Monday, March 24, 2014

Ahsan Manjil, The Pink Palace

This neo classical building, with some distinctly oriental influences, stands on the banks of the much abused Buriganga River in Old Dhaka.  Painted a rather lurid pink, it is a living testament to the lack of a traditional aristocracy in Bangladesh.
Reconstructed after 1888 by Sir Khwaja Salimullah Bahadur, the fourth ‘Nawab of Dhaka’, following a disastrous cyclone that ravaged earlier building work, it shares much of its distinctively Bengali Anglo Oriental appearance with many of the Zaminderbari of Bangladesh.
Titles such as raja, maharajah and nawab abound in the Zamindari of Bangladesh, having been awarded, honorifically, by the British, in recognition of loyalty. In most of the Indian sub continent, most rulers have long histories and heritage, claiming, in some cases to support their authority, descent from Hindu deities.
The last of the Mughal aristocrats, although actually descended from earlier Afghan invaders, was the last Nawab of Bengal who was defeated at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 by Robert Clive of the East India Company. This victory rapidly established the Company, a commercial company of merchant adventurers, as the new rulers of Bengal.

This commercial administration was carried out by the East India Company’s own version of traditional Zaminders. Under the Mughal rulers, these were more like the feudal lords of Europe, tasked with military as well as fiscal responsibilities, the former by far the most important. After 1757, the priorities were reversed. The investors in the Company required a good return on their investment, and securing that return became the responsibility of the Zaminders. Unsurprisingly, the military responsibility of ensuring  the security of the territory, was held in the hands of the army of the Company, with its British and Mercenary officers and specialists.
A number of the Mughal period Zaminders had thrown in their lot with the British at the time of Plassey, or had at least remained absent from the Nawab’s forces.. an impetuous young man, with a contested claim to the role of Nawab, he was not popular.
However, whilst confirming those who remained, and explaining to them the new focus of their responsibilities, where territories were forfeit, the tax gathering rights were put up to auction. The result was a rise of anew ‘aristocracy’ who were usually business men, many of them Hindu traders.
The ‘Nawab’ of Dhaka was, of course, one of the most powerful and significant of these ‘New Men’.

The ancestors of the man that the British installed as Zaminder in Dhaka, the great grandfather of Sir Khwaja, Khwaja Alimullah, in 1843, was descended from Kashmiri traders in gold dust and skins. It is reasonable to suppose that he was the highest bidder when the tax gathering rights for Dhaka, at that time a small town, were auctioned.
Not unnaturally, the palace became a centre for the social and political life of Dhaka, hosting Governor Generals and Viceroys after the British Government took over the administration of British territories in India.
At Independence and partition, like other Muslim Zaminders, the Nawab’s found their position at first secured, then, when the new state of Pakistan enacted government possession of such properties, unsecured.

At the heart of Old City, the building is certainly one of the few Zaminderbaris in good repair in Bangladesh. It is, perhaps, just a pity they couldn’t have found a less lurid pink wash for the walls!
Within, is a museum of social life, although, like most museums in Bangladesh, poorly curetted, but probably worth a visit.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Two ancient temples unearthed at Bhitargarh, Panchagarh

An excavation have been going on in the “Fort City” at Bhitargarh, Durgonagar in the Panchagarh district of Bangladesh. This year’s excavation has unearthed the remains of two ancient temples from the 8th century AD.  However, excavation of the full structure of these two temples is likely to take two more months. The site is 16 KM from Panchagarh.
A team led by archeologist Professor Shahnaz Hosne Jahan of University of Liberal Arts (ULAB) discovered these temples. Excavation at this site started five years ago, in January, 2009.
One temple was discovered at Khalpara area, just outside of the second boundary wall of the ancient city and is thought to be a monastery. The upper portion of this 9 metre long and 9 metre wide temple, along with the east portion have been destroyed.  The other temple is situated at Dhiboridanga area, outside the second boundary wall and by a moat. This one is 25 metre long and 20 metre wide. Construction style of these two structures is different from the previous ones because stones were also used as construction material beside bricks. However, no artifact has been discovered yet from the on-going excavation works.

Photo and News Courtesy : The Daily Prothom Alo (26.01.2014)

Professor Shahnaz Hosne Jahan, thinks that these temple ruins are from the sovereign reign of “Fort City” of 6th or 7th century AD. This “Fort City” (locally known as “Durgo Nagar”) was part of an important ancient trade centre and route. The city conducted business with faraway countries such as Sikim, Tibet, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Bihar, West Bengal and Pundrabardhan by land and water ways. The artifacts discovered in this “Fort City” are different from those found in Assam, Kuchbihar, Moinamoti, Paharpur and Mahasthangarh. The city was encompassed by four walls. The two outer walls are made of soil and have moats around them. The inner two walls are made of bricks.  Full excavation of this Fort City in Bhitargarh will take a long time even if resources can be mobilized.
The structural architecture of these two temples points to their being part of a bigger monastery, Professor Jahan said. The excavation in this area started in 2009, and 8 archeological sites including Stupas and Temples have been discovered so far. The previously discovered Stupa and Temple in this area are thought to be around 1, 400/1, 500 years old.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

1100 Year Old Hindu Temple Discovered in Bangladesh

Archaeologists from Jahangirnagar University (JU) have excavated an ancient Hindu temple at village Belwa under Ghoraghat upazila in Dinajpur district. The massive brick structure has been identified as a Hindu temple from the Pala dynasty.The chief of the project, Professor Syed Mohammad Kamrul, told journalists that the excavated site was under threat of destruction

Photo Credit: Dhaka tribune

Professor Swadhin Sen, also of archaeology at JU, said the approximately 1,100-years-old temple, was a major archaeological discovery in Bangladesh. “Multiple deities were worshiped at the temple at the same time,” said Prof Sen. He added that several fragments of black sandstone sculptures had been identified and documented from the excavation.
Among the three carvings that have been identified are the pedestal of the Brahmanic sun god Surya, a fragment of the Gada (mace) depicted in the hand of the Hindu god Vishnu, and a fragment of a Visnupatta (a type of dedicatory plaque used to worship Vishnu).
“A miniature bronze statue of Hindu god Ganesha has also been found” said Professor Sen. Accoding to him worship of ‘Surya’, ‘Vishnu’ and ‘Ganesha’ – is evidenced by the finds. He termed this discovery
“Quite unique in the context of undivided Benga”.
Photo Credit: Swadhin Sen

The excavation has already revealed the massive architectural layout of the temple, which is divided into two parts: the core temple area is rectangular, measuring 21 metres from east to west and 13 metres from north to south. The other part on the western side contains a solid square brick platform measuring 6.8 metres on all sides, which is the garbhagriha, or inner sanctum.
The space to the east of the sanctum is the mandap (assembly hall), which contains the remnants of six square brick pillars. A brick wall encloses the space on the south, east and the west. The wall has been severely damaged by locals who have carried away bricks.
On the west and south-west is a Sapta Rath projection, which is typical of this period in Bengal, said Dipak Ranjan Das, former Professor of Kolkata University and a Specialist on ancient South Asian architecture. The entire structure, excluding the pavements and approach ways measure 41 metres from east to west and 25 metres from north to south.
Photo Credit: Swadhin Sen

The entrance to the temple is to the east. From the parts excavated until now, the temple was a massive and solidly built structure. A raised solid brick platform stands right behind the entrance, which measures 6.6 meters from east to west and 5.8 meters from north to south. The approach towards the platform is from the northeast and southeast corners.
Photo Credit: Swadhin Sen

A large area in front of the temple is paved with bricks and has a beaten earthen floor.

Courtesy: Report adapted from Dhaka Tribune and sources in Jahangirnagar University.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


 Photo Credit: Geological Survey Of Bangladesh                    

Scientists have discovered 100,000 year old mammal fossils for the first time inBangladesh. The discovery was made during a survey conducted by the Department of Geological Survey of Bangladesh (GSB) underneath the Nagor riverbed in the Dhupitila formation which is situated at a place called Nandigram in Bogra district in Northwest bangladesh. 
In a workshop “Chalanbil Geological Patterns in Quaternary Period” held in the GSB seminar room, Deputy Director Abdul Baki Khan Majlish, confirmed this very important discovery.
He explained the relation between geological condition and stratigraphic patterns during the Ice age in Chalanbil Delta. He also claimed that the newly found fossil draw a parallel link between Indian sub continental petrography and recent petrographic formation of Bangladesh.
Dr. Sirajur Rahman Khan Director General of the Geological Survey of Bangladesh said that the preliminary finding of geologists is that the fossils are of elephant and Rhinoceros.
He also informed that the GSB started “Integrated Geological Mapping of the Chalanbil Area to Unveil the Quaternary Records and Climatic Changes (July 2010-June, 2013)” in Chalanbil area. Main objectives of the programme are to unveil evolutionary history, reconstruct Paleoclimatic history, construct Quaternary stratigraphy of this region, identification of hazardous elements, neotectonic study, hydrogeological study, land use planning and to identify deposits of mineral resources.

Reported in Bangla Daily Newspaper “Naya Diganta”
Dated 11.06.2013
published from Dhaka,bangladesh

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Photo Walk with Shudhui Bangla

Photographer of Shudhui Bangla Photographics Society
Photo Courtesy: Tipu Kibria
On 17th May, 2013, the Tiger Tours Coaster set off in the early morning hours and headed to Nawabganj. It was the beginning of an exciting day with “Shudhui Bangla”- a youth based photography club founded in 2008. Tiger Tours Ltd. has always acknowledged the vital role of youth participation in promoting and branding Bangladesh as the next tourist destination. Tiger Tours has recently sponsored a photobook called “Positive Light” which has been very well received by the global community. We have now realized that photography and social media are two key tools available to the youth community to promote what they wish to say with simplicity. We selected Nawabganj because it is short distance away from Dhaka, and has an array of old buildings close to each other.

Among eight or so magnificent sites which were visited by the Club, three must be brought forth to the readers.
First was the “Sudason Babur Bari”.  This magnificent palace better known locally as ‘The Judge’s House’ was built by Sudason Babu, a local businessman about 150 to 200 years ago, this awesome palace is fully preserved by its present owner Abul Hossain Khandakar- a judge of the Special Tribunal of The Supreme Court.
"The Judge’s House"
Photo Courtesy: Sazzad Ali Khan
Moderator of SBPS

Then there is Palace of “Radha Raman Babu”.  Radha Raman Babu, a 'usuary' business man; built this house around 150-200 years ago. Perhaps overzealous, he also built two different rooms on either side of entrance for his parents and had statues of them inaugurated as well. It is believed that during the war of independence in 1971, the Pakistani Army ruined the sculptures as well as some of the structure.
Photo Courtesy: Ahsan Uddin
Member of SBPS
And lastly is the “Andhar Kotha”. Aptly named the Dark Palace, as not a spot of sunlight filters through this age old building; invites stories of locked up daughters and the like, but it also stands in front the river and may perhaps simply be the residence of a family member who preferred to keep their distance. No one knows who built it and when. A mystery indeed!
38 photographers and 10 houses later, we returned to Dhaka with stories to tell and pictures to show.

 Photo Courtesy: Sohan Rahat
Member of SBPS

Monday, May 20, 2013


Barisal, most easily accessed from Dhaka, perhaps, by speedboat, is another of the ancient port cities of what was, for over two thousand years, one of the great trading centres of the world, offering access, not only to the agricultural wealth of the deltaic lands of Ganges and Brahmaputra, with its world famous cotton cloths, such as muslin, and even silk, but also to the enormous riches, both of Northern India and Tibet, but also China, along the Brahmaputra Silk Road. And even the fabulous gems and minerals of southeast Asia, the traders bringing their riches to the ports of the Delta, that from at least the middle of theist millennium BCE, welcomed traders from across the known world, including those from Egypt, Greece and Italy.
Kuyakata Beach, Barisal

Located on a distributary of the mighty Ganges, like the more famous trading centre at Sonargoan, on the Old Brahmaputra, there is little doubt that this port city welcomed visitors from across the world, from ancient times.
We know that, probably from the early days of Buddhism, the last few centuries of the last millennium BCE, this area hosted Buddhist Vihara, for which there is archaeological evidence in the area, and we are fortunate to have a glimpse of the city in the latter part of the 16th century, in the Journal of the English merchant, Ralph Fitch, who visited it about 1584.
He records, ‘I came to Bacola (identified by experts as Barisal); the king whereof is a gentile (non christian!), a man very well disposed and delighted much to shoot a gun. His country is very great and fruitful and hath a store of Rice, much cotton cloth and cloth of silke. The houses are very faire and high builded, the streets large, the people naked, except the little cloth about their waste. The women weare great store of silver hoopes about their neckes and armes, and their legs are ringed with silver and copper, and made of elephant teeth’.
Guthiya Mosjid, Barisal
No visitor to Barisal today would recognise much of all that; the streets are narrow and crowded, and the arrival of Islam has rather transformed to garb that, presumably, in Fitch’s time, might have suited the climate!
But a wander around the thronging streets close to the riverside today, will, on careful examination, reveal considerable traces of the 18th and 19th century merchant houses that reflect a wealth from trade that probably didn’t end until the middle of the 20th century.
In a very real sense, there is an air, in Barisal, of the busy international port that Fitch found, 450 years ago.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Limbless amphibian dating back 140m years found

A Chikila Fulleri, a limbless amphibian, believed to have appeared some 140 million years ago, recently found in Lawachhara Forest. 
Photo Courtesy: The Daily Star Correspondent, Maulvibazar.

Two Chikila Fulleri, a limbless amphibian believed to have appeared some 140 million years ago, was found by a team of Bangladeshi wildlife researchers in Lawachhara Forest in Moulvibazar on December 26. Wildlife biologist Dr Reza Khan and wildlife expert Tania Khan came upon the two worm-like animals, measuring 19 and 17 centimetres in length, while digging the forest floor. In September, Tania had found a skeleton.

One was released while the other was brought back to Dhaka for DNA confirmation, said the researchers.

The researchers said the animal, locally known as “snake with two faces/mouths” and present in Africa, Assam of India, and South America, had not evolved and its existence in Bangladesh proves that the subcontinent was connected to Africa.

The animal performs its life cycle 10 inches under the ground and cannot survive long above ground without moisture, they said. An Indian biologist named Alkock first wrote about the animal in 1904 and last February, some Indian researchers published an article based on their five-year research on it in a journal of The Royal Society.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Photo Courtesy: Kumar Bishwajit
Sunamganj may be the fascinating gateway to some of the most outstanding natural scenery in Bangladesh, but the number of historic buildings in the small town offer up a clue to a past that maybe hard to visualize in today’s small country town. It has its own history, unique, distinctive, and, in its own way, the epitome of a much wider history.
The history of mankind is littered with struggles for liberation from real, or perceived, oppression.
One of the claims to fame of the people of the lands of Bangladesh, and perhaps, in the great sweep of history, arguably the greatest, was the success of the kingdom, then known as Gangaridai, in the 4th century BCE, being the first to confront the army of Alexander the Great, and protected by the great Ganges, and the threat of their own large army, recorded by Greek and Roman historians as comprising infantry, cavalry, chariots and war elephants, put them into retreat. The first in the world to do so.
In more modern history, the movement of the people to conserve their language, their economy, and their own unique heritage, from the depredations of Pakistan, resulting in the Liberation War of 1971, and securing their freedom from outside oppression, laid the foundations for the nation of Bangladesh.
But, as one of the world’s greatest centres of trade from 2nd millennium BCE, right up to more modern times, and with one of the world’s more fertile lands, rich in agriculture and peoples, unsurprisingly, from the Khilji invaders of 12th century, Mughal of the 16th century, and British of the 18th century, they have found the need to constantly reassert their own liberties.
It was the Mughal rulers who confirmed the system of land holding that, right up until recent times bore a remarkable resemblance to what was known, more famously, in Europe, as the feudal system, administered by Zaminders, land holders who, owing tribute to the government, operated tenure on the same basis, with rents payable in kind, whether in produce, or labor, or both.
Such systems can offer security, when properly organised, depending on the degree to which the superior recognises the responsibilities that come with their rights. And, of course, the history of the world, right up to the present day, is rife with abuse.
But, in 1922, Sunamganj was at the centre of a movement, similar to others across the Indian subcontinent, as, over the centuries, across much of the developing world.
Known as the Nankar Rebellion, deriving from the local language of ,’nan’, for bread, and ‘kar’ for rent, which describes the system, under the Zamindari, established by the Mughals, for rents paid in kind or labor  Especially in the rapidly developing economy enjoyed by India, at times, within the British Empire, although such rents were supposed to be fixed, unscrupulous landlords found ways around them, and, in some cases, somewhat unscrupulous tenants found the concept burdensome when they had better markets for their produce, and more profitable means of using their own labor.
Assignment of the dues, by the landlords, in payment for other services, such as those of their personal staff, also, inevitably, led to circumstances of abuse.
And it was in Sunamganj that such tensions erupted, although,in fact, like so often, the immediate cause of the uprising had nothing to do with financial arrangements.

Photo Courtesy: Kumar Bishwajit 
Like Feudal overlords everywhere in the world, abuse of rights and privileges were commonplace. The cause of this outbreak was the kidnapping of a woman from a ‘nankar’ family by a Zaminder. The local nankar men responded by rescuing the woman from the Zaminder’s house. The rest is not hard to imagine; the British authorities probably didn’t approve of the actions of their local Zaminder, but felt bound to support their chosen local authority. The result was just one, of many such events, that only ended with the abolition of the Zamindari following Independence in 1947.  Although it might be a brave person who assumed that such abuse of authority doesn't continue everywhere in the world, today.
But this was Sunamganj’s own, small, if not successful, Liberation War, at least assertion of the rights and dignity of the individual in the face of abused authority, and neglected responsibility.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hason Raja, Rabindranath Tagore and Lalon Shah:

Bengal’s mystic philosopher, polymath and social reformer

Photo Source: Web

The rich cultural heritage of the lands of Bangladesh, that certainly derive from the international influences of the great trading centre, that from as early as the second millennium BCE, brought traders and travellers from across the world to the delta of the great Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, echoes through the ages.
Here, Mahayana school of Buddhism developed, with the Tantric traditions that the 12th century monk, Atish Depanker, carried to Tibet, echoes in the work of the great 19th century poet, mystic and songwriter, Lalon Shah.
A man who lived to be 116 years of age, and left a lasting influence of religious tolerance that no efforts by fundamentalists of any religion seems able to shake, had many contemporaries, but Asia’s first Nobel Laureate for Literature, Rabindranath Tagore, remains, certainly, the most famous.

Photo Source: Web

Even Allen Ginsberg, the American poet who famously sympathised with the Liberation War of 1971, acknowledged the influence of Lalon on his philosophy.
But Tagore, in a lecture at Oxford University, where he was, himself, much lionised as an international litterateur, also drew to the attention of the world another of the great poets Bangladesh has given birth to, Hason Raja.

Photo Source: Web
Tagore and Hason had, perhaps, more in common with each other, that either had with Lalon, except their great expressions of religious and cultural tolerance. Both were products of the landed classes, the Zamindari, and Hason, particularly, who, unlike Tagore, was a man of his land and his home.

Photo Source: Web

The region around Sunamganj, in Sylhet, where, descended from ancient kings, he was born in 1854, can still show, proudly, some of the results of his responsibility as a traditional landowner he took seriously, supporting charities, and the building of schools, mosques, temples and churches. Indeed, the devastation of the Great India Earthquake, with its epicentre in Shillong, just north of Sylhet, so moved him that the last twenty years of his life was dedicated to the humanitarian works that resonated, too, from his poetry.

Photo Source: Tiger Tours

Tagore and Hason came from the tradition of landownership that encompassed the responsibilities, as well as the rights, that such ownership carried. Lalon, however, seems to have been even more aware of the spirituality of belonging to the land with such a rich heritage, and it was, perhaps that, that has made his bequest of social justice and tolerance so resonant, even today.

Photo Source: Web