Nimtali Palace

Nimtali Palace was built towards the end of the Mughal rule in Dhaka as a residence of the Naib-Nazim (Deputy-Governor) of Dhaka-Niabat (Dhaka Province) in 1765-66. As it was situated in the Nimtali Mahalla (ward) of the city, it was popularly called the Nimtali Kuthi (Nimtali Palace). All but one gateway (Nimtali Deuri) of the palace have now disappeared.

When the capital of the Subah-i-Bangala was shifted from Dhaka to Murshidabad in about 1717, Dhaka was made the seat of a Deputy-Governor of a sub-province comprising approximately the greater part of present Bangladesh.

The deputy-governor, usually a close ally of the nawab, resided in one of the many abandoned palaces or forts of Dhaka. In 1763, when the British Army officer Lt. Swinton stormed the city, Nawab jasarat khan, the Naib-Nazim, who lived in the main fort of Dhaka (the present central jail), was not in Dhaka. He was then a prisoner of Nawab mir qasim in Bihar.

Nawab Mir Qasim learnt, during his hostility with the British, about the role of Jasarat Khan in saving the British at Dhaka by disregarding an order of nawab sirajuddaula, and he ordered Dewan Muhammad Beg to imprison him. Jasarat Khan fled from Dhaka but was eventually captured and taken to Munghyr, Bihar, where he was made a prisoner. Lt Swinton's attack on Dhaka was actually undertaken to save the friendly deputy-governor. Swinton made his residence in the old fort.

In 1765, Lord Clive, recalling the past services of Jasarat Khan recommended with the approval of the Calcutta Council to Nawab nazmuddaula to re-appoint Jasarat Khan the Naib-Nazim of Dhaka. Khan thereafter returned to Dhaka. Upon reaching Dhaka, he found that his residence had been taken over by the British and so he stayed in the bara katra, another old palace of the Mughals. Swinton was, however, soon instructed by the Calcutta Council to build a new residence for the naib-nazim. The construction of a new palace at Nimtali was hastily completed by 1766.

Nimtali Palace occupied a considerable area on the northern side of the city between the modern Nimtali Mahalla and the High Court building and consisted of a number of separate buildings. The site was just at the periphery of the then city, mostly surrounded by woodlands. It is not possible to provide a correct or detailed description of these structures as no contemporary narrative or plan of the site has yet been found. It may, however, be assumed, judging from the only extant gateway, the nimtali deuri, that it was built after the usual Mughal palace designs with several gateways, inner court, private residences, place of prayer, tanks or water reservoirs, barracks for soldiers and quarters of staff, gardens and the like.

A narrow water channel running from the north and drawing water from the Kamalapur river in the east formed the water supply system of the palace. There was also a large tank called Nawabi Dighi (still survives and can be located in between the Fazlul Huq Hall and Shahidullah Hall of Dhaka University) and the Nawabi Masjid or mosque, a single domed structure to the south of the present Asiatic Society complex.

As long as the palace remained the residence of the naib-nazim, it played many significant roles in the social and cultural life of Dhaka. It acted as the bastion of the Mughal culture in Dhaka, patronising classical music and dance, painting and other arts and crafts. One colourful event that took place here regularly was the Eid procession brought out in celebration of the Eid-ul-Fitr, which used to start from the Nimtali Deuri and after parading different parts of the city, it terminated there.

Bishop Heber who visited the city in 1824 left a graphic description of the palace complex although most of it was then in ruins. He mentions a 'really handsome gateway (Nimtali Deuri), with an open gallery, where the 'Nobut', or evening martial music, is performed, a mark of sovereign dignity, to which the Nawab never had a just claim, but in which government continued to indulge him' He further mentions, 'a very handsome hall, an octagon, supported by gothic arches, with a verandah round it, and with high gothic windows'

In addition to what has been mentioned by Heber there was one chamber with twelve doors known as 'Baraduari'. It is said that the chamber was earmarked for the audience of the twelve Sardars (leaders) of mahallas of the city, who at the time of the audience used to enter the hall individually through the twelve doors. This audience hall which once housed the Dhaka Museum from about 1914 to 1983 is now a part of the teachers' residential quarters of the Dhaka University, Anwar Pasha Bhavan.

The Nimtali Palace remained the official residence of the naib-nazims till 1843 though they were officially stripped of their power in 1822. However, the fate of the palace like that of its masters was doomed from the very beginning. With the consolidation of power by the East India Company, the naib nazims gradually lost all military and administrative functions as well as authority. Indeed, with the acquisition of the Diwani by the Company in 1765, the naib-nazim's role was reduced to that of a pension holder. The Nawab was later given a paltry sum of Rs 6000/- as monthly pension. Shorn of all power, authority, privileges and funds it is no wonder that it was not possible for him to provide the upkeep of the huge palace complex to the extent that it required.

Some of the occupants of the Palace were Nawab Hasmat Jung and Nawab Nusrat Jung, grandsons and successors of Jasarat Khan; the latter a writer of some repute. The notorious incumbent was Nawab Gaziuddin, the last of the Naib-Nazims who was also known as pagla or mad nawab. He frittered away all the wealth that the family possessed and lived a very profligate life and died in 1843. From then on the ownership of the palace changed several hands. For some time the company kept the complex under their ownership and then started selling off buildings and lands therein through auction. Sadly the new owners gradually demolished almost all the buildings in the complex. The 'Baraduari' changed hands several times and at one point it was purchased by one Maulvi Mainuddin and from him by Ruplal Das, a zamindar and banker of Dhaka. In the 1880s the Brahmas of the New Dispensation Sect established their headquarters in the Nimtali Palace region and named it Bidhan Palli, providing the area a new air of social and religious fervour. Later in the early part of the 20th century when the new capital and the University of Dhaka were being built, the Government acquired the entire Nimtali area.

Thus the Palace of the naib-nazims of Dhaka and the surrounding lands after passing through various vicissitudes and owners, eventually became the property of the Dhaka University. The sole surviving gateway, now lying within the compound of the asiatic society of bangladesh, stands as the lone witness to testify to the existence of the Nimtali Palace. [Sharif Uddin Ahmed]