History of Shahbag in Dhaka

Shahbag, located in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, is a large neighborhood in the city and is today a very important hub for transportation, as well as the border between the New and Old Dhaka. It of course looked very different in the seventeenth century when it was developed by the Mughal Empire and was known as Bagh-e-Badshahi. The name was later shortened to Shahbagh, and as the nineteenth century came into full swing, new developments arose while the Mughal rule faded into the memory of history.

Some of the ancient buildings and sites in Shahbag survived the modernization of the city, and can still be seen today, becoming popular attractions for visitors. Shahbag was described as being the garden house of the Dhaka nawabs, and now features structures such as the Institute of Business Administration, Dhaka University Teachers-Students Centre, Arts facility and the Bangladesh National Museum. Where the TSC and Bangla Academy stand today was the site of the Sujatpur Palace. Between Sajatpur Palace and Bag-e-Badshahi was a large open meadow and this was where two garden houses were erected and the area was known as Ramna. The garden houses were eventually purchased by Khawaja Alimullah in 1840. Alimullah’s son, Nawab Khwaha Abdul Ghani later, in 1868, handed the houses over to his son, Khaja Ashanullah, who bought the land where the Arts Faculty of the Dhaka University now stands, between the years 1876 – 1877, to develop the houses to his specifications. The construction of the new garden houses had begun in 1873, and after many years of construction, the building was completed and named, Shahbag.

Large walls were built around Shabag to secure the land, and inside the walls were magnificent structures of marble, lakes, fountains and landscaped gardens that were blanketed in flowers and trees from all over the world. Its beauty was so staggering that it inspired poems by Abdul Gafoor Nassakh and Obaidullah. Some of the buildings that were most prolific included the Israt Manzil Mansion, as well as the Nishat Manzil that was used as a museum for the family’s history. There was also a racecourse, as the nawabs were keen horsemen, as well as a zoo. Many prestigious balls were held at Shahbag. Nawab Salimullah passed away in 1915, and the family began to decline, while the glamour of Shahbag began to fade. The last social events in Shahbag were held during the 1940s.

Even though modernization changed the face of Shahbag dramatically, some of the architectural wonders can still be seen today, such as the water tower, Ishrat Manzil (now home to the BSMMU), Jalsaghar, Nishat Manjil, Paribag House and Sajatpur Palace. The gardens are still as beautiful, with many artists finding their inspiration here.