Monday, 29 May, 2023

Kartalab Khan Mosque: A unique Mughal edifice with span roof annex

Kartalab Khan Mosque: A unique Mughal edifice with span roof annex
Kartalab Khan Mosque situated in Begum Bazar area of Old Dhaka was built by Dewan Murshid Quli Khan alias Kartalab Khan in 1701-04. — Kamrul Islam Ratan

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Many things are forgotten over time. The five-domed Kartalab Khan Mosque located at Begum Bazar in Dhaka has proved this again.

Local people now hardly can recognise the Mughal structure by its original name as for them it is the Begum Bazar Mosque.

The structure was named after the first Nawab of Bengal, Kartalab Khan, in 1704. His actual name was Muhammad Hadi though he was popularly known as Murshid Quli Khan (a title given by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb).

The mosqueis now known by the name of the locality which was named after Lovely Begum, daughter of naibnazim of Dhaka, Sarfaraz Khan, in 1739.

The two-storeymosque was built from 1700 to 1704 by Murshid Quli Khan when he was sent by Aurangzeb making him the Diwan of Bengal.

While appointing Murshid Quli Khan in the new post, Aurangzebbestowed the title ‘Kartalab Khan’upon him.Referring to that title, the mosque was named back then, though later while being promoted to Subahdarhe got the title of Murshid Quli Khan.

Among the existing Mughal monuments in Bangladesh, Kartlab Khan Mosque is distinctive for its architectural features.

Renowned historian and archaeologist Ahmad HasanDani in his book ‘Dacca: A Record of Its Changing Fortunes’ writes, “The architectural progress that took place after the Shaistakhani period is widely expressed in the construction of this mosque.”

He mentioned three main features of this mosque. First, Mughal mosques had three domes but Kartalab Khan Mosque has five domes.

The second feature is that a canopied house similar to the Bengali dochala (span roof) house is attached to the north side wall of the mosque. Therefore, a combination of Mughal architecture with the traditional house style of Bengal is available there.

The third feature is that a well was built on the lower eastern side of the mosque, with stairs leading down to the well. There is no other mosque with these three features in Bangladesh.

Other aspects of Kartalab Khan Mosque also separate it from other Islamic establishments. The northern edge of the raised platform, 39.62m from north to south and 13.41m from east to west, has an apse-like appearance.

The apse-like part of the platform is cut in the centre to accommodate a tomb-a sarcophagus ascribed to the first Imam of the mosque. Underneath the platform are a series of square and rectangular rooms, which are now let out to shopkeepers.    On the eastern side of the platform there is a renovated arched-gateway approached by a flight of steps.

The mosque proper, inclusive of its corner towers, measures 28.65m by 8.23m and is entered from the east through five arched doorways - each opens out under a half-dome and is flanked by slender octagonal turrets which rise above the parapets.

There is one doorway each in the middle of the north and south walls. The western wall is internally recessed with five semi-octagonal mihrabs, all showing outward projections with bordering turrets. There is a three-stepped masonry pulpit beside the central mihrab.

Kartalab Khan Mosque has gone through several renovations. Historian Muntasir Mamun mentions in his book ‘Dhaka: SmritiBismritirNagari’ that this mosque was first renovated by Mirza Golam Pir, a zamindar of Dhaka. The lower floor well was filled during subsequent renovations.

Barrister RajibUddin, mutawalli of the mosque, said the mosque was renovated to accommodate more devotees. While serving as the mutawalli of the mosque, his father began the last phase of renovation and expanded the mosque to an extended area.

Earlier the ground floor of the mosque had a thick brick pillar, during the development it was replaced by RCC cast pillars. As a result, the mosque has now become much stronger.

There are four rows inside the old mosque and four rows on the balcony. Some 70 people can pray in each row which meanseight rows house 560 worshipers. However, with the expanded part, more than 1,500 worshipers now can pray together in Kartalab Khan Mosque.