Published:  02:07 AM, 12 September 2019

Shaista Khan: Amazing architect of Dhaka

Shaista Khan: Amazing architect of Dhaka

Mirza Abu Talib was of Persian origin and had a direct connection with the Moghul emperor dating back from the time of his grandfather. He was the son of Shah Jahan's grand-wazir Abu'l Hassan Asaf Khan and was the grandson of Jahangir's grand-wazir Itmauddowlah Mirza Ghiyas Beg. In recognition of his family's service and position in the Moghul court, he was first made a Shaesta Khan during Jahangir's reign, later on a Khan Jahan and then an Amir-ul-Umera. Thus, from there started the great chronicle of Shaesta Khan.

Shaesta Khan was the brother of Shah Jahan's wife, Empress Mumtaz Mahal and the maternal uncle of Dara Shikoh, Shah Shuja, Aurangzeb and Muradbaksh. Shaesta's father, Asaf Khan, was the brother of Noorjahan. Shaesta Khan, before coming to Dhaka, was the Subehdaar of the Deccan. Being assigned to Dhaka was a punishment to Shaesta by Aurangzeb because he was not sufficiently alert when on a Ramzaan night Shaesta's residence in Puna was suddenly raided by the people of Sivajee. During this unprecedented attack one of Shaesta's sons, Abul Fattah, was killed and Shaesta Khan himself lost one of his fingers.

Another one of his ambitious projects, the SaatGumbad Mosque, is also a fine example of provincial Moghul style of architecture. The mosque has seven bulbous domes crowning the roof and covering the main prayer hall. The monument stands in a romantic setting on a buttressed 15-foot-high bank overlooking an extensive flood plain. Lastly outside Dhaka, he built the Khizrpur Mosque on the bank of the Lakhya, near current - day Narayanganj.

Surprisingly for Aurangzeb, this punishment turned out to be a fruitful venture. When Shaesta Khan returned Bengal to Aurangzeb it was as a very promising state. Shaesta Khan was the Subehdaar of Dhaka for two terms, the first started from 1664 and continued up to 1677, while in the second term he remained from 1680 till 1688. Both of these terms added up to a full 22 years of administering this province.  Shaesta Khan had it all in him:be it a tactful and foresighted statesmen, strength and tenacity of an administrator and skills and resourcefulness of a great builder and engineer. Examples of his skills and capabilities can be visualised all over Bengal. 

Shaesta Khan built many mosques, tombs and secular buildings in the capital city of Dhaka and outside. Some of his most celebrated pieces of architecture are the palace of ChottaKattra which was built in about 1671 linked and in line with Bara Kattra, meant for visiting merchants, wayfarers and visitors. Shaesta Khan built a "Rung-Mahal" and an imposing Audience Hall in the old fort which was called a Hall of Chehel-Satoon or Hall of 40 pillars. There is also a single domed mosque inside the enclosure which projects considerable architectural taste.

He also constructed a three-domed mosque with corner towers on the Buriganga near Mitford Hospital. Shaesta Khan also made great contributions to the LalbagQilla, making additions to it. The fort was originally named Aurangabad Qilla after the name of Emperor Aurangzeb. The tomb of Bibi Pari was also built by Shaesta Khan within the wall enclosure of the fort.

The tomb is a very fine specimen of the architecture of Dhaka and of the time Shaesta Khan spent lavishly behind building the tomb, importing expensive building materials from North India. Bibi Pari is said to be the daughter of Shaesta Khan but unfortunately, she met a premature death. The three-domed Shahi Mosque in Chawk Bazar was also built by Shaesta Khan on a raised platform and is supposed to be originally a copy of the three-domed mosque he built in Mitford Hospital compound near the Buriganga river.

Another one of his ambitious projects, the SaatGumbad Mosque, is also a fine example of provincial Moghul style of architecture. The mosque has seven bulbous domes crowning the roof and covering the main prayer hall. The monument stands in a romantic setting on a buttressed 15-foot-high bank overlooking an extensive flood plain. Lastly outside Dhaka, he built the Khizrpur Mosque on the bank of the Lakhya, near current - day Narayanganj.

Shaesta Khan was generous and benevolent to one and all and extremely courteous in his behaviour with people. He was always working extensively for the good of his masses. In 1684 there was a great famine and flood in Dhaka when the streets of Dhaka were under waist deep water. At that time rice used to be sold at 16 seers (or approximately 20 kilograms) per rupee. But soon enough, through the efforts of Shaesta Khan, the price of rice came down to eight maunds or around 295 kilograms per rupee.

Shaesta Khan's excellent administration is still talked about as tradition in Bengal. His name will go down into prosperity forlong years hence. Besides being an avid builder, Shaesta Khan was also a very able and good politician and diplomat. Upon being assigned Dhaka, he decided to root out the Arakanese people and strategically brought the Portuguese and Dutch pirate leaders under his command and launched a naval attack on them.

Despite everything, during Shaesta Khan's subehdaari, Bengal saw a rapid rate of progress and development. The splendour and prosperity of Dhaka reached its zenith during his time. What was before considered to be a backward and always neglected was now a prospering state. Aurangzeb noticed this when huge amounts of money started flowing from the trade and other projects in Bengal.

The muslin industry of Dhaka and the silk industry of Maldah reached their highest perfection in his time. Aurangzeb was highly pleased with all these notable achievements of Shaesta Khan and awarded him with 5 lac rupees and with elephants and horses with jewelled trappings. Later on,the showered further honours upon Shaesta Khan and dignified him in rank next below the heir-apparent.

At the ripe age of 85 years, Shaesta Khan retired from Dhaka, after rendering 22 years of devoted and faithful services to Bengal as a whole. In 1694 he passed away in Agra at the age of 94 years, having worked efficiently as the governor of the place. Thus, ends the story of another character who contributed vastly to the betterment of our beloved Dhaka and Bengal.


The writer is Chairperson of Siddiqui's International School &
treasurer of Bangladesh English Medium Schools'
Assistance Foundation (BEMS)

----Riffat Ahmed

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