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mausoleum enshrining the severed head (sir maqam) of the martyr-saint Shah Turkan at Sherpur in Bogra– an Afghan stronghold– is an interesting conglomeration of pre- Muslim, Sultanate and Mughal architectural ingredients. Numerous earlier tombs, dargahs, mosques and other religious buildings in Bengal show signs of Mughal repairs and reconstructions.

3.2.3 Madrasas

Madrasa is an Arabic word derived from the root darsun meaning lesson. As a structure it is an academic institution whose separate entity from a mosque is known from the time of the Seljuqs in Iran and Central Asia as part of a Sunni movement to counteract the Shite Fatimid Dar al-‘Ilm. In Bengal the earliest reference of a madrasa is known from Minhaj’s Tabaqat-i-Nasiri which when describing the conquest of Bengal by Ikhtiaruddin Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji speaks of the construction of ‘a mosque, madrasa and khanqa’ (residence of saint) by the conqueror. Nothing is known about the architectural design of the structure or it’s curriculae. In early times the edcation of a Muslim began in mosque and the subject taught included primarily adab and fiqh. But when madrasa arose as a separate institution, the courses included not only the study of the Qur’an and the Hadith in the light of the four madhhabs (Sunni schools of thought), but also their further interpretations ‘to seek after truth’. The curriculae then included philosophical studies–falasafa as it was called, mathematics, chemistry and medicine. In Bengal whether these secular studies were included in the curriculae is uncertain, but the hadith recorded in the inscription of the Belbari Madrasa located on the Indian side of Gaur encouraging to go for knowledge even to China speaks of the affirmative. The honorific title of the mudarris (madrasa teachers) in Bengal as Malik al-Umara wa al-Uzara and the use of the word ulama (learned) the extended meaning of which included ‘government functionaries’ along with ‘students of canon law and theology’ also point to similar conclusions to the kingly studies such as jurisprudence and administration, evidently reserved for ashrafs (higher class) to be distinguished from atrafs (lower class) who possibly did not have any formal education.

The architecture of a madrasa in Bengla of which there is only one excavated example in the Bangladesh side of Gaur, known as Darasbari Madrasa is somewhat different from those known in the Seljuq times at Nishapur or Baghdad where the character is said to have been influenced by the local architecture with iwan (large gateway) and riwaq (verandah) as an important constituent element and other accessories of Buddhist monastic establishments from where the design originated. In Bengal the situation because of climatic condition was somewhat different. The iwan and riwaq like of a mosque were avoided because of heavy monsoon rain, and so was the vastness of structure. Instead of planning a single building, indications from the Darasbari example are that all were separated here in smaller buildings to perform their own individual functions. That the Bengal madrasa at Darasbari was influenced

by local Buddhist monastery architecture as for example of Paharpur or Mainamati (Devaparavata) seems without any doubt. The planning is almost the same– a row of rooms around a paved courtyard and a central structure. The purpose of the central structure here is, however, different. Whereas in the monasteries at Paharpur and Mainamati the central building was a temple, in Darasbari Madrasa it was probably a library and lecture room or a large fawara (fountain) for beautification. The mosque of the madrasa being situated in the central room of the western row, the building of another mosque in the centre of the courtyard was made unnecessary. If the central fawara was built as an ornamental pool, as was the case in former days, then the madrasa in question was no more than a boarding house. In the event the large Masjid at Darasbari nearby was probably used as lecture-rooms, and the madrasa the dormitory in modern sense.


Belbari Madrasa. Sultan Alauddin Husayn Shah is known to have erected two madrasas, one now at Belbari on the Indian side of Gaur and the other at Darasbari in Bangladesh side. The Darasbari one (derived from the word darsun signifying a place of learning) has been clearly identified by the discovery of the foundation-plan after excavation of the site and the finding of the inscription recording it’s erection within the debris cleared during excavation. But the Belbari madrasa (the origin of the name is uncertain) is yet to be discovered although a vast quadrangular site at the north of the Chhota Sagar Dighi, generally known as ‘Bhita of Chand Saudagar’ has been pointed by General Cunningham to be the actual spot of the Madrasa. The nature of the site together with an inscription removed from the place but now ‘set up on the enclosure wall of a mosque north-west of the English bazar police station’ testify it’s existence there. The inscription records the madrasa as al-Madrasa al-Sharifa (excellent madrasa) to be distinguished from that at Darasbari which has been described as al-Madrasa al-Latifa al-Jamila (picturesque and magnificent madrasa). The Belbari madrasa according to the inscription was erected in 907 AH (1520 CE). Although it’s site has not yet been cleared up, it can be presumed that it resembled in plan and construction the Darasbari madrasa— ‘the standard type’ known from other examples in India and outside in the Middle East.

Darasbari Madrasa. It is situated about a kilometre to the south-west of the Kotwali Darwaza and about half a kilometre from the Chhota Sona-Kotwali Road in Ghoshpur mauza of Bangladesh side Gaur. It is erected between two tanks on it’s east and west, the latter is longer and separates the madrasa from the masjid which is also known by the same name. i.e. Darasbari Masjid (see above).

The madrasa, erected according to it’s inscription in 909 AH (1504 CE) by Alauddin Husayn Shah is known only from the seventies of this century when the site was excavated and the

Gaur: Madrasa at Darasbari (1504), ground plan


Gaur: Madrasa at Darasbari, excavated view of western wing

plan fully discovered. It’s discovery has removed the confusion between the location of this madrasa and that at Belbari erected two years earlier.

The madrasa is square in plan, each side measuring 55.50m. It consisted of forty rooms each measuring 3m a side around an open courtyard measuring 41.5m square. The small mosque attached to this madrasa is in the middle of the west-side rooms and is a little larger measuring 4.9m a side than others. The identification has been made by the existence of three mihrabs on the west wall. The madrasa had three gateways on the middle of east, north and south sides. There are the ruins of a structure in the middle of the courtyard. The identity is uncertain but can be suggested to have been a library-cum-lecture hall or a large ornamental pool with spouting jets inside. The decoration of the madrasa was carried out structurally in the offsets and insects of the walls and facially entirely in terracotta and in brace-mouldings. A huge collection of terracotta plaques found during excavation between 1973-75 are now preserved in a room of the Archaeological Guest House near Chhota Sona Masjid. The discovery of the madrasa is significant. It is the lone example of this architectural form in medieval Bengal, and demonstrates the development of the present dormitory-style through the earlier Buddhist viharas discovered in Mainamati, Paharpur and elsewhere.

3.2.4 The Qadam Rasul at Gaur

This is an unusual building and appears to be the only example of it’s kind in Sultanate Bengal. Qadam Rasul literally menas the foot of the Prophet, and in the present case is appellated from the stone representation of the foot-print of the Prophet placed in the middle of the domed building. Mirza Nathan, the author of Bahristan-i-Ghayebi, speaks of it as being ‘brought from Arabia by Sulayman Gawriya, one of the rulers of Gaur’ by spending a large sum of money. Abid Ali, on the other hand, narrates a tradition that it was brought by a saint called Makhdum Jahaniyan Jahangosht from Arabia, and was ‘formerly at Pandua in the Chilla Khana of Jalaluddin Tabrizi’. ‘It was removed by Husayn Shah’ he says ‘to Gaur in a beautiful wooden box-table formerly inlaid with gold and silver work ... During the reign of Nawab Sirajuddaula the footprint was carried off to Murshidabad, but was restored to it’s place by Mir Jafar’.

Whoever might have brought it the fact is that a building was constructed by Sultan Nusrat Shah to place the stone within, and the building since then was venerated by people as a sacred place. The date of the building has been given by an inscription in situ over the central eastern door as 937 AH (1531 CE).

The building made of brick apparently gives the impression of a Sultanate mosque– rectanguler in plan measuring 18.30m 12.5m externally exclusive of the octagonal

Qadam Rasul (c. 1530) Photo: David McCutchion


towers at the corner. There are three arched doorways to it’s east side supported by two heavy short columns in between and two engaged ones on the sides. On the north and south sides there are two doorways, one at each side. Within this rectangular structure there is a further square building measuring 5.8m a side with a vaulted verandah 3.6 wide running to it’s north, east and south sides. It has three doorwasys, one on each of the north, east and south sides corresponding to those of the north and south of the main building, and that on the east to the central arch of the three entrances. The western side is totally closed.

Although not a mosque, the building with all the characteristics of a Sultanate masjid has the usual bow curved cornice at the top surmounted by a dome in the middle with the exception that the corner towers here have pinnacle tarrets of a short height. The petelled dome and the turrets are Mughal suggesting that these were later added during the Mughal period, probably by Shahjada Shuja when he lived at Rajmahal and Gaur as governor. The decoration of the building is no exception and is in the same exuberant style of the late Husayn Shahis. The abounding of ornamentation is to be noticed in the vertical panels created by an encircling horizontal moulding dividing the external wall into two halves with vertical inset compartments filled with usual dominating terracotta hanging motifs. The ornamentation with it’s strong influence on the Jahaniyan Mosque built during the reign of a son of Alauddin Husayn Shah in fact marks the declining phase of the Sultanate architecture in Bengal.

The Qadam Rasul at Gaur has promoted the erection of a number of other subsequent

examples in the Mughal Period- of which an important one at Bandar in Narayanganj built in 1777 CE by a zamindar and the other at Murshidabad erected in 1788 CE. The first one is said to have been brought from Arabia and the second from Gaur. Without entering into details about the genuineness of these stones, it can be said that this sort of reverence to relics must have been due to the influence of other religions like Buddhism and Christianity and strengthened by the syncretistic tradition that developed in medieval Bengal because of a competitive religious psychology. The Buddhists had the tradition of erecting stupas over the relics of Buddha and the Christians at least in one example a Church. The Church of the Ascension at Jerusalem marking the place of Jesus’ ascension had the direct influence over the erection of the Dome of the Rock near it built to commemorate the ascension of the Prophet to Miraj. The belief, therefore, that a stone associated with Prophet’s name is a subject of veneration must have come from the Dome of the Rock directly and other religions indirectly. It is noteworthy that unlike masjids, no specific religious formula was inscribed in the stone tablet while recording it’s placement at Gaur. A Qur’anic verse which has been inscribed at the beginning speaks of the erection in general terms as a good thing. No Sultan is said to have followed the practice either.

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