Monday, 5 June, 2023

Lalbagh Shahi Mosque: The largest Mughal mosque in Bangladesh

With around 6,000mosques, Dhaka, a metropolis known as ‘the city of mosque’, is an ideal model of architectural ensemble, housing some ancient religious structures which testify its glorious history and represent the rich technical skill of pre-Mughal and Mughal architects. This Ramadan the Daily Sun gives you a sneak peek into Dhaka’s past through highlighting its wonderful Islamic monuments.

Lalbagh Shahi Mosque is considered the country’s biggest Islamic edifice built by the Mughals though the historic establishment has lost its original lookamid a number of unplanned renovations.

Azim-Ush-Shan, grandson of Emperor Aurangzeb and the second son of Prince Muazzam alias Shah AlamBahadur Shah, was the Subadar of Dhaka. When he left Delhi, he left his son Farrukh Siyar as his representative.

In 1703, Farrukh Siyar started the construction of the Lalbagh Shahi Mosque on the south side of the south gate of the Lalbagh Fort, which was completed in 1706.

Although it is a mosque of Mughal era, no significant feature of Mughal architectural style remains in it now. Initially, it was a mosque with a wooden roof but in 1870, Nawab Khwaja Abdul Ghani demolished the old wooden roof and built a new concrete roof. However, in 1975, the mosque was renovated and expanded again.

The mosque still retains its original layout. Its outer dimension is 49.99m from north to south and 16.45m from east to west. Internally it is 47.85m x 14.33m and the thickness of the walls is 1.07m only.

The massive octagonal towers on the four exterior angles rise above the horizontal parapet and were originally topped by solid kiosks and cupolas that still exist in a ruinous state above the southeastern one.

Each of the north and south walls is pierced with three arched openings, which correspond to the three aisles running north to south.

There is a single semi-octagonal mihrab inside the centre of the qibla wall, now widened and completely modernised. On either side of this mihrab, the qibla wall is marked with four arched outlines at regular intervals.

In the axis of these arched outlines and the single mihrab there were nine doorways in the east wall, the central one being bigger than its counterparts but currently the central opening has been transformed into a triple-arched doorway.

The nine doorways in the eastern facade and the three in the side walls suggest that the interior of the mosque was originally divided into three longitudinal aisles and nine bays by two rows of free standing pillars, eight in each row.

But now there are only four pillars in each of the two rows and it is now a three-aisled and five bay deep mosque. Originally, the mosque had a flat roof, made of wood and planks.

The roof is still flat but masonry built, supported by heavy iron beams on the four walls and two rows of brick pillars. Nothing of the original ornamentation of the building now survives, except the traces of muqarnas works inside the half-domed top of the central mihrab niche. The walls are internally covered with modern Spanish cut tiles.

When it comes to architectural beauty, the Lalbagh Shahi Mosque offers nothing spectacular. Nevertheless, it deserves some mention for its ground planning and roofing system.

This is the only Mughal mosque in Bengal which exhibits a three-aisled deep prayer chamber. Its flat roof is also a new feature. No other mosque in Bengal, built either in the Sultanate or in the Mughal period, has a flat roof.

Built on a raised platform, the mosque now has three floors where around 8,000 people can perform their prayer.

There are a total of 4 imams to lead the prayers. In addition, 22 paid employees, including two muezzins, and 10 workers work for the mosque, which is operated by a committee.