After an amazing Saturday spent at Pandua, the first capital of independent Sultanate of Bengal, I went back to Malda Town. The Sunday was reserved for the majestic Gour – where the very concept of Bengal was born. I started early in the morning. It is not very difficult to get a bus for Gour from Malda and it takes only about half-n-hour. By 9 o’clock, I was in Gour – the name that originated from the Bengali name of Jaggery – ‘Gur’
My first stop was the Boro Sona Masjid or the Baroduari Masjid. Boro Sona Masjid is the largest among the ruined structures of Gour. It is true that its size is incomparable with that of Adina, but for any other mosque in the region, Boro Sona Masjid is quite huge. The surface and the roofs of the mosque was once gilded and that made it look like a shining golden mosque which gave it the name – Boro Sona Masjid (The Large Golden Mosque) because there was already a smaller golden mosque. (Choto Sona Masjid located in present-day Bangladesh). The Sona Masjid of Pandua was constructed in a later period.
Gour has been the heart of administration for Bengal since Shashanka established the first independent kingdom of Bengal and made Gour its capital. It was only during the governors of Bengal under Tughlaq rule Pandua was established and it gained importance. In fact, when the first independent Sultan of Bengal Shamsuddin Illiyas Shah gained independence from Tughlaq Sultanate, his capital was in Pandua. Pandua’s glory was short lived because only within a century, the city was deserted. When Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah restored the Illiyas Shahi Dynasty (1435) from the house of Raja Ganesh, he shifted his administration back to Gour. Gour by that time has become Lakhnauti (it was called Lakhanvati during the Sena dynasty & the Sultans called it Lakhnauti).
Illiyas Shahi Dynasty, the longest to rule Bengal was restored by Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah in the year 1435 and they continued to rule till 1487 when a Bengal went under Habshi Rule for a short period. In the year 1494, Alauddin Hussain Shah established the second greatest dynasty in Bengal – the Hussain Shahi Dynasty. His Son Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah (1518-1533) has been credited with the construction of Boro Sona Masjid. The general conception is that Boro Sona Masjid was built by Nasirduddin in the year 1526, however, some historians think the mosque was actually built by his father and Nasiruddin only added a massive gateway to it. The contradiction is mainly raised because of the Bagha Masjid. Bagha Masjid, located in Rajshahi province of Bangladesh was also constructed by Nasiruddin and has exceptionally beautiful terracotta carving on it. The Boro Sona Masjid, which was built about three years after the Bagha Masjid has nothing ornamental on its surface. This raises the question whether Nasiruddin would build a less ornamental mosque shifting from his original style? That is why some historians feel that the mosque was finished before Nasiruddin ascended the throne and he only made alterations or additions to it.
Apart from its gigantic size (51.2 Mtrs X 23.15 Mtrs), the mosque is a simple building built in the prevailing Sultanate style of Architecture. The length of the mosque is divided into eleven rows while the breadth is divided into three aisles and a spacious verandah. The eleven rows have created eleven doorways into the verandah which opens to the prayer hall. Eleven Rows and four aisles created 44 blocks inside on top of which a gigantic spherical dome was placed. There were 44 massive brick domes which created the roof of the fantastic mosque. At present, the domes on the verandah exist while the others have vanished. The gold that once adorned the surface and the domes of the mosque is also gone and the doorways also faced the same fate.
While the mihrabs on the West wall of the mosque are all dilapidated, the external face and the verandah are still standing. The condition of the front and the sides are much better than that of the back. The prayer hall has also been opened through three gateways each on the sides. The external gateways are pointed-arched with a rectangular framing created by surface projection. Apart from this, the only ornamentation visible in the string projection at Lintel level with a different coloured stone. The mosque is built with brick with stone cladding on the surface. The corners of the building are strengthened with octagonal pillars. The parapet has been created in a shallow curve which is a unique feature of Bengali Architecture.
The Mosque is also called Baro Duari Masjid (A mosque with twelve doors). Since there are only eleven doors on the Eastern side of the mosque it is confusing why it is called so. The probable reason for that probably another Arabic word – ‘Baraduari’ which means ‘Gathering Hall’. The huge courtyard that is formed by the boundary wall around the mosque was once used as a gathering hall and thus the mosque got this name. The peripheral boundary wall is not existing anymore but two of the cardinal gateways are still present. The North & the East gateways are still standing of which the Eastern one is very much intact. The gateways are also in total conformity with the design of the main mosque and have a shallow curve in parapet with a wide arched gateway in the centre. The corners of the gateway too are strengthened with octagonal pillars. The gateway has the string projection at five levels.
Comparing with other existing structures of the Sultanate period, many people feel Boro Sona Mosque is too simple but once reaching the place, I felt that It is not simple, rather it is just perfect. Many times, we architects follow a principle – to look good you don’t have to always wear a lot of ornaments. Boro Sona Masjid is just that – a perfect blend of proportion, axial balance and finish. Moreover, we have to remember that this was once gilded and the pattern of the gilding is not known – naturally, at that time, it sure did look much different. Nasiruddin’s apprehension of architecture cannot be totally judged with the present look of Boro Sona Mosque.
From there, I headed towards the largest gateway of Bengal at that Period – the Dakhil Darwaza.
Best Time to Visit: The Complex remains open all day between 9am-6pm. The summer days can be avoided for scorching sun on the head.
How to Reach: Regular Bus facility from Malda Town can be availed. Bagdogra is the nearest airport. Gour Malda or Old Malda station has connectivity with New Jalpaiguri and Sealdah (Kolkata) Station.