Sonargaon originally Svarnagrama or Suvarnagrama, denotes an ancient janapada (territory) of Vanga stretched on both banks of the Brahmaputra, which is said to have originally been inhabited by a race called Svarna-bhushita, literally meaning 'dressed up with gold' and signifying a people traditionally adorned with gold-wear. The antiquity of this region may be traced back to the period of Kuru-Pandava war described in the Mahabharata, and even earlier. Its importance in ancient time is borne by the traditional holy bathing places of langalband and panchamighat on the west bank of the Old Brahmaputra. The ancient territory of Suvarnagrama was originally bounded on the east by the Meghna, south and west by the Dhaleswari and Sitalakshya respectively, and north by the Brahmaputra forming northern extremity of the modern greater Dhaka district. To demarcate the site of the territory in modern geographical context it may roughly correspond to the tract of land between the Sitalakshya and the Meghna now constituting the district of Narsingdi and the major part of Narayanganj district.

Apart from the traditional account having placed the Sonargaon area as the seat of an independent kingdom long before the time of Kuru-Pandava war, the political importance of this region can be traced back to the sixth century as the headquarters of a province of the Kingdom of vanga or samatata down to at least the second or third quarter of the tenth century AD. Suvarnavithi, mentioned in a sixth century land grant, the Ghugrahati copperplate of Samachara-deva, has been taken to denote this area. Sonargaon emerged to have been the capital of the Kingdom of Vanga under raja danauja rai (Dasaratha-deva Danauja-madhava) presumably in the seventh decade of the thirteenth century, and continued to maintain the status till the end of independent Hindu rule in East Bengal (1302). From this time the fortune of Sonagaon had been under a temporary eclipse till the rise of ghiyasuddin bahadur shah who initiated an independent rule in eastern Bengal with his seat of government at Sonargaon. With the fall of Bahadur Shah and annexation of Bengal to the empire of muhammad bin tughlaq, the metropolis of Sonargaon turned to have been the headquarters of the eastern province of Bengal for the following one decade.

The most glorious period of Sonargaon began in 1338 AD when it emerged to have been the capital of the earliest independent sultanat of Bengal founded by fakhruddin mubarak shah. Sonargaon continued to maintain this status till the fall of the house of Fakhruddin in the hands of shamsuddin iliyas shah in 1352 AD. From that time onward down to the coming of the Mughals, Sonargaon had been a provincial metropolis except for a period of its rise to the seat of the independent rule under ghiyasuddin azam shah, and capital of the Kingdom of Bhati under the house of isa khan Masnad-i-Ala. Bara Sardar Bari,

Bara Sardar Bari, Sonargaon

After the fall of musa khan (1611) in the hands of the Mughals, Sonargaon lost its political pre-eminence, and survived as the headquarters of one of the sarkars of Bengal subah. With the establishment of Mughal capital at Dhaka, the city of Sonargaon must have fallen fast into decay.

The capital city of Sonargaon, obviously of Hindu origin, was situated on the northern bank of the Dhaleswari, close to the confluence of the Dhaleswari and the Sitalakshya, and also close to that of Old Brahmaputra and the Meghna. The site of the city is lying about 27 kilometers almost southeast of Dhaka city. The area now known as panam in Sonargaon, about 2.5 kilometers to the north of the Dhaka-Chittagong highway at mograpara point, is said to have been the site of the capital city during the Hindu rule. Mograpara on the bank of the Menikhali is presumed to have been the main site of the Muslim capital city. From the extant archaeological remains it is evident that an extensive Muslim settlement had grown over the entire Mograpara and Goaldi region, and perhaps the Muslim capital city developed in and around Mograpara on the northern bank of the Menikhali extending towards Goaldi and Baidyer Bazar. The Hindu capital city, presumably comprising the area between Panam and Khasnagar, was not altogether abandoned during Muslim rule, and perhaps constituted the place of residence of the early Muslim governors.

By the second quarter of the fourteenth century Sonargaon developed into a commercial metropolis; seafaring boats could easily reach Sonargaon from west Asian and southeast Asian countries. ibn battuta describes Sonargaon as an important port-city which had direct commercial relations with countries like China, Indonesia (Java) and the Maldives. The Chinese envoy ma huan (1406) also found Sonargaon a great commercial metropolis. Hou hien (1415) describes it as a fortified walled city with tanks, streets, bazars, and as an emporium of trade where all goods were collected and distributed. ralph fitch (1586) described it as a brisk commercial centre.

Main gate of Bara Sardar Bari

muslin produced in Sonargaon, especially its finest variety called khasa, had a worldwide reputation. With the loss of political status in the second decade of the seventeenth century Sonargaon gradually lost its commercial importance as well. It rose to some eminence in the nineteenth century when Panamanagar rose to be a trading centre in cotton fabrics, chiefly English piece goods. The extant remains of Panamnagar represent residential houses built by Hindu merchants following colonial style with inspiration derived from European sources.

Sonargaon developed into a seat of Islamic learning under the versatile scholar Maulana sharfuddin abu tawwama of Bokhara who came to Sonargaon probably in 1270 AD and established there a khanka and a madrasa wherein all branches of Islamic learning as well as secular sciences were taught and studied. This madrasa earned a great reputation throughout the subcontinent and attracted students from far and near. Sharfuddin yahya maneri, the celebrated sufi scholar of Bihar, was a product of this madrasa. The present dargabari in Mograpara is possibly the site of that centre of learning.

In the later period, shaykh alauddin alaul haq (d 1398), his grandson Shaykh Badr-i-Islam and great grandson Shaykh Zahid imparted religious and mystical teaching in Sonargaon. The khanqa and madrasa founded by Abu Tawwama appears to have been maintained by his spiritual successors and later by the renowned sufi saint saiyid ibrahim danishmand and his descendants like Saiyid Arif Billah Muhammad Kamel, saiyid muhammad yusuf and others. Sonargaon had once been a rendezvous of distinguished sufis and fakirs. There are references to the compilation of valuable works at Sonargaon, such as the Maqamat, a unique work on Islamic mysticism (tasawwaf) by Sharfuddin Abu Tawwama; a Persian book on fiqh titled Nam-i-Haq, either written by Abu Tawwama or compiled (1304)) by one of his disciples on the basis of his teachings; an early fourteenth century work on fiqh titled Majmu-i-Khani fi Ain-al-Ma'ani by one Kamal-i-Karim; the Tafsir-i-Tatarkhani and Fatwa-i-Tatarkhani compiled at the instance of Bahram Khan alias tatar khan, the Tughlaq governor of Sonargaon, and a Sanskrit-Bangla dictionary Shabda-ratnakari compiled by Nathuresh, a court poet of Musa Khan.

Ruins of Sonargaon Palace

The remains of the city of Sonargaon are not found in a well-defined composition. There is no remains now in Sonargaon that can definitely be ascribed to the Hindu capital city except a deep muddy stagnant canal surrounding the site which appears to have originally been a moat for the protection of the city. The existing remains are a few medieval buildings, mostly religious, and belonging to the Sultanate and Mughal periods, some Mughal bridges and a few residential buildings of the colonial period. The remains, within the Sonargaon upazila, on the northern side of the Dhaka-Chittagong highway are the khasnagar dighi, company kuthi (Neel Kuthi) at Dalalpur, Tomb of Pagla Shah at Habibpur, goaldi mosque (1519), abdul hamid mosque (1433-36), shah langar’s dargah at Muazzampur, Krori Bari at Aminpur, Aminpur Math, Damodardi Math, Misripura Math, Math at Mather Pukur Par, residential buildings at Panamnagar and Sardar Bari (1901) at Isapur.

On the southern side of the Dhaka-Chittagong highway are the remains at Mograpara, such as the Dargabari complex with the Dargah building, Madrasa building, Fath Shah’s Mosque (1484), Nahbat Khana, grave of Sharfuddin Abu Tawwama (d 1300), Tomb of Saiyid Ibrahim Danishmand, Tomb of Saiyid Arif-billah, Tomb of Saiyid Muhammad Yusuf and the Tomb of Munna Shah Darwesh. The other remains belonging to this southern group are the Damdama at Mograpara, Tomb of Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah at Shah Chilapur, Tomb of Ponkai Diwana at Gohatta, Panch Pir Dargah and Mosque at Bhagalpur, yusufganj mosque, and Sheikh Saheb Mosque at Darugola. The remains in Bandar upazila are the bandar shahi mosque (1481) at Bandar proper, Baba Saleh Mosque (1505) and Tomb of Baba Saleh (d 1506) at Salehnagar, Bandar Math, sonakanda fort (17th century), dewanbagh mosque (16th century) at Dewanbagh and kadam rasul at Nabiganj.

The historic city of Sonargaon survives only in name. Sonargaon lost its eminence with the rise of Dhaka, and by the second half of the nineteenth century it was reported to have 'dwindled to a village with dense jungle'. But in about a century the area between the Sitalakshya and the Meghna having communication facilities afforded by the Dhaka-Chittagong highway cutting through it, has turned into a productive area with agricultural fields and industrial set-ups on both sides of the highway. The recent modern settlements on either side of the road, to the north towards Panam and Goaldi and to the south towards Mograpara, are fast changing the environment giving the area the look of a suburb. [Muazzam Hussain Khan]

Bibliography Muazzam Hussain Khan, Thousand Years of Sonargaon, Dhaka, 2009.