The revival of elegant traditions
The Darasbari Mosque is located in the southern suburb of the old capital Gaur, presently under the district of Chapainawabganj in Bangladesh. I Bakhsh discovered an inscription near the Darasbari mosque, recording the erection of the mosque by Sultan Yusuf Shah in the year 884/1479-80 (Hasan 1980:157). This Friday mosque has a rectangular shaped plan type with afore-room and is the earliest example of this type. It is severely damaged and the entire roof, corner turrets and the fore-room have disappeared.
The oblong main prayer chamber measures internally 30.35m by 11.92m and the fore room is 3.20m broad. The prayer hall is divided into three parts by the 5.35m wide central nave or transept. The two side wings are divided into three bays and three aisles. The prayer hall is accessed from the east by seven pointed-arch openings from the fore room. Among them, the central one is larger than the others. The left wing has three openings in the southern wall. The right wing has two openings and a niche at the lower level and two openings at the upper level. The northernmost openingof the upper level in the northern wall is the entrance for a raised gallery. The four grids in the north-west corner of the left wing were reserved for the ruler or royal members. Thiswas reached from the ground level by an entrance platform from outside. Only the brick foundation of this entrance platform can still be observed and the rest is missing. Four massive stone pillarsand four corresponding brick pilasters engaged in the wall supported the floor of the gallery and are in situ. There exists no evidence of usual stone beams andfloor slabs in this mosque. After detailed investigation in the ruined arches of the northern wall, it can be assumed that the gallery floor is supported by four groin vaults. This type of gallery construction is an exceptional example in Bengal. Thekibla wall contains threemihrab niches in the leftwing and fivemihrab niches in the right wing, two ofthese belong to the gallery at the upper level. Thecentral part has threemihrab niches and a small extramihrab niche at the upper level for the missingminbar or pulpit. The typical survivingminbars in Bengal aremade of stone and have no structural bonding with thekibla wall. The evidence of arch, starting from thekibla wall, proves that the minbar was exceptionally abrick structure and supported on thekibla wall. Thelocation of a small niche and the unfinished brick masonry in thekibla wall demonstrate that thisminbar was very high compared to the other remaining minbars.
Each side wing was covered by nine domes andopinions differ about the roofing on the transept. Theearliest thought by A A Khan was a long barrel shapedroof (Khan1930:77). Later on A Dani wrote that "the central navewas roofed over by three uniform covers and the coverconsisted of the Bengali chauchala roof type like ChotoSona mosque and Shait Gambuj mosque" (Dani1961:110) . M Hasan andC Asher also agreed with A Dani. After the recentsurvey, it is clear that the transept of the prayerhall does not have a uniform grid. The middle unit isdistinctly square, the front and the back unit alongwith the unit of the fore room are rectangular. Thereexists no example in Bengal, in which a square unit iscovered with a chauchala vault, but always covered witha semicircular dome. Examples of other mosques alsoshow that the chauchala vault in the central aisle requiresno extra massive piers as supporting members. On the other hand, the transept of the Darasbari mosque has massive brick piers like the Adina mosque and the Gunmant mosque, where the transept is covered by a tunnel vault. After considering these similarities, itcan be presumed that the transept or the central aisle was covered by a tunnel vault.
The interior and exterior surfaces of the mosque are decorated with terracotta ornamentation, most of which, except the western wall, has now disappeared. The entire outside surface of this western wall has alternate recesses and offsets vertically, and is divided into two parts by a horizontal string course in the middle. Terracotta panel with chain and bell motif is embedded in the upper part of each offset. The mihrab’s niches and their face panels in the kibla wall still retain magnificent specimens of terracotta ornamentation. Each mihrab is enclosed within a rectangular frame decorated with double friezes of spiral creepers and contained within a broad arch. The tympanum of these arches mostly depicts botanical motifs, like trees and creepers.
Prof Abu Sayeed M Ahmed is the Dean at the Department of Architecture at the University of Asia Pacific.