West Bengal) and the District of Purina (Bihar). On the East, it is partly bounded by the District of South Dinajpur (West Bengal) and the District of Rajsahi (Bangladesh), on the South by Murshidabad (West Bengal) and the District of Santhal Parganas (Jharkhand). This district consist mainly of low lying plains, sloping towards the south with undulating areas on the north-east.The nort-eastern part of the District contains a elevated tracts.the soil of Malda is alluvium in nature.and found both side of the river Mahananda which devides the district into two region flowing from north to south.The soil of eastern region is comparatively unfertile and commonly known as “Barind”. The western region is divided into two parts by the river Kalindri. The northern low lying area, vulnerable to innundation in rainy season is known as “Tal” and the southern, the comparatively fertile and thickly populated part is called as “Diara”.River Ganga flows along the south-western boundary of the district. Malda district is one of the renowned historical places of West Bengal as well as India. The existence of this historic location can be traced back to long back, at least to the existence of Mouryan Empire. Archeological findings also figure out the existance of buildings of Gupta Empire (Pandua or Pundrabardhana and Gour) Palas dynasty, Senas dynasty, Muslim dynasty (Adina) and many Indian dynasties under British rule. In this investigation five heritage buildings were selected for the study of wall flora was carried out. These are Gour; Adina: Jami Masjid, Pandua: Eklakhi Mousoleum; Jagjibanpur-Nandadirghi Vihara; Chanchol and Harishchandrapur Rajbari.
Fig-1: District Malda
Gaur, popularly known as Gauda/Gour, was the capital city of mediaeval Bengal where a large portion of Bengal’s ancient history was written. History revealed that in the beginning of 7th century AD, Sasanka was the king of Karnasubarna as well as of Gour, who ruled independently for more than three decades. After Sasanka, there were no kings or rulers in Bengal for about one hundred and fifty years. The city of Gour gathered prominence as one of the largest medieval cities of the subcontinent during Sen Dynasty. The city was located on the eastern strip of land between the Ganges and the Mahananda rivers, and south of the present town Malda. The earlier name of the city was Lakshmanavati, often attributed to the Sen king Lakshman Sen. Prior to the accession of the Sena dynasty, Gauda region was under the control of the Pala dynasty and, in all probability, Karnasuvarna, the capital of Shashanka, served as the administrative headquarter. For example, the Khalimpur copperplate inscription of Dharmapal refers to the monarch as Gaudeshwar (lord of Gauda). It is possible that, the Sen Dynasty that supplanted the Pala dynasty in Bengal proper (and to Gauda region) felt the need for a new administrative capital, to reduce the Pala influence. It is possible that the process might have been started by Vijay or Ballal Sen – but given the final shape by Lakshmana Sen. In fact Lakshmana Sen had the administrative capital at Lakshmanavati. The area was known as Gauḍa (meaning sweet or molasses or root) at the time was under the rule of famous Bengali kings such as Shashanka. In the 7th century Gopala by a democratic election in Gauḍa became the first independent Buddhist king of Bengal after Sashanka and founded the Pala Empire. The Palas were often described by opponents as the Lords of Gauḍa. It was also a prosperous city during the Sen Dynasty’s rule in Bengal. However, its most well documented history begins with its conquest in 1198 by the Muslims, who retained it as the chief seat of their power in Bengal for more than three centuries. During the reign of Muslim ruler Lakshmanavati was turned into Lakhnauti. Today it survives only in ruins covering an area nearly 20 miles in length and 4 moles in breadth.
Fig-2: A Historical Map of Gaur (Source – British Library)
During middle of 14th century, the Sultans of Bengal established their independence, and transferred their seat of government to Pandua, also in Malda district. Pandua, the once celebrated capital of Bengal was first established by Shamsuddin Ilyas shah, the ruler of Lakhnauti, who settled here and renamed the place ‘Firojabad’ to commemorate his father Firoj Shah’s contribution. But historical information revealed that at one point of time Pandua was ‘Pundranagar’, connected with a kingdom to the west. Buddhism became the religion of its rulers and continued to be so after the breakup of these empires, when the province appeared as a petty principality. Pundranagar was the provincial capital of Maurya Empire as is evinced from the inscriptions, Brahmalipi on a seal discovered from the ruins of Mahasthangarh in the Bogura district of Bangladesh. The Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, who visited India from 629 to 645 AD., saw many Asokan stupas at Pundrabardhana. The Jagadalla Vihara (monastery) in Barindri flourished paralleling with Nalanda, Vikramshilla and Devikot. The really authenticated history of Pandua begins in Sultan period with the removal of the capital from Gour by Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah about the year 1353 AD. The reason assigned for its choice as the capital at that time is that its position, with rivers and swamps protecting it from the attack from every side. Nowadays, both the sites are having with ruined monuments. These two old cities are almost equidistant north and south from English Bazar, and on opposite sides of the Mahananda river, Gour being on the western and Pandua on the eastern side. The early history of both the cities, as of the kingdoms of which they formed part, is very obscure.
Henry Creighton, an indigo planter stationed at Guamalty Indigo Factory near Malda was pioneered the work of re-discovering the lost city of Gaur in the last quarter of the 18th century. The ruins of the city were then fully covered with dense jungle and in Creighton’s own words “shelter a variety of wild creatures, bears, buffaloes, deer, wild hogs, snakes, peacocks, and the common domestic fowl, rendered wild for want of an owner. At night the roar of the tiger, the cry of peacock, the howl of the jackals, with the accompaniment of rats, owls, and troublesome insects, soon become familiar to the few inhabitants still in its neighbourhood”. In spite of these hindrances, Creighton prepared the first topographical map of the fortified city and its suburbs showing contours of the huge rampart walls as accurately as possible. He also drew a separate sketch of the royal fort or the Citadel of the Sultan. Creighton was an excellent amateur painter. In course of his archaeological enquiry in the ruins of Gaur he made sketches of the extant monuments and ruins. He collected detached inscriptions from the deep jungles and preserved them in the courtyard of his factory. His untimely death in 1807 put to an end to the first initiative to rediscover history and archaeology the lost city of Gaur. However, in 1817, the result of his exertions at Gaur was published posthumously in the form of a book with eighteen drawings and a map compiled from his manuscripts and drawings. Through the eighteen views rendered in brilliant water colour, Creighton made the first attempt to capture the extant monuments and ruins of the lost city. Creighton’s seminal work was followed and mentioned by the few European Officials visiting Gaur during the 19th century. They have also left descriptions of the city, its monuments and inscriptions supplemented by drawings, etchings, prints, photographs and also valuable maps and sketches. Notable among them are William Francklin, Francis Buchannan, J.H. Ravenshaw and J.D. Beglar. In this context it may be mentioned that it was till the time of J.H. Ravenshaw and J.D. Beglar, i.e. in the sixties and seventies of the 19th century, the ruins of Gaur was still in a “very jungly state and several of the ruins could only be approached with difficulty, owing to the dense cane breaks which were too green to burn, and too thickly covered with long sharp thorns to be forced by the elephants.” When General Alexander Cunningham first visited Gaur in 1840s, forty years prior to his visit as the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1879, he saw a long piece of skeleton of a python measuring nearly inch in diameter amidst the deep jungles. Things radically changed when, in the cold season of 1879, Cunningham as the Director General of ASI made his official visit to Gaur. The Archaeological Survey of India also started to pay attention towards the conservation of the monuments of the ruined city of Gaur and Pandua, which were visited, perhaps twice, by its Director General since 1879. From a study of the Annual Reports of Archaeological Survey of India published since 1902, we find mention of first conservation work at Adina Masjid, Eklakhi Mausoleum and Qutb Shahi Masjid at Pandua in 1902-03. In the same year conservation works at the important monuments of Gaur (undivided) like Baradwari or Great Golden Mosque, Sona Masjid or Small Golden Mosque (Firozpur), Dakhil Darwaza, Firoz Minar, Tantipara Mosque and Lattan Mosque also were undertaken. In 1905-06, a sum of Rs. 7,165 was expended for conservation work at Sona Masjid of Firozpur. Again in 1916, we find mention of conservation works at Adina Masjid in Pandua as a part of annual conservation programme in Eastern India. In 1924-25, repairing work at Darasbari Mosque and Baisgazi wall has been done along with erection of notice board ‘to twelve monuments at Gaur’ for protection purpose. It also states that a sum of Rs. 1000 was provided in the budget for the excavation proposal of some underground chambers near the Gumti gate could not be utilized because the land could not be purchased in time.
The present visit aims to look into the historicity of those monuments and document the present ruined condition. The monument became a central point of reference in the process of constructing a history by inventing a collective past around it. While discussing the history of Indian monument architecture, James Ferguson pointed out that all subsequent architecture of monument of Bengal until the coming of Islam is designated as Buddhist-Gandhara architecture where brick made pillars and beams employed to resist the arches for giving permanency in structure. But during Islamic rule, a change had seen in architecture by imposing Islamic architecture. All these remains have immense importance both for its architectural and archaeological point of view. Moreover, it was found in some of the remains that the Hindu style of architecture were transformed with the Muslim style of architecture during the period of Islamization; on the other hand, motif of Hindu Gods and Goddesses were being found in some of the Muslim monuments and tombs. Therefore, an attempt can be made audio-visually to the ruins to highlight the historical transformation with a brief narration of the bearing factors responsible for it. It has been claimed that the Muslim rulers and following them, their nobles and elite erected several monumental buildings, both religious as well as secular, throughout the empire. The twin cities of Gaur and Pandua (Pandua also spelt Pandooah is a census town in Hooghly district in the Indian state of West Bengal) often served as the capital in the sultanate period, while Vikramapur (Vikramapur (Munshiganj) the political and cultural centre of ancient Bengal survives only in the name of an area in the Munshiganj district of Bangladesh. The remains of the city of Vikramapur, the capital of the ancient kingdoms of south-eastern Bengal, are lost and its location can only be guessed on the basis of available data) Sonargaon (Sonargaon also transcribed as Sunārgāon, meaning City of Gold) was a historic administrative, commercial and maritime center in Bengal. Situated in the center of the Ganges delta, it was the seat of the medieval Muslim rulers and governors of eastern Bengal), Dhaka and Many others had Monumental edifices like mosques, madrasas, tombs, caravanserais, fortifications, bridges and causeways, built into them.
Architecture is the mother of all arts, as it encompasses the science and art of designing and building, painting and sculpture and the decorative arts; In fact the art of buildings expressed the deep – seated aspirations of a nation and also the most positive expression of the elective character of its culture. The Architectural heritage of Gour and Pandua are moulded not only by the geographical and stratigraphical conditions and the shifting tendencies of political and social history, but also the inherent religious impact, spontaneous artistic tradition, profound extraneous influence and aesthetic consciousness of the builders. Therefore, any comprehensive study of a country’s architectural heritage is pre-conditioned by its physical setting, historical background, social, cultural backdrop and the last but not the least aesthetic and utilitarian purposes. This is true in the case of Bengal. Bengal has long been considered as a ‘crucible of culture and for being situated in the south –eastern tip of the subcontinent it attracted a host of people the Arabs, the Persians, the Turks and the Afghans. They left behind distinctive traits of their history and culture which ultimately led to the formation of a dynamic and magnificent heritage in the form of mosques. The Bengali Muslims developed a distinctly regional style of architecture that had popular appeal. By infusing their own methods and teachings of construction new life was given to forms that already existed and were well known in Bengal and in neighboring areas. Throughout the Islamic period this tradition continued, assimilating the changes brought about by Muslim rulers in their construction. The Muslims took an existing form, adapted it to their needs, enriched it, and shared it with the culture whence it came.
The Bengali style of mosque architecture broadly falls into two chronological phases, the pre-Mughal and the Mughal. The main distinguishing features of the buildings of the two periods are as follows:
- Most of the pre-Mughal buildings, except the very few early ones, have the curvature of the parapet and the cornice, but this was not adopted in the buildings of the Mughal period in which the parapet and cornice are horizontal and straight.
- The arch in the pre-Mughal buildings is two centered and pointed, emanating from heavy piers or pillars; whereas in the Mughal buildings it is four-centered
- The dome in the buildings of the pre-Mughal period is usually semi-circular and without any shoulder drum so that it lacks height and grandeur. It also rests on pillars which divide the interior of the buildings (mostly mosque) into aisles and bays. Consequently the number of domes equals the number of aisles into bays, or rather the number of front –doors in the sidedoor. The domes in the Mughal buildings, on the other hand, stand on the shoulders and hence they attain a height and beauty, they also rest not on pillars but on transverse arches. Consequently the mosques of the Mughal period are not of the multi-domed type of the previous period, but are mostly three-domed or single –domed.
- Finally the walls of the pre-Mughal buildings are not plastered, but are decorated generals with terracotta designs. The Mughal buildings, on the other hand, are plastered and the decorations are also generally made of plaster work.
In pre-Mughal Bengal the Mosque was virtually the only form of Islamic building, although after the sixteenth century a wide variety of Islamic building types such as the caravanserai and madrassa were introduced characteristic features of Bengali mosques of all periods are multiple mihrabs, engaged corner towers and curved cornices. Although multiple mihrabs sometimes occur in North India, Bengal is the only place where they are a constant feature in mosques. The number of mihrabs is determined by the number of entrances in the east wall. Engaged corner towers are a constant feature of Bengali architecture and may derive from pre-Islamic temples. Curved cornices are probably derived from the curved roofs of bamboo huts; it is possible that they may have a practical function for draining water away from the base of the domes. During the pre- Mughal sultanate three types mosque were built, rectangular, square nine –domed and square single domed. During the pre-Mughal sultanate three types of mosques were built, rectangular, square nine domed and square single domed. A Mosque built on a rectangular plan is divided into aisles and bays, according to the number of domes on the roof. At the east end of each aisle is a doorway and at the west end a mihrab. There are also openings on the south and north sides of the mosque corresponding to the number of bays. The nine –domed mosques are similar to those found elsewhere in the Islamic world, but they differ in having three mihrabs at the west-end. The most popular form of mosque in pre-Mughal Bengal was the single –domed chamber. This period is known mainly from the great Adina Mosque at Pandua, though other smaller buildings are known from the other places. The Lukochuri Gate is one of the best examples of Mughal architecture in Gour.
Fig -3: Site Map of Gaur (Source – Archaeological Survey of India)
VISITED MONUMENTS OF GOUR
The Baradwari Masjid
Fig -4 The Baradwari Masjid and its architecture
It is located in Gour and situated half a kilometer to the south of Ramkeli, 12 km. south from Malda, West Bengal. This gigantic rectangular structured masjid was made of brick and stone. This mosque is the largest monument in Gour. It was built during the reign of Sultan Nusrat Shah. Though the name means Twelve Doors, this monument actually has eleven doors.
Dakhil Darwaja or Selami Darwaja
Fig -5 – Dakhil Darwaja
An impressive gateway was built in 1425, is an important Muslim monument. It was made of small red bricks and terracotta work. This dominating structure is more than 21 m. high and 34.5 m. wide. Its four corners are topped with five-storey high towers. Once the main gateway to a fort, it opens through the embankments surrounding it. In the south-east corner of the fort, a 20-m. high wall encloses the ruins of an old palace. In the past, cannons used to be fired from here. Hence the gate also came to be known as the Salaami Darwaza. This impressive gateway was built by Sultan Barbak Shah (c.1459-74 AD) and served as the main entrance on north into the citadel of Gaur. The facade of the gateway measures 73′ 4″ in breadth and rises to a height of 60′.
Fig -6 – Firoz Minar
A kilometre away from the Dakhil Darwaza, is the Feroze Minar. It was built by Sultan Saifuddin Feroze Shah during 1485-89. This five-storey tower, resembling the Qutb Minar, is 26 m. high and 19 m. in circumference. The first three storey of the tower have twelve adjacent faces each, and the uppermost two storeys are circular in shape. A spiraling flight of 84 steps takes one to the top of the tower. The tower or Minar is built by using red bricks and terracotta work is visible in the entry door to the Minar. Built in the Tughlaqi style of architecture, the walls of Feroze Minar are covered with intricate terracotta carvings. This landmark is also known as the Pir-Asha-Minar or the Chiragdani. The minar itself has been variously claimed as a victory tower, a structure for summoning the faithful to prayer, or as a monument commemorating the deeds of Sultan Saif-al-din Firuz Shah (1487-90 A.D.).
Baisgazi Dewar (wall)
Fig -7- Baisgazi Dewar
The wall is measured 22 Bengali yards i.e. 42 feet in its height it is called Baisgazi wall. This massive brick built wall with ornamental cornices and niches was probably built during the reign of Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah as a protective wall for the palace area of the Kingdom of Gaur. It has a tapering shape and 15 feet wide at base and near 9 feet at top. The walls are now in ruins and give the place a haunted feel. The construction of the wall shows how the kingdom of Gour was protected on the three sides by this huge wall. One interesting fact about the structure is that it was constructed on a solid brick platform. Circular bastion-like structures were raised over the platform, and it is probably over this that the superstructure rested. The foundation of the structures, particularly of the walls, consists of 83 courses of bricks.
Fig -8- Ballal Bati
Ballal Bati is an excavation site. The site revealed dome like structures which look like Buddhist Stupas. Another opinion is that this site might have been the Durbar of the King. According to some historians, this royal palace was used to be during reign of Ballal Sen during 1160 -1179. Only the base of the pillars and plinth remain and the palace was ransacked during the Muslim invasion.
Fig -9 – Jahajghata
Jahajghata is a nearby excavation site reveals an ancient Jetty sort of construction. It was probably an ancient port used by the kingdom when the river flowed by the palace before changing its course.
Kadam Rasool Mosque
Fig -10 – Kadam Rasool Mosque
Kadam Rasool, means the footprints of the Prophet Mohammad. The mosque contains the footprints of Hazrat Muhammad on stone. On the four corners there are four towers made of black marble, with the spires on top covered with intricate artwork. Sultan Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah built the mosque in 1530.
Fig -11 – Lukochuri Gate
Lukochuri Gate or Lakhchippi Darwaza is located to the south-east of the Kadam Rasool Mosque. Shah Shuja is said to have built it in 1655 in the Mughal architectural style. The name originated from the royal game of hide-and-seek that the Sultan used to play with his begums. According to another school of historians, it was built by Allauddin Hussein Shah in 1522. Situated on the eastern side of the royal palace, this double-storeyed Darwaza functionally acted as the main gateway to the palace. The innovative architectural style makes it architecturally worthy and historical important.
Fig -12 – Gunmant Mosque
This mosque is the most inaccessible one in all Malda and so remains untouched and unmatched in beauty as well. Consisting of a vaulted central nave, three aisles and four openings on either side, covered with 24 small domes, this plain but massive mosque was probably built by Sultan Jalaluddin Fath Shah (1481 – 86 AD) in 1484 AD. Out of the 24 domes, half was registered their names in the books of complete true history, while the other remain intact to prove the existence of the entity itself.
Fig -13 – Lottan Mosque
Lottan Masjid is the single domed mosque, having a square chamber, was traditionally ascribed to a Royal Courtesan. It was built in 1475 AD., possibly by Sultan Yusuf Shah. The verandah, with a couple of domes, and a sloped roof design, was once faced completely with coloured glaze bricks, of which only a glittering number of shrads remain to shine. Traces of intricate mina work in blue, green, yellow, violet and white on the enamelled bricks lining the outer and inner walls are still visible. The splendour of colours has also led to the Mosque being called the Painted Mosque. Another interesting feature of this mosque is its arched roof, supported by octagonal pillars.
Fig -14- Chika Mosque
‘Chika’ was probably assigned for the building being a abode of Chikas (bats), for a long time after desertation and destruction of the capital command of Gour. The use of materials from some old Hindu temple is evident from the gateway depicting dilapidated idols, and ancient pillars found lying around. Sultan Yusuf Shah built the Chika Mosque in 1475. It is a single-domed edifice, almost in ruins now. The beautifully ornate carvings on the walls and the images of Hindu idols on the stonework of doors and lintels are still partly visible. The mosque also bears traces of Hindu temple architecture. As stated it was probably used as a prison by Sultan Hussain Shah (1493-1519 A.D).
VISITED MONUMENTS OF PANDUA
Fig -15 – Eklakhi Mousoleum
The Eklakhi Mausoleum is the most elegant monument in Pandua. It was one of the first square brick tombs in Bengal, with a carved Ganesh on the doorway. The then Hindu king Raja Ganesha built this tomb in 1412 AD. by spending one lakh rupees for his son King Jadu, who was later converted to Islam and famous as Jalaluddin Fath Shah. There are three grave inside the mausoleum – the biggest one is for Sultan Jalaluddin (Jadu), middle one is for his second wife begum Asman Tara and the smallest one is for his first Hindu wife’s (Mrinmoyee) son Chinmoy, who was later renowned as Ahman Shah. There are number of lotus motif and the motif of door bell seen even today in the outside wall, which clearly depicts the realm of Hinduism.
Qutub Shahi Mosque
Fig -16 – Qutub Shahi Mosqueand its architectural beauty
Qutub Shahi Masjid was built of stone and brick in the year 1582 AD as a mark of respect to Saint Qutub Shah, by Makhdum Shaikh, a descendant of Muhammad Al-Khalidi. The entrance gateway, once built in stone is now put up by scrapped work of bricks, and looks descent. The brick surface of the walls faced with stones is elegantly carved with a variety of designs. Five arched openings in the east wall and two on the north and south sides are there. The four corners are towered on top by a well shaped cupola on each of them. The inner structure, nothing of which remains on top, with only the giant pillars standing upright. The mosque was built in Mughal period containing some peculiar architectural features of the Sultanate rule of Bengal, and is also known as the Sona Masjid (Golden Mosque) probably, because of the carved work on the face of the walls along with the crowns of the turrets. The mosque is locally known as Chhoto Sona Masjid.
Fig -17 – Adina Mosque
Adina Mosque at Pandua near Gaur in Bengal exemplifies a more distinctive local style, combing features from both east and west. It is a 14th-century mosque located 20 kms., north of the town of Malda. Sultan Sikandar Shah built this mosque in 1373 as a visual proclamation of his victory over the Delhi ruler, Firuz Shah Tughluq. Constructed over a Hindu temple, the mosque is considered to be India’s largest mosque and consists of a series of hypostyle halls arranged around a courtyard. The courtyard façade is a screen of 88 arches supported on piers and surmounted by a parapet. Externally it measures 524′ x 322′ (154.3 x 87m) with the longer side running north-south, while the courtyard measures 426′-6″x147′-7″(130 x 45m). The prayer hall is located to the west, and is divided into two symmetrical wings by a central nave (78’x 34′ and 64′ high) that was originally covered by a pointed barrel vault. The prayer hall is five aisles deep, while the north, south and east cloisters around the courtyard consist of triple aisles. In total, these aisles had 260 pillars and 387 domed bays. In the centre of the Prayer hall, a massive iwan like barrel vaulted hall leads from the court to the mihrab and minbar now roofless and shattered. The vault was framed by a high screen, undoubtedly modeled on the Iranian Pishtaq. Stone spolia from temples were used for the lower parts of the building, but brick was used above the imposts for the arches and the brick domes. Three bays to the north of the mihrab is a raised platform that was originally screened and surmounted by a parapet. In the center of the prayer hall, a massive iwan-like barrel –vaulted hall leads from the court to the mihrab and minbar. Now roofless and shattered, the vault was framed by a high screen, undoubtedly modeled on the Iranian. Stone spolia from temples were used for the lower parts of the building, but brick was used above the imposts for the arches and the 370 brick domes. Three bays to the north of the mihrab is a raised platform that was originally screened and surmounted by 18 domes higher than those over the other bays of the prayer-halls. This type of platform is found in several large mosques of the sultanate period and probably served as an elevated Maqsura. Although the size and plan of the Adina Mosque are atypical of other Bengali mosques, which are much more modest in scale, its multiple mihrabs are typical of mosques in the region. Such as the mosque of Zafar khan Ghazi in Tribeni (1298) which was five. The interior of the courtyard is a continuous façade of 92 arches surmounted by a parapet, beyond which the domes of the bays can be seen.
The grandiose quality of the Adina Mosque and the similarities to buildings in Islamic lands further west can be explained by the ambitions of the patron, who in the foundation inscription, called himself “the most perfect of the sultans of Arabia and Persia”. The design of the mosque incorporated Bengali, Arabian, Persian and Byzantine elements. It was built with brick and stone. Its plan is similar to the Great Mosque of Damascus. It had a rectangular hypostyle structure with an open courtyard. There were several hundred domes. The entire western wall evokes the imperial style of pre-Islamic Sasanian Persia.
The mosque is mostly in ruins today following the damages sustained during the earthquakes in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In early twentieth century Santal community armed with bows and arrows captured the mosque after attacking the local Muslims under the leadership of Jeetu santhal. But it was soon suppressed by British Government supported landlord Khan Chowdhury. Jeetu was killed in the conflict. The bullet impressions are found in the walls of the mosque.
The monuments present now are mute testimony to those exciting times. The monuments of Gaur and Pandua represent richest artistry of the craftsmen. The brilliance of architecture, excellence of terracotta and stone art elevated this small town of Malda district to the world map of artistry. Most scholars have referred to the shifting of the river course to the west as the reason for the decline of Gaur. Although the capital was finally transferred from Gaur to Tanda in 1575 after Munim Khan’s death in the plague, the Bengali poet Mukundaram Chakrabarty’s merchant-cum-Zamindar had gone to Gaur, which was a city of pleasure as well as of artisan manufactures. Since this was written at the end of the sixteenth century, it may be presumed that the city lingered for sometime after the transfer of the capital. James Rennell found that the river had shifted nearly ten miles to the west of Gaur at the end of the eighteenth century. The two European travelers, Father manrique (1648) and Robert Hedges (1687), did not mention the shifting of the river and clearly described their anchoring of boats in front of the palace, which the latter found to be bigger than that of Constantinople. Besides, there was no reason for Sulaiman Karrani or the Mughal authorities a decade later to shift the capital to Tanda, towards the west in the same direction in which the river was moving. The description of ralph fitch at the end of the sixteenth century would suggest that the river had started moving towards the west, which had perhaps prompted Man singh to shift the capital to Rajmahal on the eastern bank. The principal reason of the decline of Gaur appears to be political instability. While the port of Chittagong had become the bone of contention between Arakan, Tripura and Bengal, later joined by the Portuguese adventurers, the Bhagirathi area, particularly its upper part, had become unstable with the conquest and plunder of Gaur by sher shah from the end of 1538. Humayun, whose life of pleasure for three months made him term the city Jannatabad, while the Husain Shahi dynasty was being extinguished. Then came the invasion from Orissa, whose ruler seized Saptagram. While the Portuguese merchants had settled first at Saptagram and then at Hughli, their adventurous countrymen began their depredations in the coastal areas affecting the trade route. The final onslaught came in the wake of the Mughal-Pathan contest, which practically devastated the northern part of Bengal. Such continuous anarchy resulted in the neglect of the maintenance of the overcrowded city. The canals linking the lagoon and the Ganges and serving as the lifeline of the city had to be properly maintained. In 1575, Vincent Le Blanc saw water logging in parts of the city, which would suggest that the canals were not properly maintained. This resulted in the outbreak of a severe plague, which carried away three hundred persons per day, in which Munim Khan also lost his life. It is possible that the connection between the Mahananda and the Ganges through the canals of the city had snapped due to lack of maintenance as much as due to the beginning of the westward movement of the Ganges. The Portuguese occupation of Malacca from the early sixteenth century created problems for the Muslim merchants carrying on trade between Gaur-Saptagram and the southeast. It may be presumed that the Portuguese was controlling the trade links between the Bhagirathi and Southeast Asia and this affected the flow of silver into Bengal. Coupled with political instability and anarchy, the commercial and financial world of Gaur was gradually declining. The Mughal conquest and the shifting of the capital from Tanda to Rajmahal to the east of the river signified a new situation putting a stamp on the fall of Gaur. From the late nineteenth century, Bengali nationalistic writings focused on Gaur as a symbol of independent Bengal. akshay kumar maitreya, ramaprasad chanda, rakhaldas bandyopadhyay, Rajani Kanta Chakrabarty, Charu Chandra Mitra and others dwelt on the political history of pre-Mughal Bengal focussing on Gaur as a symbol of Bengal’s independent entity and not as a part of regional history. With the exception of a few, the ruins as well as the city remained beyond the purview of historians, making ‘Jannatabad’ of Humayun a lost and forgotten city.
- Sinha, S. 2013,. Rediscovering Gaur: A Medieval Capital of Bengal. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh (Hum.), Vol. 58(1), pp. 27-65
- Henry C., 1817. The Ruins of Gaur: Described and Represented in eighteen view with
a topographical map, London, pp. 4-5
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