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Tribeni: Zafar Khan Mosque
The mosque and attached dargah built by Zafar Khan Ghazi at Tribeni are amongst the earliest surviving Islamic monuments in Bengal. An inscription dates the mosque to 1298 which is within a century of Bhaktiyar Khalji's occupation of Gaur, and within 20 years of Zafar Khan's occupation of this region. The structure is unusual for this region in many ways and seems to represent a transition from stone post-and-lintel temples of the Pala-Senas to the brick dome-and-arch structures introduced and patronized by Bengal's Muslim rulers. Stone columns and bases (perhaps reused from temples) support brick and sandstone arches and domes.


Mosque Interior
The mosque has five wide entrance arches, supported on hexagonal stone pillars giving it a light and open aspect compared to heavy, closed mosques such as at Bagerhat. The cornice here is straight unlike later Bengali mosques where it is distinctively curved. Similarly, the brick-built domes above are bell-shaped here but more hemispherical in later Bengali Muslim architecture. However, the mosque does have several features unique to Bengali Islamic architecture such as a dome above each prayer bay, a single prayer chamber without an interior courtyard (as it is unsuitable for the rainy weather) and the lack of minarets.


Mosque Interior
The east and west aisles are separated into two bays by a brick wall up to the level of the stone columns. These walls have profuse but decaying terracotta ornamentation.


Central Mihrab
The mihrab in the centre of the wall is filled with vegetal ornament with a row of rosettes separating the rectangle at the bottom from the cusped arch above. On either side of this are two columns of terracotta panels with miniature arches. A similar terracotta mihrab in the north aisle has similar arches but with the bell-and-chain motif. This motif reappears in other mosques in Bengal including the Bagha mosque in Rajshahi. In the west wall are three mihrab niches each contained within ornate arches. Fragments of Hindu temples have been extensively used in these mihrabs. Their frames are from temple wall niches with the figures removed and verses from the Koran carved in. But it is not all reused temple parts. Above the mihrab niche is a sandstone cusped arch with creepers emanating from the cusps ending in roundels and grapes in the arch spandrels, all traditional Islamic motifs.


Inscription
A stone tablet, beautifully carved in the Tuluth calligraphic script, has been inserted into the wall next to the mihrab.


Dargah
Zafar Khan Ghazi and his family are buried in two open tomb chambers to the east of the mosque. This dargah has walls with stone bases (sometimes reused temple fragments) and a mostly-brick superstructure. Each chamber has four arches on each wall of which only the north and south are actual entrances to the tomb chambers. The graves are raised on a masonry platform at the centre of the chambers. A variety of building materials have been used. At the base are stone blocks (reused from temples), while the walls are made both of red sandstone and bricks.


Navagraha Panel
Fragments from Hindu temples have been inserted into the wall bases often upside down and without removing the figures. Panels with images of navagraha, dashavatara, and wide vegetal creepers can be seen. A Hindu temple entrance frame has been used in the east entrance to the dargah.


Kalpalata Panel
Figural sculptures at the base of the frame are removed but purnaghata motifs above and miniature rekha deuls are retained. The lintel images plaques are also retained with the images removed. In the absence of any extant temples from the Pala-Sena period, these fragments are the few examples of Hindu sculpture from this period that exist outside a museum.



Photos and Text © Amit Guha