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Sunday, July 20, 2008
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Celebrating 400 Years of Dhaka

Shattering tales of tattered mosques

EVOLUTION OF A MOSQUE: Left, a sketch of Sat Masjid by Sir Charles Doyle in 1840, middle, Turag still flowed by the mosque only fifteen years ago, right, the present state of the mosque. Photos Collected from Dr Abu Sayeed M Ahmed.Bottom Tara (Star) Masjid stands with two large domes and a pentastar-shaped fountain at Armanitola. Photo: SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

As the city prepares to celebrate its 400 years as the capital of Bengal, a good number of old mosques and some Mughal-era edifices are in a vulnerable state due to ignorance and negligence of the authorities.

Once called 'The city of mosques', many of its mosques are now demolished or are left in a tattered shape for constructing new buildings. Structures of mosques and buildings were changed over the years for 'renovation and development' work.

"The Mughal mosque structures had unique characteristics because of the riverine features of the city. Those features are lost to a greater extent for river encroachment and filling up of canals to make space for housing and to construct roads," said Dr Abu Sayeed M Ahmed, a conservation architect with vast expertise in mosque architecture.

Noted historian Prof Muntasir Mamoon said the Mughals while building mosques and other structures considered the presence of rivers and water bodies around the city. The surroundings of these structures contained canals and beautiful gardens.

In the Mughal period the city was encircled and intertwined by canals like Dholai Khal, Hatirjheel, Begunbari canal and Segunbagicha canal, all of which are now gone or are encroached on by land grabbers.

Use of lime and powdered brick to create a pinkish tone is a prominent feature of Mughal-era mosques in the city.

"In Delhi the Mughals used red sand stones, for an example the Red Fort. But in Bengal red sand stones were not abundant, so they invented chun-surki (lime and powdered brick) to replicate the effect of red sand stone. For an example Sat Masjid and Lalbagh Fort," said Dr Sayeed.

Changing patterns of these mosques were seen in the recent years due to unwarranted renovation works and vanishing water bodies.

Binat Bibi Masjid, the oldest mosque of the city, is now overshadowed by the construction of a new building.

"Built in the 17th century Sat Masjid had Turag River on its three sides. It has four pavilions or kiosks on all corners. The Mughals liked enjoying the view of the river sitting inside a kiosk," said the expert.

After the construction of an embankment the area between the mosque and the river turned into a solid ground and the river-view was lost.

Besides, the backdrop of the mosque now contains a six-storey madrasa building constructed breaching the Building Construction Rules 2008 that forbids any new construction within 250 meters of a heritage site.

Two years ago the Department of Archaeology painted the mosque with white coating on its original pinkish tone.

At present a brick-built fair price outlet of BDR is located in the front side of the mosque obstructing its sight from the street.

Central axis is an important feature of the Mughal mosques. In three-dome mosques the central dome is the largest and given the most importance.

"But during the extension of Tara Masjid in 1990s by the PWD this feature was overlooked and it was made a five-domed mosque leaving the two middle domes as the largest ones," said Dr Sayeed.

A pentastar fountain was constructed in front of it which is no match with the Mughal architecture, he added.

The Bhuiyan Bari mosque beside Balu River was extended in the front and is overshadowed by a new building. The hundred-year-old Chawkbazar mosque is now replaced by a new mosque building.

The Mughal mosques bear some significant regional patterns due to the local context, local climate and culture.

Single domes on rectangular panels, ornamental battlement (like in Musa Khan Masjid), ornamental recess, gardens and grand entrance on the riverside are other significant features of these mosques, said Dr Sayeed.

Aqueducts and water reservoirs like the one at Lalbagh Kella, floral motifs and geometric forms like making stars using two tilted squares are other significant features of the Mughal architecture, he said.

In later periods, many Mughal mosques were given a facelift by the ornamental chini-tikri work.

Religious structures existed through the passage of time because of their religious significance. People pilfered building materials from old palatial residential buildings but hesitated to do the same with a mosque, he said.

Some historic mosques

Following is a list of historical mosques in Dhaka city having complete or partly original features:
01. Binat Bibi mosque at Narinda, A.D. 1457

02. Lalbagh fort mosque, 1678-78 AD

03. Karwanbazar Shahi mosque, 1679-80

04. Haji Khawaja Shahbaz mosque at DU, 17th century A.D.

05. Sat Gumbaz Mosque at Dhaka, Late 17th century A.D.

06. Shaista Khan Mosque behind Mitford, 17th century A.D.

07. Musa Khan Mosque at DU, 18th century A.D.

08. Kartalab Khan (Murshid Kuli) Mosque at Begumbazar, A.D. 1700-1704.

09. Khan Muahammad Mirdha Mosque, A.D. 1706.

10. Star Mosque at Armanitola, A.D. 1875

11. Daroga Amiruddin Mosque near Babubazar ,19th Century

12. Koshaituli Mosque, A.D. 1919.

13. Bhuiya Bari Mosque, 17th century

14. Aga Masih Lane Mosque, 19th century A.D.

15. Nawabbari Mosque at Dilkhusa, 18th century A.D.

16. Daira Sharif Mosque at Azimpura, A.D. 1820.

17. Kamrangichar Mosque, A.D. 1840.

18. Purana Paltan Jami Mosque, A.D. 1956.

19. Shahi mosque at Lalmatia, 18th century A.D.

20. Dewan Bari mosque at Aminbazar, 18th century A.D.

21. Ahl-i-Hadith mosque at Bangshall, 17th century A.D.

Following are the totally renovated mosques:
01. Churihatta Masjid, A.D. 1649.

02. Islam Khan Mosque, 17th century A.D.

03. Chawk Bazar Mosque, A.D. 1676

04. Armanitola Mosque, Early 18th century A.D.

05. Dewan Bazar Mosque, 18th century A.D.

06. Patuatuli Jam-e-Mosque, A.D. 1964.

07. Zinjira Mosque, 20th century A.D.

08. Faqir Bari Mosque, Mirpur, 20th century A.D.

09. Nawwabganj Mosque, 20th century A.D.

10. Sitara Begum Mosque, A.D. 1819.

Source: Mosques of Dhaka by Historian M Hasan

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