Pundooah (Hooghly), Minar and Masjid
Minar (Tower) and Masjid (Mosque)
Pundooah, the name normally refers to the twin city of Gour, now in Malda, which was once the capital of Bengal. Much closer to Calcutta, in the district of Hooghly lie another Pundooah. Both these places contain interesting historical relics.
The smaller version, at Hooghly, contains a five-storied minar (tower) and the ruins of an ancient mosque. It is just 61 km from Howrah and can be reached by the Burdwan Local via main line in one and half hour.
It is best to take the morning train. Even before entering the Pundooah station the minar can be spotted on the right hand side. It towers above the trees and buildings, its unique shape and style distinguishing it from the numerous chimneys of the brick-kiln that dot the region.
Rickshaws are available from station to the minar. The roads of Pundooah are congested and are supplemented with chaotic traffic, but the bumpy rickshaw ride is short.
The complex houses the 40 meter tower, built in 1340 (reduced to 38 meter by the earthquake of 1886) and the ruins of the Bais Darwaza Masjid, built in 1300 (twenty-two doors Mosque). Both these are maintained by the Archeological Survey Of India (ASI) and are declared monument of National Importance.
In 1340 the king of Pundooah, Panduraja was defeated by Shah Suffi nephew of Feroze Shah, the Muslim ruler of Delhi. Shah Suffi went on to construct a tower as a symbol of triumph over his Hindu counterpart, which later on served as the Ajan Minar for the Bais Darwaza Masjid also called the Bari Masjid (Big Mosque). But a handful of historian differ over this issue and they believe that the minar was actually the highest part of the Bishnu Mandir of Panduraja, which was demolished by the Muslim invaders leaving only the tower as a symbol of triumph.
Legend says that Panduraja, considered as a direct descendent of Goutam Buddha, was a powerful ruler in a Hindu dominated kingdom, which housed only five Muslim families. One of these Muslims sacrificed a cow on the occasion of his son’s birthday. Panduraja and his Hindu subjects were furious and they in return killed the boy. The Muslim father was left with no option but to carry his son’s body to the court of Feroze Shah in Delhi.
Feroze Shah in order to crush Panduraja, sent a huge army, led by his nephew Shah Suffi towards Bengal. Although Panduraja was a ruler of a small province and maintained a small army he was able to defend the huge army from Delhi at least for the initial stages.
Soon a rumour spread in the Delhi camp that the palace of Panduraja contained a mysterious pond, which water had a strange power of bringing dead men back to life.
Strategies were chalked at the Delhi army camp and they bribed a man of Panduraja’s army to contaminate the water of the pond by throwing a piece of beef into it. The plan was tactfully carried out and the water lost its magical power and it was only a matter of time that Panduraja was crushed. Left with no option Panduraja and his family committed suicide by drowning in the Hooghly at Tribeni.
While the historians debate over finer issue you can well explore the two unique pieces of Bengal architecture. Located next to the GT Raoad the five-storied Pundooah Minar built in 1340 towers to a height of 125 feet. A spiral stair case of 161 steps leads to the top. Although the staircase are intact to this day but entry is an absolutely prohibited.
The towers narrows as it goes higher and is crowned with a small dome at the top. The upper part brought down by the earthquake has been renovated but it neither resembles the grace and the beauty of the original tower. Four engraved stone pillars, removed from Hindu Temple, flank the entry of the minar.
Next to the Pundooah Minar is the Bais Darwaza Masjid complex. Contrary to the name the mosque contains 24 doors (21 in front and 3 on the side) the roof once contained 63 small domes but the entire roof along with the dome have long collapsed. All the remains of this magnificent brick building are its thick sidewalls and the few arches standing on columns removed from Hindu temples.
The Bais Darwaza Masjid, which was probably built in 1477, contains some remarkable terracotta of floral and geometric design. A stone throne approached by a flight of stairs, from where the Imam carried out the Namaz survives to this day.
The Pundooah Minar and the Bais Darwaza Masjid is hardly visited by tourist and can be an ideal picnic spot on a spring Sunday. But during the Bengali month of Magh, the Magh Mela turns the quiet little complex into a buzzing fair ground. For centuries Pandooah has been a seat of communal violence but this 100 years (started in 1904) old fair is a classic example of communal harmony where people of all religion, cast and creed participate in the true spirit of “unity among diversity.”
- Paschim Banga Bhraman O Darshan by Bhupati Ranjan Ghosh
- Hooghly Jelar Purakirti by Narendranath Bhattacharya
- My article on Pundooah published in The Telegraph