The historical entry gate to Gaur
|Location||West Bengal, India|
|Length||7 1/8 km|
|Width||1 – 2 km|
|Area||20 to 30 km2|
|Founded||15th century (earlier establishment not clear)|
Gauḍa, Gaur, or Gour (Bengali: গৌড়), also known as Lakhnauti, is a ruined city on the India-Bangladesh border, most of the former citadel is located in present-day the Malda district of West Bengal, India, while a smaller part is located in Nawabganj District of Bangladesh. This city was on the east bank of the Ganges river, 40 kilometers (25 mi) downstream from Rajmahal, 12 km south of Malda. Howeverver, the current course of the Ganges is far away from the ruins.
Lakshmanavati or Lakhnauti gathered prominence during the Sena dynasty, with the name of the city, often attributed to the Sena king Lakshman Sena. Prior to the accession of the Sena dynasty, Gauda region was under the control of the Pala dynasty and, in all probability, Karnasuvarna, the capital of Shashanka, served as the administrative headquarter. For example, the Khalimpur copperplate inscription of Dharmapal, refers to the monarch as Gaudeshwar (lord of Gauda). It is possible that, the Sena dynasty, that supplanted the Pala dynasty in Bengal proper (and to Gauda region) felt the need for a new administrative capital, to reduce the Pala influence. It is possible that the process might have been started by Vijay or Ballal Sena - but given the final shape by Lakshmana Sena. In fact Lakshmanasena had the administrative capital at Lakhnauti while a lesser capital (more likely a retreat in his later days) at Nadia. It was in the later capital, possibly less defended, that he was surprised by Ikhtiyar-ud-din Mohammad ibn Bakhtiyar Khalji.
The area was known as Gauḍa (ablate of Sankrit guḍa, meaning sweet or molasses or root) at the time was under the rule of famous Bengali kings such as Shashanka. In the 7th century Gopala by a democratic election in Gauḍa became the first independent Buddhist king of Bengal and founded the Pala Empire. The Pala dynasty ruled for nearly four centuries between the mid to late 8th century to 12th century CE. The Palas were often described by opponents as the Lords of Gauḍa. It was also a prosperous city during the Sena dynasty's rule in Bengal. However, its most well documented history begins with its conquest in 1198 by the Muslims, who retained it as the chief seat of their power in Bengal for more than three centuries. Around the year 1350, the Sultans of Bengal established their independence, and transferred their seat of government to Pandua (q.v.), also in Malda district. To build their new capital, they plundered Gauḍa of every monument that could be removed. When Pandua was in its turn deserted (1453), Gauḍa once more became the capital under the name Jannatabad; it remained so as long as the Muslim kings retained their independence. In 1565 Sulaiman Khan Karrani, a Pashtun ruler, abandoned it for Tanda, a place somewhat nearer the Ganges. Gauḍa was sacked by Sher Shah in 1539, and was occupied by Akbar's general Munim Khan in 1575, when Daud Khan Karrani, the last of the Afghan dynasty, refused to pay homage to the Mughal emperor. This occupation was followed by an outbreak of the plague and course change of the Ganges, which completed the downfall of the city. Since then it has been little better than a heap of ruins, almost overgrown with jungle.
Historical measurements and statistics
The city in its prime measured 7 1/8 km. from north to south, with a breadth of 1 to 2 km. With suburbs it covered an area of 20 to 30 km²., and in the 16th century the Portuguese historian Faria y Sousa described it as containing 1,200,000 inhabitants. The ramparts of this walled city (which was surrounded by extensive suburbs) still exist; they were works of vast labor, and were on the average about 40 ft (12 m) high, and 180 to 200 ft (61 m) thick at the base. The facing of masonry and the buildings with which they were covered have now disappeared, and the embankments themselves are overgrown with dense jungle. The western side of the city was washed by the Ganges, and within the space enclosed by these embankments and the river stood the city of Gauḍa proper, with the fort containing the palace in its south-west corner. Radiating north, south and east from the city, other embankments are to be traced running through the suburbs and extending in certain directions for 30 or 40 m. Surrounding the palace is an inner embankment of similar construction to that which surrounds the city, and even more overgrown with jungle. A deep moat protects it on the outside. To the north of the outer embankment lies the Sagar Dighi, a great reservoir, 1600 yd. by 800 yd., dating from 1126.
Fergusson in his History of Eastern Architecture thus describes the general architectural style of Gauḍa:
It is neither like that of Delhi nor Jaunpur, nor any other style, but one purely local and not without considerable merit in itself; its principal characteristic being heavy short pillars of stone supporting pointed arches and vaults in brick whereas at Jaunpore, for instance, light pillars carried horizontal architraves and flat ceilings. Owing to the lightness of the small, thin bricks, which were chiefly used in the making of Gauḍa, its buildings have not well withstood the ravages of time and the weather; while much of its enamelled work has been removed for the ornamentation of the surrounding cities of more modern origin. Moreover, the ruins long served as a quarry for the builders of neighboring towns and villages, till in 1900 steps were taken for their preservation by the government. The finest ruin in Gauḍa is that of the Great Golden Mosque, also called Bara Darwaza, or twelve doored (1526). An arched corridor running along the whole front of the original building is the principal portion now standing. There are eleven arches on either side of the corridor and one at each end of it, from which the mosque probably obtained its name. These arches are surmounted by eleven domes in fair preservation; the mosque had originally thirty-three.
The Eunuchs' mosque, in the ancient suburb of Firozpur, has fine carving, and is faced with stone fairly well preserved. The Tantipar mosque (1475–1480) has beautiful moulding in brick, and the Lotan mosque of the same period is unique in retaining its glazed tiles. The citadel, of the Muslim period, was strongly fortified with a rampart and entered through a magnificent gateway called the Dakhil Darwaza (1459–1474). At the south-east corner was a palace, surrounded by a wall of brick 66 ft (20 m) high, of which a part is standing. Near by were the royal tombs. Within the citadel is the Kadam Rasul mosque (1530), which is still used, and close out side is a tall tower called the Firoz Minar (perhaps signifying tower of victory). There are a number of Muslim buildings on the banks of the Sagar Dighi, including, notably, the tomb of the saint Makhdum Shaikh Akhi Siraj (died 1357), and in the neighborhood is a burning ghat, traditionally the only one allowed to the use of the Hindus by their Muslim conquerors, and still greatly venerated and frequented by them.
Many inscriptions of historical importance have been found in the ruins. –
See M. Martin (Buchanan Hamilton), Eastern India, vol. iii. (1831); G. H. Ravenshaw, Gaur (1878); James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture (1876); Reports of the Archaeological Surveyor, Bengal Circle (1900–1904).
Archaeological preservation, restoration and excavation
The monuments of Gour are now looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India. The brick work of several monuments have been restored, though none to its early perfection or completeness. The ASI is also carrying out excavations of a mound about a kilometer from the Chikha building within the Baisgaji Wall where remains of a palace are turning up.
Exhibitions on Gour
A permanent artifact and photographic exhibition highlighting the major monuments of Gour and the restoration work undertaken by the ASI is being held at the Metcalfe Hall, Kolkata. Among the exhibits are also some fine specimens of brick moulding and glazed tiles from Gour.
Several maxis (a type of small bus), taxis, buses are available from Rathbari More, State Bus Stand, Private Bus Stand (near Atul Market). Gour (station name Gour Malda) can be reached by train from Malda Town and New Farakka.
There is an AC tourist bus service available for Gauḍa and rest of the city's historical places. The AC tourist bus departs from Malda Tourist Lodge. Advance booking have to be made. For further information contact Malda Tourist Lodge.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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