World Heritage Site on verge of decline
Time has not been kind to the Rezakhoda Mosque, one of the historic relics from the group of monuments in Bagerhat, declared as World Heritage by Unesco in 1985. Yet, the apathy of the Department of Archaeology is pushing the historic ruins into further state of decay.
Khoda mosque, situated at Sundorghona village, about five kilometres away from Bagerhat town, was built in the 15th century in the ancient city of Khilafatbad, founded by the Tughlaq ruler Khan Jahan.
Visiting the site in early August, this correspondent found the ruins of Rezakhoda covered in moss and undergrowth. Some portions of the archaeological asset also appeared to be missing.
According to the website of the Department of Archaeology updated on July 13, 2015, the remnants of the ancient mosque include four walls, three mihrabs and some broken stone pillars.
“Only the four walls and three mihrabs survive upto certain height,” the website states.
However, this correspondent saw only two walls and one mihrab. The brick pilasters and terracotta decorations on the sole mihrab is still visible, a residual reminder of the mosque’s unique architecture.
Within the periphery of the ruins, a tin-roofed building with brick pillars and a cemented floor has been built. Some of the ancient pillars also support a portion of the tin-roof.
The shed, built 50 years ago, is used for prayers by locals. Md Liakat Ali, 68, secretary of the tin- roofed mosque said Muslims from far away come to offer prayer at the Rezakhoda mosque but they get disappointed seeing its dilapidated condition.
The Department of Archaeology had cleared the moss and did some repair work some eight to 10 years ago, he claimed.
“The condition of the tin-shed mosque is not good either. Muslims pray here under bad weather condition such as rain and heat. In this situation, the Rezakhoda mosque should be repaired anyway by the department of the archaeology,” he demanded.
Hashem Beg, 88, from Sundarghona village, said the archaeology department has not been repairing this mosque for a long time.
“Even if we want to renovate and expand the mosque locally, the law will not permit so,” he added.
According to Unesco website, the Department of Archaeology should ensure that activities which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property such as buildings or infrastructure cannot be constructed within or close to the property, and no one can alter or deface monuments.
When asked if construction within the periphery of a monument is allowed under the country’s law Golam Ferdous, custodian of the Bagerhat Archaeology Department on August 14th, said, “As per the Antiquity Act, this is definitely illegal.”
According to the Act, distortion, destruction, change, augmentation or expansion of any portion of any monument is punishable by law, he observed.
“Considering religious sensitivity and with approval from proper authority, the Masjid committee can apply to the Department of Archaeology for construction of a temporary shed, an alternative to facilitate prayers by local Muslims,” he said.
“I have not heard if they had applied to the authority in writing or orally,” he said about the tin-roofed shed built by locals.
Regarding the condition of the remnants, he said, “I don’t know if there were supposed to be three mihrabs.”
“I have not heard of any mihrab that broke down,” he added also ascribing the oversight in maintenance to lack of workers.
The custodian claimed that Shait Gambuj Mosque, one of the prominent relics of the World Heritage site, alone requires constant supervision of 28 people.
He also informed that a decision has been taken to renovate and preserve the 18 coastal structures listed in the World Heritage, including the Rezakhoda mosque.
“In France and Japan, historical structures are reconstructed based on similar architectural monuments of the same region from the same era,” he said, adding they will follow that principle during reconstruction.