Almost lost amid negligence and encroachment, it is hard to believe, Chhoto Katra was one of the places from where Mughal Subedar Shaista Khan ruled Bengal. Chhoto Katra was built in 1670 by Shaista Khan on the bank of the Buriganga.
According to different historic sources, it was built as a roadside inn (Shoraikhana) and administrative office for the Mughal officials and travellers.
The massive architecture consists of two gateways in the North and South. The three-storied Southern gateway served as the main entrance. In between these two gates, is a tomb of one Champa Bibi. Historians have tried to find out more but her identity remains a mystery.
“All my life I have heard about Champa Bibi’s Mazar, but neither my father nor I can exactly say who she was. I heard she was Shaista Khan’s mistress while some say she was his wife,” says Abdur Rahim, an old Dhaka resident.
Now this historic Mughal architecture is being taken over by some land grabbers. It is impossible to imagine that anywhere else in the world one would find commercial structures being built on an archaeological site defying the Antiquities Act of 1968.
Though the Antiquities Act has given protection to the structure RAJUK’s detail area plan does not mark it as a special archaeological zone.
“New structures are built just beside Chhoto Katra. When we informed RAJUK about this construction it was one storied and RAJUK pulled down some of the new construction’s columns. I wonder, if they bulldozed the columns under Antiquities Act, then how the owner could have completed the whole building?” asks Architect Taimur Islam, CEO of Urban Study Group, an organisation that campaigns for the conservation of architectural and urban heritage of old Dhaka.
Taimur also adds that according to the Act, 200-meter from the river and 250-meter from the monument is a protected zone. And because of these encroachments the area connecting Chhoto Katra and the river cannot be found anymore.
Surrounded by numerous shops and factories, the wide walls of Chhoto Katra have been encroached on by high rise buildings. Even though there is no legal owner, construction continues over Chhoto Katra. A teenage worker of Rabeya Toy on the upper floor of Katra says, “We are using this place for a long time and we live here too.”
The grand gateways including the whole architecture have been covered with illegal structures. The two gateways are still standing tall in the middle of the busy, narrow, congested lanes. The delicate ornamentations of these colossal gateways are long gone; instead, they are now adorned with political campaigns or some posters. Modern day aluminum framed windows on the body of a Mughal monument will surely jar the sensibilities of heritage lovers, but that is how the people, who now occupy these heritage sites, have altered them.
Rakhi Roy, regional director of the Department of Archaeology says that they informed RAJUK about the ongoing encroachment but RAJUK didn’t take any steps. She adds, “From our part we really want to preserve the site. But we do not have any magistrate power to stop this destruction. RAJUK have authority to take immediate action but they didn’t do anything to stop it.”
According to the Department of Archaeology, over the course of time the local community has altered and extended the Katras according to their needs resulting in the present derelict condition. Department of Archaeology formed a committee working on this project till 2012 set a value of Tk 410 million for this asset. Since the recovery of the site involves a large amount of money allocation for the project was halted. Then again a new committee was formed and it failed too because of budget limitations.
Rakhi Roy says, “It requires manpower and a lot of money. And we have no budget. Moreover, it was never easy on our part to take the requisition and have them officially documented as an archaeological site in government records as local people have taken over them since the British period.”
May be within few years Chhoto Katra will be turned into a quest for history enthusiasts and archeologists found only in the pages of history. We might need the help of archaeological tools too, to dig out the buried history and artifacts of Chhoto Katra.