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architectural splendor particularly in their gateways which almost rival other Mughal gateways. The bridges and the watch-towers many of which must have been washed away by the ravages of time provided a system of communication network and architectural character commensurate with the power and ability of a rule needed for the peace and stability of an empire. The Mughal architecture left a legacy in Bengal which through the Colonial period still survives in the design and ornamentation of a building often eulogised for it’s Mughal excellence.

3.1.1 Fort and Fortifications

The fort and fortifications of the Mughal period like all other buildings of the time are different form those of the Sultanate Bengal. The difference is primarily in conception, and secondarily in architecture. Sultanate Bengal was an independent sovereign state, while Mughal Bengal was a provincial geographical area under a Subahdar appointed by the central government in Northern India. Conceptually thus the Sultanate forts were strong and masculine, and the Mughal forts weak and even freak. Sultanate forts were meant for defence and protection of the inmates, but the Mughal forts in comparison were just enclosures for security. Sultans of Bengal were always mindful of the inroads from Delhi, and also occasionally from the neighboring state of Jaunpur. The Mughal Subahdars on the other hand were always free from such dangers, the only occasional irritants being either the Maratha raiders or the Portuguese and Arkansan’s Pirates. The Marathas came by land and the Portuguese by sea. These foes were not however regarded by the powerful Mughal Subahdar and his army as strong adversaries. Consequently whatever architectural protection they created were not as massive as those of the Sultans. The wide battering and high walls of the Sultanate period were consequently regarded as superfluous and whatever they built were therefore more artistic and fanciful than those meant for life and death. The Mughal Forts in Bengal were an imitation of the Mughal forts in their capitals, but built in bricks and adhesive mud the two available materials, sufficient for the protection of families and the ruler’s retinues. The extant examples of Mughal Forts suggest that the inner area of the enclosures remained always without or little structures. The vacant spaces in the event must have been filled up by tents or utility structures not that much solid or of architectural importance. Beside these protective forts, the Mughal Subahdars in Bengal also built some garrison forts in different parts of the province for administrative purpose and to face the rebellion from Mughal chieftains, Afghan rebels or Bara Bhuiyans. These garrisons were smaller in size and erected on strategic points. They were mostly of mud-built enclosures with functional structures within or were occasionally built within the old fortified areas. Innumerable forts in Bengal of this type are known from local legends or from the names of unexcavated mounds. Many of these have vanished primarily because of piracy of left-materials or have been reduced to cultivable fields. A large number of them are now known from high areas of Bangladesh in Mymansingh, Bogra, Rangpur and Dinajpur Districts. The Andar Qila

of Chittagong probably served both the purposes of chasing the Arakanese and of administering the south-east zone. It is likely that many of these outposts of south and east Bengal have been washed way by the erosion of the deltic rivers.

The general character of fort architecture remains always the same– a circular enclosure supported by an outer one with moats surrounding wherever necessary. The gateways and the corner towers were the strongest parts generally constructed with guard rooms equipped with both defensive and offensive devices. In between there were the rampart walks, for strategic maneuvering to deal with the approaching enemies. The most distinguishing feature of Mughal forts are their straight constructions capped by battlemented parapets, the gateways and the corner and occasionally also the middle pilasters being topped by chhatri pavilions. The oriel windows of Mughal gateways are an additional attractive feature. The gateway opening spanned by a four-centred arched alcove with a semi or half domed vault overhead is a feature initiated by the Mughals in imitation of Persian iwan-portals. The inner side of the vaults are decorated with logenze shaped plaster-works again in imitation of Persian muqarnas, one of the most beautiful ornamental patterns in Islamic architectural history.

The surviving Mughal forts in Bengal are rare to speak fully of them. Of the palace forts the most notable example– the Lalbagh Fort is in Dhaka. The riverine forts are also around Dhaka, while the garrison forts are scattered throughout the province. The garrison forts are mostly gone, and are now known or remembered only from local legends and mounds.

Rajmahal Fort. The earliest reference of a Mughal fort in Bengal appears to be that of Rajmahal, now in Bihar, built by Raja Man Singh, the general of Emperor Akbar, in 1595. Named as Akbarnagar, the fort was erected there to mark the site of the new capital after Gaur and Tanda which were regarded as unlucky for the Mughals. Within the fort, the general erected in accordance with the Islamic tradition a palace and a jami masjid to give it a capital appearance soon however to be removed to Jahangirnagar (Dhaka) the newer capital built by Islam Khan in honour of his patron ruler, Emperor Jahangir in 1609. When Prince Shuja became the governor of Bengal in 1639 he again shifted the capital to Rajmahal erecting there the famous palace called Sang-i-Dalan (stone place) for his own residence with an attached Diwan Khana (audience hall). All are now in ruins but the ‘choice city’ which as could be understood from it’s strategic position to control both the river points of the Ganges and the Teliaghari pass must have been built with all the defensive arrangements needed for a fortified palace. Since the Jami Masjid has some similarity with Akbar’s Jami at Fathpur-Sikri, it is likely that the fort gateways and fortifications also must have had some influence from Fathpur Sikri, Akbar’s favorite residence, and other contempary Mughal forts of Northern India.

Lukochuri Gate. This gateway of the palace fortress of Gaur was built by Prince Shuja when he was the governor of Bengal Subah. Shuja lived in Rajmahal, but occasionally visited Gaur to pay his respect to his patron-saint Shah-Niamatullah Wali. In Gaur, situated in the Firuzpur Quarter, he also built a palace generally known as the Tahkhana to be described below. The extant Gaur fortress as has been stated while delineating Sultanate fort and fortifications was built by the Iliyas Shahi and Husayn Shahi rulers but continued under the Mughals till the provincial capital was removed from Rajmahal to Dhaka. This gateway appears to be the only fortification remaining of the Mughal period attached to the citadel.

It lies to the south-east of the citadel forming a part of it’s curtain wall, just a little north to the Gumti Gate, a Sultanate structure. It is in pure Mughal style, and although has some similarity in plan with the gateways of the Sultanate period is completely different in construction being entered by a iwan-type portal of four centred central arch flanked by similar arched doors on the sides. The gateway made of brick is rectangular in design measuring 19.80m long and 12.90m broad, and is three storeyed in height with flanking doorways in the first floor, just similar to those below, but with a flat roof above used as a naqqar khana heralding the governor’s entrance into and exit from the citadel. In the top storey, above the central arch occupying the space of the ground and first floors, are three oriel windows in the form of machicoulis above which are the crowning merlons, typical of Mughal architecture. The entire structure is plaster covered, and is designed in rectangular frames with muqarnas ornamentation of the Mughal type inside the hood of the central arch.

Since there was already a Sultanate gateway near it to the south what was it’s necessity? The answer is simple. A Mughal Subhadar would not use a Sultanate structure as a ceremonial gateway for his entrance. The gateway was symbolic of Mughal rule, the upholder of the spirit of independence and Mughalization.

The city from the time of the restored Iliyas Shahis expanded towards the south, and the governor in need of the time felt the necessity of erecting this gateway towards that direction. Moreover, it is known that Shah Shuja often visited his patron saint Shah Niamatullah Wali who resided to the southern part of the city in Firuzpur Quarters. The erection would thus shorten his journey and also give an opportunity to pass through the city-centre which was then towards the east and south side of the gateway.

Architecturally the Lukochuri Darwaza is very significant. It provides Bengal with one of the earliest Mughal gateway buildings of North Indian type with all necessary elements– both defensive and decorative. Beside the high iwan-type arch with it’s majesty in the centre, the flanks are companioned with guardrooms and projected windows for jharoka or making appearance. By themselves the windows are a beautiful architectural device– a common and attractive Mughal feature seen subsequently in the gateways of Lalbagh Fort in Dhaka.

(bottom) Lalbagh Fort

(from East)

Lalbagh Fort. This fort in Dhaka is the only surviving example of a Mughal fort in Bengal giving somewhat a fuller idea of the nature of fort and fortification in the province. The fort founded by governor Prince Muhammad Azam in 1678 was left unfinished in the next year when he left Dhaka at the call of his father, Emperor Aurangzeb in Delhi. Azam’s successor Shayesta Khan lived there till 1688, and it is thought that he left the fort because of the death of his daughter Pari Bibi, an incident of ill-omen and bad luck, cherished traditionally since the days of Akbar when he left Agra for Fathpur Sikri at the death of his twin sons, Hasan and Husayn. It should perhaps be noted here that the Mughal governors lived in the old fort known as the Quella Mubarakabad now marked by the central jail and the Naswala Galli Masjid of the Sultanate Period nearby. At the time of the construction of the Lalbagh Fort Prince Muhammad Azam also lived within this fort.

The Lalbagh Fort after a long desertion has recently been reconstructed by the Department of Archaeology and a drawing has been made to make the hitherto ruins into a legible plan. The fort occupied an area of approximately 18 acres of land touching the river Buriganga on it’s northern side, now shifted to the south. D’Oyly’s paintings of 1809-11 shows that the fort hanged on the river and touched it on the south and south-west corner. The fort was oblong in plan, almost rectangular with the long-arms running east-west, and had two closing brick wall on the south side the outer measuring about 6.10m high and 1.37m thick, and the inner 13.72m high with


about the same thickness. The regular openings in the upper part of the inner wall suggest that there were probably a rampart walk along the wall. The outer wall was strengthened by bastions, now seen on the southern and western wall. The largest bastion at the south-eastern wall was connected with an underground channel, perhaps a postern in times of necessity. A similar tunnel is reported to have connected the fort with the Tongi river, about 18 kilometers away from the fort. The double storeyed bastion on the south-west corner with a water reservoir on it’s top is suggested to have been a hawakhana.

Of the gateways there are two still extant, one on the south-east corner and the other on the north-east corner just to the opposite of the former. The southern gateway is very imposing and is three storeyed on the front side, but two storeyed at the back. The fronton is approached though a four-centred archway of an iwan-type portal, commonly seen in all Mughal gateways. The other Mughal characteristics are the flanking slander-turrets of the entrance arch, the pavilion like oriel windows on the sides and the chhatri-cupolas on the roof-corners. The gateways in all are typical Mughal structures, more fanciful than solid and more ceremonial than functional. The central area of the fort is now occupied by three structures– a diwan building on the east, a three-domed Mughal mosque on the west and the tomb of Bibi Pari in between. The excavations have revealed remains of more utility buildings within the fort area such as stables, hammams, kitchens, water reservoirs and fountains as subsidiary structures. On the east of the fort there was at one time a big pond which not only supplied necessary water but was also a beautifying element of the fort. The fort is now well conserved, and thanks to the Department of Archaeology has been rendered a tourist spot for spending a while for the incomers with a sigh of relief in the midst of narrow alleys and slums of the old city.

Zinjira Fort. This fort situated just opposite of the Lalbagh Fort on the southern side of the Buriganga was built by Nawab Ibrahim Khan, the successor of Shayesta Khan (1689-97) as Subahdar. Zinjira is a corrupt form of the Arabic word jazira meaning ‘island’ and was probably appellated because of it’s being encircled by a moat, and separated from the old fort of Dhaka and Lalbagh. It is reported to have been connected with the old city by a wooden bridge across the river. What was the necessity of constructing such a fort so near the old ones is thought provoking. May be that it was thought unlucky to be in Lalbagh because of the death of Pari Bibi there, but also perhaps it was necessary to satisfy the traditional ego problem of a ruler to be the builder of a city ‘to be a real ruler’. Whatever is the cause it can easily be imagined that it soon replaced the status and glory of old Dhaka before being abandoned by Murshid Quli Khan for Murshidabad. The city must have declined after their shifting, and was in complete ruins in 1819 when D’Oyly visited the city. According to him it was formerly ‘full of buildings’, but presently ‘there is little more than a ruined wall with embrasures remaining.

Murshidabad Fort. Originally ‘Kolaria’ but in the early Mughal Period ‘Maksudabad’ from Makhsus Khan a nobleman of the time of Akbar Murshidabad came into prominence as a provincial metropolis from 1704 when Murshid Quli Khan shifted the diwani from Dhaka to this place later named Murshidabad after his own name. Murshidabad assumed the position of the provincial capital from 1716 when the seat of government (nizamat) was transferred there. The city developed on the left bank of the river Bhagirathi, just opposite the old city called Mahinagar probably of the Sultanate time. The city developed with the construction of the Nizamat Qila on the bank of the river with a palace known as the Chihil Satun (forty pillars), a mosque and a katra (a boarding house for travellers). The main entrances of the Nizamat Qila had naubat khanas (heralding galleries) in imitation of the Lalbagh or any other Mughal fort of Northern India. The Katra a great structure of the time was described as ‘a seminary of Muslim learning’. Close to the Katra was the fortified Tope Khana (arsenal building which ‘formed the eastern gateway of the city’. Of the fort and fortification no further details are available except the mention of some palaces such as the Hajar Duari (palace of thousand doors), a diwan, a court of the exchequer (khalsa) and the Imambara erected within probably during the time of Shujauddin, a great patron of architecture. Shujauddin also built a mosque adorned with running ‘canals and springs, flower-beds and fruit trees’ and named it Farrahbagh, the garden of joy. Sirajuddaula extended the city towards the south by building a lake, the famous Matijheel (the pearl lake) and a palace known to have been built out of the materials brought from Gaur.

Murshidabad was a great city in the middle of the 17th century, and with all it’s development particularly because of it’s commercial intercourse with the British East India Company assumed a proportion prosperous and populous ‘comparable to the city of London’. The city then extended ‘five miles in length and two and a half mile in width with inhabitants approximately six to seven lakhs’ living in separate quarters such as the nobility within the enclosures, the English residents in the exclusive areas, the jahurtali (jwellers quarters), chinitola (sugar ward), garowantola (oxcart area)’ etc outside. This was the division in fact in all the mediaeval cities in the eastern world including Bengal.

Murshidabad waned from 1773 when the treasury was shifted to Calcutta thereby opening a new historical vista for the future not only of Bengal, but gradually also of India. Murshidabad was the last of the great mediaeval cities of Bengal, and the first of the modern cities with European influences pouring in all spheres of life including architecture.

Hajiganj Fort. It is a river fort and is situated at the point where the Buriganga met the Sitalakhya. The single fortification wall is in the form of a pentagon with rounded bastions in the corners and a rectangular high gateway with all Mughal characteristics towards the river ‘suggesting that means of communication was by the river’. The curtain wall with merlon tops was secured with a rampart walk on the inner side, and in places was pierced through the holes for muskets. The holes of the bastions are wider meant probably for ‘gun firing at the pirates proceeding up the river’. In a corner


of the fort enclosure there is a tall free standing square column of brick which must have been used for observation and placing guns in the rainy season. Since there was no provision for an inner second wall for living quarters it is likely that the fort was used as a garrison with the vacant spaces within lived by soldiers in tents. The exact date of the fort is uncertain but is suggested to have been built ‘soon after Islam Khan established the Mughal capital at Dacca’.


Sonakanda Fort. It is also a river fort built on the junction of the Shitalakhya and Brahmaputra, but now a little away from the rivers because of their shifting away. The fort consists of a single curtain wall with a number of regular bastions but with an additional projection consisting of a raised platform towards the river side where stands a round drum of huge dimension probably meant for placing a big gun appropriate to shoot the pirates at a distance. The inner side of this fort is also vacant, used probably at one time for soldiers in tents.

The building of this fort was of about the same date, ie, the middle of the 17th century. Idrakpur Fort. This fort at Idrakpur in Munshiganj is on the bank of the river Ichhamati, now dried up. It is also a similar fort built like the ones described above. Built on heavy foundations in marked stages, the fort has the familiar Mughal appearance with bastions at the corners and battlemented merlons at the top. The rampart walks within the

(top) Narayanganj: Hajiganj Fort (early 17th century)

Sonakanda Fort

Idrakpur Fort

walls are now gone, but must have been a usual defending feature at one time. An interesting feature of this fort is the existence of a huge drum within surrounded by curtain walls, but accessible from the outer open space around it. At the foot of the drum is a small magazine and at it’s top is now seen a government residential quarter, probably originally an open place for observation and placing long-range guns to drive away the approaching pirates. Dani has suggested it to have been built by Mir Jumla in or about 1660.


Garrison Outposts. A large number of them is a now dotted in various parts of Bengal

particularly in northern areas. Many of these appear to have occupied the earlier fort areas of ancient or medieval times, but some might have been built in a new site, developed from badiya or temporary halting place. A large number of them has been catalogued in Bangladesh by the Department of Archaeology such as at Selimgarh (Sherpur, Bogra), Chatmohar (Pabna), Bokainagar (Gouripur, Mymensingh), Egarasindhur (Kishorganj), Jangalbari (Kishorganj), Quella Tajpur (Netrokona), Ghoraghat (Dinajpur), Sujabad (Barisal), and Andar Qila (Chittagong).1

Structurally this type of forts consisted of outer walls on both sides of gateways in their fronts. The main emphasis was carried out by the bastions within which guard houses, were provided for watching the approach of the attackers. They were built both overland or on the bank of the rivers at strategic points. Only two somewhat known examples are listed below.

Selimgarh. At Sherpur in Bogra District a fort was constructed by Raja Mansingh, Akbar’s general and governor of Bengal, on the bank of the river Korotoya. The fort was named Selimgarh in honour of prince Selim, afterwards emperor Jahangir.

The fort is not now in situ, but numerous brick-bats and pot-sherds are lying scattered all over the site where once stood the fort. The place today is covered with jungles all round. The fort was built early in 1596 when Mansingh set out from his new capital Rajmahal on seventh December 1595 to meet the Afghan rebels in East Bengal. But the Afghans on receiving information retreated before him beyond the Brahmaputra. On account of the approach of rains Mansingh encamped at Sherpur as a badiya and built a fort there in 1596. It was from this fort that Mansingh led his campaigns against Isa Khan of Sonargaon and the rebellious Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore.


1 Two such forts one at Baruipara in Godagari and the other at Chapila in Gurudaspur have been reported to the editor by Mr. Saiful Islam, a lecturer in Islamic History of Premtali College, and a local old man respectively.

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