Firoz Minar – The mark of African rule in Bengal


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Through the massive Dakhil Darwaja, I went out of the Citadel of Gour and entered the ancient city. About a kilometre South of the giant gateway, where once the city centre was located, is standing a beautiful tower – Firoz Minar. The tower with its astonishing scarlet face stands amid a beautiful surrounding – tall mango trees with their green foliage and a serene waterbody.
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26 meters in height, Firoz Minar was once compared with the Qutub Minar of Delhi. Though it has absolutely no match with the height & size of the mighty Qutub, it is no short in glory. Between the Illiyas Shahi & Hussain Shahi Dynasties of Bengal, a short period was ruled by Habshi Rulers. While both the Illiyas Shahi & Hussain Shahi family were upper cast Muslims with origins from the middle east, the Habshi rulers were from Ethiopia, Africa. They were brought by the sultans of Delhi & other parts of the country as slaves, soldiers & eunuchs but in Bengal, towards the end of 15th Century, the Africans rose to power to leave a permanent mark in the history of a place, thousands of miles away from their home soil. It was believed that there were nearly 8000 Ethiopian employees in the different levels of Sultanate administration and their growing popularity became a threat to the royal family and patronage. Sensing a threat from the upper cast section, the Habshis united and built such a force that dethroned their king and Habshis became the ruler.
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It was a short-lived reign of only about six years but between that, the Habshis could prove their ability to control power, so welfare and run a government. Within the small time, four different Habshi rulers ascended the throne of Bengal but among them, the ablest and successful was Saif al-din Firuz Shah (1488-1490). Firuz was such a good person that even the upper caste Ashrafs were in his favour.  Firuz was a bold, charismatic leader with secular values. His welfare reached beyond the Muslim population up to the non-muslims. Firuz started offering a living wage to artisans and architects and also offered money to the lower caste Hindu population.
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The beautiful Landscape around the Tower

The best testimony of Firuz’s able governance and his patronage towards art & architecture in the Victory tower he erected in the year 1488. The Firoz Minar, named after him was situated in the centre of the town adjoining a beautiful tank – also excavated by the same ruler. It is believed that the tower was actually part of the central mosque which became dilapidated and eventually vanished over time. The Tower used to serve as Majana from where the Muajjin calls for prayer. Just like Qutub Minar of Delhi, in this case also, the main purpose was actually not a Muajjin’s call rather, it was erected as a symbol of the power of the ruler. The impressive height of the tower is surely unmatched in the region and had been a true testament of the noble Abbysinian rule in the country.
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Front Side of the Tower

The 26 meters tower has, at present, 5 levels of which the bottom three are twelve-sided and the upper ones are circular. While the foundation and the plinth of the tower are constructed with stones, its entire superstructure is built with bricks. each of the floors is separated by a string moulding with fine terracotta carvings above and below it. Actually, there was the sixth floor at the top of the tower which was basically a domed cupola or open verandah. A complex spiral staircase of 76 steps leads to the top of the tower. The circular upper part is separated from the twelve-sided lower part with a projected dripstone. The upper stories are comparatively more ornamental because there we can see series of string mouldings below the door lintel as well as at the roof level. At present, the entire plaster of the walls of Firuz Minar is lost but a painting from 1804 shows beautiful stucco work on the terracotta panels on the wall of the tower.
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 (Source: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/other/largeimage69476.html.
Description: Plate thirteen from ’24 Views in Indostan by William Orme’. This picture is based on an earlier composition by Thomas Daniell (1749-1840). Although titled ‘A Pagoda’, the picture actually represents Firoz Minar (also known as the Pir Asa Minar) in the abandoned ancient site of Gaur in West Bengal. The Firoz Minar is a Victory tower which was constructed in 1486 by Firoz Shah. Victory towers such as these were often built by Indian rulers to commemorate the success of important battles. The Firoz Minar is 84 feet high and can be climbed through an internal staircase leading to a platform at the top.

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In medieval India, Towers were very popular among the rulers to show their power and wealth to the world. Starting from Qutub Minar, Chand Minar, Jhulta Minar, Ek-Minar are some excellent examples of towers built by rulers to display their strength. Firoz Minar, which was erected around the same period was no difference. The uniqueness of this tower is its patron, Firuz Shah, an Ethiopian by birth who rose to the height of power after being a slave in the kingdom.

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Rear Side of the Tower

Firoz Minar is not just a piece of architecture built in brick & mortar – it is a true symbol of the power and unity of a section of society generally oppressed by another – it is sweat and blood that can give shape to such a magnificent structure with such rich history.

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 however it is the best time to enjoy the world’s sweetest Mangoes grown here.

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.

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