Photos: Prabir Das
Once upon a time, it used to mark the terminus of the largest city of undivided Bengal; currently it lies uncared for, surrounded by bushes, covered by posters, in a shadowy corner of Dhaka University campus. It is the Dhaka gate, popularly known as the gate of Mir Jumla, the Mughal governor of Bengal, renowned for securing Dhaka and its inhabitants from the raids of pirates and slave traders. From 17th to the beginning of the 19th century, this gate was the main entrance to Dhaka city which, at that time, flourished on the banks of the Buriganga River.
According to popular belief, during the reign of Mughal emperor, Aurangazeb, Dhaka, the capital of Bengal – a Mughal province much larger than current Bangladesh – started to expand rapidly. The then governor of Bengal, Mir Jumla, surveyed the city to build some fortresses and gates to protect its citizens from the Magh pirates. After determining the city area, Mir Jumla, in around 1663 AD, erected this gate to mark the northern entrance of Dhaka. Outside the gate, Mir Jumla established a beautiful garden and named it Bagh-e-Badshahi (the emperor's garden). Afterwards, the British rulers converted the garden into a race course and, after Bangladesh's independence, the race course was replaced by the Suhrawardi Uddyan, one of the most popular city parks of Dhaka.
However, after the fall of the Mughal Empire, Dhaka lost much of its splendour and the gate was almost ruined. According to archaeologists, British magistrate Charles Daws may have rebuilt the gate in 1825. The gate's structure reflects a European architectural style which is not common among Mughal structures situated in different parts of Dhaka.
An unknown photographer took a photo of this gate in 1875 – the only source that allows us to see the gate's original structure. The entire structure can be divided into three parts: two sliding walls and a central pillar. Each segment of the sliding walls is supported by several pillars supporting the structures. The pillars and the upper portion of the walls are decorated with cornice shaped designs and patterns. The pillars are also crowned with decorative spherical structures. The blurry, old photo taken in 1875, shows people riding on elephants through the gate, which proves that the gate was still functional during the British rule.
After partition, Dhaka, under the Pakistan government, underwent further expansions. It is said that the gate was further reconstructed to widen the roads during late 1950s. Currently, the sliding walls are covered with moss and algae as no one cares about this ancient structure. The central pillar is also used as a panel for sticking posters and advertisements. Although this monument has been enlisted as one of the protected sites by the government, there is no public service announcement to make people conscious of the structure's historical significance.
Another factor threatening the site's existence is that the proposed metro rail goes through it. As a result, the department of archaeology is not making any efforts to preserve it, according to its officials. On the other hand, although it is situated in Dhaka University campus, the university authority cannot take care of the structure as, by law, it has to be protected by the department of archaeology. It is very unfortunate that due to such bureaucratic complexity, one of Dhaka's most important monuments is decaying in front of our very eyes.
It is very hard to believe that such a significant heritage site of our city is being ruined at Dhaka University campus, the city's intellectual heart. Without any further delay, the government must take measures to preserve the structure, paying special attention to the possibility of irreparable damage during construction work around this heritage site.