Monday, 23 May, 2022

Dhaka Gate: Historic but left to decay

Dhaka Gate: Historic but left to decay
Dhaka Gate, which is a witness to Dhaka’s rich history, is on the verge of obliteration for lack of maintenance. The photo was taken on Saturday.

Be it Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate or Delhi’s India Gate -- all these structures are the symbols of the respective cities and testimony of their rich history and glory.

That is why most of the important cities preserve these iconic structures to highlight their heritage. Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka has also such a historic gate.

On the road stretching from Doel Chattar to TSC on the Dhaka University (DU) campus, two dilapidated structures covered in green tendrils are known as Dhaka Gate or Mir Jumla’s Gate.

The ruined structures stand as witnesses to Dhaka’s rich history but lack of maintenance, negligence and the construction of metro rail have made the momentous structure more vulnerable, pushing it closer to obliteration.

Historians and archaeologists have urged the authorities concerned to take immediate measures to conserve the signature gate of Dhaka.

Historians have differences of opinion about the time and reason of the construction of the gate.

According to the Dhaka Kosh or Encyclopaedia of Dhaka published by the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Mir Jumla, a governor under Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, had built the gate sometime between 1660 and 1663 in order to demarcate the area of Dhaka and protect the city from enemy attacks.

But historian Professor Muntassir Mamoon believes that the Dhaka Gate was built during the British era. He writes in his ‘Smriti Bismritir Nogori Dhaka’ that while building a racecourse clearing the jungle in Ramna in 1925, and constructing a road on the northeast side of it to connect with the main city, first magistrate of Dhaka Charles Daws had constructed two pillars at the entrance to the road which consequently became famous as Dhaka Gate or Mir Jumla’s Gate.

Eminent historian of the subcontinent Dr Ahmad Hasan Dani also agreed with Mamoon’s opinion, saying the gate holds a European style of architecture.

However, Prof AKM Shahnewaz of archaeology department at Jahangirnagar University thinks that the gate was built in the Mughal era.

According to him, Dhaka spread to a much bigger area during the colonial era and Shahbagh was built during the rule of the nawabs. Therefore, the gate would have been erected further north had it been constructed at that time.

The gate is situated in the middle of the city and therefore it is very unlikely to be built during the British era. Gates are always erected at the entrance to a city and the trend of building gates was evident in the Mughal era, he said.

Both Muntassir Mamoon and Shahnewaz argued that the construction of structures for metro rail on the DU campus instead of Shahbagh was not a right decision as the campus houses a number of historic monuments.

They recommended that the authorities take immediate steps to conserve the historic establishments.

According to The Antiquities Act, 1968, any structure of more than 100 years old becomes a heritage. And the Department of Archaeology is responsible for conserving such iconic structures.

The government has also listed Mir Jumla’s Gate as a heritage site for conservation, but the authorities could not say why the structure has not been conserved.

Asked about preserving the historic gate, Director General at the Department of Archaeology Ratan Chandra Pandit said, “We have some issues with the land as it’s situated on the Dhaka University campus. We’ll go through the issue and take necessary measures to conserve it.”

DU Vice-chancellor Prof Dr Md Akhtaruzzaman also assured that all the structures of national importance on the campus will be preserved. “Once the construction of metro rail ends, we’ll conserve all the historic structures on the campus in coordination with the government agencies,” he said.