The remaining, ruinous, visible part of this palace in Old Dhaka might well serve as a metaphor for the life of the man it was built for.
Constructed between 1644 and 1646, it was built as the residence of the second son of the immortal Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor who constructed the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife.
Shah Suja didn’t have long to enjoy the home as the Viceroy of Bengal. He was soon recalled to Delhi and became embroiled in an internecine strife the likes of which few dynasties or imperial families can match. Aurangzeb, Suja’s younger brother, seized the Peacock Throne, defeating and murdering the eldest brother, imprisoning the father, and pursuing Suja himself into exile.
|Bara Katra, Dhaka|
Suja, in fact, left a further trace in Bangladesh. Kolatoli Beach in Cox’s Bazar was once an area known as Palongki, named for the train of 1,000 palanquins that carried Suja and his family to Arakan. The envoy rested for a time where Cox’s Bazar now stands and left some of the royal retinue at Ramu, the nearby ancient sea port.
In Arakan, Suja was robbed of his treasure and his wife raped on the orders of the King. Suja then fled, it seems, to Tripura, where his brother’s writ did not run, and there he disappears from history.
His palace in Dhaka he left in the care of his agent. 22 shops were created to generate income to support the building as a hostelry for travellers and a hostel for the homeless. An early example of sustainable charity!
In an ancient city in which palaces, mosques, temples and churches are regularly demolished, it is unsurprising that surrounded by encroaching shops and a clutter of unplanned development, the original grandeur of the building is almost impossible to distinguish.
As the traveller passes through the ancient archway, they should take a good look. It may well not be around much longer!