The Nawabs Who Ruled Bangladesh: Life And Lifestyle

The Ahsan Manzil stands on the bank of the Buriganga, at the southern part of Dhaka City. The area was formerly known as Kumartuly Mahalla of Islampur. In the middle of 18th Century A.D, Sheikh Enayetullah, the Zamindar of Jalalpur Pargana (present Faridpur, Barisal) built a pleasure palace here. His son Sheikh Mariullah sold it out to the French Traders who build a trade centre here. A big round shaped tank situated to the North West of Ahsan Manzil was known as Lewis Jalla in French time. Khwaja Alimullah, the father of Nawab Abdul Ghani, purchased this Kothi from the French in 1830. He renovated the building and made it fit for his own residence. Thereafter, many changes and alternations were made in the later years. Nawab Abdul Ghani completely renovated and reconstructed the whole Palace in 1859 and named it ‘Ahsan Manzil’ after the name of his loving son Khwaja Ahsanullah. A severe tornado crashed down the major portions of Ahsan Manzil on 7th April 1888 and greatly damaged almost the whole of Ahsan Manzil. The present high dome was added to it when reconstructed afresh. There was not a single building at the then Dhaka so impressive like Ahsan Manzil. It’s dome was the highest tower of the town, attracted all from a very great distance.

Ahsan Manzil Bangladesh
Ahsan Manzil is a very important and excellent work of architecture constructed at Dhaka during 19th Century. It’s attractive open terrace is stretched towards south facing the Buriganga with natural beauty. The whole Ahsan Manzil is divided into two portions. The Eastern side with dome is known as Rang Mahal (Pleasure Place) and the Western sides with residential quarters are called Andar Mahal (female or inner ward). The Rang Mahal is again divided into two equal parts. The high octagonal dome is erected on the central round room. On it’s first floor of the Eastern side there are drawing room, playing card room, library and three guests rooms and on the Western side there are Ball Room, Hindustani room and a few residential room. On the Eastern side of the ground floor there is a Dining Hall and on the West, a Darbar or Assembly Hall, Billiard Room and Coffee Room. The Southern varanda of the Place and the Nahabatkhana (gateway) on the roadside being broken off by the earthquake of 1897, were reconstructed.

Due to the lavish expenditure incurred by the Nawab and for the political causes they became badly indebted to the Moneylenders and traders of the British Government. In 1907 Nawab Salimullah was compelled to hand over the mismanaged Zamindari to the court of Wards. At the death of Nawab Salimullah in 1915 his son Habibullah was placed in his position, but gradually Zamindari parganas began to be lost one after another due to indebtedness. The inheritors began to be separated with their shares. Quarrels within the family and paucity of fund hindered to the maintenance of the Palace. In course of time due to negligence and inactiveness on the part of the authority, the lands of the Nawabs around Ahsan Manzil were lost to others and the palace became deserted. This beautiful architecture work of historical value came almost to extinct

Under the Zamindari acquisition bill law except Ahsan Manzil and its surrounding areas along with other Khash Lands the Government acquired the eatste of the Nawabs on 14.4.1952. After the death of Nawab Habibullah in 1958 his eldest son Khwaja Hasan Askari became the Nawab. Meanwhile the members of the Khwaja family went away inside or outside the country in search of livelihood and work. When Hasan Askari left this Palace in the decade of fifties the Palace became totally dilapidated for want of renovation and maintenance.

Ahsan Manzil, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Greatly related to national history and valuable architectural monument, a Government move was made at the closing years of Pakistan to make Ahsan Manzil a memorial museum. After the liberation of Bangladesh the then Prime Minister and the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Majibur Rahman with his need in view ordered Dhaka Museum and Parjaton Corporation to make a united project proforma for the purpose. During President Ziaur Rahman the program advanced and in 1977 Dhaka Museum made a project with the aim of expenditure of Tk. 2, 25, 50,000/- to be incurred for materializing it.

On 4th November 1985, Ahsan Manzil Palace building with its adjoining lands acquired by the Martial Law Regulations NO 4/1985. The Government ordered to make a memorial Museum here after necessary reconstruction under the guidance of Ministry of Cultural Affairs and with the total supervision of Bangladesh National Museum. In 1986 the work began according to the above order under the supervision of the National Museum keeping the original structure undisturbed and bringing the old environ as far as possible. The Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka took over the charge of acquiring buildings and lands of Ahsan Manzil and extended compensation to the related inheritors. The work of reconstruction and enhancing beauties of the palace were given to public works Department and Department of Architecture. The Bangladesh National Museum took the responsibility of creating a memorial Museum and controlling it. The total cost of the project stood at TK. 13,57,94.000/-

Kumartuly Mahalla of Islampur

It should be noted here that some portions of Ahsan Manzil including half of the Andar Mahal still left outside the acquisition. At the time of the establishment the Museum authority purchased some objects found in different rooms of Ahsan Manzil and in Edward House controlled by Dhaka Nawab Court of Wards. The furnitures are made according to original ones from the photographs of different rooms of the palace taken in 1904. The objects are also collected and displayed comparing the old ones.

Begum Khaleda Zia, the then Prime Minister of Bangladesh has inaugurated the Ahsan Manzil Museum on 20th September, Sunday of the year 1992 A.D

Dhaka Ahsan Manzil

Ahsan Manzil is so important a palace that some chapters of the history of Bangladesh are very much related to it. From last half of the 19th century to the beginning of Pakistan during almost a century at least five renowned leaders lived in this palace. They are (I) Nawab Abdul Ghani, (II) Nawab Ahsamullah, (III) Nawab Salimullah, (IV) Nawab Habibullah and (V) Sir Khwaja Narimuddin. The ancestor of the Dhaka Nawabs and the builder of this Palace, Khwaja Alimullah had very cordial relation with the British Government Noblemean. The High Officials of East India Company used to come to this Palace at different times and Khwaja Alimullah accorded them warm welcome in European style. It was in this Palace that Khwaja Alimullah in 1846 A.D. completed a Wakfnama in favour of his efficient son Abdul Ghani making him Mutawalli or representative to look after his properties and allotted honorarium to other sons and daughters.

At the time of Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, Nawab Abdul Ghani arranged a meeting of the elite’s of the town in this Palace to protect Dhaka from lawlessness, looting and killing. The Panchayat System that had been traditionally prevailing from the time of the Mughal to mitigate different problems of the local people, the Nawabs set in a assembly full to render work of justice for that purpose. After the appointment of Abdul Ghani as honourary magistrate in 1866, it became his public duty to render necessary justice to the public. When a communal riot between Shia and Sunni occurred in 1869, it was stopped by Nawab Abdul Ghani. He called a meeting of the leaders of both the Communities at his assembly hall to discuss the matter. After four days discussion he conclusively settled the matter in question. On this occasion the Nawab had to feed twenty thousand people for four days.

The Nawabs of Dhaka were awarded various high titles by the British Government at different times. On the occasion of getting C.S.I of Nawab Abdul Ghani in 1871, Mr. Simpson, commissioner of Dhaka awarded it to him in a grand ceremony arranged in this Palace. To set up filling water tap connection at Dhaka, Nawab Abdul Ghani called a meeting of the landlords and richmen of Dhaka and its adjoining places in this Palace in 1874. But when he hardly got any response from them, he alone gave taka two and half lacs to set up the water tap. When on 6th August 1874 the Governor General Lord Northbook came to Dhaka to lay the foundation stone of this water tap connections he was stayed in this Palace as an honourable guest of the Nawab.

Ahsan Manzil Front View

In 1878 the water tap connection was inaugurated by the commissioner of Dhaka Mr. F.B. Peacock through a grand ceremony. Henceforth whenever the Viceroys and Governors came to Dhaka all of them also set their foot in Ahsan Manzil. Besides official visit, on the occasion of the marriage ceremony of Nawabjada Nasurullah, Lord Lytton came here to attend the function, the Lady Lytton who accompanied him also mixed with the Ladies of the Nawab in inner Palace. In 1886 Lord Dufferin came here for a special visit. It is known from Lady Dufferin’s writings that she saw the world renowned Diamond Dara-i-Noor’ while visiting Ahsan Manzil. At that time she termed the Palace ground that was illuminated with candle lights as the ‘Garden of Light in the World’.

During the glorious days of the Nawabs of Dhaka, a golden bounds visitors book was kept in the main stair room. The high officials including the Europeans wrote their comments and signatures on it. On the eve of Miladunnabi in each year the Palace was decorated and illuminated with lights. During Nawab Abdul Ghani’s time the spring festival that had been arranged every year at Zinjira on the other side of Buriganga, was shifted to Ahsan Manzil Compound. In 1863 an honourary English School was opened by Abdul Ghani in a room attached to the Palace. Salimullah next opened a night school for mass education. In 1899 Nawab Ahsamullah and Nawab Yusifjan established like that of Calcutta the Dhaka Mohammedan Sporting Club with the help of sports lovers. To mitigate the sufferings of the citizens of Dhaka and to enhance its beauty and modernize it, Nawab Ahsamullah arranged electric lights in 1901 with Taka four and half Lacs. It was opened on 7th December by Mr. C. Bolton, Secretary of Revenue Board in a grand ceremony arranged on the southern veranda of Ahsan Manzil.

On 2nd July, 1902 the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal Sir John Woodburn and Lady Woodburn with many other high officials became honourable guests of the Nawab to stay in Ahsan Manzil and on the next day 22nd July Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. laid foundation stone of Engineering School and female Ward of Mitford Hospital created by the donation of the Nawab.

On 4th December 1903 Friday, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal Sir Andrew Frazer came with his wife to Dhaka and signed in Ahsan Manzil, Chief Secretary Mr. Macpherson and his wife, Private Secretary Mr. Stevenson and others were also present with him. In the evening of that day Lieutenant Governor attended a meeting in North Brook Hall. Next day he visited the water works system and inaugurated Asmatunnesa Female Ward in Mitford Hospital established with donation of the Nawab.

In 1903 when the British Government planned to partition of Bengal, Nawab Salimullah arranged an important meeting of the leaders of the Hindus and Muslims Communities on the 11th January in Ahsan Manzil. In the meeting an unanimous resolution was passed against the Governments decision of the partition of Bengal, but Salimullah made an alternative proposal in favour of the people of this area and almost in accordance to that the partition of Bengal was later done. To enlist the support of the people in favour of the partition of Bengal the Viceroy Lord Curzon came to visit East Bengal in February, 1904 and stayed in Ahsan Manzil on 18th an d19th February as a guest of Nawab Salimullah. On the 18th February, Thursday at 3:30 p.m. he was given a warm reception and a hearty welcome addresses from various institutions and organizations were given in compound of Ahsan Manil.

On 9th November 1905 morning the Lieutenant Goevrnor of the new province of Bengal Sir Barnfyeld Fuller came to Ahsan Manzil to see the water works and Electric lights system. From 27 to 29 December, 1906 the meeting of ‘All India Mohammedan Educational Conference’ was arranged by Nawab Salimullah at Sahabagh and was attended by Muslim leaders from all India. On 30th December “All India Muslim League” proposed by Salimullah was established. Almost all the leaders who came to attend this meeting were entertained and welcome in Ahsan Manzil. With the collaboration and initiative of the Nawab, many political and social meetings were held in Dhaka and for this purpose preliminary arrangement and meetings were always held in Ahsan Manzil.

A meeting of the provincial Muslim League was held under the presidentship of Nawab Salimullah at Ahsan Manzil on Wednessday 15th March and on Fridat 17th March 1911. The President of All India Muslim League Maulavi Aziz Mirza was present in the meeting. On 24th November, 1912 a large procession was led by Nawab Salimullah and Khwaja Atikullah for assistance to the disabled Turkish Mujahidin Soldiers of Balkan war fought against European powers. The ladies association consisted of the females of the Nawab Family was visited by Lady Carmichael on 22nd July 1913. A relative of Nawab Salimullah and Secretary of the Society Almasi Banu read the address of welcome to Lady Carmichael in the room of Khwaja Musa in the Palace of Ahsan Manzil.

After the death of Nawab Salimullah in 1915 and at the time of Nawab Habibullah while on the one hand the Nawab Family rapidly began to fall downwards, on the other hand, the Palace began to become dilapidated. At a time When Nawab Habibullah offered a luncheon party to the Central Minister of Pakistan, though the glory of this Palace was over, Governor General Ghulam Mohammad praised the architectural design of the Palace.

Text source: Ahsan Manzil Museum Authority, Bangladesh