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     Volume 2 Issue 4 | February 17 , 2007 |


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Journey through Bangldesh

From Comilla
Notibibi's Mosque

Zakir Azad

Two kilometers from Comilla town, across the Gomoti river bridge, on the bank stands Notibibir Masjid (Notibibi's Mosque). Signs of age on the structure are clear. The tattered building and the surrounding acres of land are generally left unattended; shrubs grow unrestrained. There are no clearly designated property rights for this surrounding area, which is giving rise to some obvious problems. The land is being occupied by the people of the village. Nobody is taking care of the mosque either.

If you trudge through the wildly growing hedges to the west of the mosque, you will find yourself at a half-built graveyard area. The dry waterless remnant of what once was a pond to the east of the main mosque building is also an interesting sight. Legend has it that the living quarters of court dancers were situated to the north of the pond once upon a time. There is absolutely no trace of those living quarters anymore. On the east end of the old mosque, a relatively new mosque has been built.

Even though there is a lot of speculation about the mosque that had originally been built by court dancers, the following account is probably the most widely accepted. A court dancer called Noorjahan along with her two assistants Moharjan and Phooljan had arrived and settled in Majhigachha village, upon a piece of land that had been granted to them by the Maharaja of Tripura around the year 1763. The villagers were very hospitable to Noorjahan and her two helpers. Noorjahan soon won over the hearts of the villagers with her personality and bravery. During the great famine of 1770, however, Noorjahan got ill with cholera. The terrified villagers, unsure of what else to do, put her body on a raft and set it adrift on the Gomoti River. By some turn of fate, another court dancer called Meneka found her body while traveling by the river. She rescued the body from the raft, tended to her and saved her life.

After staying with Meneka for a while, Noorjahan went back to Majhigachha village as the widow of the Zamindar of Mohipal. Once back at Majhigachha, she decided to build a mosque. Fellow villagers came forward and helped out, either with labor or with their contributions. Upon completion, it was announced that the Jumma prayers of the following Friday would be held at the new mosque to inaugurate it. Unfortunately, the villagers discovered the true identity of Noorjahan before the scheduled Friday. The Jumma prayers were not held there because nobody would offer prayers at a mosque built by a court dancer. This resulted in a lot of talk and controversy in the village. People refused to set foot inside a mosque made by a baiji- a woman of impure nature. The village council (panchayet) was called upon to judge whether or not it was morally permissible to inaugurate a mosque made by a baiji. A well-respected judge by the name of Mahtab Kazi was called upon from a neighboring village to settle the matter. He remained rigid on the decision of not inaugurating the mosque. Chaos broke out and soon village hooligans destroyed parts of the mosque building and burned down Noorjahan's home. Ousted by society and hurt by the cruelty of the people, Noorjahan Begum soon fell ill and died. Her last wish to be buried near the mosque, however, was honored.

Although that was then end of Noorjahan Begum's life, the legend of her attempt to build a functional mosque persisted throughout the years. The place was later named Notibibi'r Masjid as it was built by a court dancer, and even today passersby sometimes stop to recall the story behind Notibibi's Mosque- the mosque where not a single person has offered prayers even once since it was build.

Recently, however, the mosque and the land surrounding it are fast being taken up and occupied by the villagers and sadly enough the history and legend of the mosque seems to be fading.

The loss of this mosque would be a great one, as it is one of the more interesting bits of history in Comilla.

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