Published on April 12, 2005
Gaur and Pandua
Architecture of Two Forgotten Indian Cities
By Shahid A. Makhfi
Shaheen Perveen and others.
Shah, the Afghan monarch, called it ‘A great city built
on great ideas.’ His Mughal adversary, Humayun, was so
enamoured by the climate and beauty of the surroundings, that
he named it Junnatabad - the heavenly city. Today, this
terrestrial paradise lies hidden in the wilderness of Bengal
along the Bangladesh border, a remote and defiant frontier.
a settlement, Gaur predated both the Mughals and the Afghans
and its history is marked by both creation and
The 14th century saw the advent of the Afghans who shifted their capital to Pandua (20 miles to the
north-east). The city regained its importance as a capital in
1500 for a short time before being sacked by Sher Shah. Later
that century, the entire population was wiped out by plague.
Mughals occupied the area thereafter, and tailored the city to
their tastes. Indeed, through history, each ruler left behind
his own set of architectural splendours, made possible by
Gaur’s proximity to the fine black basalt of the Rajmahal
the words of E.V.Havel, an authority on Indian architecture,
“It is difficult to realise from the ruined buildings which
now remain of the once great city of Gaur that its influence
on the building craft of north and east India, both before and
after the Muhammadan conquest, must have been far greater than
that of any city of Persia, Arabia or Mesopotamia.”
past depredations, Gaur is still a spectacular citadel studded
with an array of architectural achievements. Consider the
curvilinear roof. The typical sloping bamboo roof cornice is a
practical design aimed at the quick dispersal of water during
heavy downpours. This feature, as a matter of decoration, can
be seen as far as Delhi’s Red Fort and palaces of Rajasthan.
earliest example of such a roof constructed of stucco over
bricks can be seen at the tomb of Fateh Khan, the Mughal
general sent to crush the rebels. The rectangular tomb lies in
the compound of Qadam Rasul Mosque, constructed in 1530 by
Sultan Nusrat Shah to preserve the footprints of the Prophet
of Islam ('s).
of the monuments in Gaur are bereft of epigraphs, some of
which were removed for safekeeping while others were lost to
time. Dating the monuments with precision, therefore, is
difficult. The Chamkati mosque is one of the earliest
structures, dating back to 1478, as revealed by its inscription
preserved in the British Museum. It was built by Sultan Yusuf
Shah, one of the Bengal kings from a long list of 35.
The name is said to come from name of a peculiar Muslim
group living in Malda area.
Bara Sona Masjid
largest and equally the most impressive monument at Gaur is
the Bara Sona Masjid (Big Golden Mosque). The massive edifice,
built in 1526 by Sultan Nusrat Shah, is rectangular in plan
with 11 arched openings. The roof was strewn with 44
hemispherical domes, of which 11 on the corridor still remain.
These domes were originally gilded, and, hence, gave the
mosque its name. From the interior, these domes are arcaded,
half in brick and half in stone. An impressive gateway to the
east stands as a silent guard to the grand mosque.
builders of Gaur guarded their citadel with numerous gates.
Some of them have survived the ravages of time. Kotwali
Darwaza to the south serves as a border between India and
Bangladesh. Early sketches suggest that this 15th century gate
once had a monumental pointed entrance arch with massive
semi-circular bastions on either side. Today, it is reduced to
a small niche of bricks. West of Qadam Rasul mosque is the
stupendous defensive brick wall, popularly called Bisgazi
(suggesting its height of 22 gaz, or roughly 20 m), which
enclosed the Old Palace.
the eastern periphery, there are two gateways, Gumpti Darwaza
and Lukochuri Darwaza. Gumpti is a small square domed
structure dating back to the late 15th century, while the
Lukochuri (hide-and-seek) Darwaza was built in 1655 by the Mughal
prince Shah Shuja, as his ceremonial entrance. The double
storied tripartite gate has inner apartments to serve as guard
most impressive gateway, however, is the Dakhil Darwaza, the
early 15th century entrance, also known as Salami Darwaza. It
is a perfect blend of decorative beauty and structural
proportion. The 35 m high entrance is notable for its huge
arched passage at the centre and double-barrel vaulted rooms,
one on either side, intended for guards. Its four corners are
topped with 12 sided towers.
of Dakhil Darwaza, half way to Lukochuri, is an interesting
brick minaret. This is the 26 m
high Firoz Minar built in the
late 15th century. The crowning cupola is missing but the
surface decoration in brick and terracotta embellished with
blue and white tiles makes it quite appealing. Like Delhi’s
Qutb Minar, it was originally attached to a mosque, which no
mosque and minaret is believed to be the work of Saifuddin Soz
(1487-90), the Abyssinian slave who set an unfortunate
precedent by ascending the throne by slaying the king’s
murderer. The five storeyed tower, excluding the 12 sided
plinth now covered with earth, can be climbed through a spiral
monuments of interest in the vicinity are the Chika mosque,
Gunmat mosque, Lattan mosque, Tantipara mosque and Chamkati
mosque. The mosques still wear a profusion of multicoloured
glazed tiles, but they are fast wearing out. Tantipara is
noteworthy for its delicate, flowering brick relief work which
ranks it as one of the most beautiful.
The Sister Capital of Pandua
are fewer medieval monuments in the sister capital of Pandua,
but there remains has some of the finest examples of Muslim
architecture of the period. Adina Masjid is probably the
the largest mosque in the subcontinent, it was erected in 1374
by the newly established Ilyas Shahi dynasty. Though in ruins
now, it isn’t hard to imagine its original grandeur.
Delhi’s Jama Masjid, in comparison, appears insignificant by
an area of 174 m by 92 m, the mosque is known for the barrel
vaulted cathedral bay of its prayer chamber. The most
remarkable feature, however, is the total absence of any
entrance gateway worthy of such a structure. Its monotonous
appearance must have been accentuated with the 278 identical
domes that shaded the mosque with 260 supporting pillars.
Badshah ka Takht
closer inspection of the western wall reveals a double storied
structure known as Badshah ka Takht a formation quite unparalleled
in India. It was the king’s entrance and later converted
into a makeshift tomb for Sikandar Shah, the patron of this
15th century architectural style of Bengal is perhaps best
exemplified by the Eklakhi mausoleum of Sultan Jalaluddin.
Jalal’s spiritual mentor was Nur Quth Alam whose dargah
complex is replete with a mosque, tank, tomb, guesthouse and
similar complex known as Bari Dargah dates back to 1337.It is
the spiritual centre of Syed Shah Jalaluddin Tabrezi.
Perpetual renovations have made it difficult to ascertain the
original structure, but it continues to be cared for even
today from the proceeds of 2,200 bighas of land gifted to the
saint by the local king.
of Bari Dargah is the Qutb Shahi mosque, built in honour of
the saint by one of his followers in 1582.The ten small domes
no longer survive, but the mosque is considered the last
specimen in the series of double aisled prayer chambers.
Author: Shahid A. Makhfi
Perveen and Unknown
Chief Editor: Hj Nurzaynab El-Fatah
Hj S. Abidin
Published Date: April 12, 2005
Modification Date: 14 Muharram, 1430/11 January, 2009
ID: 05gaurPandua. Gaur and Pandua
-Architecture of Two Forgotten Indian Cities
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