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


A BRIEF HISTORY OF GAUDA

To begin, a distinction needs to be made between the Kingdom of Gauda, comprising the Northern part of Western Bengal and most of North Bengal, and the city of Gauda. The kingdom of Gauda emerged as an independent entity in the late 6th and early 7th century, under the powerful Hindu king Shashanka. Between the 8th and 12th century Bengal was ruled by the Buddhist Pala dynasty. As the Pala empire began to fall apart after the death of Ramapala around 1130 C.E., the Senas came into prominence. Samantasena (or Samanta Sen) was a warrior from the area that now forms the Indian state of Karnataka. In his old age, he had become an ascetic and settled on the banks of the Ganges, somewhere in modern day Burdwan (or Bardhhaman) district. His son Hemantasena (or Hemanta Sen) seems to have been a ruling chief. As central power under the Palas waned, the Senas grew in prominence. Hemantasena’s son Vijaysena married a princess of the Rarh region of Southern Bengal and ultimately brought all of Bengal under his rule.

Colourful enamelled bricks on the walls of the Lotan Masjid
It was Vijaysena’s grandson, Lakshmansena who laid the foundations of the city of Gauda and made it his imperial capital, with a second minor capital in Nadia. Lakshamnsena must have been almost 60 years old by the time he ascended the throne in 1179 C.E. Under his father he had been a successful military leader and had conducted successful campaigns against the Kamarupa kingdom of Assam and the Kalinga kingdom of Orissa (now Odisha). Since the Pala king Ramapala had the city of Ramavati named after him, imperial vanity demanded that the new capital be named Lakshmanavati (also referred to as Lakhnauti). Around the late 12th century, Hindu rule in North India had sufficiently weakened to permit Turkic raiders to start plundering the country. Among those leading the raids was an adventurer named Mohammed Bakhtiar Khilji.

Terracotta ornamentation of Tantipara Masjid
Bakhtiar Khilji, also known as Malik Bakhtiar had no pretensions of royal descent, neither did he have sufficient expertise to lay siege to well defended Hindu forts. His aim was to capture as much booty as possible with the minimum possible conflict and commotion. Around 1200 C.E., Khilji plundered a fortress whose inhabitants turned out to be shaven-headed monks, whom he put to the sword. The monks possessed great wealth and many books (which I can’t imagine he found much use for). When asked what this place was, he was told that it was a “vihara”, or monastery. Khilji named the entire country “Bihar”, after the monastery and proceeded with his cavalry towards Bengal. Lakshmansena had been receiving news of the plunder his kingdoms by Turkic cavalry, and had posted armies in the mountain passes of Rajmahal to intercept them, but Khilji surprised him by turning up right at his doorstep in Nadia. So swift had been his advance that only 18 of his riders had been able to keep up with him. Legend has it that the townspeople mistook Khilji and his men for traders and the alarm was only raised when they drew their swords and started slaughtering the guards inside Lakshmansena’s palace. The king was in the middle of lunch and escaped barefoot by the back door. Although Lakshmansena and his descendants would continue to rule in Eastern Bengal, half of his kingdom had effectively passed into Muslim hands.

Inside Baradwari or Bada Sona Masjid
Gauda would serve as the capital city for the Khilji dynasty, the Mamluk Sultanate, the Balban dynasty and the Tughlaq Sultanate. During the reign of Alauddin Ali Shah (1339 – 1342), the capital was moved to Pandua. However, Pandua had to be abandoned, probably because the course of the river on whose banks it was built, changed. The capital returned to Gauda with Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah of the Ilyas Shahi dynasty in 1453 and was a prosperous city in the 15th and 16th centuries filled with people of every imaginable race and nationality, including the Chinese! Try and imagine chow mien and dim sum being cooked in 16th Century Bengal! Gauda was burnt down by Sher Shah Suri sometime between November 1538 to April 1539, only to be repaired and made fit for habitation by Mughal emperor Humayun who was so taken with the place that he gave it the name “Jannatabad”, literally meaning paradise city. Gaur was retaken by Sher Shah Suri in the winter of that year, but the Suri Empire ended with the death of his grandson Firoz Shah Suri in 1554. Bengal would remain under various Pathan houses for another two decades, and in 1565, Sulaiman Khan Karrani, the then Afghan lord of Bengal would abandon Gaur for a place called Tanda.

The grave of Fateh Khan
Akbar's armies finally drove the Afghans or Pathans out of Bengal for good. Akbar’s general Muni’m Khan had set up base at Tanda but found living in tents in the marshy terrain around Tanda during Bengal’s monsoon season to be impossible and moved back into Gauda which was now a hollow, abandoned shell of a city. In the damp, unhealthy environs of the city, a mysterious disease broke out which killed Muni’m Khan’s men by the thousands, ultimately killing Muni’m Khan on the 23rd of October, 1575. The disease was the plague, and this was the end of Gauda. The city was abandoned for good and left to be reclaimed by nature. The ruins of Gauda have been vandalised for several hundred years, first by locals and then by British officials, who took away precious and rare blue marble from the ruins and put it in buildings in Calcutta (Kolkata). The marble tiles on the floor of St. John’s Church near Dalhousie Square come from Gauda. Of the Hindu period of Gauda, there is almost nothing left. Most of the ruins that tourists visit today are from the Muslim period, including some fine specimens of pre-Mughal mosque architecture.

Inside Gunamanta Masjid
ASHA-JAWA-THAKA-KHAWA

Those four rhyming words, literally meaning coming, going, staying and eating, are how any Bengali will calculate travel expenses. Yes, we are a rather poetic lot. To get to Gauda (and Pandua), you need to reach Malda, which is both the district and largest town. Malda is very well-connected to Calcutta (Kolkata) by rail. We took an overnight train from Sealdah (Gour Express), departing from Sealdah station at 10:15pm and arriving at Malda bright and early, at 6am. We travelled in first class comfort, for the princely sum of Rs. 2200 for two people. Of course, Mum is now officially a senior citizen, so her ticket was heavily discounted. A word of advice here; dinner is not served on this train at night. So you can either have dinner before getting on the train, carry your food with you, or order dinner via IRCTC’s online portal, and it will be delivered hot and fresh to your compartment. The last option works surprisingly well.

Mum checks her notifications in our hotel room
In Malda, we stayed at the government-owned Malda Tourist Lodge. These tourist lodges are operated by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation, and while they may not be comparable to star category hotels, they offer clean, comfortable rooms, delicious Bengali food and a level of security that only the government can guarantee. There is a familiar and homely air to these places that I have always loved. The choices when it comes to food can be somewhat limited. Don’t expect fancy Chinese and Continental dishes here, but if you’re ok with Bengali food, then you will face no problems. I particularly recommend the “posto” (khus khus) dishes and for fish lovers, they serve some of the best, fresh, local fish. The helpful manager arranged a car for us. While most tourists manage to cover both Gauda and Pandua in a day, I opted not to do that, since photography would take time. I was charged Rs. 1400 per day for an ac ambassador, which was quite comfortable.

An unknown grave to the South of Qadam Rasul Masjid




ATTRACTIONS ON THE WAY TO GAUDA

Gauda lies some 12 km South of Malda town and there are several little spots to cover on the way. Unfortunately, we could find no traces of the fort of Shonarae or Loha Garh, both mentioned by Pradyot Ghosh in his book “Malda Jela-r Puratatwo”. The first things we came across were the mysterious pillars known as “Hathi Badha Stombho”. These two stone pillars must have been brought here from Gauda at some point, but no one seems to know when or why. Sometime in the past, a rich local gent used to tie his elephant to these pillars, and hence the name (hathi = elephant, badha = to tie, stombho = pillar). On both sides of the road are several large lakes, all of which have been dug many years ago by the affluent residents of the area for the use of the common people.

Hathi Badha Stombho - random pillars in the middle of nowhere!

Footprints of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Half a kilometre ahead of the Piyasbari Lake lies a place called Tamaltala, in the village of Ramkeli. Here, during the reign of Sultan Alauddin Husain Shah (1494 – 1519), the founder of Husain Shahi ruling dynasty of Bengal, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the great Bengali spiritual leader and founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, met with Rupa and Sanatana Goswami. Rupa and Sanatana were high-level officials in Alauddin Husain Shah’s court, and they became devoted followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. At the spot where they met, there stands a large statue of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (born Vishwambhar Mishra, 1486), and a small temple which contains a rock on which are a pair of footprints. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was supposed to be a very tall and robust man, but the footprints are rather small, almost like those of a child. I wonder what happened there?!

The temple to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

The Madanmohan Jiu Temple
Behind this small temple lies the larger Madanmohan Jiu temple. The present temple, with a “naatmandir” was completed in May of 1938, on the site of an older temple which was built under orders of Sanatana Goswami in 1515 C.E. Installed in the sanctum sanctorum are two idols. One is of Krishna’s consort, Radha, aka Radharani, which is probably of “ashta-dhaatu”, an alloy of 8 metals, considered auspicious. The other is of Krishna, in his Madanmohan avatar, which is appropriately made of black stone, since the name “Krishna” is a reference to his dark complexion. The temple is active and the priest and his family reside in the rooms along the walls of the complex.

THE BARADWARI OR BADA SONA MASJID

Bada Sona Masjid
 A few hundred yards south of the Madanmohan Jiu temple, lies the Baradwari Masjid, aka Bada Sona Masjid. The rectangular mosque is some 168 feet long and 76 feet wide with a large courtyard at the front. It was built in 1526 by Sultan Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah of Bengal’s Hussain Shahi dynasty and most of it is in ruins today. Of the three entrances, only the Eastern one remains intact. All 33 of the domes above the main complex are gone, and only the ones above the Eastern entrance remain intact today. These must have been covered either in gold or some shiny substance, giving the mosque its name (Sona Masjid literally means Golden Mosque). Inside there are three aisles in the main prayer room, along with the ruins of what must have been a ladies gallery.

Ruined prayer room of Bada Sona Masjid
The obvious question is that if this is the “Bada” or larger Sona Masjid, where is the “Chhota” or smaller one? The Chhota Sona Masjid is in modern day Bangladesh. While most of the old citadel of Gauda is now in India, a small portion of it lies on the other side of the border. Flower motifs may be found all over the Bada Sona Masjid and even from the ruins, it is not impossible to guess that at one point, large portions of the walls must have been covered by coloured tiles. Decorations on the stone walls are still visible. The mosque is built using both stone and brick and mortar, with stone in the mosque being used only to the height of 22 feet. The large entrance gateway to the complex is built of brick and mortar, with stone cladding, only a part of which remains intact today.

DAAKHIL DARWAZA

Dakhil Darwaza
Terracotta ornamentation of Dakhil Darwaza
Half a kilometre to the South West of the Bada Sona Masjid lies the Dakhil Darwaza (entrance gate), which was the main gate of the citadel of Gauda. When the king would return to the city after a tour or a campaign, he would enter through this gate and would be received by a guard of honour, which gives the gate its other name, Salaami Darwaza (no, he didn’t eat salami sandwiches here). Blogger and travel writer Amitabha Gupta caused a small sensation with his recent article about the terracotta mosques of Bengal in Outlook Traveller magazine. Bengal is known for its terracotta temples, mostly because there wasn’t too much stone to be found here. But Amitabha Gupta suggests that before the famous terracotta temples came the less famous terracotta mosques, where the artisans honed their craft before working on temples. Examples of that terracotta may be found on the walls and interiors of the Dakhil Darwaza as well. When I walked in I detected a smell that I had learned to recognise in the Ajanta Caves – bat dung! There’s a very large colony of them living inside, but there is no reason to be afraid. Bats are far more adept at avoiding humans than you might think. 12 towers mounted with guns stood around the Dakhil Darwaza in its heydey. Today only the ruins of 2 remain.

FIROZ MINAR OR FIROZA MINAR

Firoz Minar
 Half a kilometre to the East of the Dakhil Darwaza lies the Firoz Minar or Firoza Minar. Why the two names? Well, there are several names and each is backed by a theory. One is that the entire tower was once covered in blue or “firoza” coloured tiles, but this seems somewhat unlikely. Would not a single piece of blue tile have been left, if this was truly the case? Locals also refer to the tower as Pirusha Mandir, after a certain Muslim holy man named Pir Shah who had taken up residence inside the tower. But the most likely story is that the tower was named after the Sultan who commissioned it, Saifuddin Firuz Shah. Saifuddin Firuz Shah was the second ruler of Bengal’s Habshi dynasty, and the Firoz Minar was constructed during his short reign, between 1487-89 C.E. (For the story of another famous Habshi or African king in India, click here)

Entrance to Firoz Minar. The wire mesh door is an ASI addition, obviously.
Firoz Minar looks somewhat like Delhi’s Qutub Minar and was taller at one point. The topmost levels, along with a dome has been levelled to increase the tower’s stability. It is now 84 feet tall, and 73 steps lead to the top. These steps are a later addition. Access to the top of the tower is naturally restricted, although it may be possible with special permission from the ASI. Firoz Minar was probably originally intended as a victory tower. It is now surrounded by a well-manicured lawn, and the surrounding trees are filled with parrots. If you can be a little patient, you will capture some interesting moments.

BALLAL BAATI

Ballal Bati. Does this look like a palace to you?
 This is one of the latest excavations in Gauda. Ballal Bati was unearthed only in 2003 and as of now, literature about it is scarce. The name Ballal Bati is what the locals used to describe a large mound in the area. The legend was that under the mound were the remains of Sena dynasty king Ballal Sena’s (or Ballal Sen’s) palace. Excavations did reveal the foundations of a large building, but I have doubts about this being the site of a palace. For starters, isn’t this kind of small to be a king’s palace? Then there are the weird pillar-like things. Why do all of them have a hole in the middle? Another theory is that these are the remains of a Buddhist “Vihara” or monastery, which I feel is much more likely.

JAHAJGHATA

Jahaj Ghata
A few metres away from Ballal Bati is another recently unearthed site, known as Jahajghata, literally meaning port (Jahaj = ship, Ghata = wharf/quay). These are alleged to be the remains of an ancient port. The Ganges flowed right through this place at one time, and some indications of the old course of the river are still visible. Unfortunately, Jahajghata has been repeatedly vandalised by locals and tourists alike. The tiles that decorated the walls have vanished. Part of an old chain, probably used to tie ships is visible, and locals say several links of it have been stolen. This may well have been the principal port used by the inhabitants of the citadel of Gauda.

BAISH-GAJEE PRACHEER

Baish-Gajee Pracheer. The trees are all mango
This wall derives its name from its height, which is 22 yards, or “baish gawj” in Bengali. Adjacent to Ballal Bati, this wall was erected by Rukunuddin Barbak Shah and may have been the boundary wall of the royal palace inside the citadel. His father, Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah, of the Ilyas Shahi dynasty of Bengal, had laid the foundations of the citadel of Gauda. Although parts of the wall are well maintained at present, it seems much of it had been dismantled and the bricks sold by locals, at the unbelievable rate of Rs. 4 for a cartload!

CHIKA BHAVAN OR CHAAMKAAN BHAVAN

Chika Bhavan with Gumti Darwaza visible in the distance
Interiors of Chika Bhavan
A little to the South of the Qadam Rasul Masjid stands the building that is known as the Chika Masjid. While the structure externally appears similar to a mosque, upon entering it becomes clear that this could not have been a mosque. There is no “mihrab” inside and to the West are a series of pillars that were once part of a large structure. Major General Alexander Cunningham of the Royal Engineers in his book on Gauda, written in 1879-80, says that this must have been a prison or “chor-khana” which came to be called Chika Masjid or bat’s mosque “from it being filled with these stinking animals”. The bats are still very much there, as is their stink. The experts guess that the Chika Bhavan was built by Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah between 1435 and 1459 C.E.

GUMTI DARWAZA

Colourful enamelled bricks of Gumti Darwaza
 The word “gumti” is commonly used in Hindi and Bengali to refer to a small hut. It comes from the Persian word “gumbad”, meaning guard house. Gumti Darwaza was one of the smaller doors of the royal palace of Gauda. It stands to the East of the Chika Bhavan. The entire exterior of the Gumti Darwaza was once covered in colourful enamelled tiles, some traces of which still remain.

QADAM RASUL MASJID

Qadam Rasul Masjid
 A minute’s walk away from Gumti Darwaza is the gigantic and magnificent Qadam Rasul mosque complex, which is also known as Qadam Sharif. Qadam-e-Rasul is an Arabic phrase referring to a kind of veneration of the Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W.), and it means “footprint of the prophet”. Preserved within the mosque is a rock with what is alleged to be the Prophet’s footprint, although orthodox schools of Islam do not accept such veneration. This may well be an influence of Hinduism or Buddhism on Islam. Qadam Rasul was built by Sultan Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah in 1531 C.E. 16 feet tall, and 15 feet wide on each side, Qadam Rasul’s architecture has a clear Hindu influence. As in all mosques, the main entrance is from the East, and the Eastern wall contains 3 arches. The walls of Qadam Rasul still have extensive terracotta ornamentation and above the central arch is a stone tablet containing the date of construction and the crediting it to Sultan Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah.

Qadam Rasul's arches. It is common to find such arches in Hindu temples as well



What is thought to be Qadam Rasul's bath
However, unlike most mosques, there is no “mihrab”, no niche in the wall to indicate the “qiblah” or direction of Mecca. Instead, there is a chamber, within which, on a platform of black stone, is the stone containing the footprint of the Prophet (S.A.W.). The room is kept locked on most days, and the footprint is only displayed to the public on special days. On the exterior, the four corners of the mosque contained four fluted columns, which are made of stone, as opposed to the rest of the mosque, which is of brick. What will strike any observant visitor is how Gauda’s mosques are very different from Mughal mosques or even contemporary mosques. There are no slender minarets, no bulbous onions domes, and no scalloped arches, all of which are features we have come to associate with mosques. Gauda’s mosques are very short, squat affairs. That is probably because these are pre-Mughal mosques. The style changed considerably with the advent of Mughal rule. A prominent example of the Bengal style of mosque architecture in the city of Calcutta (Kolkata) is the Basri Shah Masjid, details about which may be found here.

QADAM RASUL BATH AND FATEH KHAN’S TOMB

Directly opposite the entrance to Qadam Rasul mosque is a building which is now thought to be a bath, although I did not find any signs of a bathtub or similar enclosure for water. The floor was absolutely smooth. Not much chance of this being a “wazu khana” either, where the devout would perform their ritual ablutions before prayer.

Fateh Khan or Fath Khan's tomb

Qadam Rasul's ruined cemetery. 
Next to the bath is the tomb of Fateh Khan. Fateh Khan was the younger son of Aurangzeb’s general Diler Khan. Diler Khan had been dispatched by Aurangzeb to subdue his younger brother Shah Shuja, who was then the governor of Bengal. However, legend has it that as soon as Diler Khan reached Gauda’s city limits, Fateh Khan vomited blood and dropped dead. Ironically, Fateh Khan’s tomb is in the Hindu “chala” style and resembles a Bengal village hut. I wonder how that happened? Immediately to the North of Qadam Rasul, I found what looked like a small cemetery, with several completely dilapidated tombs. This could have been a royal burial ground, although I have no way of telling who was buried here. A tomb is located to the South West of Qadam Rasul as well. From the remains of the walls around it, I would guess that this was once housed inside a small dome or similar structure. Again, there is no information available about who is buried in here.

SHAHI DARWAZA OR LUKOCHURI GATE

Shahi Darwaza or Lukachhippi Gate


A room in the Shahi Darwaza
To the South East of the Qadam Rasul Masjid stands the most magnificent gate of the citadel of Gauda, which is known as the Shahi Darwaza, or more popularly as the Lukochuri Gate. While Shahi Darwaza means royal gate, lukochuri is the Bengali word for hide-and-seek and I wonder how a gate came to be called that. This is certainly nothing like the Bhool Bhulaiya of Lucknow, where the game was apparently played. The Bengali name could be a corruption of the expression “Lakh Chhippi”, which refers to the lakhs, or hundreds of thousands of tiles which once covered the gate. This was the principal entrance to the Gauda royal palace. Some stucco work on the gate still survives. The arched gateway extends some 25 feet inwards. The Shahi Darwaza is thought to have been built around 1655.

GUNAMANTA MASJID

Gunamanta Masjid. Note the "Bangla roof"
Inside the vaulted "Bangla roof"of Gunamanta Masjid
When I mentioned to my driver that I wanted to visit the Gunamanta Masjid, he gave me an apprehensive look. Was it absolutely essential, he asked? I explained that I had come all the way from Calcutta and did not want to go back with any regrets. “Since you insist, I will take you”, he said, “but please make it quick. The area is not very safe”. What could possibly go wrong in broad daylight, I wondered? But when we finally arrived there, I realized what he meant. The Gunamanta Masjid is at least a couple of kilometres away from human habitation, tourists do not normally visit it, and there is a deathly silence about the entire place that is quite unnerving. But at the same time, I have to admit, both the mosque and its setting, is absolutely beautiful.

Collapsed Northern section of Gunamanta Masjid



Ornamentation inside the drum of one of the domes of Gunamanta Masjid
Gunamanta Masjid is located in the middle of an extremely well-manicured park that had a truck-load of goats grazing in it when I got there. No humans in sight, just goats! If someone replaced the goats with sheep, it would feel like being in one of those huge medieval stone churches in England. Of course, one would have to reduce the temperature by about a hundred degrees as well! The Gunamanta Masjid was described as ruined even by the earliest explorers. The stone mosque is, however, massive in size – 157 feet by 59 feet! Although locals have been removing bricks from the mosque for years, all the domes of the mosque’s southern side and 3 domes of the Northern side survive. At each corner, there exists just about enough evidence to suggest that there were minarets here once. But what is most interesting is the mosque’s huge vaulted “Bangla roof”, the interior of which looks rather like the nave of a church. Stucco ornamentation can still be seen on the interior walls of the mosque. The Gunamanta Masjid is thought to have been built around 1484 C.E.


LOTAN MASJID

Lotan Masjid. Note coloured enamelled bricks.

Built in 1476 C.E. by Sultan Shamsuddin Yusuf Shah, the Lotan Masjid was at one point, completely covered in coloured enamel tiles, traces of which still remain. The colourful interiors of Lotan Masjid, however, are in much better shape. How the mosque came to be called “Lotan” is not known. Local legends associate the mosque with a certain famous dancer, however, this remains unconfirmed. At the time of my visit, the doors to the mosque were securely locked, and I was informed that work was underway and would be completed around winter of 2016. For sheer architectural splendour, Lotan Masjid may well be called on the most beautiful ancient mosques of India.

TANTIPARA MASJID

Tantipara Masjid with two graves in the foreground



Tantipara Masjid interiors
Built between 1474 and 1480 C.E., the Tantipara Masjid contains the finest examples of terracotta decoration among all the mosques of Gauda. Unfortunately, the roof of the Tantipara Masjid collapsed in an earthquake in 1885, and its 10 domes have thus vanished. Measuring some 91 feet by 44 feet on the outside, the walls of the Tantipara Masjid are 6 ½ feet thick! The interior contains terracotta panels with beautiful vegetative patterns. 4 stone pillars divide the otherwise brick mosque into two aisles. To the East of the mosque are two tombs, which probably contain the remains of Mirshad Khan, who had the mosque built, and his daughter. The word “tanti” in Bengali means weaver and the mosque must have got its name for a settlement of weavers in the area.

CHAAMKAATI MASJID

Chaamkaati Masjid
Built by Sultan Shamsuddin Yusuf Shah in 1475 C.E., the Chaamkati Masjid has an interesting name and many theories behind it. One belief is that the mosque was built for a class of Muslims who were in the leather trade. However, the most likely explanation is that the name comes from the very narrow entrance to the mosque (chaam = narrow, kaathi = path). The mosque contains a joint vault at the entrance and the interiors contain traces of enamelled tiles. The single dome looks like it has 5 steps. Although a part of the mosque has collapsed, I found it under repair in the early summer of 2016.

Chaamkaati Masjid, collapsed southern face

The Chaamkaati Masjid was the last mosque we visited on our tour. We had managed to cover all the major sites in Gauda in one day. We had set out from Malda town at around 8am and wrapped up by around 2pm. I made a quick phone call to the Malda Tourist Lodge and the extremely helpful manager said he would have a hot lunch waiting for us when we got there. We did take a small detour to visit the Kotwali Darwaza of Gauda. The Kotwali Darwaza currently serves as the border between India and Bangladesh, with the modern road running right through it. With permission from the local BSF post, and upon submitting photo ID, it is possible to climb to the top of the gate and have a look around, but photography is prohibited. Not that that has ever stopped me, but when you are surrounded by men with guns, you really don’t feel like pushing your luck.

-          By Deepanjan Ghosh

GPS POSITIONS OF MONUMENTS IN GAUDA

Chaamkaati Masjid terracotta detail
  • Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Temple - 24°53'20.4"N 88°07'43.8"E
  • Radhakanta Jiu Temple - 24°53'21.5"N 88°07'42.3"E
  • Baradwari/Bada Sona Masjid - 24°52'58.6"N 88°07'40.6"E
  • Dakhil Darwaza - 24°52'43.9"N 88°07'30.4"E
  • Firoz Minar - 24°52'25.3"N 88°07'49.3"E
  • Ballal Bati - 24°52'12.7"N 88°07'29.6"E
  • Jahaj Ghata - 24°52'09.8"N 88°07'23.8"E
  • Baish-Gajee Pracheer - 24°52'15.0"N 88°07'30.8"E
  • Chika Bhavan - 24°52'03.4"N 88°07'52.0"E
  • Gumti Darwaza - 24°52'04.2"N 88°07'55.2"E
  • Qadam Rasul Masjid - 24°52'08.9"N 88°07'53.9"E
  • Shahi Darwaza - 24°52'07.1"N 88°07'55.0"E
  • Gunamanta Masjid - 24°51'05.2"N 88°07'52.5"E
  • Lotan Masjid - 24°51'17.5"N 88°08'22.0"E
  • Tantipara Masjid - 24°51'38.6"N 88°08'14.2"E
  • Chaamkati Masjid - 24°52'13.2"N 88°08'09.0"E
  • Kotwali Darwaza - 24°50'34.3"N 88°08'26.9"E


TIPS FOR VISITORS TO GAUDA

Entrance to Bada Sona Masjid
  • Photographers, carry a wide angle lens and either a lens with a wide maximum aperture, such as f/2.8 or a flash, because the insides of old mosques can be rather dark. The Sultans neglected to install electricity! Canon shooters, the el-cheapo 24mm f/2.8 EF-S lens for crop sensor cameras, will serve you well.
  • If you are addicted to bottled water, carry it with you. Other than a couple of shops in front of Qadam Rasul, you will not find water or snacks anywhere on the route.
  • There are no entrance charges for any monument at Gauda, cheapskates rejoice! However, since many of these monuments are active Islamic sites, entrance may be restricted during specific festivals.
  • Best time to visit Gauda – it’s rural Bengal, stick to winter. October to February would be ideal. I visited in the 1st week of March and although I got terrific light and blue skies, the heat almost killed me. But evenings in Malda, in March are pleasant and cool.
  • A tour of Gauda is usually combined with a tour of Pandua.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • Many thanks to Amrita and her company Pathikrit Tours for making all the arrangements. For enquiries, contact Pathikrit via email - pathikritkolkata@gmail.com
  • Thanks to my mother for accompanying me. In all my time travelling, she is probably the most energetic, enthusiastic and least obtrusive travelling companion I have ever had.


SOURCES

Ghosh, Pradyot – Malda Jela-r Puratattwo
Cunningham, Alexander – Report of a Tour in Bihar and Bengal
Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra - History of Bengal Volume 1
Sircar, Sir Jadunath - History of Bengal Volume 2
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