Workers are removing the plaster from the walls with chisels and hammers on the second floor of the building 13 at Panam Nagar. It can be painful, hearing the noise of chisels and hammers demolishing a building which represents our glorious past. So it should be made clear that actually the government has taken up the restoration of Panam Nagar in Sonargaon, the capital of ancient Bengal. It is to be restored to its original form. Restoration work is in full swing.
The administrative importance of Sonargaon started to decline after Dhaka was made the capital of ‘Suba Bangla’ (Mughal province) in the first decade of the seventeenth century. But it is clear from the dawn of the nineteenth century that the historical importance of Sonargaon has not been lost. At that time a section of Hindu merchants built their homes in the Panam region. Panam Nagar was built with picturesque installations on both sides of a road about 600 meters long and 5 meters wide. There are 52 two-storey and three-storey buildings facing each other on the both sides of the road.
The architecture of these houses is a mixture of Mughal and European art styles. The bricks of the houses have been used with bracket ventilators and window grills made of cast iron. The floor is decorated with red, white and black mosaic. Most homes have blue and white mosaic on the arches, roofs and in the middle. Every house has a well.
According to the department of archeology, the buildings in Panam Nagar are on the verge of ruin. That is why steps are being taken to restore them to their original form. Last year on 13 August, a six-member committee was formed including teachers of the archeology departments from different universities of the country and architects for their opinions and research on this restoration project. On 21 December, the state minister for culture, KM Khalid, inaugurated the piloting work of Building 13 of Panam Nagar. Now the restoration work is in full swing.
Rakhi Roy, director of the archeology department of Dhaka region, said digital drawing documentation, load bearing capacity test, aerial survey and level excavations have already been completed as a part of piloting work. Expert craftsmen are working with the guidance of the researchers.
Visiting Building 13 in Panam Nagar on Monday afternoon, it was seen that the artisans were chipping away the dilapidated plaster with hammers on the second floor of the building. Special care was also being taken to ensure that the original design and craftsmanship of the building is not damaged. Visitors from different parts of the country have also gathered to see the renovation work.
A key member of the research support committee, Sufi Mostafizur Rahman, a professor in the department of archeology at Jahangirnagar University, said they had given a report with six recommendations on restoring the architectural origin of Building 13. The recommendations include the removal of floors, which were built later and debris of the foundations on the west side of the main building. It also includes the subsequent removal of door and window frames attached to the first and second floors and other work.
In 2003, the government published a gazette declaring Panam Nagar as a protected archeological site. Tourists have to buy tickets to visit Panam Nagar from 6 October.
Panam Nagar is 1,500 years old. Back then, Sonargaon was one of the capitals of Bengal. The name Sonargaon was derived from an ancient village named 'Shuborno Gram'. The local Hindu king of the 13th century Donuj Madhob Dasharathadev converted the village to his administrative capital. From the time the Bengal region came under Muslim rule until Dhaka was established as the capital of Suba Bengal in 1810, Sonargaon was one of the capitals and administrative centers of the independent Bengal sultanate.
This report appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashish Basu