Thursday, October 21, 2010


Lying close to the Tropic of Cancer, Comilla is about two hours drive from Dhaka along the Chittagong Highway. It is a city with a history that is not always obvious in the thick of the , mostly rickshaw, traffic congestion in the middle of the urban centre.
At various stages in that history it has been under Animist, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian rule , and all have left their mark! None more so that the Buddhist, who built, between the 7th and12th Centuries the remarkable Vihara of Mainamati.
The remains, that include a number of fine, brick built Stupa, and even the lower half of a Buddha, cover an area of a few square kilometres, with part being inside the Army Cantonment.
Close to the border with India, the State of Tripura, Comilla itself, along with such cities as Chittagong, Feni and Noahkali, was once part of the Kingdom of Tripura.
In about 1730, however, a peasant boy called Shamsher Gazi started a ‘peasant’s revolt, that led, eventually, to the overthrow of the King of Tripura, extending his own ‘realm’ to include the lands that now lie in India.
Once a protégé of the local ruler of Comilla, under the King, when he asked for the hand of the ruler’s daughter in marriage, he was exiled, and so began the uprising that brought him to rule such a vast area.
In Comilla, and ageing bungalow, on the banks of the huge tank, is the residence of the last Queen of Tripura.
Shamsher was treacherously murdered abot 1760, and it wasn’t so long after that, following the battle of Plassey in 1757, the East India Company took control of the area.
Comilla, however, never lost it sense of independence, and both towards the end of the period of Raj, when local activists assassinated the British Magistrate, and in 1971, when the area became a focus of freedom fighting, it played asignificant role.
Today, famed for sweets and batik, with the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development on its fine campus designed by the world famous Greek American architect who also designed the new Pakistan capital of Islamabad, as a significant presence, it is well worth at least a day of exploration.
Replete with fine Hindu Temples, and a magnificent, if somewhat unsympathetically extended mid 17th Century mosque, possibly the most evocative place for quiet reflection is the War Cemetery, where the remains of the fallen youth of the Second World War lie, British, Indian, African, and, yes, Japanese, united at rest.
Inside the Cantonment, a further reminder of the World at War, is the HQ of Sir William Slim, who was the last of the wartime commanders in that theatre of war.
The intercity buses and trains rush by this city, and the main road is now a bypass, but the tangible evidence of its history are well worth exploring.

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