Monday, 27 June 2016

Zafar Khan Ghazi Masjid: Bengal's Oldest Mosque

Located some 70 km to the North of Calcutta (Kolkata), in the town of Tribeni, the Zafar Khan Ghazi Masjid is not just the oldest mosque of Bengal, it is the oldest standing Islamic structure of any kind. The complex consists of a mosque and a dargah, with several tombs and it remains an active religious site. However, the identity of the man, i.e., Zafar Khan Ghazi, remains something of a mystery and colourful tales about him continue to circulate. So just who was this man and why does the mosque that he built, look so strange?

The Zafar Khan Ghazi Masjid

Monday, 20 June 2016

Pariyon Ka Talab, Aurangabad

From the fort of Daulatabad National Highway 211, aka the Solapur-Dhule Road, takes you North West, towards the town of Khuldabad. Around 10 km down the road, a dirt track leads off the highway towards a place called Sulibhanjan. Here, next to a small hill, is Pariyon Ka Talab, the Lake of the Fairies. A minor tourist attraction, Pariyon Ka Talab is associated with a Muslim saint who could grant fertility and is an active religious site even today.

Pariyon Ka Talab: view from Shah Jalal-ud-din's Dargah

Monday, 13 June 2016

Pandua (Malda): Ruins of a Former Capital

Located in the Malda district, in the North of the Indian state of West Bengal, Pandua is also known as Hazrat Pandua or Boro-Pendo (larger Pendo). The prefix “Hazrat” is thanks to several prominent Muslim saints and preachers who made the city their home. Chief among them are Jalaluddin Tabrizi and Nur Qutb Alam, whose tombs have made Pandua a Muslim pilgrimage site. Boro-Pendo is to distinguish Malda’s Pandua from the town in the Hooghly district which bears the same name and is consequently called Chhoto-Pendo, meaning smaller or lesser Pandua. From the mid-fourteenth to the mid-fifteenth century, Pandua served as the capital of Bengal under the Ilyas Shahi Dynasty and would continue to serve as a mint town until the time of Sher Shah, aka Sher Shah Suri. Pandua today, apart from being a centre of pilgrimage, is a tourist attraction thanks to the many ruins from Bengal’s Sultanate period.

Adina Masjid - view from the East

Monday, 6 June 2016

Terracotta Temples of Gurap

In search of some obscure terracotta temples, I ended up in the village of Gurap in the Hooghly district, 70 km to the Northwest of Calcutta (Kolkata), on a Sunday in April, 2016. Accompanying me were Amitabha Gupta, well-known blogger and travel writer, and my mother. Narendranath Bhattacharya’s book on the antiquities of Hooghly district (published by the State Archaeology Department) pointed to the presence of several temples with terracotta ornamentation in the village. But the book was more than 20 years old. How much of what the author had documented still remained, we wondered?

Sri Sri Nandadulal Jew Mandir of Gurap

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Ruins of Gauda: Bengal's Ancient Capital

Gauda (also spelt Gaur or Gour), located in the Malda district in the North of the Indian state of West Bengal, is a ruined city that served as the capital of Bengal between the 12th and 16th centuries. Over a period of four centuries, Gauda has seen more than a dozen ruling dynasties come and go and today is home to some spectacular ruins mostly from Bengal’s Islamic period. Historically and architecturally there is much in Gauda that is of interest, especially its spectacular mosques.

Inside Gunamanta Masjid, Gauda

Monday, 23 May 2016

Choong Ye Thong Church (Chinese Temple), New Meredith Street

Wherever there is sunshine, there will be Chinese. Wherever there are Chinese, there will be Hakka” – Chinese proverb

A little removed from Calcutta’s (Kolkata) old Chinatown in Tiretta Bazar, on 19-20, New Meredith Street stands the Choong Ye Thong Church or Chinese temple. The quaint little building has enough architectural uniqueness to make it stand out from the other structures in the area. But few Calcuttans ever venture inside the building, and fewer still know, that this building once served as a school started by Calcutta’s thriving Hakka Chinese community.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

In Print 3 - Soul City: Inside Stories From Calcutta

Thanks to my friend Preeti Roychowdhury, I got the opportunity to be part of a book on Calcutta (Kolkata), called “Soul City: Inside Stories from Calcutta”. There have been many books on Calcutta before this, but what sets Soul City apart is the fact that this is more a book about impressions of the city. 14 people have collaborated on this book, each contributing a chapter. Soul City is stuffed with memories, poetry, urban exploration, and many fine photographs.

Photograph courtesy Preeti Roychowdhury

Monday, 9 May 2016

Lake Mosque, Rabindra Sarobar

The Lake Mosque is the only example of a mosque in the middle of a lake in the city of Calcutta (Kolkata). It is also one of the city’s many little secrets, because, in spite of the fact that it is right there, staring everyone in the face, many people are not aware of its existence. But how did a mosque come to be located in the middle of the Dhakuria Lake or Rabindra Sarobar, as it is now called? Who built it, and when? Let us begin with the story of the lake itself.


Monday, 2 May 2016

Jama Masjid, Lucknow

When I told my family that I wanted to visit Lucknow’s Jama Masjid, everyone was surprised. “There’s a Jama Masjid in Lucknow? We thought that was in Delhi”! Many non-Muslims would probably react in the same way because few know that the name “Jama Masjid” does not refer to a specific mosque, but rather to a particular kind of mosque. Before I tell you about Lucknow’s Jama Masjid, perhaps I should explain what a Jama Masjid is.


Monday, 25 April 2016

Tomb of Malik Ambar, Khuldabad

On the 14th of May 1626, at the grand old age of 80, Malik Ambar, the man who turned the little village of Khadki into the city we now know as Aurangabad, halted Mughal ambitions in the Deccan with an entirely new kind of warfare, and almost single-handedly saved the Nizam Shahi Dynasty of Ahmadnagar from obliteration, breathed his last. An eyewitness of Deccan affairs over many years, the author Bhim Sen wrote in his Nushka-i-Dilkusha, “although Malik Ambar was dead, but his sweet fragrance still remained behind”. He was a man so remarkable that even Mu'tamad Khan, Mughal Emperor Jehangir’s biographer, who had no love for him, was forced to acknowledge, “in warfare, in command, in sound judgement, and in administration, he had no equal or rival”. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about Malik Ambar was the fact that this Indian king, was in fact, not Indian, but African.


Monday, 18 April 2016

Mughal Gardens of Khuldabad

The little town of Khuldabad in the Indian state of Maharashtra was known as Roza or Rauza meaning garden of paradise thanks to the large number of Dargahs or tombs of Muslim saints that it is home to. But apart from the saints, there are also two other interesting tombs. One is of a royal while another is of a warrior. One is well known while the other is obscure. But around both, a Mughal Garden was originally laid out. Armed with Pushkar Sohoni’s book on Aurangabad and Khuldabad, I set out in November of 2015 to find these gardens. But before I tell you the story of my quest, let me tell you about what a Mughal Garden is.

Jahan Banu Begum Bagh

Monday, 11 April 2016

Aurangzeb's Tomb, Khuldabad

Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s tomb in the little town of Khuldabad, near Aurangabad in the Indian state of Maharashtra, is the first Mughal tomb I ever visited, and it is starkly different from any other Mughal tomb. No grand Taj Mahal like structures here. The Emperor was a pious man of austere habits and hated ostentation. His simple tomb, open to the sky, is a lesson in humility. But how did that the richest, most powerful man in the world come to be buried in an open, unmarked grave?

Aurangzeb's Tomb - note marble "jaali" screen placed by Nizam of Hyderabad

Monday, 4 April 2016

United Service Club, Chowringhee

If the name United Service Club sounds unfamiliar to Calcuttans, that is because the club does not exist anymore and its handsome building on Chowringhee (now Jawaharlal Nehru Road) is known as the office of the Geological Survey of India. While the story of the club is certainly interesting, equally interesting is the story of the building itself, because, in all of Calcutta (Kolkata), this is possibly the only building to be shaped like a Maltese cross.


Monday, 28 March 2016

Army & Navy Stores, Chowringhee

I distinctly remember the day I first heard the name “Kanak Buildings”. I was in college and was entering the Maidan Metro station when I happened to look up and on the wall found the sign saying “Kanak Building Exit”. While I was much less curious about heritage buildings back then, it did strike me as very odd. The red and white building in Edwardian style could pass for a Raj era government building. But “Kanak” was an Indian woman’s name! What the hell was going on here anyway? Many years later, when I started writing about Calcutta’s (Kolkata) heritage buildings, I chanced upon the Flickr page of DCR Finch and discovered that this was once The Army & Navy Stores.