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    Volume 12 |Issue 06| February 08, 2013 |


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Fayza Haq


Sure the British in the colonial days made Cruzan Hall and High Court Building and the railways. But the Muslims, the Mughals in particular turned India into a large, veritable garden. Dhaka, which housed Sirajuddaulllah and his ancestors, made Boro Katra in 1664. It was painted by De Fabeck-Frederick William Alexander in 1863. Having inherited the Persian way of living with flowers and trees, the Mughals too wanted to turn everything they possessed into a large garden with wonderful buildings like the “Rose Garden” with its statues column, arches, balconies, turrets and coloured windows. The fruits and vegetables are items which are treasured even in Karachi, a part of the Mughal Empire,

In Dhaka, fountains, birds, fruit and flower trees and grass were a part of living. The architects were one with nature. Mughal miniature paintings had gardens and trees along with the portrait of ladies with delicate dupattas and skirts well below their navels. Iran and Lebanon were always in the minds of the Dhaka builders who aimed at simplicity and targeted on extensive horticulture.

Seventieth century Isfahan had “Chahar Bagh”—a garden-type carpet, navy blue and orange red with emerald green patterns–to make the creation more dynamic and exquisite. From the time of Cyrus the Great of Persia, the gardens of Isfahan, saw to it that his architects had raised gardens for him to take his royal walks. The gardens consisted of rectangles. In the 7th to the 9th century, the Persian Empire spread out to Africa and Spain. Raised walks were to prevent snakes and vermin, which existed in that time. Where people walked, this was covered with carpets and sheltered with umbrellas to keep off the sun. The Mughals were careful to find protected places to trade in. There were canals in the garden houses of Old Dhaka. As Kazi Khaleed Ashraf, a renowned architect put it, the Mughals saw Dhaka as an up and coming Venice. In Charles D'Oyly's Antiquities of Dacca the city was meant to complement Nature and be in harmony with it.

The floodwaters during the monsoon were kept out by the bridges and high buildings with minarets and bridges of stones. In Nawab's Shahbagh garden one expected the aroma of spices from the Middle East. The garden was part of the area over which the nobles ruled. The Choto Katra and Boro Katra were transformation of Mughal rule in Dhaka. Built on the banks of the Buriganga, the special areas led to special places of open space and vegetation. The Nimtoli Deuri, the ruined gateway to Dhaka, was painted by Frederick William Alexander in 1863. It was yellow and gold and contained arches and pillars along with bushes and creepers. The Mughal rulers thought of Dhaka – as they did of Delhi, Kabul or Kashmir.

Among the ruins are stories of glamour, glitter and glory of a place we now call Old Dhaka.
Photo: Zahedul I Khan

Talking of the Mughal paintings of Old Dhaka, these “paradise-gardens” into which they converted their pleasure waking ground and homes, the knight and ladies walked with maids playing music with miniature “sitars”, wearing bright flowing dresses. The ladies too had long, colourful attire—while the knights in attendance wore gold turbans, vermilion cloaks and “achkans”. The horses, which the nobles mounted, were full bodied with comparatively delicate legs. The turban and dress-like “achkan” worn by the royalty were fanciful and touched with bright red etching. Cliffs, trees, boulders flowing rivulets and dogs attended the lord and his lady spending time of the leisure.

The Mughals of Dhaka wanted something unique. Mughal Dhaka was full of gorgeous sights although much of it was eroded with time. Ramna Gate was once a mesh of forts in places like Tongi and Fatullah—the forts being on rivers. Bengali civilisation mixed and mingled with the British ways of living. With the coming of the British, even the path of the Buriganga changed. With the Colonial period, business and therefore the “Chawk” or the market became the centre of life. The development of the city during British Rule, made a mixture of Mughal and British design. Today's Dhaka is designed by developers and real estate property managers.

The residents of old Dhaka may not have spoken Persian all the time, but they did speak Urdu—as they do even today –many decades later. It was here that the “dastaerkwan” was covered with cheese and “bakarkhani—which came from the Turks – as one knows. Today the Chawk of Puran Dhaka is noted for its kebab- roti and sweets, like “Jelebi” and sweet curds. “Guria ki shadi” and piling up silk “three pieces” for trousseaus is the done thing here. The wearing of Fez caps – originating in Istanbul – was popular here for “Eids” and “shadis”.

When one comes up against senior artists, writers and singers—we invariably learn that they have their upbringing in Puran Dhaka. Shafiuddin Ahmed, Laila Sharmeen, Ranjit Das , Biren Shome, Abdullah Abu Sayeed – they all enjoyed acting, singing and painting somewhere in old Dhaka.

Just as there is “Jatra”, an integral part of life and living, so there is “Sher-shaeri” in this part of the city where Urdu is popular even today, and spoken with decisive pride. Here Kite-flying on roof-tops is as common and prevalent as it is in India, especially in Punjab and UP. Baet-baazi is yet something else that Urdu speaking people revel in.

During the colonial days, Dhaka grew up around the Buriganga. When Shaista Khan fought off the Portuguese and the Burmese pirates, the English and the French came to collect gems from the Mughal subedar's home of tent. Shaista Khan built his daughter Pari Bibi's resting place in the Lalbagh Fort. The city became an “erratic place of dream” The Boro and Choto Katara were places originally made for resting of the Mughal army at “caravansarais”. In Dhaka, a waterfront city, the Mughals and British experimented with their ideas and needs. It remains a deltaic city and a tropical home—with 80 inches of rainfall in the plain-land. Tall buildings make it a cement jungle today. Plants, single-storied buildings, orchards and gardens remain rare in the megapolis today. It vies with the cities in Bangkok and Singapore—apart from ancient cities built with the dreams of the Mughal Muslims – like New Delhi and the cities spread over India.


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