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



A BRIEF HISTORY OF PANDUA

Although the official narrative is that Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah, the man who founded Bengal’s Ilyas Shahi Dynasty, first moved the capital from the city of Gauda to Pandua in 1339, coins from the time refer to Pandua as Firozabad, leading to speculation that the move to Pandua had been effected by Shamsuddin Firoz Shah of the Balban Dynasty, who ruled between 1300 and 1322. Pandua is 32 km to the North of Gauda, and about 19 km from the administrative centre of English Bazar or Ingrejbajar. It was Scottish physician Francis Buchanan-Hamilton who first noted the existence of historic ruins in Pandua in 1808. Sir Alexander Cunningham, the British Army engineer who would go on to create what later became the Archaeological Survey of India, would do a detailed study of Pandua and an aerial survey of the ruins was conducted by the ASI in 1930. But contemporary accounts of Pandua come from Chinese travellers’ accounts. Ma Huan’s description of Bengal in the 15th century contains references to a town he called Pan-Ko-La, which historians say is Pandua. It was a prosperous town with a large market, Ma Huan wrote, and Pandua would remain an important centre of commerce until the middle of the 16th century.

Surviving arches of the Adina Masjid
9 kings over a period of 114 years would rule Bengal from Pandua. All of them were from the Ilyas Shahi Dynasty, with the exception of Raja Ganesha and his son and grandson. They would build palaces, forts, bridges, mosques and mausoleums, many of which are now in ruins, while many have disappeared altogether. The aerial survey of 1930 also revealed the presence of the ruins of several Buddhist stupas and viharas in the area. While many speculate the name Pandua is associated with the Pandava brothers of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Sir Alexander Cunningham refutes this claim, suggesting instead that the name comes from Pandubis, or water fowls, which are common to the area. The move to Pandua had originally been made since it was located on the banks of the Mahananda river. But as the river’s course changed, the capital moved back the Gauda in 1453 under Sultan Nasiruddin Muhammad Shah.

Mihrab in Adina Masjid - note hanging motif on the wall

THE CURIOUS CASE OF RAJA GANESHA

Tourist at Adina
While in Pandua, the reign of the Ilyas Shahi Dynasty was interrupted for a period of 29 years, by a Hindu dynasty founded by a king who is popularly known as Raja Ganesha. Ganesha was probably a powerful warlord of the Dinajpur area, who had risen to become a de-facto “kingmaker”. After the first three kings, the Ilyas Shahi Dynasty was led by a succession of minors, to whom Ganesha acted as regent, finally overthrowing them and usurping the throne for himself in 817 as per the Islamic Hijri calendar, which corresponds to 1414 C.E. Ganesha assumed the title of Danujmardan Dev and issued coins under this name. However, palace intrigues against him would continue as was common for the time. In Muslim royal families, there were many pretenders to the throne, and when a kingmaker supported one of them, probably under the influence of the child’s mother, he naturally invited the wrath of all the others. Add to that the fact that Ganesha was a Hindu, interrupting a Muslim line of succession, and you have the perfect recipe for civil war. The Muslim nobles of Pandua sent an appeal to Ibrahim Shah Sharqi, the Sultan of neighbouring Jaunpur to invade the country and “save Islam”. Sharqi promptly complied and while Ganesha had his personal cavalry, it was no match for the mail armour clad, combat hardened Muslim army. But Sharqi’s North Indian cavalry was unaccustomed to the steaming heat of Bengal, and could not hope to hold their ground for long. A truce was reached. Sharqi had originally demanded that Ganesha convert to Islam, but when Ganesha’s wife refused, he offered up his 12-year-old son instead. The boy, named Jadu, was converted and Ganesha promised to abdicate in his favour.

Inside the Eklakhi Mausoleum, the alleged tombs of Jalaluddin, his wife and child
 But as soon as Sharqi’s back was turned, Ganesha went back on his word. He had the boy, now named Jalaluddin, reconverted to Hinduism, through a bizarre ceremony where he was symbolically reborn through the womb of a cow. The ceremonial womb was made entirely of gold plates, which were donated to the Brahmins of the city. But Bengal’s rigid, orthodox Brahmins were having none of it and refused to accept the boy back into the fold. The poor boy was now stuck, “na ghar ka, na ghaat ka”, as they say in Hindi. His father had him confined to the palace, while he ruled for another 2 years. Upon his death, his son would reconvert to Islam and ascend the throne after overthrowing his younger brother Mahendra Dev, a minor puppet king, set up by the Hindu faction in the Pandua court. Jadu, now Jalaluddin, naturally came to view the Hindu faction in court as his political enemies and would relentlessly persecute them throughout his reign of 15 years. He was succeeded by his son, Shamsuddin Ahmad Shah, a boy of 14, whose life was tragically cut short by palace intrigues. The Ilyas Shahi Dynasty was restored to the throne and would continue to rule Bengal for another 50 years.

ADINA MASJID

Adina Masjid's colossal main mihrab

Inside Adina Masjid -ladies gallery to the right
Pradyot Ghosh in his book on the antiquities of Malda refers to Adina Masjid as “Bangla-r gourab” – Bengal’s pride. It is a title that Adina richly deserves. The only word in the English language that appropriately describes Adina is colossal. When it was built, it was the largest mosque in the Indian subcontinent, and even in its present ruined state, it is the largest mosque in Bengal. It was built in 1373 by Sultan Abul Mujahid Sikandar Shah, the 2nd ruler of the Ilyas Shahi Dynasty of Bengal. Adina consists of a large, rectangular, open courtyard, surrounded on all four sides by pillared halls. The courtyard measures 507 ½ feet by 285 ½ feet and I cannot adequately describe the jaw-dropping effect of these dimensions the first time you enter Adina. Most of the structures to the East, North and South have collapsed, as have the more than 300 domes the mosque once had. However, much of the mosque’s Western section remains intact. The quirky thing about Adina is that there is no proper entrance. One would expect such a large mosque to have an adequately grand entrance gateway, but that is completely missing. One enters through a very small doorway in the Western wall, however, the public entrance may have been through arches on the South East corner. But this actually disrupts the symmetry of the mosque, so perhaps it was added as an afterthought.

Adina Masjid's collapsed Northern section

Inside Adina Masjid - wooden steps leading to ladies gallery
Through the door in the Western wall, one enters a large pillared hall. Stone pillars hold up huge brick arches. Immediately to the left, is a wooden staircase, which takes you to a small upper level. This is thought to have been a ladies’ gallery. The stone floor of this section may have collapsed, and has been replaced by wood. 3 large mihrabs (a niche in a mosque’s Western wall, indicating the direction of the Kaaba, that Muslims must face when praying) in the ladies section are made of smooth black stone and contain intricately carved patterns. Surprisingly, the patterns seem to include the swastika symbol. A door on the right of the mihrabs takes you to an open terrace that must have had a roof at one point. Here, one can see the bases of what must have been four pillars, and in the middle once stood the tomb of Sultan Sikandar Shah himself. Although Sikandar Shah had a mostly peaceful reign, the end of his reign was marked by an ugly battle of succession, leading to the son of his second wife rising up in rebellion against him and killing him in battle. This son then ascended the throne as Ghiasuddin Azam Shah and had his father buried here. The ladies gallery is held up by 18 pillars, each some 6 feet high.

Behind the ladies gallery. Sikandar Shah's tomb stood on the left. Note hanging flower motif on the right and temple doorframes

Adina Masjid's collapsed Southern section
To the South of the entrance gate, lies Adina’s impressive nave and enormous central mihrab. The nave is a feature unique to mosques of this period and one can see a similar nave in several of the mosques in Gauda, including the Gunamanta Masjid (for more on the mosques of Gauda, click here). The nave measures 64 feet by 33 feet, and although its roof has collapsed, it seems apparent that it once had a barrel vault, similar to Gunamanta Masjid. The gigantic central mihrab is the height of a 2 storey modern building, and on its right side is the raised pulpit, where the Imam would be seated during prayers. This is called a “minbar”. Beyond the nave on the South, and the ladies gallery on the North, are the long prayer halls of Adina. These are divided into 5 aisles, by stone pillars which have collapsed, along with the roof and domes. Only some of the domes above the Northern prayer hall now remain. If you look carefully at the mihrabs in the Northern section, you will find elements that could not possibly belong in a mosque, such as figures of dancing girls. These offer some clues about the origins of Adina Masjid.

View from the ladies gallery. Note extensive terracotta ornamentation on the right wall. The Minbar is visible on the left
 Also of note are the extensive and exquisite terracotta decorations seen in Adina. The wall above the Western entrance contains some beautiful examples of terracotta niches created by artists long before Bengal’s terracotta temples became famous. The mosque is built using a combination of brick and stone, and in many places, the brick wall has stone cladding. Among the decorations is a unique hanging lamp and flower motif, which I have only seen in mosques from this period. Similar decorations can be seen in the mosque and dargah of Zafar Khan Ghazi in Tribeni in the Hooghly district. This particular motif is said to have been an adaptation of Hindu and Buddhist art.

Adina Masjid's Southern wall. Note temple doorframes in the distance





WAS ADINA A HINDU TEMPLE?

Non-Islamic figures on Adina Masjid's walls. But are they Hindu or Buddhist?
It is difficult to answer this question with a simple yes or no. But it seems quite apparent that Adina was built using elements from a previous, non-Islamic structure. Some of these elements appear to be Hindu, while others appear to be Buddhist. But if the Sultan ordered temples and stupas to be destroyed in order to raise Adina, or whether they used stones from temples that were already ruined, one cannot say for certain. There is a legend that the name Adina comes from the word “Adinath” and that this was the site of a Hindu temple to Lord Vishnu, but this is little more than legend. If anything, it seems that stones from multiple structures have been used to create Adina.

Adina Masjid - temple doorframe detail
The first clues are offered by the faces carved in the stone on the outer side of the Western wall of the mosque. I noticed them as I was entering the mosque through ASI’s entrance to the complex, at the South West corner. These faces, along with what looks like part of a repeating pattern of garlands, still have me foxed. I have never seen anything similar on any Hindu temple in Bengal. So could these have come from a Buddhist structure? Undeniably Hindu is the figure of Ganesha, along with a female figure in a dancing pose that some say is Saraswati. They could not have been part of a mosque originally simply because Islam forbids both idol worship and portrayal of living beings. That is why in the vast majority of mosques, the decorative patterns are geometric. The Mughals bent this rule a little by using floral and vegetal patterns on their mosques, but nothing more.

Adina Masjid - possibly flying Vidyadhari figures
Also from temples are the many doorframes in the Adina Masjid. It is quite simple to spot them once you understand a basic architectural difference. Gateways of Islamic structures are generally arched. Arches only show up in Hindu architecture after the Islamic invasion, and the overwhelming majority of pre-Islamic Hindu architecture contains non-arched, straight doorways. For example, you will find arches on the terracotta temples of Bishnupur (15th century or younger), but not in the 8th century stone temple in Barakar in Burdwan. On the temple doorways used in Adina are what look like miniature thrones. These must have contained Hindu deities at some point, but most of them have been carefully chiselled off, although the masons seem to have missed a few here and there. Dancing girls can also be found in the mihrabs on the Northern prayer hall of the mosque and it is clear that a half-hearted attempt has been made to scrape them off. Various other non-Islamic religious figures and even fragments of Shiva “lingas” may also be found if one is looking for them.

More Hindu figurines on Adina's wall. Note Ganesha on the right.





EKLAKHI MAUSOLEUM

Eklakhi Mausoleum, Eastern face
2 km to the Southwest of Adina Masjid lies the Eklakhi Mausoleum. While it is commonly referred to as the Eklakhi Mosque, as soon as you enter, it becomes clear that this is not a mosque. There is no mihrab to indicate the direction of the Kaaba, and smack in the centre of the room are three large tombs. There is some debate about whose tombs these are, but it seems most likely that these are the tombs of Raja Ganesha’s son Jalaluddin (Jadu before conversion), his wife, and child. The mausoleum is named Eklakhi because it seems one lakh or 100,000 rupees was spent in its construction (ek = 1, lakh = 100,000).

Terracotta decoration on Eklakhi Mausoleum
The Eklakhi Mausoleum was built between 1412 and 1415 and measures roughly 78 feet by 74 feet, with a single dome measuring 45 feet in diameter. Early accounts mention traces of enamelled bricks on the mausoleum, but no traces of this are visible today. But what is especially noteworthy about Eklakhi is the intricate terracotta found all over its walls. Even in a damaged state, it is still stunning. Here too, one can see the hanging lamp and flower motif that was seen on the walls of Adina. Eklakhi’s main entrance gateway faces the Southeast, and the door is quite obviously from a temple. Visible on the upper part of the doorframe is a miniature throne with an idol of the Hindu deity Lord Ganesha. An attempt has obviously been made to scrape it off.

Eklakhi Mausoleum's temple doorframe. Inset - Hindu deity atop doorframe. Possibly Ganesha?





QUTUB SHAHI MOSQUE OR SONA MASJID

Qutub Shahi Masjid. Eastern face
On the Western side of the Eklakhi Mausoleum, a recently paved path leads visitors through a village and straight to the Qutub Shahi Masjid, which is also, confusingly, called the Sona Masjid. That would mean that there are 3 Sona Masjids in this area. There is the Boro Sona Masjid of Gauda, the Chhoto Sona Masjid of Gauda, now in Bangladesh, and then there is this. The Qutub Shahi Masjid is named after the Muslim saint Hazrat Noor Qutub-ul-Alam, who is buried in Pandua. The mosque was built by his descendant Mohammed-al-Khalidi in 990 as per the Hijri calendar, which corresponds to 1582 C.E.

Interiors of Qutub Shahi Masjid. The rocks on the left were once part of large doorframe
The mosque measures roughly 82 feet by 37 feet and is built of brick and stone. The brick roof has collapsed long back, however, the four stone pillars remain standing. The 5 mihrabs in the western wall contain the hanging lamp motif which is also seen in the Adina Masjid and Eklakhi Mausoleum. There is also a stone “minbar” or pulpit for the Imam, which is similar in appearance to the one in Adina, but is considerably smaller. Being a pre-Mughal mosque, like the mosques of Gauda, the Qutub Shahi Masjid is also a short, squat affair. The graceful domes and fluted minarets one associates with mosques today are not present here. In fact, it seems like the Qutub Shahi Masjid never had minarets.

Qutub Shahi Masjid entrance





SALAMI DARWAZA, BADI DARGAH AND CHHOTI DARGAH

Salami Darwaza - Western face
The Salami Darwaza (no connection to salami sandwiches, salami here means salute), was the gateway to the Dargah of Sheikh Shah Jalaluddin Tabrizi. The original gateway was probably in a different architectural style, but it was reconstructed in the Bangla “do-chala” style by the caretakers of the dargah. On the gate’s Western side is a raised platform. But who was Sheikh Shah Jalaluddin Tabrizi?

Inside the Badi Dargah
Born in Tabriz in Iran, Sheikh Shah Jalaluddin Tabrizi was a Sufi saint who came to Delhi during the reign of Iltutmish, and arrived in Bengal during the last Hindu king Lakshmansena’s time. Lakshmansena is said to have had a liberal outlook, and permitted the Sheikh to settle in Pandua and preach to the people of the area. The Sheikh is said to have performed many miracles and also predicted the Turkic invasion that was soon to come. His dargah is believed to have been constructed around 1342 by Sultan Alauddin Ali Shah and various other buildings have been added to it over time. But, strangely, his grave still cannot be located. His dargah today consists of a Jami Masjid, a bhandarkhana or store room, a small room to entertain visitors known as the Lakshmanseni Dalan, and a tandoorkhana or kitchen. This is known as the Badi Dargah or Larger Dargah, to distinguish it from the Chhoti Dargah or Smaller Dargah, which stands 1 km further east on the Pandua road which leads to NH 34.

Inside Chhoti Dargah
The Chhoti Dargah is associated with another Muslim saint, Hazrat Noor Qutub-ul-Alam (of Qutub Shahi Masjid fame). The dargah was built 1427, 12 years after the death of the saint. A large number of people are buried here, including other religious figures and even soldiers who were followers of the saint. I would have liked to spend more time exploring these two dargahs, however, after two days of boiling heat, the skies opened up and sent forth torrents of icy water, forcing me to beat a hasty retreat. My camera is supposed to be weather sealed, but I did not feel like testing it. I had asked my driver to keep the car ac off all day, because I didn’t want my camera fogging over. With no fear of that now, I asked for the ac to be turned on full blast and sat back to enjoy the ride back to the Malda Tourist Lodge where the helpful manager had a hot meal waiting for me. This was the end of our weekend in Malda, and my mother, who had accompanied me, was understandably a little sad. We talked about all we had seen, and wondered how different this part of the world was 600 years ago. But the trip ended with the one question that always brings a smile to my face. “Where shall we go next”?


-          By Deepanjan Ghosh


TRAVEL TIPS

  • A trip to Pandua is usually combined with a trip to Gauda. For more details about that, read my earlier post on Gauda, here.
  • 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.
  • There are no entrance charges for any monument at Pandua, cheapskates rejoice! However, since many of these monuments are active Islamic sites, entrance may be restricted during specific festivals.
  • Best time to visit Pandua – 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, but the heat almost killed me. But evenings in Malda, in March are pleasant and cool.

GPS LOCATIONS OF MONUMENTS IN PANDUA

ADINA MASJID - 25°09'08.6"N 88°09'52.1"E
EKLAKHI MAUSOLEUM - 25°08'18.9"N 88°09'15.7"E
QUTUB SHAHI MASJID - 25°08'18.9"N 88°09'11.8"E
SALAMI DARWAZA - 25°08'06.5"N 88°09'06.4"E



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
Chakrborty, Ranjan (ed) – Dictionary of Historical Places: Bengal 1757 – 1947

Sengupta, Nitish – Land of Two Rivers
Post a Comment