Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mir Jumla’s great Cannon: “Bibi Mariam”

Pic 1: Photo taken in 1880 AD, Bibi Mariam cannon shifted from Swarighat to Chawkbazar, Dhaka

Swarighat- where cannon 'Bibi Mariam' was first laid by Subehdar Mir Jumla to ward off attacks by Magh and Arakan pirates - New Minaret of Chawkbazar Masjid visible behind, Barakatra almost extanct.

Pic 2: Cannon shifted from Sadarghat to DIT Avenue in 1957, DIT building and clock tower seen in the background

Pic 3: Osmani Uddyan at Ramna (old railway land), Dhaka opposite to City Corporation Ofiice

Pic 4: Bibi Mariam in Osmani Uddyan - resting place

The massive 17'-3" long cannon seated at the entrance of Osmani Uddyan, Ramna, Dhaka is known as Dhakar Kaman/Sadarghater KamanMir Jumla II (Mir Muhammad Said of Ispahan), the Mughal Subahdar (Governor) of Bengal in Dhaka (1660-1663) added two massive cannons to his armory namely Bibi Mariam and Kale Jamjam or Kale Khan. It is however not known as to exact date when these cannons were commissioned. Charles D'Oyly who was Collector of Dhaka between 1808 and 1811 believed that the cannons were built in Dhaka in the 17th century by local technicians under the guidance of Mughal engineers, as it was unlikely to move such heavy cannons on waterway from capital thousand miles away. 

Mir Jumla placed "Bibi Mariam" and "Kale Jamjam/Kale Khan" on both sides of Buriganga river- one in Swarighat in front of 'Barakatra' and the other on a sandbar near Jinjira- to defend Dhaka's waterfront from frequent attacks of the Mogh and Arakan pirates. Mir Jumla at the time of his conquest of Assam took these cannons to recover the erstwhile Mughal territory in Kamrup and invaded the Ahom kingdom in January 1662 and left it in January–February 1663. He was able to occupy Garhgaon, the Ahom capital.

After the fall of Mughal power and Nawabs of Bengal, during occupation of Bengal by the British raj in the 18th century, Kale Jamjam was devoured by river Buriganga (local people believed Kale jamjam came from heaven so went away, they revered the place till it was vanished.). Robert Lindsay, an young officer of the East India Company who visited Dhaka in 1776 saw these two cannons and mentioned them as Dhaka's main attraction despite Lalbagh Fort and the Katras. He blamed the authority for neglect and loss of cannon Kale jamjam in 1780. James Renell, the famous oceanographer who was posted at Dhaka in the later half of 18th century described Kale Jamjam as prominent and gorgeous of the two. Both of them measured the cannon Kale Jamjam in different times and the measurements were also identical except the length of cannon. Lindsay mentioned cannon as 36' long built on 14 pieces wrought iron tubes joined together with 3" thick iron rings, smothly hammered and finished, whereas, Renell mentioned the length as 22'-10" built with 12 iron tubes only. Maximum outer dia near rear of cannon was 3'-3" with 1'-3" barrel caliber (inside dia). Weight of cannon was 64,814 lbs capable of launching cannon balls of 1200 lbs each.

 In 1832, British Collector Mr. Walter salvaged Bibi Mariam from falling into river at Swarighat and placed at Chawkbazar, the main square. The photo (pic 1) of the cannon Bibi Mariam at Chawkbazar was taken by Johnston and Hoffman in 1880 . Bibi Mariam is 17’-6” long,  maximum outer diameter at rear is 2’-2” and at mouth 2-6” with 6"dia. barrel hole (inside dia).

In 1917, the director of National Museum of Dhaka made an attempt to shift the cannon from Chawkbazar, and at a later stage it was installed at Sadarghat river bank on masonry platform. Local people, especially the Hindu women used to pay tribute to this cannon by offering milk, flowers and vermilion (sindur) daily on the belief that fueled the practice of treating the cannon as an icon of power. After partition of India, in 1957, Dhaka Improvement Trust with the aid of Army engineers moved the cannon to crown the road junction of new DIT Avenue and Jinnah Avenue (now Bangabandhu Avenue) facing Gulistan cinema (pic 2). In late ‘80s the place became too crowded and the cannon was shifted to its present site in Osmani Uddyan (pic 3-4).

"Kale Jamjam" was sunk by river erosion somewhere between Swarighat and Jinjira. It is said with a hint of superstition that a roar is often heard by the neighbouhood coming from the direction of the river for its partner Bibi Mariam.

Also see Mir Jumla Gate (Ramna Gate).
Sadarghater Kamam


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