Gaur, India - Encyclopedia

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GAUR, or LAKHNAUTI, a ruined city of British India, in Malda. district of Eastern Bengal and Assam. The ruins are situated about 8 m. to the south of English Bazar, the civil station of the district of Malda, and on the eastern bank of the Bhagirathi, an old channel of the Ganges. It is said to have been founded by Lakshman, and its most ancient name was Lakshmanavati, corrupted into Lakhnauti. Its known history begins with its conquest in A.D. 1198 by the Mahommedans, who retained it as the chief seat of their power in Bengal for more than three centuries. When the Afghan kings of Bengal established their independence, they transferred their seat of government (about 1350) to Pandua, also in Malda district, and to build their new capital they plundered Gaur of every monument that could be removed. When Pandua was in its turn deserted (A.D. 14J3), Gaur once more became the capital under the.

name of Jannatabad; it remained so as long as the Mahommedan kings retained their independence. In A.D. 1564 Sulaiman Kirani, a Pathan adventurer, abandoned it for Tanda, a place somewhat nearer the Ganges. Gaur was sacked by Sher Shah in 1539, and was occupied by Akbar's general in 1575, when Daud Shah, the last of the Afghan dynasty, refused to pay homage to the Mogul emperor. This occupation was followed by an outbreak of the plague, which completed the downfall of the city, and since then it has been little better than a heap of ruins, almost overgrown with jungle.

The city in its prime measured 71 m. from north to south, with a breadth of 1 to 2 m. With suburbs it covered an area of 20 to 30 sq. m., and in the 16th century the Portuguese historian Faria y Sousa described it as containing 1,200,000 inhabitants. The ramparts of this walled city, which was surrounded by extensive suburbs, still exist; they were works of vast labour, and were on the average about 40 ft. high, and 180 to 200 ft. thick at the base. The facing of masonry and the buildings with which they were covered have now disappeared, and the embankments themselves are overgrown with dense jungle. The western side of the city was washed by the Ganges, and within the space enclosed by these embankments and the river stood the city of Gaur proper, with the fort containing the palace in its south-west corner. Radiating north, south and east from the city, other embankments are. to be traced running through the suburbs and extending in certain directions for 30 or 40 m. Surrounding the palace is an inner embankment of similar construction to that which surrounds the city, and even more overgrown with jungle. A deep moat protects it on the outside. To the north of the outer enbankment lies the Sagar Dighi, a great reservoir, Moo yds. by Soo yds., dating from A.D. 1126.

Fergusson in his History of Eastern Architecture thus describes the general architectural style of Gaur: - "It is neither like that of Delhi nor Jaunpore, nor any other style, but one purely local and not without considerable merit in itself; its principal characteristic being heavy short pillars of stone supporting pointed arches and vaults in brick - whereas at Jaunpore, for instance, light pillars carried horizontal architraves and flat ceilings." Owing to the lightness of the small, thin bricks, which were chiefly used in the making of Gaur, its buildings have not well withstood the ravages of time and the weather; while much of its enamelled work has been removed for the ornamentation of the surrounding cities of more modern origin. Moreover, the ruins long served as a quarry for the builders of neighbouring towns and villages, till in 1900 steps were taken for their preserva-' tion by the government. The finest ruin in Gaur is that of the Great Golden Mosque, also called Bara Darwaza, or twelvedoored (1526). An arched corridor running along the whole front of the original building is the principal portion now standing. There are eleven arches on either side of the corridor and one at each end of it, from which the mosque probably obtained its name. These arches are surmounted by eleven domes in fair preservation; the mosque had originally thirty-three.

The Small Golden or Eunuch's mosque, in the ancient suburb of Firozpur, has fine carving, and is faced with stone fairly well preserved. The Tantipara mosque (1475-1480) has beautiful moulding in brick, and the Lotan mosque of the same period is unique in retaining its glazed tiles. The citadel, of the Mahommedan period, was strongly fortified with a rampart and entered through a magnificent gateway called the Dakhil Darwaza (?1459-1474). At the south-east corner was a palace, surrounded by a wall of brick 66 ft. high, of which a part is standing. Near by were the royal tombs. Within the citadel is the Kadam Rasul mosque (1530), which is still used, and close outside is a tall tower called the Firoz Minar (perhaps signifying "tower of victory"). There are a number of Mahommedan buildings on the banks of the Sagar Dighi, including, notably, the tomb of the saint Makhdum Shaikh Akhi Siraj (d. 1357), and in the neighbourhood is a burning ghat, traditionally the only one allowed to the use of the Hindus by their Mahommedan conquerors, and still greatly venerated and frequented by them.

Many inscriptions of historical importance have been found in the ruins.

See M. Martin (Buchanan Hamilton), Eastern India, vol. iii. (1831); G. H. Ravenshaw, Gaur (1878); James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture (1876); Reports of the Archaeological Surveyor, Bengal Circle (190o-1904).

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