SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Once upon a fort

In the heart of Gaur, the Firoz Minar isstill an imposing sight

While researching the life of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, I came across Lakhnauti. Khusrau had gone with Balban and stayed there. It was here that Sultan Iltutmish’s beloved son Prince Nasiruddin lost his life and was brought back and buried in Sultan Ghari in Delhi.

Lakhnauti had many connections for me. It seemed an inaccessible place till I read the blog of Deepanjan Ghosh, a heritage enthusiast based in Kolkata. I realised that the city of Gaur (also called Gouda) was established on or near Lakhnauti. I wanted to see the magnificent ruins of Gaur. So I set off to explore this medieval kingdom.

Lakshmanavati, as Lakhnauti was known originally, was ruled by the Palas and then the Senas. King Lakshman Sena laid Gaur’s foundations and made it his capital in 1179. Sultan Iltutmish’s general Bakhtiyar Khilji defeated him in 1202. After the Delhi Sultans, various rulers from the Ilyas Shahi, house of Raja Ganesh, Habshi dynasty, and the Hussain Shahi dynasty ruled from 1338 onwards till Sher Shah Suri sacked it in 1539.

Stately city

Once a very well-planned city with markets and beautiful buildings, Gaur or Gouda today is quiet, dusty and ruined.

In Memoirs of Gaur and Pandua , Khan Saheb M. Abid Ali Khan quotes Spanish traveller De Barros (prior to 1540), who describes Gaur as: “The population is so great and the streets so thronged with concourse and traffic of people, especially of such as come to present themselves at the king’s court, that they can not force their way past one another. A great part of the city consists of stately and well wrought buildings.” (De Barros da Asia Lisbon edition of 1778)

After Sher Shah sacked it, the city decayed, and when the new cities of Murshidabad and English Bazar, and later Calcutta, came up — as was the custom of recycling in the medieval era — bricks and stones from here were carried in boats to the new constructions.

Henry Creighton’s sketches

The first person to explore these spectacular ruins was Henry Creighton, an indigo planter who lived near Gaur between 1786 and 1807. He made sketches of the fort and palace.

After him, antiquarians Dr. Buchanan Hamilton in 1808 and Major W. Francklin in 1810-11 left detailed descriptions of the ruins as they were at that time. My expedition into Gaur began with a visit to the Bada Sona Mosque.

In front of it was a huge banyan tree with goats and cows sitting lazily around it and a few huts behind it.

It was hard to believe I was standing in front of a 16th century Jama Masjid that must have been the centre of much royal activity.

Built by Sultan Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah of the Hussain Shahi dynasty in 1526, the huge mosque is in ruins today.

From here we went to the Salami or Dakhil Darwaza, the entrance to the fort, and all that’s left of it. What excited me was the Firoz Minar standing majestically next to an ancient banyan tree with a small water body near it where children were playing. It was built by Saifuddin Firuz Shah, the second ruler of Bengal’s Habshi dynasty.

It is locally known as Pir Asa Mandir and Chiragh Dani. Since asa means staff it could refer to a local saint, since chiragh dani means where lamps are lit. A Sufi saint is said to be connected to heaven by his staff. Perhaps he lived here. Even Qutub Minar was supposed to be the staff of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki.

The beautiful, 84-ft tower has a 73-step spiral staircase leading to the top that’s now closed.

Standing on the lawn in front, under the shade of the banyan, with chirping birds and flitting parrots, I was transported into another world.

The beautiful, 84-ft tower has a 73-step spiral staircase leading to the top that’s now closed

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