Travelling brings some much-needed, refreshing change to the mundane routine of daily life. It also provides the opportunity to gain knowledge about various cultures, people and the historic tales about new places.
Bangladesh has a lot of stories to tell but they are often not told to a wide audience. Farashganj is one such place where tales of merchants and trades are found. It is also a treasure trove of both colonial and hybrid architecture.
Farashganj is located on the northern bank of the Buriganga River (Old Ganges) in Old Dhaka. Its principal thoroughfares are B K Das Road and Ahsanullah Road, of the Old Town. Along with Shutrapur this is also known as one of the oldest roads. This area was established in 1780 in that part of the Old Town. At that time it was more commonly known as French Market, as French traders and merchants came down to settle here for business. With a decree from Naib Nazim Nawajish Mohammad Khan, Farashganj came into existence. The name Farashganj actually given because of the French settlement. Farash is a derivative of Farashi, which means French and “ganj” means place.
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Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain[/caption]
The French East India Company settled there to run a business in Dhaka. The businesses were mainly wholesale markets of spices like raw turmeric, ginger, garlic, chilli and many more. Holding onto that tradition, spices are still being the sold in Farashganj. But modern day Farashganj has more to offer. The markets there now sell vegetable, cement, timber over spilled from Shyambazaar on the Buckland Bund (dam) into Farashganj.
When the French came to Dhaka, they had built their 'Kuthi' near the present Ahsan Manzil Palace (official residential palace of the Dhaka Nawabs). The French settlement had brought in chaos. They started their journey by capturing the English Factory in 1750. The conflict had soon turned into a crisis but was later resolved by the intervention of Jasarat Khan (Naib Nazim of Dhaka for two terms). The factory which was seized by the French became known as Dhaka Factory, years before the fall of the last Muslim ruler of Bengal in 1757.
Farashganj is not known only for its trade history. It was an embankment of a numerous historic buildings, most of which are now dilapidated. The buildings are derelict and are now abandoned palatial mansions. Many of them are over 150 years old and yet ornately disposed. There are also few centuries old buildings like the Bihari Lal Jeo Mandir, Bibi ka Raoza, Shiv Mandir, Gokul Roy's Samadhi, Lal Kuthi, etc.
The multi-court mansions are the most notable Farashganj edifices. The iron railing and balusters, often designed and manufactured in Kolkata at that time, lime plaster on small hand-made bricks, and Greco-Roman columns with ornate capitals are reminders of a unique time in history. Some of these palatial mansions were built during the late 19th and early 20th century by nouveau-riche.
Everything has its fall. All these trades, business and the old historic mansions are now mostly in the hands of the government or illegal occupiers; none shows any remorse in striping them off of the ornaments and grace. Only three of the buildings in Farashganj are listed as protected properties by the Archeology Department. These include the Ruplal house (mansion located on the northern bank of the Buriganga) built along the river front, the Mahalla Farashganj with its long gateway in which stands Bibi ka Rauza, the oldest Husaini Dalan in Dhaka, and the Farashganj Nil Kuthi (Indigo House), one of the largest of the kind, now used as a venue for wedding receptions.