Friday, June 10, 2011

Sonargaon Tombs & Mausoleums - Embracing a History of Death

The tomb of Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah

Something inside me was resisting an itinerary that included a lot of tombs in Sonargaon, for how morbid could one be if we dwell on death when there are enough on war, poverty and heartbreak all around us.

But little did I know. Tomb architecture is indeed a valid subset of topic all over Bengal. This concerns the types of buildings erected over the graves. Forget the hadith that imposes the practice of taswiyat al-qubur, i.e. that tombs should be on ground level as with the surrounding earth. These tombs have been relentlessly raised above the earth, from simple tombstones to grand eye-popping mausoleums fit for kings.

These structures have been classified according to the perceived date of construction: Sultanate (pre-Mughal), Mughal, and colonial.

The qubba or the domed cubic monument is the oldest and most common type of tomb in Bengal as in other parts of the Muslim world. It existed in pre-Mughal (aka Sultanate) and Mughal periods.

To get to these different places, we would shimmy through narrow streets while local folks gazed at us with bated breath. We were “interesting beings” – and every time we get off out rickshaws, a small crowd has already gathered around our path. Didn't I tell you how curious Bangladeshis are? That they have indeed mastered the art of gawking until they are blue. Though this may seem annoying to some backpackers, I find this trait utterly endearing, although it can be spine-tingling when you are crossing a busy road and 5 different, albeit unrelated souls ask you a hundred questions that start with, “Where is your country?”, “Where you from?” Suddenly, you are more important than the on-coming vehicles on a busy road. Now who wouldn't be flattered?

I asked Mafuz to write down the names of these places because, as heaven is my witness, these tombs were either unmarked or have Bengali characters. He wrote this down: Panch Pir Dargah (Five Muslim Heroes Mausoleum), and for completion, he enumerated their names: Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah, Sultan Shamsuddin Azam Shah, Sultan Iliasuddin Azam Shah, Sultan Kalu and Sultan Gazi. These were the grave owners, according to him.


I have heard of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah. He was quite popular as a sultan, the 3rdsultan from the 1st Ilias Shahi Dynasty of Bengal. He was a military conqueror and satiated with war as well as with diplomacy. In fact, he would send envoys to bring gifts to Khwaja Jahan of Jaunpur (an independent kingdom of northern India between 1394 to 1479 found in the present day state of Uttar Pradesh with Lucknow as its capital), Chinese emperor Young-le, as well as to the powers that be of Mecca and Medina. During his rule, brilliant poets flourished under his patronage. In fact, a Bengali version of the Ramayana came about during his reign. And you wonder why he stood out from a slew of rulers, right?

Sultan Ghiyasuddin supposedly died in 1402, as the inscription writes, although some literatures mention 1410. The same inscription (see photo below) mentions 1410 as the date when this tomb was built. And if he indeed died in 1402, then there is an 8-year discrepancy between the death and the building of the tomb. Could a powerful, influential ruler wait that long for a proper resting abode?

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah, as this inscription mentions, died in 1402, but his tomb was built in 1410.


Trotter said...

Hi Eye! With the long weekend here in Lisbon (four days off...), I finally manage to stroll around Blogosphere... And to find another fabulous post where you always learn a lot!!!

Blogtrotter Two is visiting some beautiful villages... Enjoy and have a splendid weekend!!

eye in the sky said...

Always nice to have days off to recharge. Time enough to post more of your amazing travel photos as well. :->