Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mughal Katras (CaravanSarai)


Barokatra octagonal central chamber;

Choto katra entrance gate (pic credit: national daily)

katra ruins- inside view

Baro katra old sketch

Boro katra present view

Boro Katra-
Charles D'Oyly's etching of 1823

Boro katra south view-
photo taken 1870
During Mughal rule in Dhaka two magnificient ‘Katras’ were built. ‘Katra/ katara’ in Arabic and Persian means Caravan (Karwan) Sarai or simply a ‘Sarai’. A typical Sarai has a courtyard surrounded by an arched veranda. Beyond the veranda are the rooms where the passersby would take shelter during travel from one place to another. The horses and camels with carts and articles for journey were kept in the courtyard. In a Katra there were arrangements for sleeping rooms, kitchen, dining space, lavatories, mosque and even a hospital for the passersby. Endowments (waqf) estates at private and public initiatives were created for the maintenance and running of a Saraikhana.

Boro (great) Katra: Situated to the south of Chawk Bazar on the north bank of Buriganga. Emperor Shahjahan’s son Shah Shuja’s built this Katra in (1643-46) and planned to make it his palace. The Katra enclosed a quadrangular courtyard with 22 rooms on all of its four sides. Two gateways were erected, one each on the north and south. The ruins consist of an edifice having a river frontage. The southern wing of the structure was planned on a grand scale with an elaborate three-storeyed gate containing an octagonal central chamber. Remaining portion was two-storeyed and encased by projected octagonal towers. The gateway structure is rectangular with lofty height and its front is projected towards the river. A Persian stone engraving confirms that Shah Shuja gave the building to Mir Abul Qasim to be used as a Kätra on the condition that the officials in charge of the endowments (waqf) should not take any rent from any destitute people staying within it. Twenty-two shops were endowed as waqf (donation) to carry the expenses of the Bara Katra. Following the traditional pattern of the caravan-sarai of Central Asia, the Bara Katra was highly fortified and was embellished with all the features of the imperial Mughal style.

Choto (small) Katra: Subehdar Shayesta Khan constructed the ‘Choto Katra’ in 1663. He himself was an architect and strong leadership ran in his blood. His rule made Dhaka a city of fortune and prosperity. The Katra is rectangular in plan: 101m x 92m. There are two gateways, one to the north and the other to the south. It’s believed that the Katra was built to accommodate some officials and the Subehdar’s expanding family. Inside, there is a tomb of Champa Bibi, but there is no correct history regarding her identity. There was a small mosque within its enclosure which has now disappeared. Choto Katra is situated about 200 yards east of the Boro (great) Kätra. This is slightly smaller than the Boro Katra but is similar in plan.

Dhaka became prominent as a provincial capital of the Mughal empire in the 17th century and was a major centre of trade, particularly in fine ‘muslins’. Its history is ancient. It was brought under Islamic rule by the 13th century, first by the Delhi Sultanate then by the independent sultans of Bengal, after which it was taken by the Mughals in 1608. In the 18th century Dhaka was eclipsed by Murshidabad under the Nawabs of Bengal. When the fortune of Nawab Siraj-ud-dowla was reversed in the battle of Palashi (Plassey) at the hand of Robert Clive (1725-1774) on 23 June 1757, all territories held by Nawabs were brought under British East India Company.

During British rule, Calcutta's (Kolkata) importance grew and Dhaka’s population declined drastically. The magnificient edifices built by the Mughals were neglected and allowed to decay. British rule had led swiftly to the deterioration in the aesthetic charms that had given the city, in Mughal times, a distinctive appearance. [also read Dhaka: Moghul town to Metropolis]

2 comments:

Mamunur said...

These pictures are magical. If you look at them really slow and concentrate, it will take you back in time. Okay, I guess I am being a bit crazy here. Just try it 

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