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3.2 Religious Buildings

Of the religious buildings mosque constitutes the largest extant number with tombs following. Of other categories, viz, madrasas and khanqas, despite a few literary references, little is known about their structural form with the exception of the Darasbari Madrasa the foundation of which has recently been discovered through archaeological excavations. The khanqas were infact hujras (buildings for living and meditation) with ancillary structures whose forms were probably varied but simple as is evidenced by some extant remains in Hazrat Pandua. Qadam Rasul is an important type, and has much similarity with the architecture of a mosque. But it is represented in the Sultanate period with the lone surviving example at Lakhnauti-citadel, a description of which will follow in the inventorial list.

3.2.1 Mosques

Like the mosques of all other countries of the Islamic world, mosque in Bangladesh is a clearly definable architectural form. The reason is obviously, as elsewhere, the survival of a large number of them, scattered not only in the metropolitan settlements but also elsewhere in subordinate centres.

The Arabic word for mosque is masjid in which term it is known throughout the Islamic world including Bengal. The word has been derived from sujud which means literally prostration. Masjid is thus a place of prostration in prayers, which could be performed both at an open place or a built-in house. In the Qur’an the mention of the word Masjid al-Haram and Masjid al-Aqsa has been used to indicate the sacredness of the places. Although there are recorded instances of performing prayers from open places erection of mosques gradually became identical with the performing of religious duties in built- in houses developed with tradition and necessity and institutionalized with it’s association of being a meritorious work for the world to come. Thus almost all the rulers of Islamic world, both powerful and petty, performed this task whenever they found an opportune time. The hadith that whosoever builds a mosque in this world will get a similar palace in the world to come, recorded in most of the inscription tablets, worked as an impetus for the erection of this structure-type. This recorded hadith in beautifully inscribed styles of writing on stone tablets generally on top of entrance- gateways is a marked character of Bengal Sultanate mosques.

The early extant examples of mosques in Bengal are rare, and infact during the first one hundred and fifty years of Sultanate rule, both dependent and independent, little is known about their erections although there are abundant references in literary and inscriptional sources that mosques were built for the benefit of the Faithful. The nature of these constructions are not however, much clear. It is likely that following the early tradition mosques were built with local materials and local techniques. The early method of conversion of religious buildings such as churches and Zoroastrian temples in Syria and Persia respectively was not possible in India because of the nature of Hindu-Buddhist temples– their narrow space and different orientations. There are evidences that early mosques in Bengal were built with make-shift materials available

from the demolished temples or secular buildings. But with the passage of time mosques were built at first in imitation of central Islamic lands from where the conquerors came, and then gradually through appropriation of local methods and designs a new type was evolved known and identified as Bangla type. The evolution of the Bengal standard or developed style, needless to say, passed through an experimental stage of which at least six-individual known examples may be cited here as representing this phase.

Early Individual Examples

The six mosques belonging to this category are: Mosque of Zafar Khan Ghazi at Triveni, Mosque of Shah Safiuddin at Chhota Pandua, Adina Jami at Hazrat Pandua, the mosque at Mankalir Bhita at Mahasthangarh, the Shahjadpur Jami in Pabna and the Shahi Masjid at Muazzampur in Dhaka. All these mosques are different in size with different characteristics but seem to have a common basic feature, the square unit which in multiplicity forms the total structure, the formula being the number of aisles multiplied by numbers of bays. The square unit, a replica of Persian Zoroastrian chahartaq, must have developed in Seljuq times, the earliest known example of which is perhaps the square domical chamber at the back of the qibla iwan of the Masjid-i-Jami at Isfahan. The iwan is also a Persian feature, a hall-room popularised in Sassanian times, but going back for it’s origin to Parthian era. In later times perhaps in the 11th century CE. this square unit was repeated in all directions forming the zulla and riwaq around the courtyard of the mosque. The iwan was also repeated at first on the opposite side of the qibla, and later on to two other sides forming a classical Seljuq cruciform type of Persian standard mosque. The square unit thus became a regular feature of Persian big or small mosques spreading it’s character to nearby Turkey and subsequently to India through Afghanistan. A number of Seljuq mosques with nine domes, twenty domes etc of this type still exists in Turkey and a connection of these mosques can easily be made with the early mosques in Bengal to be described hereafter. The linkage was established no doubt by the on-coming saints from north Iran and Turkey of which a reference has already been made in the earlier chapter. The linkage can further be established by the example of a number of single domed mosques with a domed verandah in front in Anatolia, the successor examples of which are a large number in Bengal to be noticed in the later part of this chapter. The attempted theory that the square domical structure has been evolved from the local square type of temples in Bengal is untenable from the simple reason that no mosque was ever known to have been copied from a temple particularly because of it’s narrow and constricted space suitable only for a single puruhit performing religious rites, and the nature of the temples’ varied orientation. The perpendicular mandapa in front of a temple cannot also be a predecessor of a horizontal verandah of a spacious mosque. When the builders already knew the sources of the forms, it was unnecessary to look in dark for other sources for the same pattern. The addition of the iwan in one of the earliest mosques, viz the Adina Masjid, is a further proof of the builders’ adherence to their known principles.

Because of the variation in the plan of all these mosques it may be said that a standard pattern was not evolved till the middle of the 15th century by the restored Iliyas Shahi rulers. In the standard plan initiated probably by the first of the rulers, Nasiruddin Mahmud, a uniformity was set in almost all the mosques, and hence standard, to be followed not only by the next rulers of the dynasty but also by it’s successor dynasties including the Husayn Shahis, under whom the architecture may be said to have reached it’s climax. The architecture under these two dynastic rules attained a definable character which hitherto was only experimental. The main feature of this new born architecture was it’s syncretistic formation, a combination of both western Islamic features and the local vernacular idiom which in unison now produced something new. It is this syncretistic novelty which is the hall-mark of the Sultanate architecture of Bengal, and has been described as the Developed Bengal style below. But before we go to this style, it will perhaps be appropriate to give a short description of the experimental mosques to understand the whole process of the formation.

Mosque of Zafar Khan Ghazi, Tribeni. This is the oldest surviving mosque in the Sultanate architecture of Bengal. Built according to an inscription in 1298 CE. the mosque measuring 23.4m by 18.55m externally consists of ten square units in two rows divided by a number of four columns running north-south though the middle, having thus ten domes over it. The core of the mosque is in brick, but externally it is coated in stone. The mosque has five doorways from the east leading to five concave mihrabs in the west wall and two doors on each south and north side. In between the entrance doorways are heavy columns reminiscent of the later Iliyas Shahi and Husayn Shahi periods. The mosque is in a dilapidated condition and in fact bears mark of later constructions both in structural formation and terracotta ornamentations seen in the mihrabs and other parts of the interior walls. An inscription of Alauddin Husayn Shah found in the mosque speaks of it’s restoration and reconstruction during the time of this great ruler and patron of architecture.

Although later renovated the mosque, if retains it’s earlier plan, shows how it was constructed on the basic plan of the Iranian Seljuq style, to become the forerunner of the later developed style. The multi-faceted columns, and the multi-domed, multi- doored and multi-mihrabed features which are noticed here became later on the basic charactertic features of Sultanate mosques in Bengal. The terracottas as is apparent are of the Husayn Shahi period and might have been added in what was originally probably an almost bare wall in conformity with the Seljuq tradition. The name of the builder Zafar Khan Ghazi indicates his Persian Seljuq origin. The early pre-developed mark of the mosque is noticeable in the absence of the corner-towers which are an important feature of Sultanate architecture from the beginning of the 15th century.

Bari Masjid, Chhota Pandua. This is a huge structure formed basically of the same square units, sixty-three in number, arranged in three running aisles from north to south and twenty-one bays from east to west. The units are made of short basalt pillars of Hindu origin placed on the corners with arches and pendentives carrying the domes


over. The mosque measuring 69.45m by 12.8m consists of small light-red bricks, and is dated about 1300 on stylistic and historical ground with the name of Shah Safiuddin who conquered the area about the same time. The antiquity of the mosque is marked by the absence of corner towers, like Zafar Khan Ghazi’s mosque, and indicates it’s connection with Seljuq architecture because of the meagre ornamentation of the outer-face wall with patterns in carved brick- setting. The pattern of placing the mihrabs in conformity with the number of front doorways is the same as noticed in Zafar Khan Ghazi’s mosque but with a differences in ornamentation. The arches here are for the first time engrailed probably in imitation of Arhaidinka Jhonpra at Ajmeer, but better developed to be followed subsequently in the

matured style. The terracotta plaques in the interior of the mosque are mostly of abstract themes showing it’s connection with northern Iran. So are the rosettes on the spandrels of arches. The abundant use of vegetal motifs in the Sultanate architecture of Bengal is a later addition and shows adaptability from local clements.

The stepped minar at Chhota Pandua, built a little distance from the mosque to it’s south-east, is of foreign origin both in purpose and design, and speaks of the exotic element used in the formative phase of Sultanate architecture.

The Adina Masjid, Hazrat Pandua. The next mosque in point of time in early experimental types is the great masjid at Hazrat Pandua, known as the Adina or Friday prayer mosque. It is the largest extant mosque of mediaeval times not only in Bengal, but also in the whole of the Indian subcontinent. Built in 1373 according to an inscription by Sultan Sekander Shah, the son of the founder of the Iliyas Shahi dynasty, the mosque stands today as the only specimen of a standard Arab type of mosques in Bengal never to be repeated again, probably because of the climatic condition and the huge sum of money involved in men and material such a structure needed. Sekander Shah built it for his own satisfaction. For a sultan like him who declared himself the ‘most perfect of the Sultans of Arabia and Persia’ and also ‘the Khalifa of the Faithful’, the building of such a mosque was a natural manifestation of his power and wealth. By building the mosque he not only threw a challenge to the ruler of Delhi, but also proved himself one of the greatest builders of the time. The

Chhota Pandua Minar, Hughli

(left) Hazrat Pandua: Adina Masjid, royal gallery (maqsura)

(right) Adina Masjid, central mihrab

mosque similar to it’s predecessors, not only borrowed the method of square units of the Seljuq type, but also followed the Arab plan of a standard design. The Arab standard design consisted of a vast rectangle with an open courtyard (sahn) surrounded by cloisters (riwaq) on three sides and the prayer chamber (zulla) towards the qibla. With the Arab plan Sekander also added the Persian iwan on the middle of the zulla cutting the prayer chamber into two halves by a perpendicular barrel vault ending in the grand central mihrab. This feature was not used in earlier examples, but now combined in itself both Arab and Persian features as indicated metaphorically in the inscriptions. In the future mosque design, the Arab plan was forsaken, but the Persian design in combination with local element was perfected to make it a standard type of Sultanate mosques.

The mosque consists of bricks faced with stones on the lower parts of the walls, and of exposed bricks on other parts. It’s measurement ‘still need to be properly recorded’, but may be approximately accepted on 155m by 87m externally with fluted columns on the corners not used hitherto. Internally the mosque measures 122m by 46m and has a prayer chamber of 24m in breadth and 12m wide cloisters. The prayer chamber has five aisles running from north to south, and three in the cloisters. The barrel vaulted perpendicular nave measures 21m by 10m, and was once approximately 18m high, but now fallen. The mosque presently is in a ruinous condition, and in the absence of a definitive estimate the domes of the mosque covering square units formed by stone columns and arches have been


variously estimated to be 306 and 370. According to Crowe the number is 260. The columns are square at the base, rounded in the middle and slanting towards the capitals.


Covering an area of three aisles deep, on the northern side of the nave and adjacent to the qibla wall is an upper storey stone-platform carried by seven heavy columns at a row. This in all probability was the royal gallery (maqsura) meant for the protection of the Sultan and his entourage when at prayer. The gallery was not noticed in the earlier mosque described, but now instituted as a feature to be seen in future congregational mosques almost regularly.

A beautiful ornamental piece of architecture within the nave to it’s northwest corner

and on the right side of the principal mibrab is the stone pulpit covered by a hooded canopy. The steps of the pulpit are now in a dilapidated condition, but the low-cut abstract relief-designs on it’s side walls, together with the small mihrab within the hooded part speaks of the delicacy of the work of the artisans. The pulpit is quite similar to the one in the Bari Masjid, and if the latter is dated with the construction of the mosque at the beginning of the 14th century, this must have exercised an influence on the present one.

A much-discussed adjunct of the Adina Masjid is the so-called tomb-chamber of Sekander Shah at the back of the mosque. The discussion was generated by the discovery towards the beginning of the last century of a sarcophagus probably of a later date than the mosque within the floor of the chamber. But that this sarcophagus could not be the tombstone of Sekander Shah can be proved by the simple logic of the massive stone pillars running though the middle of the chamber, and the existence of the sarcophagus not in it’s middle but towards the west end of the floor.

The Adina Masjid is now desolate and it’s grandeur is gone. The plan although was not emulated in later examples, it’s other features such as iwan-type barrel vaulted nave, it’s square units with rows of columns, arches, pendentives and domes, and the decorative details on walls in stone-carving, terracotta and tile ornamentation go a long way towards the formation of the developed Bangla style of Sultanate architecture. The Adina Masjid stands today not as a symbol of architectural type of the day, but as a testimony of the power of an ambitious ruler, and of an enormous building-work unsurpassed by any of it’s contemporaries either before or after in Bengal Sultanate.

Mankalir Kunda Dhap Masjid, Mahasthangarh. The masjid is in a total ruinous condition. Only the foundation with the remnants of some walls and pillars are now traceable. The foundation measures 26.36m by 15.85m externally and is divided internally by two rows of four columns on each row giving thus an inner area of three aisles from north to south and five bays from east to west. The mosque was entered by five doors on the east wall, each on the middle of the bays leading to five concave mihrabs on the west wall. On the north and south wall as is apparent, there were three side doorways. According to Mr. Ayyub Khan who has made a thorough survey of the mosque remains, the middle bay was wider than the side bays having thus 15 domes overhead with the nature of the middle domes unclear. According to him the mosque had a maqsura on the northwest corner. He also found a number of terracotta bricks with

Pabna: Shahjadpur

Jami Masjid

lotus-petal, chain-and-bell, kanjura (pyramidal stepped-motif) and geometric designs. The mosque did not have any corner towers. In the absence of any definite evidence it is difficult to assign any specific date for the mosque. The situation has been rendered more complicated with the discovery of the layers of different periods of construction and the evidence that the mosque was constructed originally on the foundation of a structure, probably a temple. The discovery of an Arabic inscription recording the construction of a tomb in 1300 makes the site in Muslim occupation from the 13th century. Taking all the evidences into consideration a hypothesis can be made that the mosque was older than the comparable extant ones of the 15th century. But how older is still a matter of conjecture. The fact that the mosque was constructed on a temple foundation makes it a monument of 13th century when the mosque following the earlier tradition might have been built on a make-shift arrangement, but altered and rebuilt subsequently, probably towards the end of the fourteenth or the beginning of the fifteenth century. If the roof of the wider middle bay consisted of a barrel-vault like the Adina Masjid of Hazrat Pandua, it should be of late 14th century; but if it had a row of chauchala vaults of restored Iliyas Shahi type, which is unlikely, it should date from the middle of the 15th century. In any case the mosque represents an early example of a mosque-type in Sultanate Bengal, and must be grouped along with others in the experimental phase.

Shahjadpur Jami Masjid, Pabna. This masjid is also an old one, but now thoroughly renovated. Renovation work was also done previously in the Mughal period as is apparent from the design of the domes. The antiquity of the mosque is evidenced by the non-existence of the corner towers, and the curvilinear form of the roof, the latter feature being introduced as is known from the extant examples in the Sultanate architecture in early 15th century, not however in a mosque, but in the tomb of Jalauddin Muhammad Shah. If the mosque is considered to have been of the same approximate date, then this mosque must be the earliest example of the curvilinear


roofed form of the mosque design.

The mosque is associated with the name of Makhdum Shah Daula, a contemporary of Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273 CE) of Anatolia and Jalaluddin Bukhari (1196-1290 CE) of Uzbekistan. The mosque consisting of fifteen square domical units divided by two rows of columns is a little smaller in size (19.13m by 12.60m externally) than that of Mankalir Bhita bringing the two in close proximity to time and space. The seven-stepped canopied mimbar of the mosque compares it favourably with the dates of the Chhota Pandua Jami and the Adina Masjid at Hazrat Pandua.

Muazzampur Shahi Mosque, Sonargaon. This masjid may perhaps be described as the last of the series of early examples reaching to a point from where the developed style of Sultanate mosques may be said to have begun. The feature which distinguishes this mosque from those described above is the use of the corner towers, seen for the first time in the Sultanate mosque architecture. Henceforth this feature derived from the vernacular huts is an inevitable adjunct and is an unequivocal characteristic of Bangla style. The mosque thus represents both the last of the experimental types of mosques and the first of the Bangla style. Herein lies it’s importance. The mosque is smaller in size (12.97m by 9.30m) than those described above and consists of six square domical units having two aisles. It was built according to an inscription between 1433 and 1436 CE (836-839 AH), by Masnad Shahi Ahmad Shah, probably the last ruler of the House of Raja Ganesh. Ahmad Shah ascended the throne with the regnal title Shamsuddin Ahmed Shah in 1433. Two other names Firuz Khan and Ali Musa Sultan are also recorded in the inscription, but their whereabouts are not known. The mosque is renovated now, and is extended by a verandah towards the east. There are a few terracotta and carved brick ornaments inside as specimens of Sultanate style. The tomb of Shah Langar, a saint of unspecified origin, nearby, introduces the mosque as of early date, and places it at par in time-line with other mosques associated with the names of other known saints.

Developed Bangla style under the restored Iliyas Shahis and Husayn Shahis The developed Bangla style may be said to have begun from the time of the restored Iliyas Shahi dynasty. The Iliyas Shahi rulers– both of the first and of the second rule, were great patrons of architecture, and a cognizable example of the first dynasty’s achievement as we have noticed was the Adina Masjid at Hazrat Pandua. The first dynasty however could establish a general pattern which we may term a style, the concentration being mainly on the vindication of authority as a challenge to the imperial rulers of Delhi. The model of architecture was then early Islamic not only to justify their rule as a representative of traditional Islamic kingship, but also as a powerful ruler capable of upholding the dignity of the religion and the Faithful. The interregnum dynasty of Raja Ganesh showed syncretistic way of both the early tradition and the vernacular system making the spirit of the rule at once Islamic and indigenous. The restored Iliyas Shahi rulers understood the meaning well and started to work on this formula. Syncreticism worked smoothly and it produced in architecture a uniform design destined to sustain for the next one hundred years.

The general character of the design consisted of vernacular exposed bricks for the core structure with occasional use of stone from the nearby province of Bihar as lintel and surface covering and decoration. At the initial stage stone columns from the abandoned Hindu-Buddhist structures were appropriated, but gradually supplanted by the newly made ones of the same multi-faceted designs, and brick pillars and

pilasters. The plan of the mosque was as was the tradition, either rectangular or square with a much attention to the orientation towards the qibla i.e. in case of Bengal towards the west. The large rectangular mosques were occasionally divided into two halves by the addition of a nave crossed through the middle of the prayer chamber. This feature is Christian and has been borrowed in early Islamic architecture from Syrian sources. The use of multiple mihrabs in conformity with the doorways in front also appears to be exotic, eg the four mihrabs of the Jami Masjid of Damascus (705­ 715 CE), but adapted to suit local taste probably in imitation of temple niches placed just apposite the entrances.

The dome and the pointed arches, symbolic of the Islamic tradition, were kept judiciously, but the dome now with a vernacular new design in imitation of the stupa­ top or inverted tumbler design with circular rim at the bottom. The design of the overall structure, however, was borrowed from the local hut-architecture with it’s bamboo-originated curvilinear form of roof and corner-posts which at once supplied an innovation and a new character of architecture. This design was further vernacularised with the addition of local chauchala type vaults over the nave, and terracotta ornaments in surface decoration. The terracottas now instead of being in animate objects of Hindu-Buddhist period was conventionalized with abstract foliate and floriated designs in imitation of classical Islamic arabesque motifs. A popular subject-matter is the chain-and bell motif of Hindu art now conventionalized to a hanging pattern of unimaginable variety with a pendant at the bottom. The pendant is sometime a flower, sometime a fruit, sometime a lantern, and sometime of abstract design expressing the ingenuity of the artist. It is curious that in due course these motifs were translated in stone surface giving the same appearance except the colour which in cases of terracottas became brick-red and in stone blackish-grey. The terracottas in some case give the effect of woven bamboo-cane thin walls of huts. The imitation rafters and purlins under the chauchala vaults have the some impression that they were derived from the same subject-matters of the hut. In a total estimation when a mosque is thus viewed from outside it gives a new stylistic look easily distinguishable from other contemporary mosque designs whether in other parts of India or West Asia and beyond. Since the Iliyas Shahis started the design as a building system they were careful enough to make the structure strong and heavy with the result that many of the mosques of this time were able to withstand the wear and tear of age. After the Iliyas Shahis the Husayn Shahi sultans retained the style with the addition of refinement and exuberation of ornamentation, sometimes also with an abundant use of colour tiles so that a comparable distinction can be made between these two periods. In a ruined or dilapidated mosque this distinction is however almost impossible, and the archaeologists and art historians are left with an option to judge according to their own viewpoint. A concentration of mosques and other monuments of these two periods are noticed particularly in four important settlements and their environs viz Gaur-Lakhnauti the main capital of Bengal Sultanate, Khalifatabad (Bagerhat) and Sonargaon– the distant divisional metropolises in the

south and east, and the recently excavated Bara Bazar site, sometimes identified with ‘Mahmudabad’ founded by sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah of restored Iliyas Shahi dynasty, in between. The mosques of Bara Bazar are mostly in a ruinous condition the reason being their lighter mode of construction averaging almost a meter less in width than those of Lakhnauti or Khalifatabad, an indication of a decline in the late Husayn Shahi period. It should perhaps be mentioned here that the mosques of Bara Bazar are indicative of Husayn Shahi style with the name of Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah, a son of Husayn Shah, being found in a terracotta inscription on the site of Galakata Masjid. The majority of Khalifatabad mosques, despite their virile and masculine character of the Iliyas Shahi mode show some special traits in their rounded corner posts– generally described as towers, pediment-like curves of the cornices, and plaster covering placing them in a somewhat separate design occasionally described as Khalifatabad or Khan Jahan style after the name of Ulugh Khan Jahan who is supposed to have built the great Shait Gambuz Mosque. The large sized mosques in these cities were no doubt used as jami‘ or Friday congregational mosques attended by the ruler or his representative giving others their places as area- based community prayer-houses, sometimes also described as waqtiya mosques. The waqtiya mosques are generally smaller in size and may vary according to the size of the community of a particular place. The smallest mosques consisting of a single- square unit covered by a dome is generally described as ek-gumbad or kiosk mosques inevitably constructed to fulfill local needs of distant places. The kiosk mosques abound in number both in the cities and their environs. In occasional instances these mosques are extended for greater accommodation towards the east with a verandah covered by smaller domes or with a vaulted chauchala type hipped-roof. The origin of these verandahs may comfortably be reckoned as indigenous in imitation of the verandahs of local huts.

The inventory of mosques given below has taken into account all important examples of the Iliays Shahi and Husayn Shahi periods with a pointer as far as possible to their time of construction so that a reader can make his own assessment about the style of these structures. In order to avoid confusion examples have been described with reference to cities first placing the larger monuments at the top and the lesser downwards. Examples of the environs have been placed after those of the city examples at the end.

Mosques at Gaur-Lakhnauti

The Gunmant Masjid. This mosque, the second largest in the city of Lakhnauti after the Bara Sona, lies about three-quarter of a kilometre to the south of the citadel built by Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah, the first of the restored Iliyas Shahi sultans. The mosque, built with a vaulted nave through it’s middle, is in imitation of the prayer chamber of the Adina Masjid at Pandua built about a hundred years before. Who built this mosque has not yet been satisfactorily explained. From the point of view of architecture it should come chronologically before the Darasbari Jami, the next largest

(bottom) ground plan Gunmanta Mosque (early 15th and late 16th

century). Photo and plan: Catherine B Asher

in the city, where the barrel vault considering it’s structural weakness was substituted by a chauchala type vernacular vault, imitated in the next large jami‘ the Chhota Sona Masjid. That the barrel vault, first applied in the Adina Masjid was unsuitable in Bengali climate must have been understood by the builders then, and they consequently opted for a better solution which they found in the chauchala type which was much stronger and expected to be durable.

It is likely that the mosque was built by the builder of the citadel, ie, Nasiruddin

Mahmud Shah. According to Islamic tradition the construction of a palace or citadel was always accompanied by the erection of a mosque within the vicinity so that the ruler could go to the mosque at ease to perform his prayer and deliver khutba (the Friday sermon). The mosque fulfilled that need, and the size of the mosque commensurable to the dignity of the founder of the city certainly made it an appropriate structure for him in the city community. It should perhaps further be mentioned that the city during the time of Mahmud Shah and his immediate son Barbak shah developed towards the east and south of the citadel which remained throughout all the dynastic rules as the centre of the city.

The mosque now dilapidated measures 42.5m by 18m outside. It is built of brick, but was originally covered with stones upto the springing of the arches. Cunningham suggests that the mosque also had a corridor along the whole front as shown by a portion of the vaulted roof now vanished. The mosque is divided into two halves by a

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vaulted nave with three aisles in each side entered by four doorways in front and three on the side. The number of domes on each side was therefore twelve making a total of twenty-four in all. The domes on pendentives were all carried by stone pillars on square bases, those on the sides of the nave being larger and originally probably cruciform in design with re-entrant angles in conformity to local tradition. The mosque had a royal gallery on it’s north-west corner approached from outside remains of which can still be traced. The mosque had mihrabs on the qibla wall corresponding to the doors in front, and the gallery must have had also one or three smaller mihrabs in upper storey now all gone.

The mosque at present is so ruinous and it’s walls so stripped of that no ornamental subjects can presently be seen in situ. Nevertheless through an analogy with other contemporary mosques it can be surmised that the walls were once decorated with terracotta plaques and stone carvings seen so much in other Sultanate mosques. The mosque being in the heart of the city must have played an important part in the systematic development of the Iliyas Shahi metropolis.


Darasbari Masjid. It is situated about a kilometre to the south-west of Kotwali Gate and about three quarter of a kilometre to the west of the Chhota Sona Masjid. The place is desolate and lies within Bangladesh, just near the border demarcated by the dried-up Pagla river. On it’s north, west and south sides are agricultural fields scattered with archaeological materials here and there, but on the east is a large tank which separates the mosque from the

madrasa, to be described below in a separate section.

According to the inscription found in a heap of debris at the site the mosque was erected by the restored Iliyas Shahi sultan Shamsuddin Yusuf Shah, son of Barbak Shah, in 884 AH (1479 CE).

The mosque is at present without roof and has a fallen verandah. In size it is the third largest mosque in the city of Gaur- Lakhnauti, after Bara Sona and Gunmant. The mosque consists of two parts a verandah in front in the east and the main prayer chamber to it’s west, the whole being divided longitudinally by a wide nave running east-west.

Externally it measures 34m by 20.6m,

and internally 30.3m by 11.7m. The verandah and the nave measures 3.3m and 5.4m respectively. Within the

Darasbari Masjid: interior view

building, to it’s north-west corner, there are the remains of a royal gallery which measures 5.5m by 3.4m.

Like all other mosques in the city, the Darasbari Masjid was built of brick, but was strengthened by a horizontal lintel of stone running through the middle of all the interior sides. On the corners of the building there were six octagonal stone-towers (four of the main building and two of the verandah), now extant only to a few cm. high. The roof of the main prayer chamber consisted of three chauchala vaults over the nave the middle one larger than the others, and nine inverted tumbler-shaped domes over the sides making eighteen in all. Corresponding to these vaults and domes, there were a slightly smaller chauchala vault over the nave of the verandah and three smaller domes on each of it’s sides making a grand total of four chauchala vaults and twenty-four domes, all now vanished. The vaults and domes of the roof were carried by brick piers and stone pillars respectively. Above the pillars sprang the pointed arches which held the supporting pendentives filling up the corners of the square base of the domes. The royal gallery was carried by four massive stone pillars, left at present only to a height of 1.4m, placed through the middle of the ground floor, and corresponding embedded pillars within the side walls. It was a sort of a mezzanine floor made of stone beams and slabs, and was probably protected at one time by balustrade railings or pieced screens. A stone stairway outside the northwest corner of the mosque led to it’s entrance.

The mosque was entered from the east through it’s seven pointed arched-openings, the middle one, larger than the others, led to the nave. Opposite to the entrances were mihrabs in the west wall, the central mihrab at the end of the nave having however two smaller side ones, making a total of nine, all engrailed. It is not certain if the arched entrances of the mosque were similarly lobbed. The royal gallery had two small engrailed mihrabs in front, but now badly conserved after the repair of the wall.

The main gateway to the mosque, it appears, was from the north where to a little distance heaps of stones are now noticed. The conjecture is strengthened by the discovery of the inscriptional tablet of the madrasa mentioned above in the debris of it’s northern gate, a distance of about two hundred metres in line with only the tank in between.

The ornaments of the mosque, now mostly gone, consisted of beautiful terracotta plaques placed both in and outside the walls, and brick-settings noticed in the face of the arches and pendentives within. The pendentives are filled with oversailing tiers of small bricks set flat and corner-wise alternately to make one of the most attractive designs in architecture, and peculiarly Bengali. The terracottas of the mihrabs are finer than other examples, and appear to have been coated with a little glaze to make them different and attractive.

The Darasbari Jami Masjid at one time must have been one of the most beautiful

examples of Sultanate mosques in Gaur-Lakhnauti. But almost everything of it is now gone as are others, but a comparison with others, fallen or decayed, place it to rank

equally with the Tantipara Mosque (c. 1480 CE) of the same ruler’s time now within Indian side, and the Chhota Sona of Firuzpur built during the time of Alauddin Husayn Shah the great.

Tanti Para Masjid. This mosque stands about one kilometre north of the Kotwali Darwaza and at a mid-point between the citadel and the Husayn Shahi Lottan Masjid. The mosque on the basis of an inscription, now in the Qadam Rasul, is taken to have been built by a high ranking noble Khan-i-Azam, Khaqan-i-Muazzam Mirsad Khan Atabek Rayat Ala during the reign of Shamsuddin Yusuf Shah in 885 AH (1480 CE). It is locally known as Umar Qazi’s mosque or more popularly Tanti Para Mosque after the name of the weavers’ quarters.

The mosque built of bricks presently is in a ruinous condition with the north-east wall fallen and other parts dilapidated. It is a rectangular building of two aisles and five bays divided by four stone pillars through the middle. The ten square units thus formed were covered by domes on pendentives. Externally the mosque measures 27.75m by 13.40m and internally 23.80m by 9.45m, the walls being 2m thick and strengthened by four octagonal towers at the corners. On the eastern side there are five entrances corresponding to five mihrabs on the qibla wall, and on the north and south there are two on each making a total of nine openings. The mosque had a royal gallery to it’s north-west interior which was approached from the north through a platform ascended by a flight of steps. The mosque had a curvilinear form of roof. Profusely decorated with terracotta ornaments beside the brick settings of the arch-faces the mosque remains as an example of one of the most ornate buildings of Gaur-Lakhnauti. The subject matters of the terracottas vary according to the spaces they cover. On the spandrels of the arched openings, the mihrabs and the decorative wall panels the subjects are generally creepers with rosettes in the middle, while within the mihrabs and the panels are conventionalized chain-and-bell with subsidiary motifs, each different, on the sides. Cunningham has the following note of admiration for it’s ornamentation: ‘To my taste this mosque is the finest of all the buildings now remaining in Gaur. It’s ornamentation is rich and effective, and the large decorated panels stand out in high relief against the plain walls. The whole building is of a uniform rich red colour that is much more pleasing...than the gaudy glazed tiles of the Lottan Masjid’. The only mosque which has a comparable ornamentation is the Chhota Sona Masjid, built later during the time of Alauddin Husayn Shah, interestingly enough again by a noble and not by the sultan himself.

Dhunichawk Masjid. The mosque stands about a kilometre to the south of the Khania Dighi Masjid, a spectacular monument to be described hereafter. The present name of the mosque is perhaps after the locality, which was inhabited either by the wealthy class of people of the society (dhani means wealthy persons and chawk locality), or by that section of people of the society who were cotton-carders by profession (dhuni means cotton-carder). The physical features, such as a good number of ponds together with numerous brick-bats and pot-sherds scattered over the lands

around the mosque, are suggestive that the locality was once very thickly populated. The date of the mosque is not known, but on ground of it’s structural and decorative similarities with the Tanti Para Mosque (1480) on the Indian side and the six-domed Baba Adam Mosque (1483) at Rampal in Munshiganj, it can be placed to a date

somewhere in the late 15th century, during the rule of the later Ilyas Shahi period, most probably in the reign of Jalaluddin Fath Shah (1481-1486 CE), the last ruler. The mosque stands on the western bank of a pond and is in a bad state of preservation. The entire domed roof including the corner towers, the south and east walls have completely disappeared. A restoration work, however is in the process now and as was told would be completed soon.

Built mainly of brick the building is rectangular in plan measuring externally 17m from north to south and 11.3m from east to west. The walls are of 1.7m thickness. The two free standing pillars suggest that the interior of the mosque was divided into six square bays having thus a total of six domes over it. The qibla wall is internally recessed with three semi-circular mihrabs and must have been approached by corresponding three entrances in the east wall, of which the central doorway was perhaps larger than the side ones. It is likely that there were two more entrances on each of the north and south sides. The ornamentation of the building consists of terracottas, of which few now survive in decaying condition in the two existing walls. The mihrab arches have beautiful cuspings in their faces, and set within rectangular frames. In an overall estimation the mosque in it’s original state was built in the same style as those of others described above.

Chamkatti Mosque. This mosque, one of a series of single domed mosques erected both in the Iliyas Shahi and Husayn Shahi periods, lies to the east of the Lukochuri Gate of the city, and is named after the chamkatti (skin cutters) class who probably had some contribution in it’s building. The mosque consists of a single room 7.20m square with a large verandah on the east side measuring 3m broad. The mosque is entered by three doorways in front, besides one at each of the sides of the verandah and the square chamber. The verandah had a chauchala vault in the middle placed cross-wise, and the main dome, somewhat of a inverted tumbler shape, is carried by corbelled pendentives with support from squinches below. The mosque had the usual corner towers and a curvilinear cornice.

The building is now in a dilapidated condition. The ornamentation consisting of terracottas and tiles (traces of the latter still discernable) is now gone, and the mosque looks desolate. The accurate date is uncertain. But an inscription found by Major Franklin in Mahajantola in which area the mosque is situated gives the date of a mosque as 880 AH (1475 CE) in the reign of Yusuf Shah, son of Barbak Shah.

Khania Dighi Mosque. The mosque, also known as Rajbibi Masjid, stands about

midway between the Khania Dighi to the east and the Balia Dighi to west, but closer to the Khania Dighi from which is the nomenclature. Who was the builder is not known. But from a close similarity in plan and construction with the Chamkatti

Mosque (1475) on the other side of the border it is assumed that it would also be of approximately the same date, probably a little later, and hence say about 1480 during the time of Sultan Yusuf Shah.

Built of brick, but with a stone-lintel running through the middle of all the four walls, the mosque consists of a square prayer chamber measuring 8.8m a side and a verandah 2.9m in width. The chamber is covered by a large hemispherical dome on squinches on the four corners alternating with blocked arches creating pendentives in between. The verandah is roofed by three smaller domes on pendentives and is entered by three pointed archways from the east and one each from the north and south. The verandah doors correspond to the three doorways of the main chamber. The four exterior angles of the chamber and two of the verandah are strengthened by octagonal towers rising to the level of the roof the cornice of which is curvilinear on all sides.

Inside the prayer chamber, the qibla wall entirely veneered with stone blocks is recessed with three semi-circular mihrabs fronted by beautiful cusped arches. The mihrabs, like all other mosques, correspond to the entrance arches of the mosque. The squinches and pendentives which support the dome above are erected over stone pillars embedded into the walls.

Externally the entire building is richly decorated with brace-mouldings and terracotta ornamentation, the panels of which giving the impression of blind windows filled with stylized chain-and-bell in cusped arch-designs. In the interior the most decorated parts are the mihrabs and their enclosing frames which are ornately carved with abstract designs including chain-and-bell on the facets of the pillars and full-blown rosettes on the spandrels and lintels.

The mosque after being restored by the Department of Archaeology of the

Government of Bangladesh has assumed a new look, and may now be regarded not only as one of the best conserved monuments in Gaur-Lakhnauti, but also as one of the most beautiful in the country.

Bara Sona Masjid. This mosque, the largest in Gaur-Lakhnauti, marks the culmination of Sultanate architecture in Bengal. In contrast to it’s name sake, the Chhota Sona, often described as an ‘architectural gem’, the Bara Sona is sombre and being more than double it’s size brings a majesty unnoticed in any other mosque in the country. The mosque seems to have been built by Alauddin Husayn Shah, and not by his son Narsiruddin Nasrat Shah as was known so long. The source of the confusion was the discovery of an inscription dated 932 AH (1526 CE) by Major Francklin at the beginning of the last century near the mosque. The date falls within the reign of Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah (1519-1531 CE). But the recent discovery of another inscription in a debris just outside the mosque to it’s north-west corner appears to negate the view. The latter inscription speaks of the building of a gateway by Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah in 930 AH (1523-24 CE). Since this inscription was almost in situ and very near to the mosque, the ruins must be of a grand gateway of the mosque itself, and it precedes the date of Francklin’s inscription by two to three years, which



(right) The Bara Sona Masjid: ground plan

(bottom) The Bara Sona Masjid: frontal view


points almost to an impossibility that the gate was constructed prior to the building of the mosque itself. The tradition is that the gateway is constructed after the completion of the main structure, and in the present case of Francklin’s proposition it was before the completion of the building which is unlikely. Moreover the style of the mosque is in mark contrast to that of the Bagha Masjid, built by Nasrat Shah, which is decorated in almost all it’s parts with terracotta ornaments in conformity with the Islamic concept of horror vacuui. The Bara Sona is plain and almost devoid of ornamentation except perhaps the mihrabs which being the most important parts could be imagined to have been decorated profusely like all other mosques, but now all destroyed. The Bara Sona has close resemblance in general appearance with the Chhota Sona built by an wali of Alauddin Husayn Shah. The similarity between the two mosques, and the contents of the recently discovered inscription suggesting a date prior to 1523 imply that the mosque in all probability was constructed during the later part of Husayn Shah’s reign (1493-1519 CE) when he


founded a city named Buzurg Husaynabad to the north and north-west of the original city near Ramkeli. The city, probably unfinished, is now vanished, but could one of it’s symbols, the Jami Masjid, point to this mosque built in conformity with the power and dignity of a sultan who was not only a king but also the ‘Commander of the Faithful’ by ‘deed and testimony’! On stylistic ground the date of the majestic Dhakhil Darwaza has also been attributed to this sultan.

The mosque is a rectangular building of brick faced with stone, and measures 51.20m by 23.15m. with octagonal towers at the corners. In front there is a spacious verandah running north-south with eleven pointed arched-doorways in front and one on each of the sides for entrance. The mosque is three aisled deep with three additional entrances on the north and south sides, having thus according to the formula a total of forty-four domes built on pendentives carried by spacious rectangular columns. At present only the domes of the verandah, and the lateral walls of the mosque remain. On the north­ west corner of the mosque, there was once a royal gallery covering an area of four bays with four domes above. Like all other mosques the entrance to the gallery was from outside. The mihrabs of the mosque, corresponding to the eleven doorways, are now all dilapidated.

The mosque has two gateways, still survived, to it’s east and north giving a space of an open courtyard in front. The gateways are similar with a vaulted passage through the middle, and correspond to a roof curvilinear in form to that of the main building. The simplicity of the building has not been satisfactorily explained. But a suggestion can be offered making a comparison with larger monuments of the medieval period in

Indian subcontinent. It appears that in Indo-Muslim architecture ‘beauty’ and ‘fineness’ went in general with smaller creations. The larger the building, the greater was the simplicity. ‘Majesty’ and ‘overwork’ did not always go together and the masons of the Bara Sona had clearly such a vision in mind. Moreover if the masjid was the work of Alauddin Husayn Shah in the later part of his reign the impact of older simple life must also have worked in the design. In any case the building with all it’s refinement and taste in conformity with the sultan’s character proves that a building of this magnitude and simple beauty could only be built by a great ruler who has been estimated in history as ‘Alauddin the good’.

Chhota Sona Masjid. The mosque is situated about 3 kilometre due south of the Kotwali Gate and half a kilometre to the south-east of the Mughal Tahkhana complex in the Firuzpur Quarter. It is called chhota (small) in comparison to the larger (bara) one which has just been described.

An inscription tablet still fixed over the central doorway of the mosque records that

the mosque was built by one Majlis-i-Majalis Majlis Mansur Wali Muhammad bin Ali. The letters in the inscription, giving the exact date of construction, have been obliterated. But the name of sultan Alauddin Husayn Shah in the inscription suggests that the mosque must have been built sometime during his rule from 1493 to 1519, probably before 1507, the date of the mosque of Bin Suhail mentioned below.


(right) Chhota Sona Masjid: ground plan

(bottom) Chhota Sona Masjid: front elevation

The mosque is one of the best preserved Sultanate monuments under protection by the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Bangladesh. The gilding employed in the ornamentation that had given the building it’s present name ‘Sona Masjid’ (Golden Mosque), does not exist now. The mosque premise, which covers an area of 42m. from east to west and 43.5m. from north to south, was originally surrounded by an outer wall (now restored) with a gateway in the middle of the east side.


Built of brick and stone the mosque proper forms a rectangle having an outside dimension of 25.1m from north to south and 15.9m from east to west. All the four walls are veneered externally and to some extent also internally with granite stone blocks. These stone facings on the southern side of the west wall are seen no more because of conservation works after it’s destruction by the great earthquake of 1897 CE. The four exterior angles of the building are strengthened with polygonal towers, of which nine facets are visible. The cornices are curvilinear and has stone gutters to drain off the rain water from the roof.


There are five arched doorways in the eastern façade and three each on the north and south walls. Corresponding to the five archways in the east wall there are five


semi-circular mihrabs inside the west wall. The stones of most of these mihrabs are now gone keeping the entire west wall bare which at one time constituted the most beautiful part of the mosque.

The interior of the mosque, measuring 21.2m by 12.2m, is divided into three aisles by two rows of stone pillars, four in each row. A wide central nave has cut the aisles into equal halves, each half showing six equal square units of 3.5m a side. The nave has three rectangular units, each measuring 3.5m by 4.5m. The interior of the mosque has therefore a total of fifteen units, of which the three rectangular units are covered with chauchala vaults and the remaining twelve square units each by an inverted tumbler-shaped dome. They are all carried on radiating arches springing

Chhoto Sona Masjid: a frontal doorway

Chhoto Sona Masjid: a decorative wall panel

from the free standing stone pillars and the engaged pilasters. But the upper corners in between the arches of the square units are filled with corbelled brick pendentives to make up the phase of transition for the domes. At the northwest corner of the mosque there is a royal gallery forming an upper floor still standing in a dilapidated condition. It was approached from the northwest corner of the mosque through a stepped platform connected with a doorway. The gallery has a mihrab in front.

Stone carving, brick-setting, terracotta, gilding and glazed tiles were used in decorating the building, and of them the former play the dominant role. The subject- matters of the stone carving are choosen according to the demand of the spaces, eg, the borders of the panels with creepers and their interior with various forms of stylized hanging patterns adapted from the chain-and-bell of the Hindu period. The spandrels of arches and the spaces above the frames are always dotted with rosettes, an attractive form of designs, but all carved differently. The interior of the domes and vaults are decorated with terracottas, those of the vaults being copies of the bamboo frames of local huts. Mention should be made that all the frontal archways and those of the mihrabs were all cusped giving an extra beauty to the monument.

The most important ornamentation of the mosque however is to be seen on the frontal courtyard of the mosque, only recently excavated. The ornamentation consists of mosaic roundels in blue and white colours of variegated design, the beauty of which cannot be expressed unless someone has seen it. The mosaic design is not in situ, but a roundel has been composed by the excavators putting the flakes in their appropriate places and exhibiting it in a room attached to the guesthouse nearby. If this is a model of the Husayn Shahi method of floor ornamentation then excavators may have similar good luck in case of other monuments also. The ornamentation proves clearly that tile was an important decorative method under the Husayn Shahis, a further example of which is to be noticed in the wall decoration of the Lottan Masjid, described below.

At a distance of 14.5m to the east of the gateway is a stone platform containing two tomb-sarcophagi inscribed with verses from the Qur’an and some names of God. Who lie buried here are not exactly known. Cunningham suggests these to have been the tombs of Wali Muhammad, the builder of the mosque and his father Ali.

The glamour of the Chhota Sona Masjid is not there as it was originally, particularly because of the stripping of the decorative mihrabs and the mosque courtyard, but still whatever now remains is enough to evaluate it as the most attractive monument of Gaur-Lakhnauti and consequently the most desired picnic spot for the visitors at present.

The Lottan Mosque. The Lottan Mosque lies about one and a half kilometre to the north-east of the Kotwali Darwaza and is the first monument to be noticed on the right side of the road towards Malda in India. This is a single-domed monument and compares favourably with the two structures– the Chamkatti and the Khania Dighi mosques, already described. But of the three this is the most ornately decorated one which according to Franklin ‘is not surpassed by any similar monument for elegance of style, lightness of construction or tasteful decoration, in any part of Upper Hindustan’.


The mosque made of bricks consists of a square domed room measuring 11.90m each side, and a verandah in front 3.35m wide. The side-walls of the mosque are 2.60m wide, but the back wall measuring 3.20m is one of the thickest of such a monument in the whole of Bengal. The external measurement is 22.10m by 15.55m. The mosque has the usual corner towers, fluted like those of the Gumti Gate of the citadel.

The mosque is entered by three doorways from the east, and one on each side of the verandah, and three on each of the north and south sides of the main domical chamber. The verandah is roofed by a chauchala vault in the middle flanked by two small domes on the sides. The main dome of the square chamber rests on brick pendentives, which in turn are supported by deep squinches at the room’s four corners.

The mosque is the best-preserved monument in the whole of Gaur-Lakhnauti and was the most elaborately surfaced with tiles of four colours– green, yellow, blue and white, many pieces of which are now preserved in the Varendra Research Museum of Rajshahi University, Bangladesh.

The date of the mosque like many others is not exactly known. A proximity of the building with the Khania Dighi Mosque and the Chamkatti Mosque in plan and design although makes it a continuation of the restored Iliyas Shahi style, which is true of all mosques of the Husayn Shahi period, it’s profuse and delicate ornamentation in tile makes it a Husayn Shahi monument per excellence, the building of which must have to be attributed to the period of Alauddin Husayn shah, the most cultured ruler of the Bengal Sultanate.

Jahaniyan Masjid. This mosque, the latest of all the surviving monuments in Gaur built during the Sultanate period, is known to have been built by Bibi Matti in 941 AH (1535 CE) during the reign of Ghiyasuddin Mahmud shah, son of Alauddin Husayn Shah. The nomenclature, ‘Jahaniyan Masjid’, is unknown. But Abid Ali thinks that it might have been a corruption of a saint’s name Yahaniyan Jahangosht to whom perhaps it was dedicated.

The building is situated a little to the south of the tomb of Akhi Sirajuddin to the northwest of the Sagar Dighi. It is a brick building, the measurement being 17.50m by 12.80m externally and 12.20m by 8m internally. Inside it is divided into two aisles each

Lottan Mosque

having three square bays with domes surmounting them on stone pillars. The mosque has three entrances to it’s east side and octagonal towers at the corners with Mughal pinnacle turrets. The moulded cornice at the top has a curvature representing the Bangla hut.

The face of the wall has been patterned with horizontal string mouldings divided by vertical offset and inset panels seen prominently first at the Chika Building and at the corner towers of the Dakhl Darwaza and then fully in the Qadam Rasul. The building together with the Qadam Rasul form a group by themselves easily distinguishable from other structures of Gaur and may be taken as one of the most heavily ornamented monuments of the late Husayn Shahi period.

Mosques in Lakhnauti Environs

The mosques under discussion are not within the perimeter of the city of Lakhnauti, but may be said to have stood within the administrative jurisdiction of the iqlim of Lakhnauti, and presently fall in the district of Rajshahi, Naogaon, Nawabganj, Dinajpur, Pabna and Habiganj respectively, all now in Rajshahi Division except Habiganj which because of it’s comparative distance is now placed under Sylhet Division. The style of the mosques and the fact that Srihattamandala (Sylhet) at one time formed part of the Pundravardhanabhukti renamed in the Sultanate period as the iqlim of Lakhnauti, have been considered for this inclusion.

Mosque of Bin Suhail, Mahisontosh. Mahisontosh appears to have been an important settlement during the time of the later Iliyas Shahis and Husayn Shahis. It is now in the Dhamuirhat Upazilla of Naogaon District in Rajshahi Division, and is situated on the Bangladesh side of the border with West Bengal. From the record of the available inscriptions, it appears that the place was within the Barbakabad Division, created probably by Sultan Barbak Shah (1459-74 CE), the second ruler of the restored Iliyas Shahis. Mahisontosh with at least three mosque inscriptions found on the site must have been an important place of the division, probably the headquarter of the division, known as ‘Barbakabad Makan’.

Of the inscriptions two mentioned by H. Blockman are dated 1460-61 CE (865 AH) and 1471-72 CE (876 AH) respectively, and the last one dated 1507 CE (912 AH) of the time of Alauddin Husayn Shah. The inscription of the present mosque is now preserved in the Varendra Research Museum of Rajshahi University.

The Editor of the present volume visited the site in 1993, and found heaps of debris with columns, bricks and stones scattered all around. The site being almost on the border was just hurriedly noticed on the advice of the BDR, and was found to contain the foundation of a mosque, just of the size of Chhota Sona Masjid, described above. The site was excavated partly in 1918 by the Varendra Research Society and discovered some remains of the mosque of which three pieces were collected and stored in the Museum of the Society. Of the pieces the most important one is that of a broken mihrab consisting of several parts with sculptured images of Visnu, Uma-Mahesvar and Sarasvati. It is remarkable that the mihrab was built of a monolithic stone of a temple

with these images sculptured, now placed back wise with the plain side forming the face of the mihrab. The face was then carved concave and ornamented with palmettes, lotuses, flower branches and chain-and-bell motif in low relief, just like those of the Chhota Sona Masjid, but more elaborate and refined. This elaboration and fineness may probably be taken as an indication of the date of the Chhota Sona Masjid now unknown but presumably earlier than 1507 of the present mosque.

Of the other pieces the one is a broken tablet of Arabic inscription in naskh character mentioning the erection-date of the mosque on 9th Ramadhan 912 AH (1507 CE) and the name of the builder as ‘bin Suhail’ only extant, and the other a broken panel of the type now seen in the Chhota Sona Masjid on the sides of it’s frontal doorways.

The importance of the mosque beside being an important architectural piece of the time must be looked upon as pointing to the place probably the centre of Barbakabad as the administrative headquarter of the Division.

Bagha Mosque. The mosque is situated at a distance of about 38 km south-east of Rajshahi city, and is erected within a walled enclosure on the west bank of a large tank. It is entered by a monumental gateway on the southeast side of the mosque. The mosque was erected according to an inscription fixed over the central doorway (now in Karachi) by the Husayn Shahi Sultan, Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah in 903 AH (1523-24 CE).

Bagha Mosque, Rajshahi


Kusumba Mosque plan

The mosque conforms to other ten-domed standard type as will be noticed in Khalifatabad and Bara Bazar and is built of bricks with stone plinth and stone lintels running all round the walls through the middle. It measures externally 23.16m by 12.90m with a wall thickness of 2.30m.

The interior is divided into two longitudinal aisles and five bays by a row of four stone pillars supported by corresponding pillars on the sidewalls. The domes created by these aisles and bays are carried by intersecting arches and corbelled pendentives and are of the usual inverted tumbler-shaped design. The mosque is entered by five doorways from the east with two screened openings each on the north and south sides. In the western wall there are three mihrabs instead of the usual five corresponding to the doorways: the right side one of the principal mihrab was not constructed because of the existence of a royal gallery on this side, the place of the fifth one is in the upper level of the gallery. The mosque was strengthened by usual octagonal towers at the corners with a bow-curve cornice running between them.

The mosque is noted for it’s exuberant terracotta ornamentation both in and outside placed in moulded frames. The terracottas consist of both vegetal and floral motifs set appropriately in required spaces with occasional chain-and-bell motifs of abstract design giving a sense of wearing jewellery. All the mihrabs are engrailed and exquisitely decorated.

The mosque represents a truly ornamental style of the Husayn Shahis, and it’s ornamentation together with the decorated faces of the Jahanyian mosque and the Qadam Rasul shrine all at Lakhnauti offer a truly demarcating line between the Iliyas Shahi and Husayn Shah monuments of the Sultani Bangla.


The Mosque at Kushumba. The mosque stands on the left side of the Rajshahi- Naogaon road and is now in Manda thana within the jurisdiction of Naogaon District. It is on the west side of a big tank at a little distance from the road just mentioned. The mosque has been dated by an inscription to 966 AH (1558 CE) and was constructed by an wealthy person of high rank named Sulayman during the rule of the Suri ruler Ghyisuddin Bahadur Shah (1556-60 CE). Although built after the Husayn Shahi rule, the mosque is typical of a Husayn Shahi monument representing the last of the important Bangla style.

The core of the building is brick, but is faced outside entirely like the Chhota

Sona with stone blocks. In the interior the facing is upto the springing of the arches. The interior of the mosque measures 12.34m by 8.07m with a wall thickness of 1.82m. Two free standing stone pillars within the prayer chamber divide the mosque in two aisles and three bays having thus a total of six square units surmounted by domes of usual Bangla style on pendentives. On the north-west corner there is a raised platform ascended by steps meant for a gallery for the high ranking person. Corresponding to three doorways from the east, there are consequently two mihrabs on the qibla wall and the third one placed at the level of the platform. The two openings of the north and south sides are screened off. The cornice of the mosque is gently curved towards the end with octagonal towers at the corners.

The decoration of the mosque consists of stone moulding and carving both on the exterior and interior. The exterior of the mosque is divided by horizontal string mouldings into upper and lower sections with decorative rectangular panels in between. The interior is elaborately carved with particular attention to the mihrabs which have cusped arches with kalasa motifs above. Tendrils, rosettes and hanging patterns in appropriate places are some of the most important subject matters of overall ornamentation.

The mosque survives in a good condition with original features and gives a clear idea of the Bangla style of the last one hundred years of the Sultanate period.

Kusumba Mosque, Naogaon


Gopalganj Mosque. This appears to be one of the earliest known kiosk mosques in the Sultanate Bangla. Architecturally it’s antiquity can be ascertained by the non­ existence of the corner towers as is apparent from the early experimental examples and the use of the barrel type of vault an early Iranian feature over the verandah of the structure.

The mosque stands toady in a ruinous condition and is situated on the left site of the Dhaka-Dinajpur road adjacent to the tomb of much known Chehelghazi about 6km before Dinajpur town. Built of exposed brick with stone at the springing of the entrance and squinch-arches of the dome, it is a small building with an inner square chamber measuring 4m a side with a verandah 4m by 1.8m. The mosque is entered as is seen in the described examples by three doorways from the front leading to three mihrabs in the qibla wall. There were also one doorway each on the north and south sides. The mosque is much ‘dilapidated’ to have further description but may be assumed to have initiated the design in elevation and ornamentation as seen in the kiosk mosques above. The builder of the mosque has been mentioned as Ulugh Iqrar Khan, commander and wazir, of Ruknuddin Brabak Shah, the son and successor of Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah, the restorer of the Iliyas Shahi dynasty.

The importance of the mosque can perhaps hardly be over empliasized as the first known example of it’s kind in Lakhnauti area, and second in the whole of Bengal so far discovered after the Molla Simla in Hughli. The barrel-vault suggests it’s link with the earlier vaulted examples in Hazrat Pandua and Lakhnauti. In any case in the absence of further discovery this mosque may be regarded as one of the initiators of the style, gained so much popularity in the subsequent period not only in the Sultanate but also in the Mughal era.

Mosques at Shura, Navagram and Shankarpasha. These kiosk mosques with three domed verandah in front are so similar in plan and design that the description of one except in decorative details will follow the account of others. The Shura mosque is in Dinajpur District, that of Navagram is in Pabna and the Shankarpasha is in Habiganj Sylhet.

The difference of these mosques with that of Gopalganj is to be noticed in the method of vaulting over the verandahs, now covered with domes instead of barrel-vault of the Gopalganj type. This switch over must have been due to the consideration of more durability and aestheticity. The parapet over the Sahnkarpasha mosque with kalasa top over the corner towers is a later addition.

On stylistic grounds, more particularly of ornamental account all the mosques belong to the Husayn Shahi period, the first one undated but the latter two dated by inscription. Shankarpasha mosque was erected during the reign of Husayn Shah, and Navagram mosque in 932 AH (1526 CE) in the reign of Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah.

Mosques at Sonargaon

Sonargaon lies about 27 km southeast of Dhaka city on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway. It is a marshy land and is flanked by the Shitalakhya on the west and the Meghna on the south and east, joined by Brahmaputra (Jamuna in Bangladesh) from the north. All the extant monuments of the mediaeval period are now scattered over both the sides of the highway– the Sultanate being more on the west. Needless to say that Sonargaon was considered strategically very important from the point of defence and international commerce.

The first known mosque from Sonargaon is that of Muazzampur (1432-36) of which a description has already been provided in Early Individual Examples. It was a six- domed mosque, and interestingly enough appears to have been the first example of it’s kind to be followed by others in Rampal, Khalifatabad, Bara Bazar and Lakhnauti. The Mosque at Yusufganj. This is an ek-gumbad mosque and is on the south side of

the road to Mograpara. It has lost all it’s original character, but the curved line of the cornice, it’s pointed entrance arches, the mihrab tops, and the low dome act as pointer to it’s being a Sultani mosque comparable to other mosques of the time. It’s date may be assigned tentatively towards the end of the fifteenth century, probably within the time period of the restored Iliyas Shahi dynasty.


Goaldi Mosque. This is the only mosque which after restoration may be said to have stood with all it’s original features in the Sonargaon city. Designed in the usual ek­ gumbad type, the mosque is made of

bricks with the use of stone in the central mihrab and two stone pillars on the sides of the central doorway, wider than the two side ones. The interior measuring 9.59m a side with a wall thickness of 2.29m is covered by a hemispherical dome carried on squinches with heavy arched fronts. The exterior is strengthened by circular towers, somewhat unusual after Khalifatabad mosques, to be described below.

The mosque is ornamented both inside and outside with terracotta plaques the subject-matters being vegetal, floral and conventionalised chain-and-bell. Outside the terracottas are organised within window-like panels on the sides of the doorways. The central engrailed mihrab consisting of a basalt stone is a good piece of artistic work framed

Goaldi Mosque: a decorative panel

within a panel carved with beautiful looped-foliate and flower designs in appropriate places.

The mosque is dated by an inscription– first citing a verse from the Qur’an and the much narrated hadith of proposing a reward for the next world on building a mosque, and then mentioning the name of the builder as Mulla Hizbar Akbar Khan of the reign of Alauddin Husayn Shah in 925 AH (1519 CE). The solid construction of the mosque in accompaniment with beautiful terracotta and carved stone ornamentation is a specific feature of Husayn Shah’s monuments.

Mosques in Sonargaon Environs

Mosque at Rampal. The mosque within the outskirts of Sonargaon, but presently in the district of Munshiganj, is situated in the village of Dargapara named because of the existence of the tomb of Baba Adam Shahid nearby.

It is a six-domed mosque with two aisles and three bays having three doorways in the east wall with corresponding three mihrabs on the qibla side. The interior is divided by two stone columns on brick bases and the domes are raised through corbelled pendentives supported by these columns and engaged pilasters on the side walls, two on the east and west walls and one each on the north and south sides.

The mosque measures interiorly 10.96m by 6.93m with a wall thickness of 1.70m having octagonal towers at the corners. The ornamentation consists both on the exterior and interior with terracotta panels on the sides of doorways and cusped mihrabs. The central mihrab has a hanging chain-and-lantern motif through it’s middle.

The mosque is dated by an inscription pronouncing it as a Masjid-al-Jami erected by the great malik Malik Kafur, during the reign of Jalauddin Fath Shah, son of Muhmud Shah in the middle of Rajab 888 AH (August 1483 CE).

The mention of the mosque as a jami‘ expresses the importance of the place as a settlement, and the builder the great malik in the event must have been an administrator of the area. The occurrence of the name of Fath Shah along with the same name in other mosques of the area speaks of him as patron of architecture like his predecessors of great fame and his liking of the place as a favourite one. The six- domed mosques at Lakhnauti, Bagerhat and Bara Bazar built by the same sultan suggest that he had a particular preference for this type of mosque design.

Mosques of Dhaka. There are a number of mosques in Dhaka, all of them now renovated and unrecognizable. The only evidence in support of their historicity is the existence of their original inscription either in situ or carried away from the site. One such mosque is that of Naswala Gali in the Urdu Road, near central Jail. The mosque is now a three stroeyed building, and is known only by it’s inscription presently transferred to ‘Dhaka Museum’. The date has been recorded as 863 AH (1459 CE). The inscription provides us with an information that Dhaka in that time was within the iqlim Mubarakabad, probably a further division from Sonargaon.

Mirpur Mosque. Known as the Mazar Mosque of Mirpur, it is dated 1480 according to an inscription tablet fixed on it’s wall. It is now thoroughly a renovated and extended mosque and has much Mughal characteristic, the indication being that the mosque, being situated near the tomb of a saint nearby was restored and renovated in reverence during the Mughal period.

Binat Bibi Mosque. The next in point of time is that of Binat Bibi in Narinda built according to an inscription not in situ during the reign Jalauddin Fath Shah (1481-86 CE), the last ruler of the restored Iliyas Shahi dynasty. The mosque is now completely a renovated and an extended structure with two floors above it. Originally it was a small square domed mosque with octagonal corner towers the interior measurement being 3.20m a side and the thickness of the wall about a meter. The mosque was entered by three entrances from the east, and it’s dome was raised on squinches with corbelled pendentives above. No trace of it’s original decoration now remain. The walls are now plastered over and painted.

Khondkartola Mosque. This mosque is in the village of Khondkartola presently in the Bandar thana of Narayanganj. The mosque is dated 886 AH (1482 CE) and according to the inscription tablet over the central doorway was built by Malik-al- Muzzaam Baba Saleh, probably a nobleman popularly known as Haji Baba Saleh. The patron ruler has been recorded as Sultan Abul Muzaffar Fath Shah (1481-1486). The mosque, also renovated and plastered over, now gives a Mughal look with a Mughal dome on a raised drum and the corner towers stilled and domed over the cornice.

Mosques at Khalifatabad (Bagerhat)

Shait Gambuz Mosque. The mosque built as a congregational mosque of Khalifatabad lies at a distance of 3.5 km to the west of present day Bagerhat. The name ‘Khalifatabad’ was given to the southern province of the kingdom presumably in honour of sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah, the restorer of the Iliyas Shahi dynasty and the patron of the warrior-saint Khan Jahan titled ulugh (great). Nasiruddin was the first ruler of the dynasty to declare himself Khalifa by ‘proof and testimony’ in lieu of simple Khalifatullah assumed by Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah of the House of Raja Ganesh. This was certainly a vindication of his power which he showed not only in his capacity of restoring the dynasty and it’s consolidation, but also as a patron of architectural activity. The saint in honour of his master probably proposed the name and accepted by the sultan in reverence to the saint who rendered tremendous services in defending and extending the territory towards the south. It is widely believed that this mosque, the largest in Bengal after that of Adina at Hazrat Pandua, was built by the saint himself before his death in 1459 in the style initiated by the sultan at Lakhnauti but imprinting his own mark of simplicity on it’s architecture. The mosque is bare in comparison to those of Lakhnauti, but shows a greater vigour and strength in construction.


(top) Shait Gambuz Mosque ground plan

(bottom) Shait Gambuz Mosque, interior view

Built in exposed brick the mosque consists of a large rectangle measuring 48m by 32.45m through it’s exterior with an open walled enclosure in front. A gateway was built on the middle of the eastern side of the enclosure which still stands in a fair state of preservation. The mosque is entered through eleven doorways in front, the middle one being larger, and seven doorways through north and south sides having thus a huge area of hypostyle prayer-chamber with seven aisles and eleven bays. The square units thus formed by the cross of the aisles and bays are seventy-seven in number, all surmounted by inverted tumbler-shaped domes except the central ones– numbering seven over the nave cutting through the middle. These are in the chauchala shaped vaults, an indication of the structure’s vernacularization as an accepted policy of the Iliyas Shahis.

Number sixty, and hence Shait Gambuz (sixty-domed) is a misnomer, and is a traditional local name probably from heresay or wrong counting. The curvature of the roof is an imitation from Gaur, but it’s pediment like member over the central entrance arch is a new element probably taken from the conical corner of the dochala hut. There is no maqsura in the mosque on it’s northwest interior, and instead a doorway was made on the northern side of the central mihrab for the entrance of the ruler and his associates, diminishing thus the number of mihrabs to ten instead of eleven. This is a marked variation in the mosque architecture of the Sultanate Bengal and is in keeping with some earlier examples of the early Khilafat. There is another spectacular difference in the mosque, unnoticed in the Lakhnauti style. This is the circular corner tower, so long polygonal or multi-faceted in imitation of bamboo-posts of huts shaped along the lines of Hindu pillars but now simplified and in imitation of Tughlaqian turrets in Delhi, probably introduced by immigrant builders after the desolation of Delhi by the invasion of Timur. The towers in conformity with the Tughlaqian examples were also hooded with rounded domes, unseen in the Lakhnauti architecture. Particularly because of this structural variation this mosque together with others that followed is differentiated from the parent style in Lakhnauti, and is sometimes described as Khalifatabad or Khan Jahan style. The austerity of the mosque in ornamentation compared to those of it’s contemporaries in the capital-city is also another factor for this appellation. This austerity is perhaps in keeping with the old Seljuqian style where ornamentation consisted mostly of brick-setting in pattern, followed here both in and outside except the mihrabs which decorated with engrailed arches and terracottas followed the earlier examples in Lakhnauti and Pandua. Taken as a while the mosque is estimated as a masculine and sombre structure built in a restored Iliyas Shahi tradition but with a difference giving a local appearance distinguishing from others both before and after. The two inside platforms one on the right side of the main entrance and the other corresponding to it near the west wall were probably used as lecture-podium making the mosque a prayer house and a madrasa simultaneously in keeping with the earlier Seljuq tradition.


The Nine-Domed Mosque. The mosque stands on the bank of the Thakur Dighi situated at a little distance to the south-west of the tomb of Khan Jahan. Built in brick the mosque measures externally 16.45m a side and internally 12m with a heavy wall more than 2.3m in thickness. The mosque is entered by three doorways the middle one slightly larger than the others and has corresponding three mihrabs in the west-wall. The interior is divided into three aisles and three bays by two rows of stone pillars, two in each row having thus a component of nine square units surmounted by nine inverted tumbler-shaped domes. The mosque in having round corner­

Nine-Domed Mosque, ground plan

towers and almost bare outer wall except the horizontal raised lines over the doorways is in conformity with the building of Shait Gambuz, and is therefore dated about the same time of the great mosque. The mosque has the usual curvature in the roof, and has an impressive solid appearance from outside. It’s dwarfish doorways compared to the height of the structure however diminishes it’s proportion and overall beauty.

The Six-Domed Mosque. A few yards to the north-west of the dargah of Zindapir to the west of the tomb of Khan Jahan, this mosque stands with it’s upper part fallen now covered with a make-shift arrangement. The mosque is built of brick and measures a rectangle of 15.2m by 11.6m with a thickness of it’s wall about 1.8m. The interior is divided into two longitudinal aisles with three crossing bays making a total of six square units with domes above them once. The mosque is entered by three doorways from the east with corresponding mihrabs is the west wall and has two openings on each of the north and south sides: All the decorations of the mosque are now gone, but appear to have consisted of sunk-panel ornaments on the sides of the doorways, apparently a new feature unseen in other mosques of Bagerhat, but noticed in the Iliyas Shahi and Husayn Shahi monuments at other places. The mosque is said to have been built by one Reza-i-Khan, a follower of Khan Jahan, and may be dated towards the end of the 15th century, preferably during the restored Iliyas Shahi rule of Jalaluddin Fath Shah (1481-1486 CE).

Khan Jahan Kiosk Mosque. This mosque adjacent to the tomb of Khan Jahan to it’s west exemplifies the first kisok-type mosque of Bagerhat. Although two of it’s prototypes have been described in Lakhnauti it would be difficult to ascertain which constituted the first example between them. The Khan Jahan Mosque in Bagerhat initiated a series of examples of it’s kind not only in Khalifatabad but also around it in the divisional suburban-sites.

The mosque built in brick but plastered over like the tomb is a square structure measuring 12.2m a side with three arched entrances from the east, and one each from the north and south. The date of the plaster-cover is not certain. According to some it was an original cover, and hence an additional characteristic of Khan Jahan style. But since this covering was not repeated in any other structures outside the dargah compound, it is likely that the covering was not included in the original design, but was probably added in the Mughal period. The supposition is strengthened by the existence of engrailings on the mihrab arch which in keeping with the terracotta designs constituted an integral aspect of decorative plans in the restored Iliyas Shahi and Husayn Shahi periods. The mosque has usual cornice curve rounded corner towers, and is surmounted by a large hemispherical dome in keeping with the size of the structure. When in all it’s features it is a building of restored Iliyas Shahi period, the sudden plastering, not in commensurate with the existing style, may not thus be acceptable as an original feature. The mosque is dated along with the Shait Gambuz Mosque of about 1459 CE, the date of Khan Jahan’s death.


Ranbijoypur Mosque. The mosque also known as Fakirbari Masjid is one of the most magnificent structures in Bagerhat. It is situated near the crossing point of the main road from Bagerhat town to Khan Jahan’s dargah. Built in brick it consists of a large single domed square hall measuring 16.4m a side on the exterior and 10.8m on the interior leaving the wall 2.75m in thickness. The mosque is entered by three sunk doorways from the east and a similar number both on the north and south. The central doorways from the east in keeping with the style is

larger than the others. Corresponding to the three entrances in the east wall, there are three mihrabs inside the qibla wall. The corner towers, like the wall, are massive, the roof curvilinear and the dome– a large hemispherical one is supported by four half- domed squinches and four arches rising from the brick pilasters attached to the walls. Outside, the walls are plain and within bare with the terracottas now gone except those of the engrailed mihrabs divided horizontally by raised bands crossed by a hanging chain-and-bell motif. The dome, now plastered over, was originally decorated with rows of dotted bricks set cornerwise– an unusual feature of which a parallel example can only be seen in the tenth century square Samanid tomb at Bukhara. That the architecture of Khalifatbad had Turkish connection is further proved by this ornamentation of brick-setting which in general was an acceptable characteristic of pre- Seljuq and Seljuq monuments in Iran. On stylistic ground the mosque may be dated about the time of the Shait Gambuz Mosque, probably a little later.

Bibi Begni or Ghora Dighi Mosque. The mosque situated on the western side of the Ghora Dighi and hence Ghora Dighi Mosque is traditionally known to have been built by Bibi Begni, wife of Khan Jahan. It is in the same style as that of Ranbijoypur except that it’s walls measuring more than 3m in width is wider than it’s counterpart, and constitutes the strongest structure extant in Bagerhat. The size is almost the same, a little smaller, having a measurement of 16.25m a side externally and 9.7m internally. The mosque is sometimes described as a tomb without any acceptable reason, and unless proved may still be regarded as one of the best mosques in the style of Khan Jahan.

Chuna Khola Mosque. The mosque measuring 12.5m a side is a replica of the two

described above, but was built in a lesser way in all it’s aspects. It’s dome is carried over by half-domed squinches on the corners of the room without any bracket or pilaster support. This is because the mosque was not as heavy as those mentioned, and needed no such additional support for further strengthening. The mosque is situated

Bagerhat: Ranvijaypur Mosque (end of 15th century)

about 2 km to the northwest of the Shait Gambuz mosque and is said to have been built by an officer of Khan Jahan. The date must be approximately of the same time. i.e., the later part of the middle of the 15th century.

Singra Mosque. Built in almost the same measurement of the Chuna Khola Mosque and same design, it perhaps needs no elaboration except to mention the difference of the decorative details which were in all cases the prerogative of the craftsmen employed to build a structure. Here were the decorators free to prove their own skill and ingenuity. The mosque is situated about 200 yards to the south of the Shait Gambuz mosque. It is dated like the Chuna Khola about the later part of the middle of the 15 century.

The Mosque of Zinda Pir. Lying about a distance of 60m to the west of the tomb of Khan Jahan the mosque betrays almost the same description as those above except that it is smaller in size and lighter in construction, and has octagonal corner towers, an exception in the Khan Jahan style, which may put it’s date at somewhat later time. About Zinda Pir nothing is known except some legends which do not bear any historical significance. The mosque and the tomb constitute the dargah of the saint and are visited by people like that of Khan Jahan in reverence.

Sabekdanga Mosque. This mosque, the lone example of it’s kind, is situated on the south-west of the Shait Gambuz railway station in Bagerhat. The mosque is known after the name of the village and is now renovated.

Unlike the traditional ek-gumbad square type it is rectangular in plan with a dimension of 7.9m from north to south and 6.1m from east west. The single oblong chamber inside is covered by a chauchala type vault resting directly on the four walls.

The mosque is entered by a simple doorway from the east side, and has a corresponding mihrab in it’s west wall, now plastered over. The entire interior is tastefully decorated with terracotta plaques placed within panels leaving almost no bare space, again a unique feature unseen in any other mosque of the time. The chauchala vault like the vaults of the Shait Gambuz mosque is patterned with rafters and purlins with lotus-flower knots on the crossing points.

As a mosque this is an exceptional structure, the inspiration being taken on the one hand from the vaults of the Shait Gambuz of the Iliyas Shahi rule but profusely decorated interiorly on the other like the monuments of the Husayn Shahi period. On the consideration of the ornamental features, the date of the mosque may be put sometime within the rule of the latter dynasty.

Mosques in Khalifatabad Environs

Masjidkur Mosque and Qasba Mosque. Multi-domed square mosque of the Nine Domed type is unusual but not rare. At least two of the mosques are known to exist of the same type– one in Khulna District at Masjidkur in Paikgachha Thana, and the other is in Barisal at Qasba in Gaurnadi police station. Both the places at one time must have been under the jurisdiction of Khalifatabad.

Both the mosques in their round corner towers, vertical inset and offset facings of the outer walls, in their grey stone-piece formation of columns, and their sparse terracotta ornamentation betray strong influence of the Nine Gumbad mosque. The Masjidkur Mosque is said to have been built under the supervision of two Khans– Bura Khan and Fath Khan who were supposed to have governed this low-lying south-western part of Khalifatabad as nominees of Khan Jahan.

Fakir’s Mosque and Hammad’s Mosque. These two mosques, the first six-domed type and the second belonging to simple kiosk category are seen in the Hathazari and Kumira thana of Chittagong the administrative definition of which in the time of the independent Bengal Sultanate is unclear. But because of the naval connection of Chittagong with southern part of Bengal from ancient times, and the time factor and architectural character of these two mosques particularly their round corner towers reasonably place them within the administrative jurisdiction of Khalifatabad which came into prominence as a border outpost and divisional metropolis during the rule of the first restored Iliyas Shahi ruler Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah (1436-59 CE). Both the mosques are renovated and seen in Mughalized condition, but their dates recorded in stone slabs placed above the central doorways speak of them as being built in the time of Rukunddin Barbak Shah (1459-74 CE) of Iliyas Shahi rule and Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah (1532-38 CE) of Husayn Shahi era rspectively.

Masjidbari Mosque. This mosque is situated in the village of Masjidbari under Mirzaganj thana in Patuakhali District. The mosque is in total conformity with the Iliyas Shahi Khan Jahan style of Bagerhat and is confirmed by the existence of an inscription which declares it to have been built by Khan Azyal Khan in the reign of sultan Barbak Shah in 870 AH (1465 CE). Azyal Khan was probably an wali of Barbak Khan to administer the region.

The mosque is rectangular in plan measuring 14.15m by 10.6m in the exterior, and is surmounted by a hemispherical dome supported by squinches in the corners and arches in between. The mosque is entered by three doorways in the east with corresponding three round mihrabs in the west wall. On the side also their are three openings on each of the north and south sides. The corner towers of the mosque are in octagonal shape instead of being round as of Khalifatabad, but the cornice is in usual bow-curve of the Bangla type. A variation of the mosque is noticed in the addition of the frontal verandah with a horizontal hipped-roof above. This feature is not noticed in other kiosk-type mosques of Khalifatabad, but is a marked characteristic of Lakhnauti ek-gumbad mosques.

The decoration of the mosque is similar to those of Bagerhat– the walls bare and the mihrabs beautified with terracotta ornaments. The crowning ornament of the mihrabs, a large rosette over the engrailing, is very much similar to those of the mihrabs of the Shait Gambuz mosque. The mosque thus combines in all it’s features the tradition of both Lakhnauti and Khalifatabad, perhaps a mark of the fulfillment of the builder’s wish to show respect and reverence both to the sultan and the saint.

Mosques at Bara Bazar

Bara Bazar is presently a railways station between Kushtia and Jessore in Jhenaidah District. The mosques described below falls within the jurisdiction of Kaliganj police station, about two km to the west of the railway station. At one time the site developed like that of Khalifatabad on the bank of the river Bhairab which has now shifted. The monuments spread over an area of more than 3 km square area, and were left uncovered till the excavation by the Department of Archaeology of the Government of Bangladesh begun in the nineties of the last century.

Manohar Dighi Masjid. This mosque one of the largest of it’s kind in Sultanate Bengal is situated about 1.5 km to the west of the Bara Bazar bus stand on the south bank of a large tank (dighi) known as Manohar Dighi. The mosque is in total ruins, and was discovered first by local people in 1978 and was excaved by the Department of Archaeology in 1993-94. Except the foundation line of the walls and the bases of columns– first square and then octagonal, nothing tangible remains. The mosque was built in brick and measured 25.5m by 19.1m externally and 22.68m by 16.1m internally leaving a wall 1.5m in diameter. The mosque had round towers at the corners like those of Bagerhat mosques and was entered by seven doorways on the east with five openings on both the north and south. Having thus five aisles and seven bays the mosque had thirty-five square units within, all must have been once surmounted by domes. At the end of the bays are the remains of concave mihrabs corresponding to the entrance doorways in the east wall. Since there is no indication that the middle bay was larger than the others it is likely that there was no Bangla type chauchala vaults over it. There are indications that on the northwest there was a further structure which could have been a maqsura. The ornamentation of the mosque must have been like those of the prevailing style probably at per with Bagerhat. Since the extant monuments of Bara Bazar indicate more Husayn Shahi characteristics it is likely that the city despite it’s being constructed almost simultaneously with Khalifatabad developed more under the rule of the said dynasty than under the Iliyas Shahis. The terracotta inscription found in the Jorbangla Mosque site in the area

containing the name of Abul Muzaffar2 ... son of Alauddin Husayn Shah confirms this view. The inscription is now preserved in the Archaeological Museum, Khulna.

Satgachhia Adina Jami Masjid. About 4 km to the west of the Bara Bazar bus stand this mosque, the second largest in Bara Bazar after Monohar Dighi Masjid is situated in a total ruination on the right side of the road adjacent to a large dighi to it’s north. The mosque is almost similar in plan and construction to Manohar Dighi Masjid except the qibla postern to the right side of the central mihrab, an indication of it’s proximity in date to the Bagerhat Jami. It is suggested that Khan Jahan stationed himself at Bara Bazar first from where he went to Khalifatabad later. If this


2 Abul Muzaffar was the common first name not only of the Husayn Shahi rulers, but also of other dynasties. The name was also used in Mughal times.


is so this mosque, the Adina Jami, might have been built by the warrior-saint even before the Bagerhat one. The name Adina although means ‘Friday prayer mosque’ is generally used to indicate the antiquity of a mosque, and in the case might be taken as an example of it’s predecessor in Hazrat Pandua built by Sekander Shah the second ruler of the early Iliyas Shahi dynasty.

The mosque measures 23.10m by 17.2m outwardly and 20.1m by 14.15m inwardly leaving an width of it’s walls at 1.50m in diameter exactly the some

as at Monohar Dighi Jami. The number of entrances from the east is also seven but that in the north and south is three and five respectively, the two in the north being blocked at the lower part to make them windows. There were thus thirty-five square units with domes over similar to those in the Monohar. The corner towers are also round, and speak of the same plan of the two mosques. There are indications on the north-west corner, particularly the non-existence of a mihrab on the right end, the blocking of the two doorways, and the exceptional nature of the four corner pillars that a royal gallery was once built on this side as maqsura. This may be an anomaly, but the blocking of the two west end doorways of the north wall is a proof that the gallery was probably a later addition. Infact the two periods of construction of the floor is also suggestive of this later work.

The remnants of terracotta ornamentation on the lower parts of the mihrabs suggest that the mosque was once decorated internally with the prevailing style of the Iliyas Shahis and Husayn Shahis. The two periods of construction of the foundation of the mosque may mean that the mosque was built originally in the time of Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah, the patron of the warrior-saint much associated with Khalifatabad, and later on renovated in the time of the Husayn Shahi rule an inscription of which has already been referred to.

Pir Pukur Masjid. This is a fifteen domed mosque situated at a distance of about a km from the bus stand on the left side of the road. The mosque is known as the ‘Pir Pukur’ because of the existence of a maqbara of a pir (saint) at the north side of a pukur (tank). The mosque stands on the west side, and now partly restored at lower walls. The mosque is rectangular in plan with octagonal towers at the corners and measures 21.1m by 13.55m outside with five entrances from the east, and three on each of the north and south sides. There are two concave mihrabs on the left side of the central mihrab, with the right side ones blocked because of the existence of an

Satgachia Mosque Bara Bazar

Bara Bazar: Jorbangla Masjid, terracotta


upper gallery for the royal entourage. The minber adjacent the right side of the main mihrab consisted of eight steps, unseen in any other mosque of Bara Bazar. The terracotta ornamentation of the mosque is now gone, but is conjectured to have been scanty. The two platform on the inner right and left of the principal entrance may be reserved as seats for teachers, in the event of which the mosque may also be looked upon as a recognised madrasa. The mosque may be considered to have been built in the late Husayn Shahi period.

Galakata Masjid. Situated on the south side of a tank known as the Galakata dighi, this mosque stands about 1.5 km west of the bus stand, and is now restored. It is a six- domed mosque created by two stone fluted columns placed inside in an equidistant space with thus two aisles and three bays deep. it’s outward measurement is 12m by 8.6m and inward 9.3m by 5.9. The mosque is entered by three doorways from the east with corresponding mihrabs in the west wall. On the north and south side there are large windows, two on each side. The mosque has octagonal corner towers.

The interior of the mosque particularly the mihrabs were once decorated with

terracotta plaques and tile works. The existence of tiles and the similarity of the mosque with the dated Jorbangla Mosque mentioned below places it in the second quarter of the 16th century.

Simple Ek-Gumbad Mosques. A number of simple kiosk type mosques are seen on both side of the Bara Bazar-Taherpur road going towards the west. All the mosques are of the same design and consist of a square chamber raised on octagonal columns attached to sidewalls. The measurements of the mosques varies from the largest one the Noongala Masjid to the smallest one the Shukr Mallick Masjid from 10.8m to 4.9m a side with the width of the walls running between 1.7m and 1.1m. The other masjids according to size are Jorbangla Masjid, Cheragdani Masjid and Pathagar Masjid, all situated on the bank of ponds. The Noongala, Jorbangla, and Cheragdani Masjids had three doorways from the east with a corresponding number of mihrabs in the west wall, while the other two, the Pathagar and Shukr Mallick had only one. All the mosques were strengthened by corner towers, and must have had curvilinear roof cornice according to the prevailing style. The mosques are in a ruinous condition, and some of them have been restored up to a certain height of the


walls. The decoration of the walls consisting of terracotta and in some cases also of tiles, and the inscriptional date of the Jorbangla Masjid built by a son of Sultan Alauddin Husayn Shah are pointers of their being erected towards the second quarter of the 16th century during the reigns of Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah and Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah. The lighter construction and smaller size of the mosques preclude the name of Alauddin Husayn Shah whose structures were always strong and larger in size.

Gorar Masjid. This is also an ek-gumbad square mosque, but is added with a verandah infront to make it a rectangular structure from an external appearance. This is now after restoration of 1992-93 the best preserved monument in Bara Bazar. The mosque is situated at a distance of about a kilometer to the west of the Bara Bazar bus stand on the south side of Bara Bazar-Taherpur road on the west bank of a tank.

The mosque, built in brick, measures 9.75m a side externally with the verandah a little more than 3m in width. The mosque is as usual covered with a hemispherical dome carried on arches raised on eight octagonal columns, the corners being filled with triangular pendentives. The entrances numbering three from the east side correspond to three mihrabs inside with a doorway from the north and south, and an additional one in each of the sides of the verandah. The corner towers are octagonal, and rising to the height of the curved cornice joins with it in a tasteful manner. Externally the mosque is braced with horizontal mouldings from corner to corner, and the doors are framed with the same mouldings forming rectangular panels. The interior of the mosque is beautifully decorated with varied terracottas of local origin with much concentration on the mihrabs.

The walls of the mosque are wider than those of others in Bara Bazar, and have led to the conclusion that the mosque probably predates the others of it’s kind and is contemporary with the Satgachhia Jami.


Singdah Masjid. This mosque is in the same Kaliganj Thana of Jhenaidah District, but is situated at a distance of about nine kilometer to the north of Bara Bazar. The mosque is of the same type and same measurement as that of Gorar Masjid but being almost completely ruined (now restored up to a certain height) precludes an elaborate description. On grounds of size and design a similar date of the mosque as of Gorar Masjid is conjectured.

Bara Bazar: restored ruins of Singdah Masjid (late Husayn Shahi period)

Bara Bazar: Majlis Awlia’s Mosque

Mosques in Bara Bazar Environs

Of the four mosques described below the first two are in the present day Faridpur District and the others are in the districts of Jhenaidah and Jessore respectively. Since these sites are nearer to Bara Bazar it is likely that they were within the administrative zone of Bara Bazar (Mahmudabad?). From the settlement sites of Khalifatabad and Bara Bazar it appears that the ancient Vanga generally considered to have been demarcated by the Ganges and Jamuna in the north and east, and Bhagirathi in the west was administratively divided into two areas– Khalifatabad in the south up to the Bay of Bengal, and Bara Bazar in the north between the three rivers just mentioned. It is on this consideration that the monuments have been grouped as under Khalifatabad and Bara Bazar.

Majlis Awlia’s Mosque. The mosque also known as Patharail Mosque according to the name of the village is situated within the Bhanga thana in a ruinous conditions. It is a ten domed mosque entered by five doorways from the east with two aisles in the interior divided by four free-standing stone pillars with corresponding pillars on the walls. There are two doorways each in the north and south sides. The interior


measurement is 21.55m by 8.60m and the wall thickness 2.05m. The domes are fallen but appear to have been carried by stone pendentives. In the western wall there are five mihrabs in the usual fashion corresponding to the front doorways. The cornice had a pronounced curve towards the corners supported by towers the extant lower parts of which give the appearance of square-shape with vertical re-entrant angles. The entrance doorways are unusual in shape with one arch in front and one in back, the mid­ point being covered by a chauchala vault in case of the central doorway, and dochala vaults in case of the side ones.

The decoration of the mosque in terracotta are now almost gone, but the panelling of the walls with tendril and vine borders with a cusped arch in the middle gives the monument a similarity with the ornamentation of the Chhota Sona at Lakhnauti and the Bagha Mosque in Rajshahi. On grounds of this stylistic similarity the mosque is

regarded as a Husayn Shahi structure built sometime at the beginning of the 16th century, more probably during the reign of Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah (1519-31 CE).

Mosque at Shatoir. This is a nine-domed mosque, and is situated in the Boalmari

thana. Locally known as Shahi Jami Masjid this mosque has similarity with the Nine- Gumbad Mosque at Bagerhat, and is therefore attributed to late 15th century CE Entered by three doorways from the east the mosque being square in plan has equal number of doorways on the north and south sides also. The interior also consists of three aisles and three bays divided by four free-standing pillars probably of stone, but now only the capitals of these are seen with stone. The mosque is thoroughly renovated and repaired by villagers several times with the result that the original features in most cases remain unclear. An important feature of the mosque is the shape of the corner towers, the front ones being octagonal, but the back ones rounded. This seems to be a new approach and may be looked upon as a combination of Khan Jahan style and that of Bara Bazar with perhaps a predilection towards the latter.

Mosque at Sailkupa. This mosque at Sailkupa presently at Jhenaidah District to which belong the remains of Bara Bazar is in a thorough renovated condition. It is a six domed mosque with usual characteristics of the same type as have been noticed in the Dhunichuk at Lakhnauti, Reza-i-Khan at Bagerhat or the Bagha in Rajshahi except

the corner towers which are circular in shape putting it to a southern type of Mosque at Sailkupa


Hemtabad Mosque.

Photo: David McCutchion

Khalifatabad or Bara Bazar. All the decorations within the interior are stripped off, washed over by plasterwork again and again. The outer walls are plain. The corner towers have been extended upwards over the cornice giving the mosque a peculiar shape making it distinctive from other examples of Bangla type. The adjoining tomb said to be of Maulana Muhammad Arab, a spiritual guide of Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah, is a pointer to it’s period of erection, but because of it’s outer simplicity some scholars suggest it to be of an earlier date in the middle of the 15th century.

Mosque at Shubhorara. This mosque at Shubhorara in the Abhaynagar thana of Jessore District is a simple kiosk mosque with all usual features of it’s type peculiar to those of Bara Bazar area. The octagonal towers at the corners, the use of tiles in the mihrab frames and the overall lightness of construction put it to a date of late Husayn Shahi period.

Mosques in West Bengal

The three mosques described below because of their early dates are particularly important in tracing the continuity of the mosque-styles hither to narrated. Although not constructed within a city area, they may be regarded as following the lines of construction initiated in two of the early setlements of Muslim rule Devikot and Tribeni-Satgaon.

Hemtabad Mosque, West Dinajpur. This mosque appears to be the earliest example of it’s kind of ten-domed type. Repaired and restored many a times, it shows the antiquity of it’s form by the heavy stone piers of the front-façade and the high rounded shapes of it’s ten-domes covering the interior two aisles, described as the replicas of the plan, elevation and façade of the Mosque of Zafar Khan Ghazi dated 1298 at


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