Hammam means a community bath house or only a bath house. Basically it comes from the Persian word 'hu-mam' which means heat. It is also assumed that it might have come from the word 'at-hamim' which means summer-hot. The idea of Hammam was developed in the Muslim countries. Usually there would be separate arrangments for men and women for bathing. In Arab countries, the word Hammam was used to mean bathplace in general. In Turkey, bathplace for the commoners was also called Hammam. In the Middle East, Hammams used to act as the meeting place for social, cultural, religious interaction and refinement and as the means to carry forward the heritage.
The first Hammam of the Muslim civilization was built in Asia Minor. The most developped Hammams were in Turkey and Persia. Hammam adjacent to the palace 'Qusayer Amara' built in 712-715 AD, during the Umayyad era, is regarded as the first ever Hammam built in the Musilm civilization. The trend of builing Hammams remained uninterrupted during the Abbasyde era as well. Through the Turks, the idea of Hammam was transported from Middle East to Europe and it became popularly known as 'Turkish Hammam'. During the Victorian era, Hammams became popular as a place for bathing and relaxing for the people in West Europe.
Hammam was a special feature of the architecture of Medieval Bengal. In Bengal was a secular establishment. Because of its architecture and relation to the Muslim nobles, it has gained a special place in the history. The Muslims in Turkey got the idea of Hammam from the Aegians, the Greeks and the Romans. Traced back to even before that, Indus civilization has traces of building large bathhouses out of which 'The Great Bath' at Mohenjodaro is worthmentioning. In Bengal, Hammams became developed at the end of medieval period. In the Sultanat era (from the beginning of 13th century A.D. to the beginning of 16th century AD) and Mughal era, architectural pursuits reached a height and the construction systems changed a lot in Bengal. Hammam was a new and unique addition as an architectural feature to the social and cultural fabric to the then Bengal. The concept of Hammam brought a new element and type of space articulation in architecture.
Sattaisgarh Hammam at Hazrat Pandua of West Bengal in India is regarded as one of the oldest Hummams of Bengal. In 1808 Buchanon Hamilton visited this Hammam. It has twenty-seven bath chambers. Sattaix means twenty-seven, so it is thought that the hammam was named after the number of chambers it had. Another view about the name of the hammam is that the palace of the Sultan of Hazrat Pandua was close to the twently seven villages in the vicinity. Hammams of Bengal and other Mughal-ruled provinces were greatly influenced by the architectural designs of the Hammams of Fatehpur Sikri in North India. The North Indian styles developed by the Mughals are evident in the planning and construction of the hammams in Goudh and Rajmahal of West Bengal. Most of the hammams were built near to the residential quarters of the Mughal nobles.
The concept of hammam, although originated from North India, West Asia, or Europe, flourished in Bengal to emerge as a separate trend in architecture. In Mughal and Pre-Mughal eras, a number of hammams were built in Bengal. Six hammams were identified to belong to those eras, at different locations: Hammam at Lalbagh and Jinjira (Dhaka), Mirzanagar (Jessore), Ishwaripur and Jahajghata (Satkhira), and at Chhoto Sona Masjid (Chapai Nawabganj). Among those, the hammams in Dhaka, Jessore and Satkhira appear to have followed the North Indian style in planning and construction.
Mirzanagar Hammam stands on the bank of river Kapotaksha [Kapotaksa] in the district of Jessore. This hammam, made with bricks in the premise of the Kalibari, is regarded as the best-preserved hammam of Bangladesh. This has four domes on top, four open chambers and a well made of stone and lime-surki. The only entry is on the west wall and connected to a square shaped chamber (each side 17 ft 3 ins in length) which is assumed to be the dressing room (might have been meeting or hot chamber as well). Each wall of the square chamber has an alcove. From the dressing room one could go to another square chamber through an arcuated bow-shaped pathway. This other square chamber is assumed to be used as a changing room. There is a small water tank at a corner. To the east of this chamber, there are two dome-shaped chambers which were the main bath chambers. The chambers do not have any big window. But light can enter through only a small hemispherical window-like punch (oeil-de-beuf or bull's-eye). Outside the two chambers, the four open chambers on the east were most probably used as water tanks. The water was supplied from the open chambers to the tanks in the bath chambers through earthen pipes. At the centre of the hammam there is a device to make the water hot which is connected to the underground through a bellow.
Jahajghata Hammam is situated at 4 kilometers to the north of Shyamnagar police station under Satkhira district of Bangladesh. In the 1980s, the archeological department of the Govt of Bangladesh repaired and almost completely rebuilt it. Although Jahajghata Hammam bears the features of Mughal architectural style, the date of construction still remains unknown. Jahajghata, a part of Sundarbans, was the administrative center of Zaminder Pratapaditya, one of the Bhuiyans, at the later part of 16th century. It is assumed that this hammam had been built during his time. But it lost its importance after the Mughals had occupied it. At the end of 18th century, Jahajghata became revitalised with human settlements. According to the experts, a complex structural system has been followed while building this hammam. The rectangular building, elongated from north to south, has five main chambers. The well is situated in an additional sixth chamber. The hammam has rest room, change room, toilet or make-up room and bathroom. Due to reconstruction, it is difficult to trace its original architectural features and construction materials. The decoration of the hammam is manifested through panelling and alcoves in the inside walls.
Ishwaripur Hammam is locally known as Habsikhana. It is situated at about 5 kilometers to the south of Shyamnagar police station under Satkhira district of Bangladesh. In the medieval period, this area was a part of Sundarbans. There is no definite indication of its date of construction. However, it is assumed that it was built in the Mughal period i.e. in the beginning of the 17th century, as Mughal style is evident in its features and decoration. The three-chamber rectangular hammam has a dome on the top. The chambers are pre-bath, bath and water reservoir-cum-water heater. This hammam had hot and cold water supply systems. Brick and Lime-surki were used as building materials; along with pipes of 2 inches diameter, made with burnt clay. There are no signs of decoration seen in the hammam now. During the first-time construction, panels and alcoves were used in the interior. Floral needlework-like motifs were used at the bottom of the dome, at the intersections of the pillars and the arches. This is the only hammam built in Bengal, which has pillars in the chambers.
The structure beside the big water-reservoir inside the Tahkhana or inn complex of Shah Shuja in the village of Firojpur, in Baro Sona Mosque area of Goud ' the city of forts, is known as hammam. It is 13 kilometers from Shibganj upazilla to the north-west and now falls in Chapai Nawabganj district of Bangladesh. Although there is no direct clue to the date of construction, by studying the architectural style and the history of the Goud region it is assumed that the Subadar of Bengal Shah Shuja (1639-1660) built this 2-storied hammam in the beginning of 17th century. The architectural features of the two stories of this rectangular hammam, which is elongated from north to south, are different from one floor to another. Tahkhana refers to an underground chamber which has been built at the east end of the foundation of the building. There is a stair to go down to Tahkhana while other two stairs to go to the roof. The ground floor is the main part of the building as it includes rest room, prayer room, open court, hall room, durbar (court) hall, room with well, change room, bath room and room with water-heater etc. The building is basically made of bricks along with stone and wood. For holding the room wooden beams were used while stones were used around the doors. This is an exceptional building in the sense that its construction is somewhat unique. Its wall thickness is the least among all the hammams still existing in Bangladesh. Its roofing is a combination of plane and dome.
Lalbagh Fort Hammam of Dhaka is heavily decorated and it is so far the best-preserved hammam inside the fort. Shayesta Khan, subahdar of Mughal built this hammam in the Lalbagh fort in the later part of the 17th century. At that time the river Buriganga used to flow within less than 1 kilometer distance from the fort and was the source of water to be supplied to the hammam. It is 2-storied rectangular building with a somewhat complex architectural organisation. The ground floor of the building was built as the hammam. It is 8.10 meters in length and 5.56 meters in width. At both north and south ends, it has two staircases which have windows. Along the east-west direction, there are restrooms, a big hall room with a tub which has a fountain in its center. In the same line, there are also room for maids, which is connected to the kitchen; latrine, water-reservoir, bathroom, change room, and the water heater room.
There was a unique way of keeping the whole hammam warm. Hot air from an underground chamber used to be circulated through the innumerable pores of the pillars and walls to different spaces to keep the hammam warm. The second story of the building had been built on top of the eastern part of the ground floor. It has three chambers. The one in the middle is the largest and octagonal in shape. It is assumed that this was the courtroom or public hall of the fort and other two were used as restrooms. This hammam is nicely decorated with panelling in the walls, a four-sloped hip roof on top of the courtroom or public hall of the ground floor etc have added a different dimension to this complex. Besides, there are domes on top of the bathrooms of which the cetral one has intricate decoration. Black and white hexagonal tiles have been laid out. For security, there is also a guardroom. Mughal architectural style is clearly evident in the construction of this hammam which is regarded as a full-fledged hammam complex.
Jinjira Palace hammam the second block of the Jinjira Palace was identified a hammam. It is situated at 4 kilometers to the west of Keraniganj sadar in Dhaka district. Historians opine that Mughal Subahdar Ibrahim Khan Fath-i-Jang (1st) built this at the later part of 17th century. This hammam is elongated along east-west and nine of its chambers still exist. This single storied hammam has a roof that is domical and pitched; and includes a circular vault with a punch in the center. Like others, this hammam also has the central hall, rest room, bathroom, hot water room, water reservoir room, toilet and ablusion room etc. The main building material is brick while the pipes for water-supply are made with burnt clay.
The chambers of this hammam are topped with vaults of different shapes and the only dome is on top of the bathroom. Due to repair and reconstruction, the hammam does not have all of its original features. However, Mughal architetural features can be traced in this edifice.
Almost the same features are seen in the construction and architectural styles of all the hammams that have been discovered in Bangladesh. Usually hammams were built near to the royal buildings. So far, no hammam was meant for commoners or rich people beyond the nobles. This might be one of the reasons for such a small number of hammams built in the territories of Bangladesh. On the other hand, as hammam was first built in North India with Mughal nobles in the Indian subcontinent, the architecture of hammam has flourished more in different states of India. Hammams built in the territories of Bangladesh were no exception from the other types of architecture in which the local preferences, climate and techniques mingled to bring about a new style. [Ayesha Begum and Nasrin Akhter]