Historic Sites at Dhaka University: Years of neglect erasing embodiments of history

Amidst the excitement of centenary celebrations diffusing across the Dhaka University (DU) campus, a number of university buildings have been adorned with vibrant lights and decorations.

However, despite the colors and festivities, different historic and architectural monuments of the university area are slowly biting the dust.

The recent centenary master-plan of DU recognized 16 important establishments of the university area. But only Curzon Hall and the area surrounding the vice-chancellor’s bungalow are among the 16 that were decorated.

Does this lack of decoration for the century-old structures symbolize the negligence that these sites have been facing for years?

The locations and monuments mentioned in the master-plan include Brajendra temple in Shivbari area, Curzon Hall, Dr Muhammad Shahidullah Hall, Faculty of Fine Arts, Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall, Govinda Chandra Dev Bhavan of Jagannath Hall, Greek Memorial, and Twin Hindu Math at Teacher-Student Centre, Gurudwara Nanak Shahi, Central Library Building, Madhur Canteen, Mir Jumla Gate or Dhaka Gate, Musa Khan Jame Mosque, Sir Nawab Salimullah Muslim Hall, VC Bungalow and Central Shaheed Minar.

Although they were mentioned, no provision exists to preserve them.

“We have recognized the structures to preserve them. The decision can be taken later, after consulting state agencies concerned,” Prof ASM Maksud Kamal, convener of the master-plan preparation committee, told the press.

The Brajendra temple, built on three acres of land, stands in the middle of two buildings built for third and fourth-class staffers of the university. Almost nothing is left of the original establishment. The absence of a signboard makes it even harder to find.

The negligence of Dhaka Gate is another widely discussed topic. Taking the boundaries of Mughal Dhaka into account, the gate was rebuilt by Mir Jumla in 1825.

Upon visiting, it was seen that trash is scattered on both sides of the monument, and cracks have developed in some parts. One of the main Mughal monuments in the capital has lost its charm due to the wide expanse on both sides of the road, lack of renovation, and absence of any familiar plaques.

At the Greek Memorial, 10 tombstones have been found in this corner of TSC, including those of Greek merchants, their wives, and religious leaders. Historians deem the structure’s preservation essential since there is only one Greek establishment in the country.

The twin temples lying unprotected next to the swimming pool inside TSC is also a cause of major concern.

Prayers are still offered at Musa Khan Jame Mosque, but its ailing state will disappoint history and architecture enthusiasts. One needs to go through an unrepaired, and hence, risky staircase to locate the main mosque, which covers an area of almost 2,000 square feet.

Such are the conditions of some of the historical sites on the lands of the 100-year-old university.

Critics claim the entire university area has many more important historic structures other than the ones mentioned in the plan. Among them are several mass graves, 30-35 sculptures, centennial trees, and tombs of eminent persons that are worth preserving.

“It is important for everyone to know about the heritage of these monuments. Many such structures remain unknown due to lack of proper preservation,” said Ayesha Begum, honorary professor of Islamic history and culture at DU.

“History is never made without important monuments. Only if these are well preserved, visitors will get to know the history behind them,” she added.