Bangladesh, a land of natural greenery, also holds architectural heritage. Its culture and heritage are influenced by people’s religion, ethnic roots, thoughts and dreams, imagination, and love of life and nature. Over time, it has undergone many diverse rulers, which affected the architectural style back then, especially in mosques, temples, and palaces. The country’s unique geographic location, the wealth of natural splendour, has drawn merchants, travellers, and religious preachers worldwide to come and settle here throughout its history. Such ongoing encounters with people from various civilizations and ethnic backgrounds have helped Bangladesh enrich its society and civilization while preserving its distinctive indigenous elements. As a result, Bangladesh now has a diverse and vibrant heritage that is enjoyed and celebrated.
1. Bajra Shahi Mosque, Noakhali
The Bajra Shahi Mosque, also known as the Taj Mahal of Bengal by locals, is one of Bangladesh’s most beautiful heritage Mosque complexes. It can be seen from the Dhaka-Noakhali Highway due to its monumental scale and sophistication. It is named after the village of Bajra, which is located on the west bank of a large dead tank that is now used as a paddy field in the Begumganj Upazila of the Noakhali district.
Due to a series of repair works and recent façade refurbishment, this mosque appears to be in good condition. It was built during the reign of Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah by zamindar Aman Ullah. The architect Amanullah, his brother Sanaullah, and their mother are buried in the mosque enclosure’s southeast corner.
Other Persian inscriptions indicate that it was extensively restored in the Bengali year 1318-35 by Ali Ahmed. The name of the chief mason is also inscribed in Bengali on the outside of the southern wall. The mosque is situated on the western side of a raised platform surrounded by a low boundary wall and a magnificent east gate.
This stunning gateway of this heritage Mosque is approached from the ground level by a magnificent staircase and has standing or resting spaces for guards on the structure’s southern and northern sides. A single flight of stairs from the north leads to the upper floor, or the pillared pavilion used for azan and is covered by a dome.
The prayer hall has an oblong plan that measures 15.77m by 7.54m externally and is surrounded by a 1.28m thick brick wall. Three alcove archways lead into the prayer hall from the eastern side, and the other two walls each have one pointed-arch opening. All of the opening archways are framed by recessed wall panels and surrounded by octagonal turrets with a pinnacle on top.
Initially, the exterior surfaces were plastered with lime and powdered brick mortar. However, during the mosque’s most recent renovation, only the frontal façade and three domes were lavishly ornamented with Chinni-tikri (Chinese ceramics), a popular surface treatment material during the colonial period.
2. Shat Gombuj Mosque, Bagerhat
The Shat Gambuj mosque is Bengal’s most splendid and largest enclosed type heritage Mosque. Although its construction’s exact date is unknown, it is thought to be the Great Congregational Mosque of Khan Jahan Ali, which was constructed in Bagerhat during his lifetime in the early 15th century.
The name ‘Shat Gombuj,’ or ‘sixty domes,’ is deceptive: it has 81 domes: 70 circular domes on the prayer hall, seven chauchala domes on the central aisle, and four domes on the corner towers. The mosque has an oblong-shaped prayer hall that measures 48.95 m by 32.25 m on the outside and is surrounded by a 2.43 m thick brick wall. Internally, the hall is divided into seven bays and eleven aisles. The central aisle is both broader and taller than the side aisles.
The eastern wall has a row of eleven pointed-arch openings, while the side walls each have seven. The central opening space on each side is wider than the others and served as the entranceway, while the remaining six openings on either side were most likely closed with a perforated brick. Only the central mihrab niche has a multifoil arch, while the others have two-centred pointed arches supported on two sides by pilasters. Instead of a mihrab niche, the central mihrab niche’s right aisle has an off-centred arched doorway.
The presence of an entrance adjacent to the central mihrab niche in the qibla wall indicates that Khan Jahan Ali’s residence was on the mosque’s west or north-west side. This heritage mosque’s Chauchala vault is the earliest example of converting a rural bamboo-roof into a vaulted masonry roof. The hut’s parallel bamboo rafters and crossbars are also imitated from inside. The cornice sloped down towards the corner from the top of the central arched opening’s triangular pediment. The cornices on the opposite sides are usually curved.
3. Atiya mosque, Tangail
The Atiya Mosque is located in the Tangail district’s Delduar Upajilla village of Atiya, about six kilometres south of the district headquarters. Sayeed Khan Panni, son of Baizid Khan Panni, built the heritage mosque in 1019 AH (1610-1611 AD) during Emperor Jahangir’s reign in honour of Shah Baba Kashmiri.
On the mosque’s western side, the builder also excavated a large tank. Atiya rose to prominence following the arrival of a great saint, Shah Baba Kashmiri, who spread Islam in this region of Bengal. A replica of the inscription, now displayed above the mosque’s central doorway, confirms that it was built in 1018 AH (1609 AD). It is situated on the Louhajong River’s east bank.
The mosque is modest in size, measuring 18.29m x 12.19m on the outside and 2.23m thick on the inside. This heritage mosque has a rectangular plan which is made of a square single-domed prayer hall and an attached rectangular bay on the eastern side covered with three smaller domes. The east facade features three arched entrances, with the middle one being slightly wider than the others. The arches are four-centred in shape. Three smaller doorways lead from the hallway to the main prayer chamber.
The mosque has two other entrances, one on each of the south and north sides. Massive octagonal towers mark the four outer corners, with horizontal mouldings at regular intervals. The string courses split the buildings into stages, which climb to the roof and are crowned by flat fluted cupolas with lotus and kalasa finials. The mosque’s eastern and northern facades deserve special mention for their exquisite surface decoration, which consists of terracotta and carved bricks with superb indigenous motifs.
The facade comprises intricate homogeneous terracotta panels with floral designs, rosettes, and geometric patterns. The eastern facade is adorned with numerous small rectangular terracotta panels, a feature seen in Gaur’s mosques from the early 16th century. The curvilinear cornice is the most striking feature of the mosque, a fully indigenous feature of Bengal architecture that can be traced back to simple thatched huts.
4. Khan Mohammad Mridha Mosque, Dhaka
It was founded during the reign of Farrukh Siyar, the Deputy Governor of Dhaka, by a nobleman named Khan Muhammad Mirza. Based on the Persian inscriptions on the central archway and over the central mihrab, the mosque was constructed between 1704 and 1705 AD. The mosque was most likely built on the orders of Qazi Ibadullah, the chief Qazi of Dhaka. This mosque is about 500 meters west of the Lalbagh Fort.
Khan Mohammad Mrida mosque is like any other conventional Bengali heritage Mosque, with the central dome wider than the other two. The mosque is a rectangle 49’10” x 23’5″ on the outside and an oblong 39’8″ x 12’8″ on the inside. The interior is divided into three equal bays and is roofed by three fluted, bulbous domes resting on drums.
By dividing each dome into a half-dome and placing it on a pendentive, the proportionately smaller lateral domes are placed on equal size bays. The Khan Mohammad Mridha Mosque is a traditional Bengali platform mosque, with three domes sitting on an elevated rectangular platform. The platform rises 16′-6″ above ground. The platform in this building is square, with parapets decorated with betel leaf motifs.
The vast arched cells beneath the 5.8 meter-high platform were used for living purposes and were most likely meant to be a madrasa. The space beneath the platform was designed with a single bay of vaulted rooms accessible from a vaulted passageway on all sides except the east. The platform of this heritage mosque is reached through a 25-step straight flight of stairs on the east, which leads to a double-arched doorway aligned with the mosque’s central bay.
5. Kusumba Mosque, Naogaon
The mosque is named after the village of Kusumba, located on the west bank of the Atrai River in the Manda Upazila of Naogaon district. It is located within a fortified enclosure with a massive gateway and standing areas for guards. This heritage Mosque was founded during the Afghan rule in Bengal during one of the last Suri rulers, Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah, by one Sulaiman, who was most likely a high-ranking official.
It was constructed during the Suri reign, it is uninfluenced by the earlier Suri architecture of North India and is firmly rooted in the Bengal style. The brick structure, gently curved cornice, and engaged octagonal corner towers are typical. The mosque, which Bangladesh’s Department of Archaeology now protects, was severely damaged during the 1897 earthquake. Although the building’s primary fabric is brick, the entire exterior walls and the interior walls up to the pendentives’ arches are stone-faced.
Stone is used for the columns, platform, floor, and perforated side screens. The mosque is rectangular in shape, with three bays and two aisles, three entrances on the east side and two on the north and south sides. The mihrabs of this heritage Mosque are intricately carved in stone. Intricately carved stone pillars support cusped bends with kalasa (water pot) motifs. On the mihrab frames, clusters of grapes and vines curve almost serpentine.
The platform edge is decorated with grapevines, and rosettes can be found on the arches’ spandrels that support the platform and the mihrab wall. The stone used for the exterior facing is coarse in texture and carved in shallow relief.
Mouldings are the most noticeable decorative feature on the exterior. They split the walls into upper and lower portions, run along the curved cornice, around the corner towers, in a straight line beneath the cornice, and frame the rectangular panels on the east, south, and north walls. Small kalasa and rosette motifs adorn the spandrels of the central entrance arch. Screened windows can be found on the north and south sides. The mosque is labelled as “Black Gem of Bengal”.