Serene Bagerhat reveals more saintly history
Archeologists in Bagerhat have dug out ancient relics of what they believe were places of residence of the 15th century saints who had settled down here.
For years archeologists and historians had been in the dark about the lifestyle of the 15th century Islamic saints who had built at least 50 mosques and domes around this pristine district town, about 178 km southwest of the capital Dhaka.
In 1982-83, UNESCO drew up a master plan for the Bagerhat area and the ‘Mosque City of Bagerhat’ was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 as “an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble which illustrates a significant stage in human history”.
AKM Syfur Rahman, an archeologist and the assistant director of the Khulna regional office of the Department of Archeology, says the findings have given an insight into what kind of a city Bagerhat was over 500 years ago.
“The area was known as the residence of Khan Jahan where we have unearthed baked clay pipes as long as 15 meters and 12-14 centimeters in diameter, clearly suggesting they had a running water supply system,” says Rahman, adding, “the small residential units all around suggest it was indeed an urban area.”
Rahman says that they also unearthed bowls of Chinese porcelain among arrays of other artifacts. “We have also found Persian pottery of the time.”
An ancient wide road made of bricks stretches for several kilometers from the exaction site. About a kilometer of this road is now being restored.
Originally known as Khalifatabad and nicknamed the “mint town of the Bengal Sultanate”, the city was founded in the 15th century by the warrior saint Turkish general Ulugh Khan Jahan.
The historic city, listed by Forbes as one of the 15 lost cities of the world, has more than 50 Islamic monuments, which have been found after removing the vegetation that had obscured them from view for many centuries.
The Sixty Pillar Mosque (Shat Gombuj), constructed with 60 pillars and 77 domes, is the most well known structure. In addition, UNESCO also includes the mausoleum of Khan Jahan, the mosques of Singar, BibiBegni, Reza Khoda, Zindapir, amongst the unique monuments.
The history of present-day Bagerhat is traced back to the Bengal Sultanate under the rule of Sultan Nasir al-din Mahmud Shah (1442–1459). It was established by Ulug Khan Jahan (1433–1459), an administrator under the sultanate in the 15th century; an inscription on his tomb here mentions 1459 as his date of death, testifying the construction of the city in the mid 15th century. He was responsible for establishing a planned township with roads, bridges, and water supply tanks (ponds – two are still surviving: the Ghoradighi and Dargadighi), cisterns, and a very large number of mosques and tombs, and palaces and his own mausoleum, all attributed in the same “Khan Jahan Style”;
Khan Jahan lived in the town and did extensive philanthropic work. It is mentioned that the Delhi Sultanate, for political and religious reasons, wanted to establish an outpost of Islam in the then-remote part of India in Bengal and deputed Ulug Khan Jahan to brave this task.
Ulug Khan was known for his unique capability as an administrator (administered the districts of Jhenaidah, Sathkira, Patuakhali, and Barisal in South Bengal) and a builder. He was also a pir, a saintly person who shunned personal aggrandizement and rejected royal titles. He did not even issue any mint to his name. His tomb is thus venerated in Bangladesh and attracts a large number of pilgrims.
A study of ten mosques and tombs seen in the town reveals that seven of them — Shait Gumbaz Mosque, which adjoins the Ulug Khan Tomb, Ranbijaypur Mosque, BibiBegni Mosque, Shingra Mosque, Chunakhola Mosque, the Nine Domed Mosque are in Ulugh Khan style. The other three mosques of a later period are the Ten Domed Mosque, Rezai Khan Mosque and Zinda Pir Tomb.
Story by Morshed Ali Khan, back from Bagerhat
Photos by: Department of Archeology, Khulna & Morshed Ali Khan
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