Malda is a district covering area of 3733 sq Km with Bihar and Uttar Dinajpur at North , Murshidabad at South , Bangladesh at east , and Jharkhand and Bihar at West. It shares 165.5 km international border with Bangladesh. Having a central location it is an important junction and entry point to Siliguri from South Bengal. The river Ganga makes its first entry in West Bengal near Manikchak of Malda.
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Pandua, the once celebrated capital of independent Bengal for almost a century, was first established by Shamsuddin Firoj Shah (1301 – 1322), the ruler of Lakhnauti, who settled here and named the place ‘Firojabad’. The subsequent ruler Alauddin Ali Shah was defeated by Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah, and the later declared Bengal as an independent state, and strategically set Pandua as his capital for its safe position.
According to local legends, Pandua was originally founded by the Pandav brothers of Hindu epic Mahabharata, and later formed part of the historic ‘Pundravardhana’, which was of great fame in Buddhism. The total extent of the kingdom surrounding Pandua was almost 50 sq. kms, with considerably high walls protecting the area, some of whose ramparts are still visible at traces.
Pandua had been the abode to a couple of great Muslim saints of medieval Bengal, namely – Makhdum Shah Jalal Tabreji and Nur Qutbul Alam. The first destination for us today was the Bari Dargah or The Great Shrine of Shah Jalal consisting of the Jami Masjid and other buildings dedicated to the memory of the great saint.
Bari Dargah — Shah Ali Tombs
Shah Jalal was born in Tabriz in Persia. He was first the disciple of Shaikh Abu Sayid and later an adherent to Shaikh Shihabuddin. It is assumed that Shah Jalal must have had settled in Pandua during the reign of Bakhtiyar Khilji after he conquered over the district of ‘Nudiya’. The compound holds the Jami Masjid, where the disciplinary prayers were held, a Bhandar Khana or Store house, a kitchen or the Tandur Khana, and finally the memorial tomb of the saint himself. Literary reference suggests that the saint passed away in the year 1337 AD, and following his death, on every anniversary on the 22nd day of Rajab, a festival is organized here, where pilgrims from all sects and cults take part in to commemorate the fame of this great personality.
The spacious Dargah complex has many small and large structures, and a couple of well built mausoleums, guarded on four sides by high walls. The airy surroundings, with a pond and the touch of ancientness made it up for a mystifying start to this quench for history.
The Dargah also holds one of the famous gateways of Pandua, the Selami Darwaza, of which only the remnants stand in front of a moderately new hut shaped doorway, to enter the comprehensive enclave. The Chhoti Dargah, or the Tomb of Nur Qutbul, the second of the renowned saints is located inside the premises. The place where sacred rituals are held is well maintained.
At a stone throw distance from the Dargah zone is the Eklakhi Mausoleum, one of the best preserved brick-built monuments in Pandua. The Eklakhi Tomb, built by Sultan Jalaluddin Mohammed Shah (1414 – 28 AD) at that time is known to have cost One Lakh rupees, and hence the name – ‘EkLakhi’. Out of the three graves inside the tomb, the highest one with a stone post, leveled at the head, belonged to the Sultan. The middle one being his ‘Begum’ or wife, and the eastern one with the stone post at the head, belongs to his martyr son – Sultan Ahmed Shah.
Eklakhi Mausoleum Eklakhi Tomb
The craftsmanship of the artisans who built this mausoleum is worth mentioning because of the terracotta designs with various motifs, designed to mingle the Hindu and Muslim styles together, with a typical Bengal touch to the Roof design, preventing water logging, during the monsoons. The four octagonal tower corners used to have a capital dome on them, giving them the shapes of a minaret. But with the role of time playing crucial, all those articulate designs are lost, with some of the pride terracotta brick designs of lotus, a bell with chain motif and other varieties remaining to charm our minds. The Archaeological Survey of India also has a well maintained flower garden giving the Eklakhi Mausoleum a touch of wonderful greenery all around.
Just as one turns leftwards from the ‘Eklakhi Tomb’, a brick laid path curves out towards the ‘Chhoti Dargah’, which was duly paid a visit. In the midway between these two spots, is an interesting monument, waiting attention –
The Qutub – Shahi Mosque also known as Sona Masjid (Mosque).
Qutub Shahi Masjid (Mosque) or Shona Masjid
This rectangular mosque built of stone and brick was constructed in the year 1582 AD as a mark of respect to Saint Qutub Shah, by Makhdum Shaikh, a descendant of Muhammad Al-Khalidi. The entrance gateway, once built in stone, is now put up by scrapped work of bricks, and looks decent. The brick surface of the walls faced with stones is elegantly carved with a variety of designs. Five arched openings in the east wall and two on the north and south sides are there. The four corners are towered on top, by a well shaped cupola, on each of them.
The inner structure, nothing of which remains on top, with only the giant pillars standing upright, all to tell the tales of a wonderful age, left behind. The mosque, built in Mughal period, contains some peculiar architectural features of the Sultanate rule of Bengal, and is also known as the Sona Masjid (Golden Mosque) probably, because of the carved work on the face of the walls, along with the crowns of the turrets.
It was not long before we reached the most important and splendid monument of Pandua – The Adina Mosque.
The World famous landmark of Pandua, or rather Maldah, is the celebrated name of this architectural magnificence in the form of the largest Mosque (if remained intact) of the country – The Adina Mosque. The mosque by the words of historian Cunningham, is ‘one of the wonders of the World, by the Bengalis’. It was built under the rule of Sultan Sikandar Shah (1358 – 1390 AD), during a long stretch of Ten Years from 1474 – 1484 AD. The most striking aspect of its construction is the existence of Hindu influence. In fact it was constructed after obliterating and super-imposing upon a Hindu construction, which are quite evident from a few striking observations.
1) On the main gallery towards on the first Story, towards the entrance, one can clearly find the chiseled out image of the Hindu God Vishnu.
2) The motif of lotus, found on two occasions, in the central prayer hall, resembling the hindu beliefs and traditions.
3) Images of Ganesha (The Elephant Headed Hindu God) and Shiva (supreme Hindu God) posing in his ‘Nataraja’ Style, on the outer walls of the Mosque.
Dancing Ganesh in Adina Mosque, apparently the remnants of the hindu temple on which the mosque was built.
4) Numerous carvings of the typical hindu Dwarpalaka (The Door Keeper) – Garuda, which is ideal in any and every Vishnu temple, can be found here.
Remarkably enough, all the above evidences have been intentionally tampered with, so as to obliterate any evidence of the parent temple structure and prove the Muslim influence of this construction. The stone carved base of the mosque also resembles typical Hindu construction, while finally, the name – ‘Adina’ is probably derived from ‘Adinath’ or Vishnu (The Lord of Preservation). All this is evident from the facts and features observed around the temple complex.
The mosque, later constructed, has been one of the celebrated masterpieces of Bengal. The quadrangular building extends 516 feet from north to south, and 313 feet from East to West, and was surrounded by thick brick walls with four fluted pillars on the edges. The central hall, with its beautiful arched openings resembles typical mughal style. While most of the 306 domes of this mosque, have disappeared, only 18 domes on the Badhsha-ka-Takht, in the north are intact, with the arches, looking elegant. A separate elevated arched hallway for the royal ladies was built, and the women observed ‘Pardah’ culture, strictly testifying to the tolerance and respect of the Sultans of Bengal, towards the fairer sex.
The gallery of Adina Masjid, natural illumination inside the upper tier women’s gallery
The Upper tier prayer hall provides excellent reflections and sparkling illumination during day time, and things seem heavenly amidst such an extraordinary ambiance. The brick and terracotta ornamentation on the walls and other interesting patterns on brick stones are masterpieces of artistic creation and craftsmanship for beautification.
The Arches of Glory Historic Upper Tier Prayer Hall of Adina Mosque
Another thing worth attention is the drainage system to carry off the rain water from the compound, through mouths of stone crocodiles, with sizeable heads and trunks.
A view of the ramparts of Adina Mosque
We were now done with the sights of Pandua, and it was time to move on towards Gour.
The Remains of the Famous Gour Citadel:
The ancient citadel of Gour lies 32 kms from the Malda township. We had to traverse all the way back to Malda, and then proceed towards the second zone. Before this, a much needed lunch was waiting our call, and so we negotiated with the refueling process, fast and furious, at the local ‘Hotel Raj’, near the State Transport Bus Depot. The appetite was full, with a plate of chicken curry and rice for the three of us, including the driver. Once done, it was a straight start for the Remains of Gour, to be explored.
The first spot that came to us was in the form of two stone pillars, kept inside a fenced zone, by the side of the Approach Road towards Gour. These Pillars once used to form an integral part of the Bara Sona Mosque, and their existence at the said place is quite questionable, to this context, standing almost 10 km apart from the mosque itself. Proceedings
The Two Stone Pillars – Probably from the Bara Sona Mosque
Gour has been politically and historically on the spotlights of Bengal history, right after the Gupta Period, and then ongoing with the medieval pages of its tale, till date, as one of the prime attractions to any and every visitor, with the mysterious and gigantic structures, looking elegant in the reminiscence of the ancient pages of time.
The Bara Sona Masjid was constructed during the rule of Sultan Hossain Shah and Sultan Nasrat Shah, and has a massive structure, comprising 168 feet by 76 feet, in a rectangular arena with octagonal towers at the corners, giving it a beautiful look. There used to be four gateways to this mosque, out of which only two remain in good shape, one is in conservable status, while the last one completely distressed. The common name of this mosque is – Baraduari Masjid, or the Mosque with 12 doorways, with its corridor running from eastern front, having six doors on each side. The stone built structure has 33 small domes on top, and are known to have been gilded with gold during the flourishing days, and thus came the name ‘Bara Sona’ or Great Golden Mosque. The domes still stand and presumably, the gold gilding is a story, and the brightness of the domes, under the bright sun rays, used to give it a golden look.
The famous Bara Sona Masjid, the Great Golden Mosque
A well maintained garden on all four sides adds to the attractions of this historic monument. The local folks were all around us, to have a glimpse of the camera. The innocence was just as evergreen, like the surroundings. Amazing place! The journey continued after this, for a short while, to arrive right in front of a historic landmark – The Dakhil or Salami Darwaza.
This impressive Gateway formed the main northern entrance to the Fort of Gour and was probably built by Barbak Shah (1459 – 74 AD). The name – Salami Darwaza – is derived from the historic salutations and the gun salutes that were offered from the rampart wall subsequently connected to it. The Dakhil Darwaza, or the principal gateway to the Gour Citadel, from the northern side, is located South-West of the Barasona Mosque, at a distance of a mere kilometer.
Dakhil or Salami Darwaza
A walk to the other side of the gate, offers the enchanting view of the grand gateway, and reminds us of the Sultanate Empire that ruled the history of medieval Bengal.
The Next point of reach was Firoz Minar. This tower – 25.60 m High, with spiral staircase having a total of 73 steps, was probably constructed by Saifuddin Firoz, an Abyssinian who became the Sultan by assassinating Barbak Shah. The cloudy settings, gave it a touch of mystery with a nearby old Baniyan tree, ideologically turning over the copybook stuff, and unfolding for us the splendor of this edifice.
The Qadam Rasul Mosque
Adjoining the ‘Qadam Rasul’ mosque, is the rather controversial Tomb of Fath Khan. The monument is rather suspicious regarding its fate, because, it is mentioned that the Tomb is dedicated to Fath Khan, the son of Dilwar Khan, Aurangzeb’s General, who was sent by the Emperor to Kill Saint Shah Niamatullah, who was suspected of advising Sultan Shuja to rebel. Upon his arrival at Gour, Fath Khan is believed to have had blood vomits and expired at the spot, where the tomb stands.
Fath Khan’s Tomb at Qadam Rasul Mosque Complex
Scholars and researchers have opined that this “typical hut shaped Bengal architecture” was a temple, built by Raja Ganesh during 1415 – 18 AD, for the worship of Goddess Kali. The arrangement for hanging a chain and a bell for worships, along with the pattern of the construction, at the period, when there was considerable Hindu influence in this area, presumably set the bench for this controversy. Later on, during the resumption of power by Jalaluddin Mohammad Shah, the son of Raja Ganesh, who converted himself to Islam, forcefully destroyed majority of the temple architectures of Gour and Pandua and dismantled the idols, and plunged them into nearby ponds and lakes. Thus, this deserted temple came into use, after more than a couple of centuries, adjoining the Qadam rasul building and the pride – Lukachuri Gateway, and used as a burial for Fath Khan, in around 1657 AD.
Nearby is the Lukachuri or The Hide and Seek Gateway. This triple storeyed Eastern Gateway into the inner rmparts of Gour was built by Shah Suja, and served probably as the Royal Entrance. This tree story used to be the pride of its design, with the upper tier serving as the Naqqarkhana or drummer’s chamber. The gate was built in 1655 AD.
The Lukachuri Darwaza or Hide-and-Seek Gateway
The Original name of this gate was – ‘Shahi Darwaza’, or the King’s gate, as it was used primarily by Shah Shuja for entering the palace. The local legends, followed towards renaming it to ‘Lukachari’ (Hide and Seek) gateway, probably because of their beliefs in the game, played by the Sultan and his Begums, during leisure.
Gour Citadel, comprises of architectural masterpieces, and with a few handful of them covered already, we decided to head for some Live Action!! Don’t worry, it is not the Time Machine stuff, but instead a sneak-peek into the grounds where history is being un-earthed from the legendary bed of ages, and the new turnovers are made open to public, to know the unexplored. It was a right turn into one of the thickest mango bushes of the famed surrounds, towards a road, surely reminding me of the forth coming ‘Mission – Moon’, with similar by and large craters, serving the digestion part of the day’s play.
The excavation site at the palace compound – Gour:
The excavation work, near the ancient palace rampart wall, revealed circular structures, with a style depicting Buddhist Stupas. The brick and limestone built domes, have a round shaped hole like, on the top, with a square opening on four sides.
A number of such stupas have been unearthed in the excavation process, and the associated artifacts include cast copper coins, potteries from black to red ware, depicting the aging of the site to be dating back to the Shunga and Kushana Periods. Although, the entity of a Buddhist spot, is not sanguine, but the overall mound depicts so, and till the complete area is uncovered, nothing can be fruitfully committed about the utility of this site in ancient times
Some say that while fleeing their way out of the Bengal territory, the Sultans dug their treasure troves underneath these Stupa like structures. The area of the mound is quite handsome, and while parallel conservation and dig work is being practiced, it is certain that this is a matter of time to unfold, yet another chapter of Bengal’s unknown historic legends.
A walk across the surrounding mango forest and approaching the ancient rampart wall of the palace gives an impression that this might have served as the base pillars of a long running corridor or Darbar of the Palace. The first phase of excavation is almost done, and now the remaining area is yet to be explored in depth.
A nearby sight, which was excavated some time back, revealed an ancient jetty sort of construction. This site, popularly known as – ‘Jahajghata’, used to stand in front of the Ganges, which flowed by the palace at that time, and boarders on vessels of various sizes, passing along the river watched the palace, and other architectural maestros of the capital city. Portions of old chains were unearthed at three places, of the jetty in consistence with the higher and lower levels of the water in the river, with arched openings to allow the boats pass through, are attractive to watch. Journey on the muddy path continued after this, as we ended up standing in front of the Baisgazi Wall.
This protective boundary wall for the palace security was constructed in 1459 AD, during the rule of Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah. The wall with ornamented cornice, is known as ‘BAISGAZI’, because of its height being ‘Twenty Two Bengali Yards’ or Forty Two feet (12.80 M) high. Detached portions of this giant wall are now visible with some of its parts dilapidated. The wall used to enclose an area of 750 yards from north to south and 300 yards from east to west. To the west was the river Bhagirathi, a tributary of the Ganges, and it flowed adjoining the place, named – ‘Jahajghata’
Chika or Chamkan Mosque – Gour
The name – ‘Chika’, was probably assigned for the building being a abode of Chikas (bats), for a long time after desertation and destruction of the capital command of Gour. The use of materials from some old Hindu temple is evident from the gateway depicting dilapidated idols, and ancient pillars found lying around.
An Old office building can be located in ruins, just adjoining the mosque, while locals say that the other Royal Offices were located inside the complex, towards the west, which are no longer to be traced. Just opposite the Chika Masjid, is the Gumti Gate built by Sultan Hussain Shah (1493 – 1519 AD), in 1512 AD. This single-domed structure embellished with enameled bricks, was used as an eastern gateway into the Citadel of Gour.
Gumti Gate or Gumti Darwaza – Gour
If the faith of the Chika Mosque being a jail stands correct, then this gateway, used to serve as the path for taking in or out, the victims, through an underground passageway, beginning from the stone pavement in front of this gate. This private entrance to Gour, was long hidden under the age of times, before being dug out. The glaze tile brick works, sparkle with glow on varied spots, marking the pride of medieval Bengal architects and their craftsmanship.
The single-domed mosque, noted for its brick works and beautiful cornices associated with a three–entranced verandah in front, was possibly built during the reign of Sultan Shamsuddin Yusuf Shah (1474 – 81 AD), in the year – 1475 AD. The name ‘Chamkati’, derives its originality for the mosque being visited by a special class of Muslims, who in their religious frenzy, used to gash themselves with knives and were categorized amongst the ‘Skin-Cutters’ class, of the religion. The Bengali word – Chamkati means – Skin Cutter. Some also say, that the Sultan, in reverence to a ‘Fakeer or Saint’, who made such gash in his presence, built this Mosque.
Chamkati Mosque – Gour
There are five arched doorways in the frontal section of the structure, while two on the sides. The outer faces are ornamented with flowered borders, each panel being decorated with a pointed arch, under which the usual bell shaped ornament suspended from a long chain.
Tanti Para Masjid or Mosque – Gour
A couple of Stone Graves located in the lawn outside the mosque, are probable to be belonging to Umar Qazi, the builder of the mosque and his associate – Jul Kayran.
A stretch further down the metalled road, took us to the Lottan Mosque. This is the finest of all the legends visited all day through. The Single domed mosque, having a square chamber, was traditionally ascribed to a Royal Courtesan. It was built in 1475 AD, possibly by Sultan Yusuf Shah. The verandah, with a couple of domes, and a sloped roof design, was once faced completely with colored glaze bricks, of which only a glittering number of shrads remain, to shine.
Lottan Mosque – Gour
The surrounding garden maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, and the continued patronage for conservation, has brought back this monument to a complete shape. With only a couple more places remaining to visit, we drove on.
The second last spot to be visited was the Gunmant Mosque. This mosque is the most inaccessible one in all Malda and so remains untouched and unmatched in beauty as well. It lies on a mud paved roadway, turning sharply left from the border road, ending up in a dense Mango plantation zone, with a beautiful natural greenery all through its surroundings.
Consisting of a vaulted central nave, three aisles and four openings on either side, covered with 24 small domes, this plain but massive mosque was probably built by Sultan Jalaluddin Fath Shah (1481 – 86 AD) in 1484 AD. Out of the 24 domes, half has registered their names in the books of complete true history, while the other remain intact to prove the existence of the entity itself.
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