Photos: Akib Abdullah
Around the early 1900's, Hrishikesh Das became one of the prominent zamindars in Dhaka. He had a knack for luxury, and was often complimented by his friends for his houses around the area which is now Tanti Bazar. The problem was that he was of a low caste. Around that time, Baldha Garden was where all the aristocrats used to mingle. It became an important part of the social life of the city's wealthier Hindu residents as most of the Jalsas (Parties) were held there. It is said that while attending one of the parties, Hrishikesh was insulted for being of a lower caste. Rumour has it that the insult came from Narendra Narayan Roy Chaudhury, landlord of the Estate of Baldha and creator of Baldha Garden. This offended Hrishikesh Das and he decided to create his own garden which would outshine the Baldha. Thus, he built one of the most prominent heritage sites in Dhaka, popularly known as the Rose Garden.
Situated on K.M. Das Lane in Tikatuly of Old Dhaka, Rose Garden was built just to host parties by Hrishikesh Das. Though the central piece of the garden is an elegant building, it was not created as a residence. It was used for entertainment purposes, mostly musical performances. Hrishikesh was living an extravagant lifestyle and soon became bankrupt. This led him to sell the Rose Garden to Khan Bahadur Kazi Abdur Rashid, a zamindar and businessman in 1936. Rashid later renamed the place to 'Rashid Manzil'.
This historical establishment also shares a very important political account of our country. Around 1940's, Rashid Manzil became a hub for politicians. Many of the country's leaders used to gather there, to discuss political issues. In 1949, while experiencing neglect from the West Pakistani government, a group of Bengali nationalists from East Pakistan broke away from the Muslim League which was then Pakistan's dominant political party. These nationalists in a meeting at Rashid Manzil came to a decision to create All Pakistan Awami Muslim League. The party was formed to defend the rights of masses in Pakistan against the powerful primitive formation led by the Muslim League. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani and Shamsul Huq were elected the first President and General Secretary of the party respectively, Ataur Rahman Khan was elected the Vice President while Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad and A K Rafiqul Hussain were elected the party's first Joint Secretaries. The party is now known as Awami League. Rose Garden witnessed the creation of the biggest political party of Bangladesh.
The place is still owned by the Rashid Family. Around 1960's, the place was rented out to Bengal Studios and Motion Pictures. In no time it became an admired spot for many movies which evolved around the stories of kings and zamindars. The first film which was shot here was 'Harano Din'. Since then, shooting of films and television dramas still take place in this location, making it one of the more popular studios of Dhaka. It is also quite popular as an afternoon refreshment spot. “Most of the time the place caters as a set for TV dramas and movies. We also started to give it for rent for weddings and other functions as well,” says Mohammad Anis, Manager of Rose Garden.
The design of this establishment is no doubt one of the greatest in Dhaka, if not Bangladesh. With big Greek style domes, various garden statues and decorations, cascades, ponds, decorative windows, tall crystal chandeliers, a huge garden of various species of roses and above all luscious landscape makes Rose Garden a palace of incredible architecture. “All the openings are decorated in complex geometric pattern, foliage and animal outlines in wood, coloured Belgian glass and iron,” says Anis. “There is a huge marble-floor ball room upstairs. The ceiling of it is floral designed done with green mirrors. There is a intricately designed spiral staircase in front of the ballroom, leading to the roof.”
The place is surrounded with high walls. The building is about 45 feet in height and is nearly 7,000 square feet in area. Except for the face of the building, all other sides are rather simple. A major part of the building seemed to be of pink colour. However, an age-old light ash shade hangs over it now.
As days go by and we move towards a more modern era, Rose Garden still stands with its head held high, a witness to years of history. This establishment serves as one of the perfect places where we can be one with our roots in the midst of city life.
* Some of the information was gathered from the book Charsho Bachhar Dhore, compiled by Alauddin Al Mamun.