Sunday, July 15, 2012


It is not so easy to determine the history of Panam City, that is often referred to as Sonargaon. The latter, in fact, covered a large area between the banks of the great, holy, Brahmaputra River, and that other great Asian river, that still flows close, the Meghna.

When, sometime between the 1790s and 1820s the vast flow of the Brahmaputra, as a result of seismic activity, changed course to become Jamuna, and join the Ganges about 100km further west, the great trading centre Sonargaon undoubtedly was, became more isolated from that great trade route to North Assam, and beyond, into China.
However, it appears that trade continued to flourish, as we know it had for at least a thousand years.

What is hard to detect is just what was the influence of Islam in this history. We have no doubt that Arab merchants who were early converts arrived on the trade routes to China during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet, and we can be reasonably sure that the Muslim, Khilji invaders who settled in the area, probably as much to benefit from the great wealth that came from the trade, in the 13th Century, were strong in their faith.
However, the late 16th Century visitor, the English merchant, Ralph Fitch, describes the ‘wealthy merchants’ in a manner that leaves little doubt that they were Jains. Equally, it is clear from the numerous temples attached to the 19th Century mansions that remain, and are scattered around Panam City, that Hindus were the main traders in late 18th and 19th Centuries.

However, some few km from Panam, towards Mograpara, the village that bears most appearance of Muslim and Khilji connection, there are two fine mosques, known as the Gauldi mosques.
The smaller mosque, which is believed to have been completed in the pre Mughal age, is dated as 1519. Its very size suggests that there was not a large Muslim population at the time.

Beautifully decorated, and restored in 1975, it is affine example of that pre Mughal period, though its beauty does raise questions about the Mughal contribution to such buildings, since so many such decorative constructs seem to predate the era that was believed to have brought the height of artistic and architectural achievement to the region.
This earlier mosque was replaced, in the early 18th Century, during the reign of Aurangzeb, the 6th Mughal Emperor, by a mosque, nearby, about twice the size. It has since been extended considerably .
They are, anyway, two fine examples of mosque architecture, and  make an interesting addition to the many fascinating parts of a visit to both the area, and Panam City itself.

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