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History of Bangabhaban


The present site of Bangabhaban has a long history. An over-view of its history will provide us a picture of the development of the area in the past. In the Sultanate period (1338- 1538 AD), the area must have been a desolate part of the outskirts of the small town of Dhaka, forming a strip of highland in the north- eastern periphery of the town and a low-lying marshy land with water-bodies- the nucleus of the water- bodies of the Motijheel area – bordering it on the north and north – east. The high land stretched northward from the Thatari Bazar- Jaykali temple area and the low- lying swampy area that lay on its north and north- eastern sides. This desolate part of the town was the abode of a famous saint, Hazrat Shah Jalal Dakhini (R), who is known to have settled here and who died in 881 AH (1475- 76 AD). He was buried here along with his disciples. A single domed tomb building (having two sarcophagi inside), which lies to the north- east of the main gateway of Bangabhaban is ascribed to Shah Jalal Dakhini. An inscription fixed inside the tomb simply records the date 1271 AH (1854-55 AD) without recording the name of the saint or the purpose of the inscription. This date probably indicated the year in which the present tomb building was constructed. If that is the case, the existing tomb building is a later construction over the mortal remains of the 15th century saint, and the Nawabs of Dhaka, who came to occupy the area, may have been responsible for its construction. The existence of a mosque ,also ascribed to the same saint, in the area adjacent to the RAJUK ( Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripaksa) building (not very far from the tomb to the north) underscores the existence of the saint and his importance.
Shah Jalal Dakhini is known to have come to eastern Bengal from Gujarat in the reign of Sultan Shamsuddin Yusuf Shah (1474 – 81 AD) and settled in the Motijheel area. He, along with a few of his disciples, was lies buried in the tomb inside Bangabhaban area. Within the premises of the mosque (which lies beside the RAJUK Bhavan ) ascribed to Shah Jalal Dakhini, is the grave of another pre-Mughal saint, Hazrat Shah Niamatullah (R), who had the epithet of Butshekan/Butshekin (iconoclast). Tradition relates that this saint had settled and died here in the 16th century. Niamatullah came to Bengal along with Shah Kamal during the reign of Sultan Alauddin Hussain Shah (1494-1513 AD) and settled in the region of Sherpur. After the death of Shah Kamal he settled in Dilkhusha and died there. The completely rebuilt five-stepped masonry grave of Shah Niamatullah rests on a high platform besides the Dakhini mosque. The area was renovated by one of the members of the family of Nawab Nusrat Jang. A stone inscription, now preserved inside the mosque, but not fixed on its wall, isreported to have originally belonged to one of the graves. The date recorded in this inscription is 1206 AH (1791-92 AD), and it records the death of one Shaikh Karim Baksh.

From the presence of these saintly personalities in the area in the pre- Mughal period, it can be assumed that the area was inhabited, though not very densely. The earliest Muslim habitation in Dhaka can be located in the Narinda area because of the existence of the Binat Bibi mosque, dated 1456 AD and the extension of the area of habitation towards the north on the highlands (that is to say, the lands above the flood plains) is a natural one.

The existence of the water-bodies of Bangabhaban in earlier periods can also be surmised. They seem to have been there even in the early part of the 20th century AD. A.H. Dani, in his book Dacca, A Record of its Changing Fortunes (Dacca, 1962), thought that ”the name Motijheel (Jheel meaning lake) takes its origin from the serpentine rivulet which flows on one side of this area.” (p 247) The name was later applied to a small pond within the Dilkhusha palace of the Nawabs of Dhaka. A Mughal Governor of Dhaka, in all probability Islam Khan, dug a canal skirting Bagh-i-Badshahi (Shabagh area), which flowed through Ramna Green Park, Segun Bagicha and Purana Paltan, and which finally came out somewhere in the Motijheel area, eventually merging into the eastern lowland, which existed in the area to the east and north of the area next to present Bangladesh Bank (north-east of Bangabhaban). All the spaces along the north and north-east of the road from the Dainik Bangla Roundabout to Bangladesh Bank was full of water-bodies and swampy land. The survey map of 1912-15, now preserved in the Bangladesh National Archives, bear ample testimony to the existence of winding water-bodies in the Purana Paltan-Motijheel-Dilkhusha-Kamalapur area to the north and east of present-day Bangabhaban. Even in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the area to the north and north-east of present-day Dilkhusha Commercial Area was swampy and full of water- bodies. The whole area came to be changed thoroughly in the second half of the 1950s under the aegis of the Dhaka Improvement Trust.

In the Mughal period (1610 – 1717 AD) this area came to prominence as the residence of a Mughal Officer. Mirza Mukim, who held the post of a Daroga in the naval forces of the Mughal Governor. Mir Jumla, who held the subahdari of Bengal for three years (1660 – 63 AD). Mirza Mukim’s residence is generally believed to be located in the area to the west of the main gate of Bangabhaban. A large pond dug at that time still exists in the Matiur Children Park, to the east of the present Dhaka Mahanagar Natyamancha. The whole park area to the west of Bangabhaban came to be developed in the Mughal period and it existed more or less in that form till the early part of the 20th century. The survey map of Dhaka drawn in 1912-15 clearly shows this area with a few small ponds beside the large one mentioned earlier.

It is also interesting to note the existence of the Jaykali Mandir,the remains of which still linger in the grounds not far away from the south – western corner of Bangabhaban in the Thataribazar area. The conglomerate of temples in this area was listed in the List of Ancient Monuments in Bengal (pp.200-201), published by the Public Works Department, Kolkata, 1896. It is recorded in the List that the temples are very old (200-250 years) and overgrown with vegetation and trees. It was estimated that the renovation work of the temples would cost about 500 rupees, which the custodians were not in a position to bear. The temples are said to have been constructed by Tulsinarayana Ghosh and Naranarayana Ghosh, the Diwans of the Nawabs of Dhaka, who were residents of Shyambazar, Kolkata. They made a gift of landed property yielding an annual income of Rs. 1200/- for meeting the expenses of the temples. A modern inscrition records the date of construction of the temples in 1001 BS (late 16th century AD). Paleographically evaluated, the inscription does not seem to be old. Another inscription in the nearby Rama-Sita temple records the date 1208 BS (1800-01 AD). Munshi Rahman Ali Taish mentioned the Jaykali temples in his book (Tawarikh-i-Dhaka, Dhaka, 1910),thought them to be old, and did not give any date for them. However, the temples hint at the existence of a flourishing Hindu population in the area towards the closing part of the Mughal rule in Dhaka in late 18th century AD. The existence of a number of ponds with north-south elongation in the Bangabhaban and adjacent areas to its west and south-west point to this fact.

The whole Bangabhaban- Dilkhusha- Motijheel area underwent a change and facelift under the Nawabs of Dhaka, who chose this high-land area with water-channels and water-front to its north and north-east to be the site of their pleasure garden resort in the 19th century. Outside the limits of the then built-up city, the Motijheel-Dilkhusha area to the east of the vast open grounds of Purana Paltan (which included the artillery practicing area) was ideally suited for the purpose. The name Dilkhusha (heart- pleasing) is clearly suggestive of the mood of the Nawabs who developed the area, which, in the pre-Mughal period was rather desolate and only an abode of saintly personalities; in the Mughal period was turned into a residence of a high Mughal gentry and in the Nawabi /early British period , the Hindus of Dhaka had developed their religious buildings in the periphery of the area contiguous with the city limits.

The most important phase of development of the area was under the aegis of the Nawabs of Dhaka in 19th century AD. In 1866 Nawab Khwaja Abdul Ghani built the Dilkhusha garden house for his eldest son, Khwaja Ahsanullah. The name itself suggests that the palaces and the gardens around them were meant to be pleasure resorts for the Nawabs. The choice must have fallen on the area because of its location in the outskirts of the city away from its centre. The areas on the riverfront on the northern side of the Buriganga, which once were much sought after by people of means who wanted to locate their residences there, had already become congested. The Dilkhusha palaces were meant for those seeking fresh air and able to live comfortably in the well-spread out gardens intersected by lakes (formed out of the closure of the water streams that used to flow through the area and that came to be known by the name of Motijheel). It is also likely that the Nawabs in their attempt to match the grandeur of Murshidabad named the lake Motijheel – a prominent feature of Murshibabad under Alivardi and Siraj-ud-Dawlah.

It is known from old records in the Dhaka Nawab Waqf Estate Office that in 1866 Nawab Abdul Ghani had purchased the land in the western part of the garden house from an English gentleman, E.F.Smith. In 1877 Nawab Ahsanullah took lease of 15 bighas of land (in the eastern part of the garden house) from Dhaka Municipality and extended the area of the garden. Nawab Ahsanullah also set up a park known as Company Bagicha by taking lease from the English government in 1874 of 80 bighas of land in the Paltan Maidan area. The park was, in all probability, meant to isolate the garden house on its western side, which was accessible to city dwellers from the Nawabpur side; the park was supposed to act as the buffer-ground between the city and the pleasure garden.

Lieutenant-Governors of the Eastern Bengal and Assam, 1905-1912
Sir Joseph Bampfylde Fuller:
Sir Joseph Bampfylde Fuller, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Eastern Bengal and Assam, assumed the charge of his office on 16 October 1905. He was also the first head of government of Eastern Bengal and Assam to reside at the newly built temporary Government House (inside the present Bangabhaban) from 14 February 1906. Son of a vicar of Hampshire, Fuller was born on 20 March 1854. Educated at Marlborough College, he entered the Indian Civil Service in 1875. He was appointed, successively, Commissioner of Settlements and Agriculture, Central Provinces, 1885; Additional Member of Viceroy’s Council, 1899; Secretary to the Government of India, Revenue and Agricultural Departments, 1901-02; Chief Commissioner of Assam, 1902-05; and Lt. Governor of Eastern Bengal and Assam, 1905-06. He resigned on 20 August 1906 because of the Government of India’s refusal to support reprisal against schoolboy agitators in Sirajganj. He was conferred the title of CIE in 1892; CSI in 1902; KCSI in 1906. His publications include Studies of Indian Life and Sentiments (1910), The Empire of India (1913), Life and Human Nature (1914), Man As He Is (1916), The Science of Ourselves (1921), Causes and Consequences (1923), The Law Within (1926), Etheric Energies (1928), Some Personal Experiences (1930) and The Tyranny of the Mind (1935).

His second wife (married in 1884), Sarah Augusta, daughter of Arthur Wellesley Critchley accompanied him to Dhaka. Sir Fuller died on 29 November 1935.

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