|Tax Administration Building|
The fine collection of 16th and 17th Century merchant houses that comprise much of what remains of Sonargaon, the Mughal period capital of Bengal, together with such as the Italianate palatial residence of a senior British official, have always seemed a little curious gathered around the palace of the last Nawabs, who, whilst clearly religiously very tolerant, seemed unlikely to relish the continuous proximity of the merchants.
Curious, until you look at a map of British period Bengal. Most maps, representing 17th Century Bengal, produced in modern times, make a grave error, when marking the rivers of the land.
Until 1897, when substantial earth shifts not only flattened a great deal of northern Bangladesh, but also rearranged the main course of the great Brahmaputra River, that great trade route entered saline waters south of Naryanganj, and flowed in close proximity to both Sonargaon and Mograpara, probably the previous capital of Bengal.
Where else would merchants gather? From earliest times, it seems likely that for both sea traders and land travellers, the Brahmaputra was one of the great trade routes to China, a supposition that even the recent excavations in Narshindhi, of the Wari Vihara, seems to support. That Ptolemy’s map of the Ganges delta is so accurate in detail suggests great maritime interest even so early in the history of the region.
This offers a fresh perspective, not only on Sonargaon, but even on the historic place of Bangladesh in early international trade, and perhaps helps to explain the history of invaders with which the story of the country is replete.