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2


GENERAL CHARACTER OF MONUMENTS


Architecture, which has been considered as the mother of all arts, is a continuum, and as such in all ages throughout the world every architecture of a particular region or a country bears more or less the imprint of that of the preceding period. One cannot therefore, as for example, think of Gothic architecture without the preceding Romanesque, or the early Muslim architecture without the Graco-Roman, Syrian, Byzantine or Sassanian art. Similarly in Bengal the Sultanate building style had also some role in the formation and development of the succeeding building art of the Muhgals. The Mughal building art in Bengal, which took mainly the form of mosques and mausoleums, minarets and idgahs, forts and katras, palaces and hammams, Qadam Rasuls and Imambaras, temples, bridges etc., may therefore be said to have been grown out of the synthesis of the two major building styles¯ the Sultanate style of the land and the already developed Upper Indian Muslim, more particularly the Mughal art traditions of Delhi, Agra, Fathpur-Sikri and Lahore. And of these two influences the latter got the upperhand for obvious reasons, noticeable specially in the monuments erected at the government or royal patronisation in different important urban centres including the capital cities like Rajmahal, Dhaka and Murshidabad.

Although in 1576 Bengal was officially incorporated into the greater Mughal empire, the Mughal control in Bengal continued to have been severely shaken by the concerted efforts of the Afghan chiefs and some renegade Mughal captains until and unless Mansingh in 1595 took over the charge of pacifying the province. It is during this chaotic period that the Mughal style of architecture was ironically introduced by the rebel patrons. As corroborative to this mention may be made of the Chatmohar Jami (1581) in Pabna and the Kherua Mosque (1582) at Sherpur in Bogra, built respectively by the rebel Masum Khan Kabuli and Murad Khan Qaqshal. These two mosques, the earliest known extant monuments of Mughal Bengal, follow the Sultanate architectural traditions as represented by their such exterior designs and constructional details as oblong covered prayer chambers with inverted tumbler shaped domes on


Bengali pendentives formed-off oversailing courses of bricks set corner-wise and edge-wise, the usual octagonal corner towers raised upto the roof level, the curvature of the cornices and parapets, the pointed archways, the semi-circular mihrab niches and the application of terracotta. In spite of all these distinguishing features of the Sultanate architecture each of the aforesaid two buildings marks a clear departure at least in it’s internal arrangement and disposition. The interior forms a single rectangular hall, divided into three equal square bays by two transverse arches, each being covered with a dome. The Chatmohar or the Kherua Jami therefore for the first time set the example of a three-domed mosque style in Bengal, which henceforth with some elaborations and alterations continued to have been erected in the Mughal and Colonial periods. Such a mosque style in Bengal appears to have been directly borrowed from North India, the earliest examples of which are to be seen in the Lodi and Suri periods. In the Mughal period the style further developed and continued to have been practised althrough.

Datable after the Chatmohar or Kherua Mosque, the two Jami Mosques¯ one in Old Maldah and the other in Rajmahal show the increasing North Indian influences over the traditional Bengali architecture. The plastering of the walls, the projected fronton with ornamental turrets on either flank and the low shouldered domes with lotus finials of the Maldah Jami (1595-96) are the new features introduced in Bengal by the Mughals. Similarly the Rajmahal Jami, which is supposed to have been built by the Viceroy- General Raja Mansingh in the end years of the 16th century, appears to derive much of it’s inspirations specifically from Akbar’s Jami Mosque (1568-72) at the imperial capital of Fathpur-Sikri. It has a large central barrel-vaulted nave flanked by double-aisled two­ storeyed side wings. In the arrangement of it’s end chambers together with the high iwan-like central doorway in the eastern façade, the plastered surface of the walls, the four-centred arches, the horizontal battlemented parapet and the semi-octagonal mihrab apertures the mosque is very much akin to that of Akbar’s Fathpur-Sikri Jami. But the barrel-vaulted central nave of the monuments, the curved cornice and terracotta plaques of the Maldah Jami appear to have been from the influences of the Sultanate examples of the land. Another building depicting the combined Sultanate and Mughal architectural features is the Atiya Masjid (1609), built by the famous Zamindar Sayyid Khan Panni of Tangail. Consisting of a single-domed prayer hall with a domed verandah in the east the mosque is perhaps the only known example of it’s kind in the whole of Mughal Bengal. In plan and some of it’s constructional and decorative aspects such as the curved cornices and parapets, the two-centred pointed archways and the beautiful terracotta ornamentations the building is a reproduction of those of the Sultanate period. But the mosque is really significant for the introduction of some hitherto unknown features, which henceforth started appearing repeatedly in the building art of the succeeding Mughal period. They are the domes placed on octagonal drums for gaining additional height and the corner towers rising high above the parapets topped over by solid plastered kiosks and cupolas with lotus and kalasa finials as the crown.


With the subjugation of the Bhuiyans and the shifting of the capital from Rajmahal to Dhaka in 1612 there ensued an era of comparatively stable and peaceful rule, an atmosphere conducive to the cultivation and development of arts and culture. But in the remaining years of Jahangir’s rule Bengal unfortunately experienced very little or even no architectural activities of note. This is perhaps a reflection of the Emperor’s mind at the centre, for Jahangir, unlike his father Akbar or son Shahjahan, was not a keen patron of architecture. He was keenly interested in the art of painting. It was however in the viceroyalty of Shah Shuja (1639-59), who was like his father Shahjahan a great patron of architecture, a tremendous development began in the field of building art. Rajmahal, made for the second time the provincial capital of Bengal by Shah Shuja, was at his instance beautified with numerous erections of both secular and religious nature of which the ruinous palace-complex and a few other mosques, still extant, are most noteworthy. Buchanan-Hamilton’s (1810-11) sketch plan of Shuja’s palace-complex, a portion of which still survives in the name of the Sangi Dalan, suggests that the complex was arranged in a symmetrical fashion imitating the axial arrangement of Shahjahan’s more famous Agra Fort. Overlooking the Ganges the Sangi Dalan with it’s curved roof over the central north side, copied later on in form and design in the so-called Diwan-i-Khas of the Lalbagh Fort at Dhaka, recalls the flanking side chambers of Shahjahan’s renovated Khas Mahal (c. 1637) in the Agra Fort on the right bank of the Jamuna. Of the extant Rajmahal mosques, which are stylistically dated to the time of Shah Shuja, mention may be made of the locally called Jumma Mosque. In many of it’s peculiarities such as the three-domed rectangular prayer chamber, the three four-centred pointed archways in the eastern façade each being bordered by a rectangular frame filled with rectangular panellings and the prominence of the central archway the Jumma Mosque of Rajmahal bears a strong similarity with the Shah Niamatullah Mosque at Firozpur (c. mid-17th century), supposed to have been built by Shah Shuja in honour of the saint Shah Niamatullah. Both these mosques therefore mark an advance of the three-domed mosque style set by the Chatmohar or the Kherua Mosque in Bengal. Of some other monuments constructed in Dhaka in and around the middle of the 17th century the Idgah (1640) and the katra buildings are worthnoting. The Idgah, architecturally unpretentious, is one of the very few of it’s kind in Bengal. The katra buildings- the Bara Katra (1644) and the Chhota Katra (1663), consisting of a quadrangular courtyard enclosed on all sides by residential rooms with a surrounding wall on the outsides, are in plan and construction akin to the caravanserai of Akbar at Fathpur-Sikri. The most important architectural element of these buildings is the gateway– the Iranian influenced iwan type portal with the beautiful muqarnas works in plaster, which is absolutely unheard in the Sultanate architecture of the land. On the other hand this feature is very widely noticed in the Upper Indian architecture of the Mughals and was imported in Bengal only during their rule.

Dhaka was once again raised to the status of the provincial capital of Bengal in 1660 and remained so until Murshid Quli Khan shifted the Bengal capital in 1703 to


Murshidabad on the bank of the Bhagirathi-Hughli channel of the Ganges. The period is marked with the construction of a large varieties of buildings unprecedented in Mughal Bengal. Most of these monuments unfortunately are now either in ruins or repaired even to the extent of giving modern look, while a few others are still in good repair by the successive Departments of Pakistan and Bangladesh Archaeology. An important variety of the Mughal buildings of the period is the fort, which is of two kinds– the palace-fortress and the river-fort. A representative example of the latter type is the Idrakpur Fort (c.1660), of which the battlemented parapets with machicoulis and the rampart walks inside the walls are some of the significant features of military architecture introduced by the Mughals in Bengal. The former type is best represented by the Lalbagh Fort (1678-84), a miniature version of the grand palace- fortresses of the Mughals in North India, but it was evidently unfinished, for the ample unused space in the east would have easily accommodated other structures and given a more complete appearance like that of the Rajmahal palace-fortress. Overlooking the Buriganga on the south and consisting of a high surrounding wall with two lofty graceful gateways and five semi-octagonal massive bastions containing machicoulis the Lalbagh Fort has still within it’s precinct three such well-preserved historical monuments as the Diwan-i-Khas, the tomb of Pari Bibi and a three-domed mosque. The Diwan-i-Khas bears similarity with Shah Shuja’s Sangi Dalan in Rajmahal, while the tomb appears to have been adapted from the tomb of Shah Niamatullah Wali (c. 1660) at Firozpur in Nawabganj, which in turn appears to have been modelled on the mausoleum of Itimad ud-Daulah (1628) at Agra. The mosque is perhaps the most important of the three extant monuments within the Lalbagh Fort. Because the standard three-domed type Mughal mosque in Bengal appears to have attained perfection through the Lalbagh Fort Mosque, which seems virtually to be a provincial version of the three-domed sanctuary of such Upper Indian standard Mughal mosques as of Fathpur-Sikri Jami, the Agra Jami or the Delhi Jami. Datable either with or after the Lalbagh Fort Mosque a few such Dhaka monuments as the Haji Khwaja Shahbaz Mosque (1679), Shayesta Khan’s Satgumbad Mosque and Khan Muhammad Mirdha’s Mosque (1704) to be mentioned here for the increased articulation of their surfaces and the introduction of some new features. Unlike the two ornamental engaged turrets in the eastern façade of the earlier examples, the Haji Khwaja Shahbaz Mosque and the Satgumbad Mosque depict four and Mirdha’s Mosque exhibits six turrets in their façade. Another innovation of the period is the use of North Indian type cuspings in the entrance and mihrab arches, and it’s most elaborate form is to be in seen in the Haji Khwaja Shahbaz Mosque which has not only mihrabs with cusped arches but also cusped lateral arches on double engaged stone columns exactly in imitation to those of Shahjahan’s Khas Mahal in the Agra Fort. A few late 17th and early 18th century mosques of Dhaka and Murshidabad, which are covered with either five domes or three domes, or in combination of dome and half-domed vaults, provide an


extraordinary speciality being built on high vaulted platforms such as Musa Khan Masjid (c. 1679), Kartalab Khan Mosque (1700-04), Mirdha’s Mosque (1704-05), the Azimpura Mosque (1746), all in Dhaka and the well-known Katra Masjid (1724-25) of Murshid Quli Khan at Murshidabad. The upper divisions of the platforms of these mosques were perhaps reserved for study purpose and in case of Mirdha’s Mosque there is a separate madrasa building to the north-east corner of the three-domed prayer chamber above the plinth, while the vaulted rooms underneath the platforms containing book-shelves on the walls appear to have been originally devised to be used as dormitory for the students and teachers of the madrasa. It is in this context that all these Mughal buildings may be regarded as ‘Residential Madrasa-Mosques’. Mosque of this nature was unknown in Sultanate Bengal but not unheard outside Bengal. The idea of such Mughal mosques in Bengal must have therefore come from outside, perhaps directly from Upper India where a number of examples are to be found in the Tughlaq and Lodi periods such as the congregational mosque (1354) in the Kotlah Firoz Shah and the Bara Gumbad Mosque (1494), both in Delhi. The influence of such Upper Indian mosques came no doubt from those of early Islam. The Fatimid Mosque of Salih-al Talai (1160) in Cairo, which was built on a high vaulted terrace, provides an example. Fatimid great eastern and western palaces were also provided with underground vaults, the idea of which again must have been borrowed there from the Abbasid architecture of Baghdad and Samarra where a large number of buildings are known to have been erected with underground vaultings.

An important variety of mosques scattered over in different parts of Mughal Bengal is the single-domed or the kiosk type. The best specimen of the type is the Allakuri Mosque (c. 1680) in the city of Dhaka. In it’s square plan the mosque seems to be a copy of those of the Sultanate examples of Bengal. But it differs in other details of which the four axially projected frontons with bordering ornamental turrets is the most important and it’s idea must have originated from the four axial iwan type gateways of the Iranian influenced Upper Indian standard Mughal mosques of Fathpur-Sikri, Delhi, Agra and Lahore.

The city of Murshidabad, the last of the capitals of Mughal Bengal, rose to prominence at the instance of Murshid Quli Khan in the early 18th century and continued to expand on either banks of the Bhagirathi-Hughli till the beginning of the British Colonial rule in 1765. Nawab Murshid Quli Khan and his successors were all more or less connoisseurs of building art. And it is at their direct patronisations that the city was embellished with such numerous erections as palaces, forts, mosques, tombs, Imambaras including a good number of official and residential buildings. Of these the most spectacular is the Katra Masjid constructed by Murshid Quli Khan in 1724-25 as new capital’s Jami. In many of it’s features such as the high vaulted plinth, the five- domed prayer chamber together with double-storeyed domed cells above the plinth and the immense wall panellings in the surface of the mosque proper the Katra Masjid recalls the aforesaid late 17th and early 18th century Madrasa-Mosques of Dhaka. But


hitherto unknown one very important aspect of the building is that the entrance arches of the eastern façade are rounded and cusped, which point to a European influence on Bengal architecture. One more Murshidabad building to be noted here for the reason that it introduces a new variety of three-bayed mosque. This is the mosque of Nawab Shuja Uddin at Roshnibagh built in 1743 by Ali Vardi Khan, which consists of a central dome flanked by a chauchala vault on either side. This is also perhaps the first mosque where the mihrab projection and the eastern archways are topped over by chauchala and dochala decorative motifs in plaster a feature very commonly noticed in the subsequent mosque architecture of Murshidabad.

The on-going introductory study on the architecture of Mughal Bengal will perhaps remain incomplete if a few more mosque-types cannot be covered here. They are the palace-mosque and the Bungalow type mosque. A lone example of the former type is represented by a small rectangular apartment with three semi-octagonal mihrab apertures inside the west wall within the Tah-Khana or Subahdar Shah Shuja’s summer palace (c. 1655), built outside the Gaur fortification wall at Firozpur in Nawabganj District. The idea of such Bengal mosque must have been directly derived from the Nagina Masjids within the palace-fortresses of Agra and Lahore. But unlike the Tah-Khana Mosque the Nagina Masjids are built adjoining the compact residential buildings, not within them. Nevertheless all are identical in conception and also in the purpose of their construction. In early Islam under the Umayyads and the Abbasids the palaces were invariably provided with mosques, built either within the palace proper or outside it. The aforesaid Bungalow type is represented by the Churihatta mosque (1690) and the Armanitola mosque (1716) in Dhaka, each being covered entirely with a single chauchala vault. Although the chauchala vaulted roof of these mosques is suggested to have been a development from the Upper Indian pyramidal roof of such erections as Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra (1612-13) and Itimad ud-Daula’s tomb (1628) at Agra, yet the very name Bungalow itself is suggestive that it is of Bengali origin and takes it’s derivation from the chauchala huts of the land. On the other hand, it is very likely that the pyramidal coverings of the Upper Indian Mughal buildings, shaped like chauchala vaults, were due to the influence of Bengali craftsmen who started migrating to the imperial Mughal court towards the end of the 16th century. Imitating, in plan, the Sultanate examples some two or three-aisled rectangular mosques are known of the Mughal period, which will be attempted to deal with in details in the next chapter.

The affinity for Shia culture of some of the Subahdars and Nawabs of Bengal is corroborated by the erection of the Husaini Dalan (1639-59) at Dhaka and the great Imambara (1756-57) at Murshidahbad to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam al- Husayn at the battle of Karbala on the 10th of Muharram 61 AH (10 October, 680 CE). The Husaini Dalan is now completely renovated, while of the original Murshidabad Imambara of Nawab Sirajuddaulah only the ‘Madina’ now survives. The ‘Madina’ is a square single-domed structure, the foundation of which is known


to have been filled by the Nawab with the sacred earth brought from Karbala, the site of the martyrdom of al-Husayn.

The temple architecture of the Mughal Bengal is characterised by a variety of novel forms of which the Bangla types and the Ratna types were most popular, and the extant examples scattered over in different parts of Bengal are all dated from the 17th century. As a mark of influence, power and prestige in the society the Hindu Rajas or zamindars are known to have been the chief patrons of these temples, which are all more or less decorated with terracotta panels showing innumerable designs in the likeness of plants, flowers, animals, birds, scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, contemporary social life and an endless assemblage of men, women, birds and animals. The highly ornate Kantaji temple at Kantanagar in Dinajpur, the construction work of which was begun in 1704 by Raja Prannath and completed by his son Raja Ramnath in 1722, is corroborative to the statement.

The Mughal rule in Bengal is dead now, but it’s memory still survives in a large variety of buildings erected through a period of about two hundred years. The characteristic features of these erections are the four-centred and wide multi-cusped arches, the plastered surface of the walls having immense rectangular and square panellings, prominence of the central archway and the central mihrab by making them comparatively larger and setting in a projected fronton in the outside directions, the use of ornamental turrets on either side of the frontons, the semi-octagonal mihrab apertures, the archway opening under half-domes, the Persian muqarnas work in stucco inside the half-domes over the entrance arches and mihrab niches, the bulbous outline of the domes with constricted necks, domes on octagonal drums with lotus and kalasa finials as the crowning elements, the round pendentives to make up the phase of transition for the domes and the multi-faceted corner towers rising high above the horizontal merloned parapets. In the declining days of the Mughal empire, more particularly with the beginning of the British Colonial rule in 1765 the elegant Mughal building art in Bengal had gradually gone out of fashion giving way first to a hybrid of Anglo-Muslim style¯ half-European and half-Mughal and lately to the more western trend¯ European, Brazilian and American.



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