In the historic mosque city of Bagerhat, there is one mosque that eclipses all others in the region with its sheer size and stunning architecture. The ‘Shat Gambuj’ (domes) mosque has become an epitome of cultural heritage in the subcontinent.
After Turkish general Ulugh Khan Jahan founded the city, formerly known as Khalifatabad, in the 15th century, he adorned it with mosques, bridges and various other establishments. The structures are notable for their Turkish architectural style.
The city flourished under the general and declined quickly after his death.
A place to pray
‘Shat Gambuj Mosque’, as it later came to be known, survived the test of time and still remains one of the largest mosques in Bangladesh. It is not clear when the mosque’s construction began or when it was completed.
The terracotta and stone-built mosque is 168 feet long and 108 feet wide, with walls as thick as eight feet. Seventy-seven small domes adorn the roof. The four towers at the four corners have smaller domes as well. It is believed that the architects were unable to make a large dome with bricks.
Columns, supporting the ceiling, were made of stone. But it is not known how these stones were brought to Bagerhat.
“The mosque bears the exquisite artistry of 14th and 15th century. It is a fine specimen of harmony with Bangladeshi architectural style, touted as the first multi-domed mosque in the country,” said Golam Ferdous, a Bagerhat Archeological Department researcher.
He claimed it was built in resemblance to Uzbekistan’s Bibi Khanam mosque.
Md Helal Uddin, the mosque’s Imam, said unlike normal mosques, this one had 10 mihrabs (niches facing the Kaaba) as the place served as Khan Jahan’s court. Muslims still offer regular prayers and Eid prayers at the mosque.
The mosque was first repaired in 1923 by the British and then by the Pakistan government after the partition, according to the Archeological Department.
It was repaired again under the South Asian Infrastructure Development Project in 2014 while Archeological Department of Bagerhat continues to carry out regular maintenance works.
The mosque became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1985.
‘Chaad’, ‘Swast’ and ‘Shat’
There is much debate about how the mosque came to be known by its present name.
‘Shat’ refers to 60 in Bangla but the mosque has more domes than the number indicates.
Some speculate that the name derived from the 60 Khambas (pillars) supporting the roof, while there is another theory that the name is an alteration of Farsi words ‘Swast Khambuj’.
But Archeological Department officials say the domes were referred to as ‘Chaad’ or roof in Bangla and the mosque came to be called ‘Chaad Gambuj’ mosque. This name is believed to have been distorted into ‘Shat Gambuj Mosque’ over the years.
Khan Jahan: The man, the legend
Shatgambuj Union Parishad Chairman Sheikh Aktaruzzaman Bachchu said according to legends, Khan Jahan served as a soldier in the Tughlak army.
He was later promoted to the rank of commander and served as the governor of Jainpur in India, before coming to Bagerhat with an army of over 260,000 troops.
Referring to folk tales, Bachchu said Khan Jahan defeated Maggs and pirates in Ranbijoypur area.
Locals and visitors to the area urged more research into the true account surrounding the mosque and Khan Jahan, the man behind it.
But even as the mosques Khan Jahan built continue to amaze the people to this day, what really prompted him to undertake the work may never be known. It remains a mystery, much like the general himself who passed away in 1459.unb