Perween Hasan


Paradise Flooded: Water and Architecture in Mughal Bengal

The map of Bengal, particularly the eastern part which is now Bangladesh, looks like a maze of rivers. Silt deposited by these rivers created the delta of eastern and southern Bengal, a landmass that is still forming and re-forming. The changing courses of these rivers and the heavy rainfall during the monsoon account for the often disastrous floods. Yet the waters also nourish, for the alluvial soil is rich and yields an abundance of agricultural produce.

The Muslims who came here, first the Turks, then the Afghans and Mughals, found a landscape unlike anything they had ever seen, nor was it anything like that other well-watered landscape of the Muslim imagination: Paradise. Very few liked it, but all were overwhelmed at the productivity of the land; the revenues it yielded enticed them to stay.

The Mughals, known for their grand imperial architecture of Delhi, Agra, and Lahore, built a number of monuments in Bengal which were unique to this riverine landscape. The paper will discuss forts, a garden, and two caravanserais, all by the river, in and around Dhaka city (Jahangirnagar). These building types were introduced by the Mughals, and are evidence of the peculiar problems they had to cope with, and explains their motivation to brave the odds and stay.

Biography / Bibliography

Perween Hasan is a specialist in the architecture of the Indian subcontinent. After received her PhD. from Harvard University in 1984, she joined the department of Islamic History and Culture at Dhaka University where she now serves as professor and an associate of the department of Women and Gender Studies. She often lectures and teaches in the United States. In 1993-94 she was Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at Oberlin College where she taught in the art department. She returned to Oberlin College in 2000 as the Shansi Visiting Professor, and in 2006 was a Fulbright visiting scholar at the University of Southern Maine. Author of over 20 articles, essays, and book chapters in journals, encyclopedias, and edited volumes, she has also been a distinguished lecturer at the V&A in London England, and a consultant to Sesame Street, the World Bank Cultural Preservation Program, and the Social Science Research Council. Her most recent publication is Sultans and Mosques: The Early Muslim Architecture of Bangladesh (London: I. B. Tauris, 2007).

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