1902 Encyclopedia > Gaur


GAUR, or, more commonly, GOUR, the name of a mediaeval city in Bengal, of which the scattered relics cover a large area in the district of Malda, commencing not far south of the modern civil station of that name.

The name Gaur is a form of the ancient Gauda (meaning the country " of sugar "), a term which was applied to a large part of modern Bengal, and specifically to that part in which these remains lie. We have the names of dynasties, and partial lists of the kings of these dynasties, which bore the title of Gaureshara, lord of Gaur, or Gauda, before the first Mahometan invasion. The last of these dynasties, that of the Senas, or of the Vaidyas, superseded its pre-decessor, the dynasty of the Pâlas, about the middle of the 11th century. The most eminent of this dynasty, by name Lakshmanasena, who flourished at the end of the century, is alleged in inscriptions to have extended his conquests to Kanauj (in the Doab), to Nepaul, and to the shores of Orissa; and this king is said by tradition to have founded the royal city in Gauda which in later days reverted to a form of this ancient name (Gaur), but which the founder called after his own name Laleshmanavati, or as it sounded in the popular speech Lakhnaoti. The fifth from this king, according to Lassen's (more or less imperfect) list, Laksh-maniya (c. 1160-1198), transferred the royal residence to Navadvipa, hod. Nadiya (on the Hoogly river 70 miles above Calcutta), possibly from apprehension of the rising tide of the Mahometan power ; but here it overtook him. Nadiya was taken about 1198-99 (the precise date is dis-puted) by Mahommed Bakhtiyar Khilji, the general of the slave king Kutbuddin Aibak of Delhi, who became esta-blished as governor of Bengal, and fixed his capital at Lakhnaoti. Here he and his captains are said to have founded mosques, colleges, and monasteries. Lakhnaoti continued for the most part to be the seat of the rulers who governed Bengal and Behar, sometimes as confessed dele-gates of the Delhi sovereigns, sometimes as practically independent kings, during the next 140 years. From about the year 1338, with the waning power of the Delhi dynasties, the kingdom of Bengal acquired a substantive independence which it retained for more than two centuries. One of the earliest of the kings during this period, by name Iliyâs (Elias) Shah, whose descendants reigned in Bengal with brief interruptions for nearly 150 years, transferred the seat of government to Pandua (c. 1350), a place about 16 miles N. by E. of Gaur, and to the neighbouring fortress of Ekdâla, a place often named in Mahometan notices of the history of Bengal down to the 16th century. At Pandua several kings in succession built mosques and shrines, which still exhibit architecture of an importance unusual in Bengal proper. After some occasional oscillation the residence was again (c. 1446) transferred to Gaur, by which name the city is generally known thenceforward, that of Lakhnaoti disappearing from history. The 24th and last of those whom history recognizes as independent kings of Bengal was Mahmud Shah (1533-4 to 1538-9). In his time the city more than once changed hands, during the struggles between the Afghan Sher Shah and the (so-called) " Great Moghul" Humayiin, son of Baber; and on one occa-sion (1537-8), when Sher Shah was operating against Gaur, we first hear of the Portuguese in the inner waters of Bengal. A party of that nation, who had been sent with presents to the court of Gaur, had been detained as prisoners by the suspicious Mahmud. But in the straits arising during his resistance to Sher Shah, the Frank prisoners were able to render him good service.

Mahmud was followed by several Pathan adventurers, who temporarily held the provinces of the delta with more or less assertion of royal authority. One of these, Suleiman Kiranf (1564-5), abandoned Gaur for Tanda, a place some-what nearer the Ganges. It is mentioned by Balph Fitch, the earliest of English travellers in India, who calls it " Tanda in the land of Gouren," standing a league from the Ganges. Mu'nim Khan, Khankhanan, a general of Akbar's, when reducing these provinces in 1575, was attracted by the old site, and resolved to re-adopt it as the seat of local government. But a great pestilence (probably cholera) broke out at Gaur, and swept away thousands, the general-in-chief being himself among the victims. On his death the deprived Pathan prince, Daiid, set up his standard again. But he was defeated by the forces of Akbar in a battle at Rajmahl, and taken prisoner. After him no other assumed the style of king of Bengal. Tanda continued for a short time to be the residence of the governors under the " Great Moghuls," but this was transferred successively to Bajmahl and Dacca, in repeated alternation, and finally to Moorshedabad. Gaur cannot have been entirely deserted, for the Nawab Sbuja-uddin, who governed Bengal 1725-1739, built a new gate to the citadel. But in history Gaur is no longer heard of, till its extensive remains attracted the curiosity of the English,—the more readily as the northern end of the site approaches within 4 miles of the important factory that was known as English Bazar (among the natives as Angrezabad), which is said to have been built of bricks from the ruins, and which is now the nucleus of the civil station of Malda.

The first specific notice of the city of Gaur, from actual knowledge, is contained in the Persian history called Tabaqdt-i-Nddri, which has been partially translated in Elliot's History of India (ed. by Dowson), and is in course of complete translation by Major H. G. Raverty. The author, Minhaj-i-Saraj, visited Lakhnaoti in 1243, but the only particular regarding the city that he mentions is that Ghiyas-uddin Twaz, the fourth Mahometan ruler of Lakhnaoti (who called himself sultan, and according to this writer, struck coin in his own name), besides found-ing mosques, &c, carried embanked roads across the low country east and west of the city for a space of ten days' journey. These works in part still exist. "Radiating north, south, and east of the city, ..... embankments are to be traced running through the suburbs, and extending in certain directions for 30 or 40 miles " (Ravenshaw, p. 3).
The extent of ground over which the remains of Gaur are spread is astonishing; and a large part of it would appear to be still, as when described a century ago, covered with dense wood or with rank jungle of grass and reeds, though in later years cultivation has somewhat extended over the site. What may be called the site of Gaur proper is a space of an oblong form, extending from north to south 7| miles, with a breadth varying from 1-|- to 2 miles. This area is washed on one of its long sides (the western) by a stream called the Bhagirathi, which undoubtedly occupies a former bed of the Ganges (not to be confounded with the Bhagirathi further south, contributing to form the Hoogly on which Calcutta stands). Roughly parallel to the eastern side, but at a distance varying from 2 to 6 miles, runs the

Chart of Gaur and its Environs.

river Mahanancla, whilst extensive swamps and sheets of water are interposed between this river and the city. The extensive area of which we speak has been defended on north, west,1 and south, by a rampart and ditch, whilst on the east side there is a double embankment of great size, with two ditches of immense width, and in some parts three. It is not quite clear from the descriptions in what degree these latter great works were intended respectively for defence or for protection from floods; but the latter must have been the main purpose. The Ain-i-Akbari (c. 1590) alludes to the fact that " if the earthen embankment broke, the town was under water." The position of the city, midway between two rivers of deltaic character, is low, and any rise in those rivers would raise the level of the marshes. Still the mass of these banks, as much as 200 feet thick at base, and 40 feet in height, is greater than any present exposure to flood seems sufficient to explain. It has sometimes been supposed that the Ganges, since the foundation of Gaur, has flowed to the eastward, in what is now the bed of the Mahananda. If thi3 were so, the massive character of the embankments would be more intelligible. It would appear, however, that the positive testimony to this circumstance, which was at one time supposed to exist, depended on a mistaken reading of the passage, referred to above, of the Tabaqdt-i-Ndsiri.

These great embankments have been originally faced throughout with masonry, whilst the crest shows numerous traces of edifices; but the whole of the earthworks are now overgrown with dense jungle. The Ganges now flows at a distance varying between 5 and 12 miles to the west of the enclosed area of the city, but there seems to be no doubt that in the earlier centuries of its occupation the great river washed its western wall, where now the Bhagirathi flows.

On this side, near the southern end, stood the citadel or royal fortress, stretching for a mile along the river bank, and marked out by the remains of a huge rampart of irregular trace, 180 feet wide at the base, and once faced with masonry, with numerous circular bastions. Shapeless masses of ruin fill the interior. The palace itself formed a rectangular inner enclosure of 2100 feet by 750, girt by a splendid brick wall, 18 feet thick at bottom, 8| feet thick at top, and 42 feet in height. To the northward the western embankment is prolonged far beyond the northern limit of the city, and about 3 miles north of the latter we encounter a vast line of earthwork stretching from the prolongation just mentioned, in an irregular curve eastward and then south-eastward to the vicinity of the Mahananda river, in all for more than 6 miles. This also was probably intended chiefly as a defence against inundation of the suburbs. A huge excrescence protruding from the line, and overgrown with forest trees, encloses an area of nearly a square mile, which tradition points out as the palace of one of the Sena kings. Still north of this, and extending to the banks of the Kalindri river, some 3 miles further, are found traces of ancient Hindu buildings.

Turning again to the southern extremity of Gaur, for 6 or 7 miles to the south of the city there seems to have extended, still under the protection of a western embankment, a continuous chain of suburbs. In the northern portion, at least, of these, "prostrate domes, mingled with carved lintels and innumerable bricks, are seen lying in confusion on all sides, and show how dense has been the population" (Ravensbaw, p. 26). Thus from north to south, the whole extent of ground bearing indications of urban occupancy is hardly less than 20 miles. We may, however, feel confident that, as in the case of Delhi, these traces comprehend a space within which the royal city occupied various localities in various ages. Traditions, collected by Dr Francis Buchanan, placed the residence of the older Sena kings on the sites at the extreme north near the Kalindri. The southern part of the fortified area of Gaur, with the citadel and palace, was evidently, as we shall see from the dates of the buildings, the seat of the later kings who immediately preceded the absorption of Bengal into the Moghul empire in the last half of the 16th century. The exact site occu-pied by Mahommed Bakhtiyar Khilji and his successors does not seem to have been determined.

Throughout the interior length of Gaur run embanked roads, whilst the whole area is thickly dotted with excavated tanks of all sizes, up to the great Sdgar Dighi (or " Ocean Tank "), a rectangular sheet of water measuring little short of a mile by half a mile. This vast work is probably to be referred to the Hindu age. The former existence of six ghauts of masonry can be traced on its banks, which are densely wooded to the water's edge. Numerous excavated channels also run in every direction, the earth from which appears to have served to raise the inhabited surface. The remaining buildings of importance are scattered at wide intervals over the area, but the soil is throughout covered with fragments of brick, &c, in a manner which leaves no doubt of the former density of population. But Gaur has repeatedly been a quarry of building material. The old Lakhnaoti was robbed to build the mediaeval capital of Pandua, and the later Gaur probably to build Bajmahl, whilst in more recent times their brick and stone were transported as merchandise to Malda, Moorshedabad, Hoogly, Rungpore, and even (as regards the more valuable kinds of stone) to Calcutta. In the revenue returns of Bengal, at the time of its transfer to the Company, there was an entry of an annual levy of 8000 rupees, as " Gaur brick royalty," from landholders in the neighbourhood of Gaur who had the exclusive right of dismantling its remains. The bricks of Gaur, Rennell says, are of extraordinary solidity of texture and sharpness of edge. The facilities which the site affords for water carriage during the rainy season greatly aided this systematic spoliation. That no Hindu buildings remain from the earlier cities is probably to be accounted for by this process of destruction.

We have quoted a Mahometan visitor to Gaur in the middle of the 13th century. The next such mention per-haps occurs in the travels of the Venetian Nicolo Conti, who somewhat early in the 14th century ascended the Ganges 15 days' voyage to a city of great size and wealth called Cemove. On both banks of the stream were most charming villas, and plantations, and gardens. The name looks like Shahr-i-nao, which we know from coins to have been the name of a royal city of Bengal about 1380-85, and which Mr Ed. Thomas believes to have been merely that given to one of the re-foundations of Gaur. A more detailed and certain account is given by De Barros, when describ-ing the adventures of the Portuguese party in 1537-38, to which allusion has been made above (dec. iv. liv. ix. cap. i.):—
" The chief city of this kingdom (of Bengala) is called Gouro. It is situated on the waters of the Ganges, and is said to be three of our leagues in length, and to contain 200,000 inhabitants. On the one side it has the river for its defence, and on the landward faces a wall of stone and lime of great height, besides having, where the river comes not, a great ditch full of water, in which great boats can swim. The streets are broad and straight, and the main streets have trees planted in rows along the walls, to give shade to the passengers. And the population is so great, and the streets so thronged with theconcourse and traffic of people, especially of such as come to present themselves at the king's court, that they cannot force their way past one another, and thus such as hap to fall among the horsemen, or among the elephants which are ridden by the lords and noblemen, are often killed on the spot, and crushed under the feet of those beasts. A great part of the houses of this city are stately and well wrought buildings."

The earliest detailed notice of the ruins that we hear of is a MS. one, by Mr Beuben Burrows, the mathematician (1787), which is quoted by the editor of Creighton's drawings as being in the India Library. Rennell gives some account of the ruins in his Memoir of a Map of Hindustan (1788), and the plan of them is roughly laid down, on a small scale, in his Bengal Atlas (No. 15). Mr Henry Creighton, who for many years managed an indigo factory among the ruins (1786-1806), made many drawings of them, with notes and a detailed map, on a large scale. Dr Buchanan states that engravings from Creighton's drawings had been published by°a Mr Moffat in Calcutta before the compilation of his own statistical work. Of this we have seen no copy. It is probably the same as "the set of eight views of the ruins of Gour and Bajmehal," which is advertised in the Calcutta Gazette, 6th December 1798 (see Seton-Karr's Selections, vol. iii. p. 529). A work, however, was published in London in 1817, from the materials left by Mr Creighton, called the Ruins of Gour Described, &c; and this contained the most accessible data on the subject till Mr Kavenshaw's work. There is in the India Office a MS. volume (1810) by Major William Francklin of the Bengal army, containing notices of the remains and translations of a good many inscriptions. The MS. purports to have been accompanied by maps and drawings, but these are not now forthcoming. Dr Francis Buchanan has described the remains, with his usual somewhat dry precision, in his statistical survey of northern Bengal and Behar, executed between 1809 and 1816, but only published, with a title-page that bears the name of Montgomery Martin, and no reference to the real author, in 1838 (Eastern India, &c, vol. iii. pp. 68 sq.). Mr JamesFergusson has a short chapter, containing the only critical account of the architecture of Gaur. in his History of Indian Architecture. Lastly, since the greater part of this article was compiled, there has been published a splendid volume (Gaur: its Ruins and Inscriptions, 4to) from the photographs and notes of the late J. A. Baven-shaw of the Bengal Civil Service.
Before concluding we may indicate a few of the most notable remaining buildings.

1. One of the most pleasing remains, as regards architectural design, is a minaret or tower of stone and brick, standing imme-diately west of the citadel. It is 84 feet in height and 21 in diameter at the base. For two-thirds of the height the form is that of a 12-sided polygon, and above that circular, the two forms being divided by a bold cornice. There is now no inscription a ttached, but tradition assigns it to Firoz Shah, and a native history of Bengal compiled in the last century attributes it specifically to a king of that name, who reigned 1488-1490. Mr Fergusson indeed considers the architecture to belong to an earlier period; and it is lemarkable that the researches of Mr E. Thomas in coins, and of the late Mr Henry Bloehmann in lapidary inscriptions, have recently established the existence of a King Shamsuddm Firoz, whose coinage at Lakhnaoti shows his reign to have extended from 1302 to 1318. If the work be really due to this prince, it is by much the oldest building of importance now remaining at Gaur. But the point is very doubtful.

2. The Dakhil Darwdza, or Gate of Entrance, is the northern gate of the citadel. It is a noble structure, though entirely built of small bricks. The tunnel under the rampart is 112 feet long by 14 wide, and the height of the archway is 34 feet. An inscription copied by Francklin ascribes the work to Barbak Shah, and the erection to 1466. The grandiose palace wall is believed to be of the same period.

3. The Lattan(i), or the Painted Masjid, a quadrangular edifice in the southern part of the city, cased inside and out with bricks beautifully enamelled in blue, green, and white. It is covered by one large dome. The work is ascribed to 1470-1481.

4. The Tdnti-Pdra Masjid, or Mosque of the Weaver's Quarter. This is now much dilapidated, but Ravenshaw's photograph indicates it to have been one of the most beautiful buildings in Gaur. The niched panels in carved brickwork wdiich adorn its piers are very rich and delicate. It is also, if an inscription given by Francklin be justly assigned to it, the work of Yiisuf Shah, 1475-76.

5. The Sana Masjid, or Golden Mosque. This is probably the most important structure remaining at Gaur. It stands in the city to the north of the citadel, within a spacious court enclosed by a stone wall. The material is described as a dark grey stone, approaching to black, with sculpture in beautiful flower-work. The mosque measures 180 feet, by 80, and the interior architecture consists of massive intersecting arcades, each intersection being covered by a dome, of which domes there were 44 altogether. In spite of the extraordinary solidity of the building it appears to have suffered greatly since Francklin described it in 1810. The date is fixed by an inscription which existed in his time to 1525.

6. Tombs of Shah Husain (d. 1521), and of his son Nasrat Shah, the builder of No. 5 (d. 1533-34). Of the tombs themselves nothing remains, and their materials are said to have been carried to Fort "William in the last century. In Creighton's time, though the tomb of Husain Shah was already gone, there remained a beautiful edifice which- had formed the gateway of the enclosure, faced with brick-work richly moulded, and glazed with blue and white. Of Shah Husain (reigned 1494-1521) Dr Bloehmann says, '' Whilst the names of other Bengal kings scarcely ever occur in legends, and remain even unrecognized in the geographical names of the country, the name of ' Husain Shah the Good' is still remembered from the frontier of Orisa to the Brahmaputra " (Proc. As. Soc. Bengal, 1873, p. 291).

7. The mosque of the Qadam Basul, or Footstep of the Prophet, so named from a representation of Mahomet's footmark in stone which was formerly enshrined there. The work of Nasrat Shah, 1530.

We thus see that all the buildings, with the very doubtful exception of the minaret, go back no further than the last half of the 15th century. If the age of the architecture is disappointing, the better knowledge of details which we derive from Mr Bavenshaw's book enhances our appreciation of it. The buildings are in brick, in stone, and in both combined. Excepting the great gateways, they lack height enough for stateliness; the character is rather decorated solidity. The facades generally present, a series of pointed arches, with very massive piers between, which are sometimes complicated polygons, but more usually rectangular; the mouldings ha-^e little relief, but the surfaces are adorned with panels filled with beautiful " embossed brick-work." These seem to be rich floral patterns moulded in terra cotta, and probably finished with the chisel. The curvilinear roof, imitated from the use of the bamboo, of which Mr Fergusson speaks as an unpleasing characteristic of architecture in Bengal, is little seen in Gaur,—almost the only indication of it being a slight upward camber in the upper lines of the facade, in which the versed-sine is about ^-th of the chord. In some of the buildings great brilliance has been produced by the profuse use of encaustic tiles in bright colours. The art of making these exists now in India nowhere nearer than in Sind ; but indeed the manufacture of terra cotta, or of ordinary brick of the superior character which Bennell attributes to Gaur, is equally a lost art in Bengal. Where the facing is entirely of stone, as in the Great Golden Mosque, and in a smaller one bearing the same name, the ornamentation seems imitated from the terra-cotta work; the relief, however, is much less, owing probably to the hardness of the material. What this material is, or whence, is not quite clear. The older accounts speak of black and other marbles; Buchanan and later writers of " black hornblende," " potstone," and what not; Mr Bavenshaw, in the case of one building, of " granite and marbles." The black stone is probably basalt from the Bajmahl hills, but more precise information is desirable.

In conclusion, we may notice briefly the other neighbouring sites occupied as capitals, which may be regarded as appendages of Gaur.

Pandua, commonly called Parruah or Porrucdi, was so occupied, with occasional intervals, for nearly a century. Its ruins and tanks extend over a narrow area of nearly 6 miles in length, which is now more of a wilderness than even the site of Gaur. The high road from Malda to Dinajpore passes through it from end to end, but the forest which besets the ruins is so dense on both sides, and so infested with tigers, that single travellers shun the road by night. Mr Bavenshaw employed a gang of 200 men to clear the jungle for his photographs, but even then could only get partial views. The buildings exhibit the same general character as at Gaur, but most of them are older, and seem (for most of them are absolutely overgrowui and penetrated by jungle-growth) to show the style in a freer and purer form. Many of them also contain fragments of older Hindu build-ings, very probably pillaged from old Lakhnaoti. By far the finest and most important building in the whole Gaur group of cities, and indeed in Bengal, is the Adina mosque at Pandua, standing close to the high road. It is a quadrangular cloister of two stories, measur-ing externally 500 feet t>y 300, of brickwork faced throughout with " black hornblende." The cloisters are divided by pillars into inter-secting aisles, and each intersection has been covered by a dome. Of these domes there have been originally 375, but most have fallen. According to Buchanan's description the carved windows have been borrowed from Buddhist structures, but judging from the poor draw-ingswhich he gives,and from the photographsof Mr Bavenshawmade under great difficulties, the combination has been carried out with good artistic effect. The edifice must no doubt be monotonous, but from what we can see is far from deserving the condemnation which Buchanan passes on it. The Adina is the work of Sikandar Shah, the son of Iliyas (1358-1390), and his tomb is in an adjunct of the mosque. There is a curious notice of it in Valentijn's (Dutch) East Indies (v. p. 169).

Ekddlah, which was the fortified retreat of the kings who ruled at Pandua, has been lately identified by Mr E. V. Westmacott as still bearing the name, near Chiramon, in the Dinajpore district, about 20 miles north of Pandua. It stands on high ground rising like an island out of the inundated plain ; it exhibits traces of embankments and buildings, and is about 5 miles distant from one of the ancient embanked roads running towards Pandua and Gaur. Tanda, the last city of the Gaur group occupied as a capital, stood a few miles west of the citadel of Gaur, ns may be gathered from Rennell and Buchanan. Dr Hunter (New Statist. ___. of Bengal, vii. p. 65) says its very site has not been accurately determined. It is possible that it may have been cut away by the waters of the Ganges, a branch of which has flowed near ; but Buchanan had evidently visited it, and Creighton marks the rampart roughly in his map of Gaur. Jannatdbdd was a name given by Humayun to Gaur ; and other names of royal cities appear on coins, such as Firuzdbäd, Husaimlbdd, Shahr-i-nao, ha., which are probably names officially attached to new foundations of portions of the great Gaur group of cities, but which gained no popular currency.

In addition to the works quoted in this article, the papers of Mr E. Thomas and Mr H. Bloehmann in the journals of the Royal and Bengal Asiatic Societies have been consulted. (H. Y.)


1 This was so according to Buchanan; hut Mr Ravenshaw says " the western face is now open, and probably always was so, having been well protected by the Ganges .... which ran under its walls." The plans all show an embankment on this side, and Creighton gives a section of it, 30 feet high.

So in De Barros, Lisbon edition of 1777, vol. viii. p. 458, '' dnzentos mil vizinhos." But in the English version of Faria y Sousa's Asia Portuguesaby Stevens (1695), i. p. 417, a passage abridged from De Barros has "tnie million and two hundred thousand families." The last word is probably a mistranslation, but the million seems required.

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