Vol. 5 Num 537 Wed. November 30, 2005  
Star Chittagong

Archaeological heritage in tatters

The rich heritage of Chittagong is under threat as there is no initiative to protect the ancient monuments and antiquities here.

The objects and places of antiquarian interests, which illustrates different stages of architectural, technological as well as cultural development in this region, should be conserved on an emergency basis, said the researchers on heritage.

They emphasised official enlistment of the ancient monuments and antiquities and preservation of the history of Chittagong that dates back to seventh century when Harical Civilisation developed along the river Karnaphuli and the Bay of Bengal, known as Harical Samudra, offered port facilities.

Researcher and documentary producer Shamsul Hossain said the ancient "Patralipi" and "Tamralekha" (inscriptions on pots and bronze) found in Chittagong talks about existence of the Harical civilisation and the famous Pandit Bihar of Pal age along the Karnaphuli.

There is the Hammadyar Mosque at Mansurabad, Fakirer Masjid, remains of Chhuti Khan mosque and Badar Aoulia Dargah of Sultani period, Shahi Jame Masjid at Anderkilla, Hamza Khar Masjid and Dargah at Hamzerbag, Molla Miskiner Masjid and Dargah at Gani Bakery area, Wali Beg Khan (Oli Khan) Masjid at Chawk Bazar, Kadam Mobarak Masjid and an ancient grave at Momin Road and Posterpar Masjid, Bayezid Bostami and Shahjahan Shah Dargah of Mughal period and Chittagong Court Building, Railway Station and Central Railway Building (CRB) of British colonial period.

Besides, there are the original circuit house (now Zia Memorial Museum), a superb structure blending British and Burmese architectures, Muslim High School building (which was built as a fort by the Portuguese) and fossilized axe of Stone age, which was found in Sitakunda.

A number of ancient metal statues of Buddha and gold coins were found at Zheori village of the coastal Anwara upazila, said Poet and Columnist Abul Momen.

"Sampans of Chittagong with distinctive design resemble the water transports of Myanmar and some other Southeast Asian countries. Ancient Sampan of this region is preserved in the Dutch museum," he said.

Quoting Mughal historian Shihab-ud-Din Talish, he said apart from forts, graves and religious structures like mosques, temples of ancient period, there was a road from Chittagong to Chandpur. Sultan Fakr-ud-din constructed the road after he had conquered Chittagong.

Talish's historical descriptions also speak about 99 bridges constructed on different canals criss-crossing the road from Feni to Chittagong at the directive of Subahder Shayesta Khan, said researcher Shamsul Hossain.

Of these heritages, only one mosque of the Mughal period at Ilsha village of Banshkhali upazila and a stone inscription of Sultani period found at Fatehpur village of Hathazari upazila are enlisted as the conserved antiquities with the "Protected Monuments and Mounds in Bangladesh" published by the Department of Archaeology and Museum in 1995.

As many as nine mosques and two temples should be included in the "List of Ancient Monuments in the Chittagong Division" published by the public works department of the then East Bengal government in 1896, researchers said.

"A List of Objects of Antiquarian Interest of the Lower Provinces of Bengal" published by the department at that time included eight mosques, one graveyard and three temples of this region, they said.

They said that there were initiatives to conserve and preserve the heritages at individual and private levels. But, the authorities concerned always showed indifference to it, they added.

They said that untiring efforts and devotion of Abdul Karim Shahitya Bisharad helped form "Chattagram-Pratnatatwa-Udghatan-Samity in 1918 to collect 597 manuscripts and 381 Punthis (booklets) which bore and described the rich heritage and history of Chittagong.

As there is no authorised or recognised institution to preserve them, Abdul Karim Shahitya Bisharad handed over the vast collection of manuscripts 585 written in Bengali, 10 in Persian and two in Urdu, to Dhaka University Museum and the Punthis written by Hindu writers and scholars to Barendra Museum in Rajshahi in 1953, they said.

At present there are only three museums -- Ethnological Museum of Agrabad, Anthropological Museum of Chittagong University and Zia Memorial Museum -- in Chittagong when for lack of initiatives at government level destroyed many ancient monuments and heritages.

Meanwhile, speakers at a three-day seminar and exhibition on Saturday recommended formation of a trustee with representatives from Chittagong City Corporation, Chittagong Development Authority, public works department, archaeologists, architects, historians and engineers to preserve the heritages and traditions that enrich Chittagong immensely.

Heritage Research and Documentation Service organised the seminar and exhibition titled "Chattal Puran" at Chittagong Shilpakala Academy.

They suggested introducing academic education on the archaeological and historical values of the objects and places of antiquarian interests in greater Chittagong and creating mass awareness through publications like booklets, papers and replica.

Architect Zarina Hossain, convenor of Institute of Architects Bangladesh, Chittagong chapter, suggested holding of festivals and developing tourist spots around the sites of archaeological and historical importance.

"Development of tourist spots with arrangements for display and sale of products and service could not only provide funds for conserving the sites but also create direct and indirect employment opportunities for the local people," she said.

1. Century-old Chittagong Court Building on Parir Pahar; 2. Central Railway Building, 3. Chandanpura Masjid and 4. Kadam Mobarak Masjid at Momin Road.Courtesy: Heritage Research And Documentation Service