Dhanmondi Shahi Eidgah: A Mughal-era congregation site covered by illegal structures
Dhaka was one of the capital cities of the Mughal Empire. This 400-year-old city was established and thrived on the bank of the Buriganga River. Hence, most of the Mughal archaeological sites were built in areas near the river. However, some Mughal antiquities are also found in new Dhaka. One of these is Dhanmondi Shahi Eidgah built during the Mughal era in new Dhaka. This historic site is situated just beside Anam Rangs Plaza in Dhanmondi residential area. To be more specific, it is located at Dhanmondi 6/A in Saat Masjid road of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
This almost 400-year-old Mughal-era structure is popularly known as Dhanmondi Eidgah and is one of the listed archaeological sites of the Department of Archaeology. According to historians, it is one of the two Mughal congregation sites in the sub-continent, the other being in Delhi. An inscription written in Persian language was found on top of the main arched entrance to this magnificent Eidgah, which bears the information of its erection, including the name of the maker and the ruler of that time. According to the Persian inscription, it was built in 1640 CE (1050 AH) by Diwan Mir Abul Qasim by the order of Prince Shah Shuja, Mughal subahdar of the Bengal region and the second son of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. Since its formation till today, it has been using twice a year during the occasions of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha congregational prayers.
The history of this oldest surviving Mughal monument in Dhaka city goes like this- “Though there were several Sultanate-era Eidgahs in the main city, there was no large-sized Eidgah during the Mughal period. So Mir Abul Qasim was looking for a place for Eidgah. Finally, he chose Dhanmondi area. Therefore, the Eidgah was built in Dhanmondi area having been located in an open space little bit away from the main city and close to Sat Gambuj Mosque (Seven Domed Mosque). That time Sat Gambuj Mosque was connected by road and by water. During that time, a branch of the Pandu River used to flow beside the Eidgah, which would have been connected with the Buriganga River near the present Sat Gambuj Mosque. At the beginning, only Subahdar, Nayeb-e-Nazim, elite Mughal officials and their relatives could say prayer here. General people did not get the opportunity to enter here. Later, the Eidgah was made open for all and devotees from Dhaka and surrounding areas used to come here.” It should be mentioned here that during the reign of the Mughal Empire old Dhaka was the main city while Dhanmondi area would be considered rural area of Dhaka.
To describe the historical, architectural and tradition value, conservationist architect Abu Sayeed M Ahmed wrote, “Dhanmondi Shahi Eidgah is the oldest surviving Mughal monument in Dhaka city. There is no second one with the architectural forms and features similar to it.”
Dhanmondi Shahi Eidgah measures at 148 feet long and 137 feet wide in size. It was built on a 4 feet high ground from the surrounding land so that it can be protected from flood damage. On four sides of it has octagonal-shaped minaret. On the north-side of the Eidgah, there is a three-stepped pulpit, standing where the Imam delivers sermon. The Eidgah is surrounded by 15 feet high wall on four sides. But, at present, only the western wall belongs to the Mughal era.
Mihrab in Dhanmondi Eidgah symbolizes an incomparable architectural style of the Mughal Dynasty. The 5-foot deep semi-octagonal multi-cusped central Mihrab is at the center of the western wall, followed by three shallow subsidiary niches on each side. Apart from this, there are two small-sized Mihrabs on both sides. These Mihrabs are situated within the rectangular frame of the walls.
The red colored wall and the beautiful stonework on the west was a well-known landmark in Dhanmondi area and could be sighted from far away until the early 50s. But, at present, only a portion of the west wall can be hardly seen. It is because illegal structures around the Eidgah are keeping it out of sight. Dhanmondi Eidgah mosque committee has built an ‘Islamic Research Center’ within ten feet of Eidgah’s central Mihrab. On the east side of the Eidgah, within five feet distance, a building was newly constructed, causing the blockage of the main entrance to it. Other large unauthorized structures are a complaint center of Dhaka Power Distribution Company Ltd and pump house of the WASA. In addition, a dormitory for the employees of the Eidgah Mosque was constructed using the wall of the Eidgah as a sidewall. Apart from a library, the mosque committee constructed a six-storied mosque replacing the old one on its premises without the approval from Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK). It has not only reduced the aesthetic importance of the heritage monument but also weakened the old Eidgah’s base.
Because of these above mentioned unplanned constructions and indifference of the mosque committee, restoration work of this historical site has been hampering. Negligence and lack of maintenance can accelerate the destruction of this historically significant structure.