Tuesday, 17 February 2015

OLDEST SURVIVING MONUMENT IN BENGAL



According to Hindu mythology “Triveni Sangam” is the confluence of three rivers and the point of flowing together is treated as sacred place. Tribeni in Hoogly district in eastern Bengal is at the meeting of Bhagirathi-Hoogly, Jamuna and Saraswati River. The name of the town derived from the meeting of these three rivers. These three rivers are different from the river of same name in North India and several streams of the same name in the eastern Bengal.


Monuments in Tribeni which include Zafar Khan Gazi’s mosque and tomb are considered to be the earliest surviving monuments of Muslims in Bengal. Tribeni a small riverside village in the district of Hoogly, was one of the earliest Muslim settlements in Bengal. From their base here, the Muslims pressed inland and established control over a wide area between Burdwan and Hoogly. The mosque of Zafar Khan Ghazi bears the Arabic chronogram 1298, but several later inscriptions can also be found which suggest that the mosque was remodeled over time, although the simple rectangular plan is probably original.


 The influential phase of Muslim architecture in Bengal began in the later part of the 13 century in the monuments of the newly conquered regions of Tribeni, Chhoto Pandua and Satgaon in the District of Hoogly. Tribeni, an important centre of Hindu culture was conquered by Zafar Khan Gazi. Zafar Khan was the military commander of the region during the governorship of Ruknuddin Kaikaus (A.D.1292-1302). The masjid, build in 1298 within a century of Delhi Sultan Qutbuddin Aibak’s (of Qutb Minar fame) military general Md. Bhaktiyar Khilji’a take over Bengal in 1204.



The Archaeological Survey of India has done a fabulous job for rehabilitating what were once ruins. The tomb was probably used as a Madrasa or Muslim centre for learning.The stone inscription in Arabic calligraphy reads: (according to an inscription dated A.H.698/A.D. ) “ Zafar Khan, the lion of lions, has appeared, by conquering the towns of India in every expedition, and by restoring the decayed charitable institutions. And he has destroyed the obdurate among infidels with his sword and spear, and lavished the treasures of his wealth in (helping) the miserable.”


 The Mosque of Zafar Khan Ghazi is the earliest known example of Mosque architecture in Bengal, and “ is certainly the oldest in Bengal”. Marking the earliest phase of Muslim  building activities, it incorporates fragments of non-Muslim monuments. R.D.Banerjee is of opinion that “the mosque of Tribeni was most probably a Vaishnava temple.” Unmistakable Hindu workmanship is evident in the mutilated figures in some of the architectural fragments used a phenomenon to be observed in the Zafar Khan Mosque. 




Joseph David Beglar wrote in his report for the Archaeological Survey of India (1872-73) that the tomb had been built using material taken from Hindu temples. “The temple….must have been of the style of the beautiful and profusely temples… which are ornamented internally throughout with scenes from the Ramayana and others.” The list of Ancient Monuments in Bengal (1896) says of this building, “The building is oblong, containing two nearly square chambers, each about 30 feet in length and breadth…there is no doubt that many of the material are of Hindu workmanship, as numerous stones, especially those which form the lintels and doorposts, are covered with carvings representing living creatures.” 

 “There are five mihrabs in the qibla wall, the most striking being the central one. Tastefully carved multifoil brick arch of the central mihrab is supported by slender stone pillars of some Hindu temple. The predominant motif of terracotta art in the mihrab is an interwoven and swinging creeper imitated undoubtedly from the luxurious plant life of Bengal. The qibla wall is beautifully decorated by well-proportioned rectangular panels neatly carved with floral designs.”


 

In some form or the other, this monument presents a significant change from the stone post-and-lintel temples belonging to the Pala-Senas to the brick dome-and-arch strictures which are favored by most of the Bengali Muslim rulers. The bases and stone columns used here to provide support to the sandstone and brick arches and domes are possibly reused from temples. 

A few yards to the east of the mosque, outside an open country-yard, are two square rooms arrayed east-west adjacent to each other. The western room holds two graves: Zafar Khan Ghazi, his wife and two sons, while the eastern room exhibiting four graves placed on a masonry platform, consists of Gazi’s third son and grandsons. The walls are constructed by using old temple materials including rectangular stone pieces while the rooms do not possess any roof. The western room’s northern door is constructed by using Hindu frame as evident from the carved Hindu figures while the eastern room exhibits sculptured scenes linked to the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Several other stone sculptures are there, which are fixed at the other face of the plinth.

It is surprising to notice that the structures neither conform to a Muslim tomb nor a Hindu temple. It can thus be assumed that the structure was constructed on a temporary plan by using reshuffled temple materials. The unsettled form of occupation of the region by the Muslims of the period adheres to this suggestion.


Sources:
1.    “Pre-Mughal Mosques of Bengal” by M. M. Chakraborty. New Series, Vol.VI.
2.    “Indo-Muslim Architecture in Bengal” by S.K. Saraswati. Vol. IX.1941.
3.    “An Account of the temple of Triveni near Hughli” by D. Money.
4.    “Indian Architecture (Islamic Period)” by P. Brown.
5.    “Revised List of Ancient Monuments in Bengal” A.S.I.1987.
6.    “Bengal District Gazetteer” Hooghly, L.S.S.O’Malley.
7.    “ASI Bengal Report” 1888, by J.D. Beglar.


 Research & Picture Courtesy - Santanu Roy.




Saturday, 7 February 2015

ROXBURGH HOUSE




The dilapidated Roxburgh Building and the herbarium (storehouse of dried plant), that boasted one of the richest collection of plant specimens anywhere, and the library in front of it in a restricted area of the Indian Botanic Garden in Shibpur, which went to ruin after they were abandoned in the 1970s, but unless urgent measures are taken to restore both the heritage buildings will fall to pieces.



The sprawling garden on the banks of the Hoogly opposite Metiabruz was founded by Colonel Robert Kid in 1787, and William Roxburgh was its first salaried superintendent between 1793-1884. The building named after him was constructed around1794, and although initially it served as Roxburgh’s residence, he subsequently constructed a plant house and the library in the dilapidated house opposite it. Roxburgh was a pioneer in botanical studies in India and he has written “Flora Indica”, once the bible for botanists studying Indian flora.



Little is known about the early life of Robert Kyd. He was born at Forfarshire may have studied medicine at Edinburgh. He joined the Bengal Engineers as an ensign in 1764. He become a lieutenant a year later, a captain on 3rd April,1768 major on 29th May,1780, and lieutenant-colonel by 7th December ,1782. He was then made a Secretary to the Military Department of inspection in Bengal and continued in that post until his death.


Kyd was interested in horticulture and owned a private garden in Shalimar near Howrah. He proposed the idea of a botanic garden to the then Governor General Sir John Macpherson, who passed on the idea to the Court of Directors of the East India Company. His idea was that it should help in finding alternate sources of food to prevent famines and to identify plants that might be commercially useful. The plan was approved on 31st July 1787 and Kyd was made an honorary Superintendent. Kyd made a request in his will that he be buried without any religious ceremony in the botanical garden that he founded, but was instead in South Park Street cemetery.


Much development in Botany took place during British Empire in India. Linnean system of “Binomial nomenclature” was introduced only in 1778 by the natural historian engaged with the British East India Company. During this period, botanical gardens were being founded in every significant city in India to study the natural history of plants. Many botanists and surveyors were recruited by East India Company to report and record Indian flora. One such botanist of this period and the founding father of Indian botany by his contemporaries was William Roxburgh.




William Roxburgh was born on June 29th 1751. He matriculated at Edinburgh University in 1771-72 to study surgery under Dr. Alexender Monro. Further he was also the student of Dr. John Hope, professor of botany and “Materia-medica” .John Hope was the curator of the Edinburgh botanical garden as well an experimental physiologist. Roxburgh reached Chennai in 1776 as an assistant surgeon in the East India Company’s Madras General Hospital. At Chennai he turned his attention to botany. For the period 1776-1793 he worked at Coromandel Coast, during this period he also met Johann Gerhard Konig (who introduced binomial nomenclature in India). In 1789 he was appointed as natural historian of East India Company. 



 He moved to Kolkata to be the superintendent of the Botanic Garden, the present Indian Botanical Garden at Shibpur, Howrah. He was instrumental in introducing many plant and species to India and simultaneously he sent many species to Kew, London. His voluminous work, “Flora Indica” was published after his death. Roxburgh left for England from Kolkata in 1813 at the age of 62 spending some 37 years in India. He died at Edinburgh in 1815.



Dr. William Roxburgh was a botanist who made immense contribution to the study of Indian botany and is regarded as many as the father of Indian botany. He was also interested in meteorological impacts on droughts and famine, and therefore, recommended for food, tree plantation in the countryside and in public land.



Dr. Tin Robinson in his PHD thesis mentioned abount a short review of the Calcutta Botanic Garden written in 1971 wherein it was mentioned, “William Roxburgh was one of the greatest botanists of his time, and during his term converted the garden in its character from its original economic purpose to the service of scientific botany.” He is often referred as “The father of Indian Botany”.



Sources :
1.    “The Botanic Garden” by Dr. Anis Mukhopadhyay.
2.    “The Bengal Obituary”, Publisher : W. Thacker & Co.
3.    Wikipadia, Robert Kyd & William Roxburgh.
4.    “Annals of Royal Botanic garden, Calcutta,” “preface” by George King.
5.    “The European discovery of the Indian Flora”. By Desmond Ray,Oxford University Press.
6.    “Botanic Garden Heritage House by Sanjoy Mondal,The telegraph.29th Sept,2008.


              Reasearch  -  Santanu Roy.
               Picture Courtesy - Sudip Ghosh.