Bara Katra: One of the oldest Mughal-era structures in Dhaka
Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh. With the progression of time, it is becoming more urbanized, causing the destruction of forest and architectural sites. Despite having rapid development, this 400-year-old city is still retaining more than hundred heritage sites. One of them is Bara Katra, a decaying structure built during the time of the Mughal era in the Bengal region. This one of the oldest buildings stands still as a witness of important historical event and carries the old architectural tradition. Now the question is how long it will survive.
It is assumed that the word ‘Katra’ has been taken from Arabic ‘Katara’ which stands for colonnaded building. However, ‘Katra’ refers to ‘caravanserai’ or ‘roadside inn’ both in Arabic and Persian languages. The word ‘caravanserai’ can be divided into two parts. One part is ‘caravan’ which means ‘traveler’ and other part is ‘serai’ which means resting house. Together it suggests that caravanserai is a place where travelers can take rest in order to recover from the day’s journey.
There is a confusion regarding the erection of this palatial house. Two inscriptions written in Persian language were found in Bara Katra. According to one inscription, it was built in 1053 AH (1643-44 AD). Another inscription shows 1055 AH (1645-46 AD) as the date of construction. The second inscription or stone tablet of north gateway contained the detail of the builder and how this caravanserai was maintained. The tablet contained following information:
“Sultan Shah Shuja always kept himself engaged in charity. So, with the hope of receiving God’s grace, Abul Qasim al-Husainia-Tabtaba built this house as a symbol of good fortune. 22 shops had been built adjacent to this building. The rent collected from these shops would be used to maintain the building and serve the travelers for free. This provision would never be cancelled. If it is ever cancelled, the person held responsible would have God’s wrath unleashed upon him on the day of final judgment. This plate was written by Sad-ud-din Muhammad Sherazi.”
However, according to many sources, it was built between 1644 and 1646 AD at the banks of the Buriganga River by the order of Shah Shuja, son of Emperor Shah Jahan. It was built by Abul Qasim, who was known as Mir-E-Emarat, as an as an official residence of the Mughal prince. Though Shah Shuja was initially supposed to live here, it was later on used as a caravanserai. Once known for its architectural beauty, Bara Katra, today, stands with its dilapidated entrance, a relic of its former self.
Once a beautiful place has now become a densely populated area. The north road has become narrow. High-rise buildings are almost everywhere. Bara Katra now bears several marks of erosion and destruction on its structure. This archaeological site has been occupied by several organizations. Now there is no way to understand that it was once the most beautiful Mughal architecture of Dhaka. Its entire property has been illegally occupied. Recently, some new rooms have been constructed inappropriately and illegally on top of the Bara Katra. These new rooms have been painted white and feature glass windows. Bara Katra has lost its unique architectural trait, as its Mughal lineage has been marred by this newly-built modern architecture.
According to local sources, towards the end of the British rule, a Madrasa was established in the 1930s, having taken a few North side rooms of the building on lease. Afterwards, the Madrasa was shifted to the main building. It is alleged that the purpose behind the establishment of the Madrasa was to occupy its property and make thousands of money by establishing business organization. Sources said that the government would not evict the Madrasa as it is a sensitive institution. Even if they want to evict, it will be prevented with a large number of Madrasa students. Sources also said that in the 1980s, people of Mufti Amini took control of this madrasa from Hafezzi huzur by trick and it is still under their control.
Few years back, they started demolishing this archaeological site by building urinals and washrooms illegally. However, the work was stopped by the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) inspector after a general diary filed by the Urban Study Group with Chawkbazar Police Station.
After reading such vivid description, you might want to visit this place. It is located in the older part of Dhaka city. To be more descriptive, it is situated at Shoari Ghat Road in Chowk Bazaar, near to the north bank of the Buriganga River.
The distance between Gulistan bus stoppage and Bara Katra is about 3 kilometer. After getting down at the Gulistan bus stand, you can hire either rickshaw or auto-rickshaw to go to the historical place.
Now, the question is if it is possible to conserve Bara Katra. To preserve this heritage, authorities related to this field should have to take immediate steps. Without enough government interference, it is almost impossible to protect this kingly house from decaying.