‘Bara Katra North Gate Inscription’, a document relating to ownership of the Mughal palace building Bara Katra, has been discovered. For nearly 70 years, the inscription was thought to be missing in academic circles.
The Architectural Bibliography Committee of Dhaka, a research organization on ancient copperplates and inscriptions, has recently identified the ‘Bara Katra Inscription’ in the Bangladesh National Museum as belonging to the ‘Bar Katra North Gate.
The Bara Katra North Gate inscription mentions the waqf of the building and 22 shops adjacent to the building. According to the prevailing laws of the country, waqf property is never to be privately owned. But now the occupiers of big katras are claiming themselves as the owners of big katras.
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According to the findings of Dhaka’s Architecture Book Preparation Committee, the inscription on Bara Katra North Gate was in the collection of writer, researcher, and antiquities collector Hakim Habibur Rahman during the late British period. However, he and his son never disclosed that the inscription was in the collection before donating it to the museum.
On the other hand, the north gate inscription of Bara Katra, preserved in the Bangladesh National Museum, is currently in a fragmentary state. 2 The fragmentary pieces are arranged in a wooden frame. As a result, the inscription is now illegible.
The inscription was originally thought to be lost due to the fact that it was not disclosed to the collection and could not be read after it was donated to the museum.
In this context, the chairman of Dhaka’s architectural book preparation committee and former vice-chancellor of Dhaka University, Prof. AMS Arefin Siddique told The Daily Star, ‘The committee has identified the Bara Katra North Gate inscription as part of the research work on Dhaka’s ancient inscriptions. 4 inscriptions of Dhaka have been identified including the north gate inscription of Bara Katra which is kept in various museums and is said to be missing in academic circles. The committee had earlier identified the mosque site of the Sultanate-era Manda Mosque inscription housed in the National Museum. On the other side of the Manda Masjid inscription is a fragment of a statue. The Manda Mosque inscription is one of the oldest signs of Dhaka city’s thousand years of urbanization. Besides, the committee identified the inscriptions of Singtola Bibi Jamina Mosque and Lalbagh Shahi Mosque preserved as inscriptions of mosques of Old Dhaka in the Khulna Divisional Museum.’
Professor AMS Arefin Siddique said, this committee carried out a survey on the inscriptions of Dhaka and published a survey report titled ‘Dhaka Inscriptions’ in 2010. In 2013, after investigating the missing inscriptions of Dhaka, it published a report entitled ‘Dhaka’s missing inscriptions’.
After that, the committee conducted research on the inscriptions of Dhaka kept in different museums at home and abroad and identified 4 important inscriptions in the history of Dhaka. A group of senior and young researchers led by Maulana Muhammad Nuruddin Fatehpuri, one of the editors of the Arabic-Persian-Urdu inscription reading and translation work, worked on the identification of various unidentified inscriptions of Dhaka, including the north gate inscriptions of Bara Katra kept in various museums.
According to the relevant sources, there were 2 inscriptions in Bara Katra. One is about construction and the other is about building waqf. Abul Kashem built the building in 1053 Hijri or 1643-44 on the orders of the then Subedar Shah Shuja and the building was waqf in 1055 Hijri or 1645-46.
The construction inscription is written in verse in scriptural Nastaliq style. It has 18 lines. 18 separate rectangular black stone inscriptions are placed around the dome of the south gate. On the other hand, the inscription placed on the north gate wall of Bara Katra is written in prose, Tughra style. The builder of the building is named Abul Kashem in the South Gate inscription and Abul Kashem al-Hosaini Attababayi Assemnani in the North Gate inscription.
Researchers believe that Abul Kashem mentioned in the South Gate Inscription of Bara Katra and Abul Kashem Al Hosseini Attababayi Assemnani mentioned in the North Gate Inscription are the same person.
The transcription and translation of the inscription on the Bara Katra North Gate were first published in Charles Doyle’s ‘Antiquities of Dhaka published in 1822. The inscription written in Persian reads, ‘Sultan Shah Shuja Bahadur was always busy with righteous deeds. Abul Qasem al-Hosseini Attababa’i Assemanani, especially the hope of God’s mercy, waqf this holy place and 22 shops adjacent to it. and, according to religious law, stipulates that its director may use the income received to repair them and spend them on the poor. If a needy person arrives (here), no rent can be taken from him—as if he received its reward on the Day of Reckoning, and whoever violates it, will be held accountable on the Day of Reckoning. Its engraver is Sa’duddin 1055 Mohammadi Sane.’ (Translation: Muhammad Nuruddin Fatehpuri.)
The South Gate of Bara Katra, the most magnificent Mughal structure in Bangladesh, is still fairly intact. But the north gate was destroyed long ago. The north block along with the north gate of Bara Katra is completely gone. Munshi Rahman Ali Trish’s book ‘Tawarikhe Dhaka’ published in 1910 mentions that the North Gate was destroyed then. However, there is no information about where the inscription of the destroyed North Gate was then, in ‘Tawarikhe Dhaka’.
Syed Mohammad Taifur’s book ‘Glimpses of Old Dhaka’ published in 1956 mentions that the inscription on Bara Katra North Gate is missing. Citing Syed Mohammad Taifur published by Bangladesh Asiatic Society in 1992. Various works including Abdul Karim’s ‘Corpus of the Arabic and Persian Inscriptions of Bengal’ mention the Bara Katra North Gate inscription as missing.
On the other hand, the National Museum authorities and researchers refrained from commenting on the preserved inscription as they could not read the inscription named ‘Bar Katrar Shilalipi’ kept in the Bangladesh National Museum.
According to sources, Dhaka Architecture Book Preparation Committee has observed and reviewed Dhaka inscriptions kept in various museums of Bangladesh and West Bengal. As a part of this program, the Dhaka Architecture Documentation Committee, after reviewing the information obtained from the records of the Dhaka inscriptions kept in the Bangladesh National Museum and contacting the donor’s family mentioned in the ‘Bar Katra Inscription’ document, confirmed that the inscription mentioned as ‘Bar Katra Inscription’ kept in the Bangladesh National Museum It was in the collection of Bara Katra North Gate and Hakim Habibur Rahman during the late British period.
In this context, Muhammad Nuruddin Fatehpuri, one of the members of the Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu inscription reading and translation editing committee of Dhaka’s architectural book preparation committee, said that if the fragments of the large Katra North Gate inscription were kept in the Bangladesh National Museum are arranged according to the order of writing, the inscription will become readable again. will rise
According to records kept at the National Museum, the inscription was donated to the Bangladesh National Museum by Hakim Irtizar Rahman Khan on 14 April 1967. According to the information mentioned in the museum records, the inscription was divided into 12 parts when it was received. Contacting several places, including the National Museum, and Irtizar Rahman Khan’s family, about how and when the inscription was fragmented did not yield any information.
Bangladesh National Museum does not have information about when or where Hakim Irtizar Rahman Khan collected this inscription. Hakim Irtizar Rahman Khan was the elder son of writer, researcher, and antiquities collector Hakim Habibur Rahman. Hakim Irtizar Rahman died on 30 July 1980.
In 2015, Dhaka’s Architecture Book Preparation Committee interviewed photographer Mahfuzur Rahman Khan, son of Irtizar Rahman Khan. Then Mahfuzur Rahman Khan informed that the inscription was collected by his grandfather Hakim Habibur Rahman. Father Hakim Irtizar Rahman Khan received the inscription from his grandfather Hakim Habibur Rahman. However, no information is available from Hakim Habibur Rahman’s heirs as to when and from where Hakim Habibur Rahman collected the Bara Katra North Gate inscription.
Hakim Habibur Rahman donated ancient coins to the Dhaka Museum, now the Bangladesh National Museum, and the inscriptions from Dhaka’s Chowkbazar to the Indian Museum in Kolkata. Hakim Habibur Rahman wrote several books on Dhaka including ‘Asudgane Dhaka’, ‘And Dhaka Pachash Bars Pahle’. However, it is not known that Hakim Habibur Rahman ever mentioned the North Gate inscription in his collection in any book or to any researcher.
Apart from the Bara Katra North Gate inscriptions and Chawkbazar inscriptions, it was not ascertained whether there were inscriptions from any other buildings in Dhaka in his collection. However, according to Dhaka researcher Hashem Sufi, Hakim Habibur Rahman collected the tomb inscription of Rokan Chishti in Rokanpur Mahalla on the banks of Dolai from Rokanpur. The tomb inscription of Rokan Chishti is now missing.
Hashem Sufi also said, ‘Hakim Habibur Rahman collected ancient inscriptions from different places in Dhaka. He also donated the collected inscriptions to the museum. After the death of Hakim Habibur Rahman, his son Bara Katra donated fragmentary inscriptions to the museum. I believe that Hakim Habibur Rahman had in his collection not only the fragmentary inscriptions of the north gate of Bara Katra, but also the inscriptions of Dhaka.
Bara Katra was located between Buriganga River and Chawkbazar. Buriganga used to flow along the south side of Bara Katra for more than 300 years after its construction. Due to the construction of Dhaka Raksha Dam in the late eighties of the last Christian century, the flow of Buriganga has diverted away from Bara Katra. After that, the settlement was developed from Bara Katra to Dam. Bara Katra, the most magnificent Mughal architecture of Bangladesh, is located on Bara Katra Lane in Ward No. 30 of Dhaka South City Corporation in the present Chowkbazar Police Station. Presently the road from South Gate of Bara Katra to North Gate is called Bara Katra Lane. Adjacent to Bara Katra is Devidas Ghat Lane on the west side and Swarighat Lane on the east side. On the north side of Bara Katra is Chalk Circular Road.
According to legend, the building was started as the palace of Subedar Shah Shuja. But not liking it as a palace, Shah Shuja donated this palace to Abul Kashem. Abul Kashem converted it into an inn.
Bara Katra has all the characteristics of Mughal royal architecture. The building has numerous rooms above and below around a rectangular open square. The front of the building faced the Buriganga river. There were 2 main entrances on the south and north side.
In addition, there were 2 small entrances on the east and west sides, and a 3-story entrance on the south side. The rest of the building is two stories. The southern, western, and eastern parts of the building are partially preserved. The northern side is the most affected. There are new buildings.
During the Mughal period, the building was used as an inn for travelers and traders. Management has changed over the years. Many Subedars of Dhaka lived here. The Nawabs of Dhaka lived here before the construction of Nimatoli Palace. Later, scattered people lived here. At present, the southwest part of the building is occupied by the Madrasa and the east and southeast parts by the influential. Apart from building various institutions including shops, and factories, the occupiers are also demolishing the original structure and constructing new buildings.
Last July, an encroacher started demolishing a section of the big katra. On September 11, a delegation headed by the Regional Director of Bangladesh Archeology Department, Rakhi Roy, along with the police came and stopped the work of breaking the big katra. Then in September, Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Barrister Fazle Noor Tapas visited Big Katra and Chota Katra. Bangladesh Archeology Directorate Director General Ratan Chandra Pandit, Architectural Historian Professor Abu Saeed M Ahmed, and others were present at this time.
Mayor Tapas said to the journalists present, ‘The big cut should be entrusted to the government. Either it will be entrusted to the district administration, or it will be entrusted to the city corporation. Otherwise, it will be vested under the Directorate of Archeology or Directorate of Public Works. It has no chance of going out of government. But it happened due to the negligence or lack of attention of the government agencies.’
He also said, ‘It has been occupied, broken, and destroyed by various vested interests at different times. We will not waste any more. I will undertake full renovation and conservation activities with the whole.
In this regard, the chairman of Dhaka’s architecture book preparation committee, Prof. AMS Arefin Siddique said, ‘Bora Katra and Chota Katra, the biggest Mughal structures in Bangladesh as a single building, are our national wealth and historical wealth. It should not be wasted or destroyed. It is not right to make changes in the name of modernization. An expert committee consisting of architects and archaeologists may be constituted to preserve the historical importance of Bara Katra. Necessary maintenance work may be entrusted to expert committees.’
He also said, ‘Our committee feels that the visit of the Mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation to the Big Katra and Chota Katra is a timely initiative. The statement given by the Mayor during the inspection of Big Katra and Chota Katra should be implemented immediately.
“Dhaka’s architectural book preparation committee has already met with the mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation and a joint study has been proposed on the historical background of the naming of various neighborhoods and roads in the capital. If the proposal is approved, the history of not only 400 years, but thousands of years of Dhaka will be revealed, he added.
Professor Abu Saeed M Ahmad, an architectural historian and one of the editors of Dhaka’s book preparation committee’s book on inscriptions and the president of Asian countries’ architects’ organization Arc Asia, said in this context, ‘According to the law, waqf property is never privately owned, it cannot be. The waqf inscription on the north gate of Bara Katra testifies that Bara Katra was not private property in any way. As the inscription mentions the waqf of the building, the claim of private ownership and possession of the large Katra is illegal. This establishment, which is significant in many aspects of national history, should be freed immediately by evicting the illegal occupants from Bara Katra.
When contacted, Director General of Bangladesh Archeology Department Ratan Chandra Pandit told The Daily Star, ‘Bara Katra is the responsibility of Bangladesh Archeology Department. But the ownership of the site is currently not under the Directorate of Archeology of Bangladesh. At various times, when the employees of the department went to the big Katara for renovation and conservation work, the residents stopped them, creating obstacles. The department took the initiative to acquire large tracts of land in 2009. But the initiative was not successful. We will again take initiatives to acquire large tracts of land.’
He also said, ‘Bangladesh Department of Archeology has the capability of large-scale renovation and conservation work. But this requires the support of the city corporation, district administration, waqf administration, and local people.