Dhaka (1608-1757) / Bara Katra
Mughal nobilities built mosques, katras, palaces and forts in establishing their power in Dhaka. Living along the Buriganga river was especially the most prized residential area. The nobles maintained garden houses within the heavily populated part of the city but segregated themselves from the lower class. These spacious houses built within large gardens were primarily meant for recreation, festivity and reception1.
In particular, the Bara Katra is one of the important historic remains from the Mughal period that still exists in Dhaka today. It was built between 1644-1646AD to serve as the official residence of the Mughal prince Shah Shuja. The katra is situated next to the Buriganga river and south of Chowk Bazaar. The Katras were built as the resting-place (inn) for the caravan. However, Shah Suja was recalled to Delhi soon after the palace was built, and was left in care to his agent. The palace was transformed into shops and hostel for travelers and the homeless2.
The building is of a grand scale with features of imperial Mughal architecture. The structure consists of a quadrangular courtyard enclosed by two storied rooms at its four sides that ended with two octagonal turrets, and two three-storey gates built in the northern and southern wing. The entrance at the southern wing along the riverbank provided access to the courtyard. The wing facing the riverside was particularly well decorated, acting as the dominating part of the building. A tall alcove rising up to the second story reduces the mass of this projection. Its underside is decorated with plastered network. At the angle can be seen slender tall minarets and the wall surface in between is relieved with plastered panels showing a variety of forms including four-centered, cusped, horse-shoe and flat arches.” 2 In 1822 Charles D’oyele mentioned that local poor people had occupied the building.
The palatial building has been deteriorating due to lack of management of heritage sites in Dhaka. More than half of the building was destroyed over time. Different parts of the property is now used for various purposes – the south and west wing belongs to the state and the rest of the part is possessed by different parties for shops, residences, and warehouses. The Bangladeshi government has been unable to take charge of the monument owing to litigation and resistance from its present owners. The owners have made several alterations to the original character of the building and have also started construction of a new multi-storeyed building in the area3.
Urban sprawl and land encroachment due to urbanization has affected the monument. Settlements are built right next to it, and slums are built within and on top of the structure due to the lack of space in Dhaka city. The riverbank has also shifted away due to land reclamation. In the present situation the Bara Katra as well as many other monuments have become deteriorating memories of the past and are in neglect.
1 Nathan, M. (1936) Bahāristān-i-ghaybī. Translated by M.I. Borah. Narayani Handiqui Historical Institute.
2 Dani, A. H. (1962) Dacca – A Record of its Changing Fortune. Asiatic Society, Dhaka.
3 Hossain, M. S. A Report For Bara Katra.