The Unfinished Journey of Lalbagh Fort

Lalbagh Fort is situated towards the northwest part of Dhaka near the fertile banks of Buriganga. It is locally also known as Fort Aurangabad which was the earlier name of Lalbagh. This architectural edifice has gained a lot of popularity due its historical relation with the later Mughals and at present it is considered one of the most popular architecture in Dhaka which resembles the art and architecture of the later Mughal period.

This fort has always been surrounded with innumerable stories and myths which started along with its construction. During the rule of Aurangzeb his third son, Prince Muhammad Azam was the viceroy of Bengal and it was he who started the construction of this fort in 1678. But, according to history, Prince Azam was called back to Delhi by his father during the Maratha war and thus the work of building the fort was left unfinished. After, Muhammad Azam’s departure Shaista Khan was made the new Subedar of Bengal and it was he who again restarted the construction of this fort. During the second phase of construction of the fort, Shaista Khan’s daughter, Iran Dukht, popularly known as Pari Bibi died there which came as a shock for Shaista Khan making him believe the fort to be a bad omen and thus the construction was immediately stopped. He left Bengal leaving the fort abandoned which is considered an unfinished jewel till today. The Archaeological department of Bangladesh now maintains this fort which receives thousands of visitors every month.

This fort comprises of four most important places including the Mosque, Tomb of Pari Bibi, the Governor’s Residence and the South Gate. Towards the west lies the mosque topped with three beautiful domes. The architecture of the mosque is a typical Mughal style having a large central dome with two identical small domes on either side. The mosque is a rectangular shaped structure having minaret on its four sides. These minarets are topped with a domical cupola on top. There are arched entrances below for people to enter the mosque.

The most important and beautiful structure inside the fort premises is the Tomb of Pari Bibi, daughter of Shaista Khan and to whom this fort was later dedicated by Emperor Aurangzeb himself. It stands on a high raised square shaped stone platform with a big arched entrance in the middle of the monument. There are four minaret lookalike octagonal turrets on its all four sides which enhances its architectural beauty. These turrets have plastered kiosk topped with a cupola, a typical Mughal minar design. The square monument has 9 chambers inside with the central chamber housing the remains of Pari Babi. It has a raised square cenotaph in the middle. The whole chamber floor is covered with marble. Some of the rooms have coloured tiles along the walls. There are four arched entrances with the main entrance lying towards the south side. It is said that the main entrance was once fitted with sandal wood door leaves bearing resemblance to the Chinese criss-cross pattern. The other three entrances are blocked with white marbled jallies. The main attraction of this structure is the central dome which is made of black basalt said to be brought from the Rajmahal hills.

The next structure of the complex used to be the house of Shaista Khan which is now termed as the Governor’s building. This two storey structure consists of a audience hall and the hammam. The hammam has a masonry tank with steps leading down which was used to store water for bathing purpose. Next structure of the complex worth mentioning is the South Gate being the main entrance of the fort. It is a grand three-storey structure with a square chamber and minarets on the sides. The minars are beautifully topped with kiosks and have domed cupolas with a finial on top. The main entrance has stairs flanked on the side that leads one to the second storey.

Even with so many attractive structures one can easily see the unfinished ruggedness of this fort. There are several areas where there are signs of incompletion. When this fort was handed over to the British, they further destroyed the original essence of this monument by adding alterations.  Today, this monument is one of the most significant buildings in Dhaka which is a reminiscent of the glorious past of once undivided Bengal. The importance of this fort lies in the fact that till today one can see the unfinished work in the structures of the building. Unlike other architectural edifices of the Mughal period this particular structure does not match in grandeur, style and aesthetics seen in most of the Mughal monuments of India. Also, the lack of stylistic finesse and decorations in the construction of this structure bears testimony to the fact that art and architecture by the time of Aurangzeb had seen a steep decline due to various socio-political factors.