Sixty-Domed Mosque of Bagerhat

Brief Description 

Sixty-domed Mosque is an ancient mosque located in the south-west of Bagerhat district in Bangladesh. There is no inscription on the mosque. So no accurate information is available about who built it or at what time it was built. However, looking at the architectural style of the mosque, there is no doubt that it was built by Khan Jahan Ali. He is thought to have built it in the 15th century. According to many, the construction of the mosque started in 1442 and ended in 1459. It is the largest mosque from the sultanate period (1204-1576) in Bangladesh. This mosque was built over many years and at great expense. In the conventional sense, this mosque has no roof. Its roof is a series of semi-oval and rectangular domes which gives it an incomparable and unique look. It was used for prayers, court affairs and also as a madrasa. The mosque is located in one of the three World Heritage Sites in Bangladesh, The Mosque City of Bagerhat. It is well known in the whole Indian sub-continent as one of the most impressive Muslim monuments. This mosque has been in the hearts of many people in the country and abroad for more than five centuries. Thousands of people from home and abroad gather to see this magnificent mosque every year. The number of tourists is constantly increasing here with time.

 

Geographical location of Sixty-domed Mosque:

The sixty-domed mosque is located in  Bagerhat district in the south-western part of Bangladesh under the jurisdiction of Khulna division. The mosque lies in between 22°40′ and 22°28′ north latitudes and in between 89°44′ and 89°31′ east longitudes. Its distance by road from the main town of Bagerhat is 5 k.m. (3 mi), from the divisional community, Khulna is 40 k.m. and from the capital, Dhaka is 265 k.m. The total area of the mosque is 1,605 sq. m. (17,280 sq. ft). It is bounded by Gopalgonj and Narail districts on the north, Bay of Bengal on the south, Gopalganj, Pirojpur and Barguna districts on the east, Khulna district on the west.

Structure of the Sixty-domed Mosque:

The mosque is about 160 feet long on the north-southern side and about 143 feet long on the inside, and about 104 feet wide on the east-western side and about 88 feet wide on the inside.  The walls are about 8·5 feet thick. The east wall of the mosque has 11 huge arched doors. The middle door is bigger than the others. There are 7 doors on both the north and south walls. There are 4 minars in 4 corners of the mosque which are round in shape and have narrowed at the top. They have circular bands near the cornice and round domes at the apex.  The height of the minar is higher than the cornice of the roof. The two front minars have spiral staircases and they were used for giving azan before. One of them is called Raushan Kotha, the other is called Andhar Kotha. There are in total 60 pillars inside the mosque. They are located in 6 rows from north to south and there are 10 pillars in each row. Each pillar is made of stone, only 5 pillars are covered with bricks from the outside. The domes are built on these pillars and the surrounding walls. The total number of domes in the sixty-domed mosque is 81, 11 in 7 lines, total 77 and 4 in the four corners.

There are 10 mihrabs on the west wall inside the mosque. The middle mihrab is large in size and heavily ornate. There are 5 mihrabs in the south and 4 mihrabs in the north. Just next to the middle mihrab on the north side, there is a small door what was supposed to be a mihrab. According to some, Khan Jahan Ali used this mosque as a court house in addition to prayers, and this door was the entrance to the court house or darbar. According to some others, the mosque was also used as a madrasa. The pulpit was used as the seat of the Imam.

 

Etymological history of the Mosque:

Although the name of the mosque is after sixty domes, the actual number of domes here is not 60, but 81. 11 domes per 7 rows, 77 domes along with 4 domes on the corners makes the total number 81. The question remains as to why in the evolution of time, the mosque became popularly known as sixty-domed despite having eighty-one domes. Historians believe that the mosque had seven rows of domes, hence the name “Shath Gombuz” (seven-domed) originated which was changed into “Shat Gombuz” (Sixty-domed) later due to similar pronunciation. Many historians also believe that the mosque was originally referred to as the “Shat Amud” (Sixty Pillared) in Arabic/Persian, which later got corrupted to “Shat Gombuz” (Sixty-domed) in Bangla.

 

Historical Background of Sixty-domed Mosque:

The city of present-day Bagerhat was established by Ulugh Khan Jahan Ali during the reign of Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah (1435-59) near the Sundarbans. It was then known as the kingdom of Khalifatabad. The Sultanate of Delhi wanted to spread Islam in the far reaches of Bengal for political and economic reasons, and Ulugh Khan Jahan Ali was entrusted with this difficult task. Khan Jahan Ali was known for his extraordinary skills as an administrator and his profound knowledge of architecture. He built a planned city with many mosques and shrines, roads, bridges and water reservoirs with unique architectural style. Khan Jahan Ali also built a court hall or darbar for meetings, which later became known as the sixty-domed mosque. During his reign, this mosque served two purposes. The main purpose was to perform prayers in this huge mosque, besides it was the main court house of the ruler Khan Jahan Ali. The court was held here from morning to evening, collecting revenue from the assembled tenants, answering their various prayers and judging their grievances. During these activities, when the time for prayers came, the Muslim subjects would assemble together there and perform their prayers. This mosque was built over many years and at great expense. The stones were brought from the Rajmahal and Chittagong. Tughlaki and Jaunpuri construction style is evident in its structure.

 

The Magnificent Sixty-domed Mosque:

The sixty-domed mosque has been described as a historic mosque that represents the golden age of Muslims in Bengal. The mosque is remarkable for its 60 pillars, which consist of six remarkably curved low square domes. The minars of the mosque contains exceptional design and shape. The spiral staircases in front of the minars are also very beautiful to look at. The mihrabs with stone and terracotta carvings also attract massive interest. The brick floor looks interesting and mysterious at the same time. The walls of the mosque are unusually thick with tapered brick in resemblance with Tughlaq style and a hut-shaped roofline that anticipates later styles. Most part of the mosque is decorated with terracotta and bricks and thus, attracts a large number of tourists.

The square shaped arch of this mosque is considered to be the first example of the representation of the rural bamboo roof of Bangladesh. Parallel bamboo rafters were also imitated from the local structure of houses. The mosque has 81 domes with different styles and shape. The vast prayer hall with 11 arched entrances on east and 7 entrances each on north and south side for ventilation and light, presents a dark and somber appearance inside. The longitudinal aisles and rows of endless arches resemble the Tughlaq architecture of Delhi. Over all, the mosque represents wonderful archeological design which was very popular during 15th century. The mosque is located on the east bank of a freshwater reservoir called Thakur Dighi which is also a pleasing site for eyes. Over all, the sixty-domed mosque is a magnificent beauty which can amaze anyone.

 

Natural Beauty of Sixty-domed Mosque:

The Sixty-domed mosque holds an unique charm to it. Besides its magnificent look, there is no shortage of light and air in this huge structure which enhances the grandeur of the mosque. While visiting this place, one can feel connected to the mosque spiritually. The piousness of the local people and the magnificent look of the mosque together successfully brings out the religious side of the tourists also.

There are two famous lakes present near the Sixty-domed mosque. On the west side of this mosque is the historic “Ghora Dighi” and in the north-east corner is the “Kodal Dhoya Dighi”. Ghora Dighi is the first lake excavated by Khan Jahan Ali after his arrival in the region. There is a popular saying about naming Ghora Dighi that this huge lake was dug as far as a horse ran in one round. According to some other sources, Khan Jahan Ali used to travel around this dighi on horseback, hence the name “Ghora Dighi”. Among many of the ​​lakes dug by Khan Jahan Ali, this lake of fresh water is considered to be very sacred and thus it is very popular.  In 1986, the lake was also listed as a protected antiquities. Ghora Dighi is the only protected reservoir in Bangladesh. The size of the lake is about 2000’x 1200′. There is water in this lake for the all year round. Its depth is about 24/25 feet in some places. There is a brick pier on the east side of the lake. On the south side of the lake, 11 scenic sheds have been set up so that tourists can rest when they are tired of walking around. Green grass around the area has created a tourist-friendly environment. The water of this historic lake remains filled with red water lilies. The Kodal Dhoya Dighi is located on the north-east side of the sixty-domed mosque. The lake is almost dead at present. According to local legend, after digging the Ghora Dighi, this lake was dug by the diggers to wash the spades. These two lakes have further enhanced the beauty of this beautiful mosque.

 

Economic Contribution of the Mosque:

One must buy ticket to enter the mosque. Tickets cost BDT 20 per person, but tickets are not needed for children under the age of five. The entrance fee for students up to secondary level is only BDT 5 per person. The ticket price for foreign visitors is BDT 200 and BDT 100 for the citizens of SAARC countries. The mosque is open from 10 am to 6 pm during summer. It is closed for half an hour from 1 pm to 1.30 pm for lunch break. The mosque is open from 9 am to 5 pm during winter. The duration for lunch break remains same, from 1 pm to 1.30 pm. It is always closed for Zummah prayers from 12:30 pm to 3 pm on Fridays. The mosque is closed on Sundays and It opens at 2pm on Mondays. Due to huge gathering of tourists, a handsome amount of money is collected from the entrance which plays a significant part in the economy of the country. This mosque has also created opportunity for the local merchants to pursue their own small business ventures.

 

Local Souvenir Shops Around the Mosque:

A small market with many local shops has been established around the sixty-domed mosque. There are not many remarkable expensive items in those shops but there indeed exists many things to choose from. They offer souvenirs with local materials. Tiny structure of the nearby mosques, sculpture of many animals, portraits of the local beautiful sceneries and many other items are available there. There are some sweet shops also. They offer local sweet items in a very cheap price. Toys of various colors and designs are main attraction for the kids. Some necessary household items are also available in the shops.

 

Tourist places nearby:

The City of Mosques, Bagerhat is basically an extinct city. It was formerly known as Khalifatabad, situated in the downside of Bagerhat, where the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers met. The town was also known as the Mint City of Shahi Bengal. The city’s planning was influenced by Islamic architecture and the architecture of the mosques in particular was influenced by Mughal and Turkish architecture. The city had total 360 mosques with completely different and distinct designs, numerous government buildings, cemeteries, bridges, road communications, and numerous water reservoirs. However, it is extinct and mixed with present-day town Bagerhat. Forbes compiled a list of the 15 lost cities in the world which included Bagerhat with more than 50 Islamic architectural monuments. The city was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985 as “an outstanding example of architectural work that describes an important milestone in human history.” Apart from the sixty-domed mosque, several other structures of the city have been identified as renowned tourist places, including the tomb of Khan Jahan Ali, Bagerhat Museum, Nine-Domed Mosque, Shingra Mosque, Ranvijaypur Mosque, Chunakhola Mosque, Six-Domed Mosque etc.

Tomb of Khan Jahan Ali: Khan Jahan Ali’s tomb is located on the north bank of a water reservoir known as Thakur Dighi. The dighi is square in shape and it contains crocodiles. Wide and vertical stairs have been made to reach the dighi from the bank. The tomb was made on it by making a fence with the materials found during the excavation of the dighi. The shrine is actually a single-domed structure on an area of 45 sq. ft. Its structure was completed by brick walls after the basement was made with five layers of stones of the same shape. It is known from the sources recorded in 1886 that the floor of the shrine was covered with hexagonal tiles of different colors, mostly blue, white and yellow. However, such tiles are now found in only a few places in the shrine. The tomb of Khan Jahan was made by arranging black stones in three layers. There are verses of the Holy Quran written in Arabic and Persian on those stones. Historical information about Khan Jahan Ali’s life is found in the inscription on the wall of the room where the tomb is located. After his retirement, Khan Jahan Ali spent the rest of his life here and was buried here after his death on 25 October 1459. Now this place is important to people from a religious point of view and people come here to pay homage to the person who has worked all his life to build a city and its important landmarks. Pir Ali’s shrine (a close associate of Khan Jahan Ali) now seems to be a part of this shrine, but it is a different structure. There is also a mosque called Dargha Mosque near the tomb of Khan Jahan Ali.

Bagerhat Museum: In collaboration with UNESCO, the Department of Archeology of Bangladesh established a small museum in front of the sixty-domed mosque. Ancient relics from the historical area are preserved here so that people can know about the history of Bagerhat. There are three exhibition halls with ancient inscriptions, ceramic, terracotta and ornate brick patterns related to the historic mosque town of Bagerhat.  Pictures of important historical buildings of Bangladesh have also found a place in the museum.

Nine-domed Mosque: The nine-domed mosque was built in the 15th century.  It is located on the west side of Thakur Dighi. This is quite near to the tomb of Khan Jahan Ali. Traditionally, the west wall of the mosque faces Mecca, and the mihrab is placed inside of the mosque. Terracotta with floral designs can be seen around the mihrab. The mosque has four minars at its four corners. The walls of the mosque contain a huge dome surrounded by eight relatively smaller domes. That is how the mosque got its name. The walls of the mosque are 2.59 m thick. The interior of the mosque is divided into nine square sections with two rows of stone pillars. Nine domes of the roof of the mosque are built on each block. There are 3 domes in the middle, 3 in the front and 3 in the back. The western wall has a total of three concave mihrabs at successive distances. The terracotta carvings can be seen in the Timpanam and Spanadrol sections. There are 3 doors in front of the mosque. The nine-domed mosque was attacked by sulphate. Arrangements were made to save it immediately. The Zinda Pir Mosque and Mazar are located near this mosque.

Shingra Mosque: The Shingra Mosque is situated in the south-east direction from the sixty-domed mosque. This mosque has a single dome which is solidly built and wide in shape. According to Khan Jahan Ali’s own style of architecture, the dome stands on a thick wall with a curved cornice at the top. Bibi Begni Mosque and Chunakhola Mosque and one domed mosque are similar in architecture but their size is much bigger than Singra Mosque. The mosque was on the verge of destruction and restoration became inevitable. At present, it is well-preserved as a historical monument.

Ranvijaypur Mosque: The Ranvijaypur Mosque has the largest dome in Bangladesh. It is 11 meters wide and stands on arches. The corners have tapering circular turrets while the outer cornice has a slight curve. The interior of the mosque is very simple. However, the main mihrab has a intricate floral design. It is located on the Khulna-Bagerhat Road opposite to the Bagerhat Museum.  This mosque was built in the architectural style of Khan Jahan Ali.  It was repaired several times between 1960 and 1970. However, more repairs are needed inside and outside the mosque to remove the effects of humidity.

Chunakhola Mosque: The Chunakhola Mosque is located in the middle of a paddy field in the village of Chunakhola. It is considered to be built in 15th century. The architectural style of the mosque is quite different from the architectural style of Khan Jahan Ali. It is a 7.7 m square building with walls of 2.24 m thickness. The mosque has three entrances on the east and one entrance each on the north and south. It has three mihrabs of which the central mihrab is the largest. There is also a half dome. The eastern gate structure depicts four rectangular panels bordered by foliated scrolls with plant motifs. The exterior is completely different from the architectural style of Khan Jahan Ali. It has four turrets with curved cornices. Brick walls of this mosque were also damaged by sulfate. It was renovated in the 1980s under the auspices of UNESCO.

Six-domed Mosque: The six-domed mosque is also known as Rezakhoda Mosque. It was established in the 15th century near the Thakur Dighi. This mosque had six columns which got physical support from the stone columns. The main mihrab preserved under the Antiquities Act, displayed a chain and bell design. However, as it was almost destroyed, a new building was erected which has been removed later and only the ancient ruins can be seen now.

The Oldest Road of Bangladesh: Archaeologists consider the oldest road of Bangladesh to be located in Bagerhat. It is believed that Khan Jahan Ali used to bring essential stones from Chittagong for the construction works. While fetching stones, he met Bayajit Bostan of Chittagong, a famous saint. Their relation later became so close that he built a road connecting Khalifatabad to Chittagong. The ruins of this road have  been discovered recently. This road stretched from Barisal to Chandpur to Chittagong is now known as the ‘ancient road of Khan Jahan’. Archaeologists believe that the road was built during the 15th century. The Grand Trunk Road from Sonargaon to the Punjab built by Sultan Sher Shah in the 16th century which has long been recognized as the oldest road in the country, is now replaced by this road built by Khan Jahan Ali. The surviving part of this ancient road is located about 350 meters from the historic Sixty-domed Mosque and 500 meters north of the Khulna-Bagerhat highway. The road was built to enhance the civic amenities and beauty of the medieval city of Khalifatabad. Khan Jahan Ali’s great skill and architectural knowledge are also evident in the construction of this road.

 

How to go there:

There are multiple ways to get to Bagerhat. The cheapest way to get from Dhaka to Bagerhat is by direct bus. The bus fare ranges from BDT 350 to 550. There are more than 15 dhaka to bagerhat bus operators. Among these, some effective transportations are shohagh paribahan, falguni paribahan, AK travels, sundarban paribahan, porjotok, tungipara express, and bonoful transport. It takes around 7 hours to reach the destination by bus. Travelling to Bagerhat by cars from Dhaka requires almost similar time, that is 7 hours. Tourists with no personal cars can easily rent cars from Dhaka to Bagerhat. It will cost around $100-$130.

They can also travel by air. But unfortunately, there is no direct flight from Dhaka to Bagerhat. So, they have to take a flight to Barisal or Jessore initially and then rent a taxi to reach Bagerhat. Biman Bangladesh Airlines, Novo Air and US-Bangla offer flights from Dhaka Airport to Barisal and Jessore Airports. The plane fare from Dhaka to Barisal ranges between $29-$50 and takes only 40 minutes to reach. However, the taxi fare from Barisal to Bagerhat ranges between $29-$35 and takes around 2 hours to reach the destination. The fastest way is to fly to Jessore and then board a taxi. The plane fare from Dhaka to Jessore ranges between $29-$75 and takes exactly 40 minutes to reach. And the taxi fare from Jessore to Bagerhat ranges between $24-$29 and takes around 1 hours and 30 minutes to reach the destination.

 

Where to stay:

Accommodation is a huge problem from staying in Bagerhat. Decent hotel or motels are not available here. Maximum tourists explore the city in daytime and travel back during night. As the site seeing can be done in a day tour and tourists do not stay for the night, the locals did not find it worthy enough to build luxury hotels. However, if someone is interested to spend the night here, he/she can check in hotels in nearby districts, that is Khulna or Barisal. Many 3 star, 4 star and 5 star hotels are available nearby.

 

List of Hotels to Stay:

  1. Hotel Grand Park (Barisal) 3★

41.9 miles from Bagerhat

Contact: 01777-735175

Cost: BDT 8686

 

  1. City Inn (Khulna) 5★

30.9 miles from Bagerhat

Contact: 04128-34067

 

  1. Hotel Royal International (Khulna) 3★

30.0 miles from Bagerhat

Contact: 01718-679900

Cost: BDT 4989

 

  1. Hotel Castle Salam (Khulna)

29.9 miles from Bagerhat

Contact: 041-720160

Cost: BDT 5623

 

What to eat:

Hotels in Barisal and Khulna offer their guests food at their own restaurants. In addition, local restaurants around Sixty-domed mosque also have different types of food to offer. However, it is better to carry own food as those food from local restaurants might not be hygienic. There are decent restaurants in Bagerhat town. So, one may explore the magnificent view of the mosque, travel back to the town and then dine there.

Written and Edited by Sadia Siddika Zitu.

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