Fort Aurangabad, popularly known as Lalbagh Fort, is located on the banks of the Buriganga River in the northwest of Dhaka. Like other Mughal fortresses, such forts of riverine Bengal were mainly built on the intersections of river routes to protect Bengal from the Arakanese and Portuguese pirates and invaders.
From the time of construction till date, various myths have revolved around the fort. Among all the historical stories and debates, it is widely believed that Lalbagh Fort stands as a monument of the unfulfilled dreams of Prince Muhammad Azam, beloved son of Emperor Aurangzeb. In the mid 17th century, he was serving as the Viceroy of Bengal and began the construction of the impressive Lalbagh Fort complex.
So from here the popular stories about the fort begin. Before the construction was finished, Prince Azam was called back to his father, to assist in the war against the Marathas. Legend says, after the Mughal prince departed, Shaista Khan continued with building the project, but upon the untimely death of his much-loved daughter Iran-Dukht, warmly known as Pari Bibi, the construction was stopped. Bibi was engaged to Prince Azam at the time of her death. Locals believe, after her demise, on every full moon, Pari Bibi comes down on the fort, sings, dances and moves around it.
Researchers and archeologists, however, denied such existence and termed it as a fantasy. Bokul Bose, one of the workers inside the fort garden, says, 'People believe and make up stories but in reality nothing of such things happen inside fort. I have been working here for more than 20 years and I heard thousands of such stories.' He jokes, 'the spirit of Pari Bibi has not come down on the earth yet.'
There are also legends and debates about the identity of Pari Bibi. Few researchers claim she was a nine-year-old Ahom princess. Mir Jumals Ahom's expedition brought a war adjoining the Garo hills. He took the daughter of Ahom Raja to compel him for the full execution of the previous peace treaty. Later, the emperor made her convert to Islam and married her off to prince Azam. However, overshadowing all the debates, people now believe that she was the loving daughter of Nawab Shaista Khan.
Pari Bibi's mausoleum is a unique Mughal architecture in Bangladesh. To embellish its interior, black basalt stone from Rajmahal, white marble from Jaipur and encaustic tiles of various colours were used. The square tomb stands on a stone platform raised and situated between the mosque and the audience hall on the central axis. Originally, there were water reservoirs with fountains on four sides of the tomb. The four corner turrets are crowned with cupolas. The near symmetrical front walls are decorated with usual plaster. The interior of the building has nine chambers. The central room is the mausoleum of Pari Bibi. This central room is covered by an octagonal-shaped dome, which has been overlaid in bronze.
The grand fort has a hidden passage, popularly known as Shurongo Path. Locals believe it was connected with other parts of river, but with the passage of time dust and sediments closed the cave. There are legends that to see the depth and find out the end of the cave, British government sent elephant with other different animals and they never came back from the cave. After the incident, British government closed the mouth forever.
The custodian of the Lalbagh fort, Sultana Zakia Bedowra tells the Star, “There are many popular beliefs and stories among the local people. But the dates of the artefacts do not match with them. They only remain as myths. Few years ago, we ran an excavation in the sight. We were excavating a 15 feet deep trench to see the foundation of the cave. But after the excavation ended, we did not find any convincing answer about the structure.”
Another noteworthy structure within the fort complex is the original audience room and bathing place of Nawab Shaista Khan. The bathing area currently serves as a home to the central museum of the fort. Unfortunately the fort does not have any Mughal artefacts remaining except the architecture itself. Artefacts such as guns, clothes, cutlery from the Mughal era, which visitors currently see at the museum, were collected from Pakistan and India. Sultana Zakia says, “When the department of archaeology began renovation of the fort, we collected these artefacts and displayed them in the museum.”
With many outstanding features the fort was made to provide a defensive enclosure for the protection of the palace buildings. Therefore archaeologist termed it a palace-fortress rather than a cordon fort. With many unfinished parts the fort is rectangular in shape. The south gate of the fort consists of a three-storied structure with slender minarets. The other gates are of more modest nature.
Charles D'oyle, a British collector, came to Dhaka around 1814. During his stay in Dhaka, D'oyle etched many pictures of the architecture in detail. His images are evidential that in those days Lalbagh fort was on the north of Buriganga. A long and high wall fortifies the south side with a number of octagonal fortresses projecting beyond it. There is a gateway on the southeast corner. On the north are two city gateways, one of which is opposite to the southern gate. The reason for the south side being fortified with bastions is mainly to protect the palace attacks from the river.
On the east of the Audience Hall there is a large tank. Though these structures have influences of the typical Mughal style, they have many unique features too.
Shaista Khan's poor successor leased the fort permanently to the British Administrators in 1844. The British government converted it to the police headquarters. They constructed a number of buildings within the fort, made additions and alterations to the Mughal buildings. In the process they completely disregarded the original design.
In 1974 the department of archaeology took over the land and decided to restore the fort. During the restoration the department removed the structures built by the British rulers. Many of the fort's parts are still occupied by local grabbers. A number of private buildings have encroached the western premises of the fort. The present eastern wall was a later addition and this proves that the fort was originally extended on the eastern side beyond this wall.