All that remains of a dead rose is not its name; but the sights and smells of history, where we can still find them, need to be treasured.
Today, the medieval city of Khalifatabad (modern Bagerhat) is home to the remains of hundreds of historic buildings, some of which have been standing for around 600 years.
Khanjahan was the founder of the city which arose from the Sundarbans edge and who earned the status of a sufi pir (saint) in his lifetime. The Archaeology Department recently resumed excavating a piece of land in Sundarghona of Bagerhat Sadar upazila – a Unesco World Heritage site popularly known as Khanjahan's homestead.
The city he created was abandoned in later years. Khanjahan's homestead also lied in negligence for a long time, with a great amount of wear and deterioration.
Although Unesco has recognised the mosque city of Bagerhat as a world heritage site, not many know about the initial settlements here, and how Khanjahan shaped its history.
The excavation will go deep into the layout of his homestead, its architectural style, structure, and chronological order.
According to the archaeology department, Unesco declared 17 sites, including the historic Shat Gambuj Mosque (60 dome mosque), as world heritage sites in 1985. The homestead of Khanjahan is one of them. The place is just 400 metres away from the iconic mosque.
Khanjahan built bridges, roads, mosques and other public buildings within an astonishingly short time. However, only two surviving monuments – his tomb and the Shat Gambuj Mosque –now bear the signs of his time.
The government acquired around 10 acres of land in 1997 to excavate Khanjahan's homestead.
To find the historic jewels of ancient Bengal, excavations resumed on December 31 last year. Remnants of 650-year-old architectural structures, installations – decorative bricks, walls – and priceless artefacts from the past – earthenware of the Sultanate and Mughal periods, earthen lids and other utensils – have been found up to now. After digging out to a depth of about two to three metres, the workers found architectural structures.
Foundations of rooms, round corner towers, and walls of Khajahan's 15th-century residence, shards of broken pottery, stoneware, road, and drain were found during earlier excavations. The quality of the infrastructures reveals a perfect mastery of the techniques of planning. The archaeology department excavated Khanjahan's 10-acre homestead several times since 2001 to find out its archaeological significance.
The current expedition will continue till January 31. However, the research on this settlement will continue beyond this timeline.
Seven officers of the archaeology department and 14 irregular workers have joined the effort. Every day visitors are coming to see the history unfold in the heart of Khanjahan's residence.
The archaeology department hopes that the real information about the residence of Khanjahan – who spent years in southern Bengal and laid out well-planned settlements and infrastructures – can be found when its work is complete.
The study of the artefacts, installations and structures will enrich the archaeological significance of the extraordinary heritage and structures left behind by Khanjahan.
In the remote and challenging climate of the Sundarbans, Khanjahan created some of the most iconic buildings of the early years of the development of Muslim architecture in Bengal. He introduced a new architectural style to his buildings. Each of the buildings he built was an architectural marvel.
The Shat Gambuj Mosque was one of the largest mosques built at that time and an architectural wonder to behold. The mosque illuminates the area's history. Calls to prayer still echo over it.
During the early years of the 15th century, Khanjahan, rallied the region's local population to clear up dense forest areas to set up human settlements, converting them to Islam.
The nobleman came to Bengal in 1429. There are many myths about him. To this day it remains unclear what had brought him to the remote, inhospitable southern Bengal. It is still not known how, but Khanjahan died in 1459 and was buried in a tomb that was built by him. He was 90 at his death, it has been learned. Monuments built by Khanjahan in Barobazar and Bagerhat were largely documented and made
available by the archaeology department. His involvement in setting up these architectural wonders suggests that he spent many days of his life here.
At Khalifatabad, Khanjahan built many other mosques – Singra, Bibi Begni, Chuna Khola, and Reza Khoda – along with the Shat Gambuj. He also set up public buildings, mausoleums out of bricks and terracotta bonded by lime or mud mortars and dug ponds including Khanjali, Pocha, and Ghora.
The Khanjali Dighi is located near his tomb and Ghora Dighi to the west of the Shat Gambuj Mosque.
Even today both the historic mosque city and Khanjahan's tomb continue to draw pilgrims.
Heritage is a window into the soul – identity – of a nation. If it is destroyed, it is like wiping out years of history and culture. The remnants of Khanjahan's homestead must be preserved and the site has to be linked with Shat Gambuj Mosque, say the locals.
A museum has already been set up to the south of the Shat Gambuj Mosque, where artefacts including inscriptions, pottery, terracotta plaques and decorative bricks are being displayed.
The architectural structures and installations found during the recent excavations are being registered as archaeological artefacts. Following a study, the relics will be preserved in the museum," Mohammad Jayed, custodian of Bagerhat Museum, Archaeology Department, said. Afroza Khan Mita, regional director of the Archaeology Department in Khulna and Barishal said: One of the purposes of the excavations is to discover and bring to light the cultural life of the medieval age city Khalifatabad and ancient human settlements.
Asked if the place they are excavating is really Khanjahan's homestead, Afroza said: There is no historical document or inscription to confirm that it was his homestead. However, this place is popularly known as Khanjahan's homestead. To find the true history, we will have to keep excavating for many more days.
The archaeological discoveries – architectural structures and installations found during the excavations since 2001 – so far suggest that it was his homestead, Jayed said.