|Location||Narayanganj District, Dhaka Division, Bangladesh|
Sonargaon (Bengali: সোনারগাঁও; also transcribed as Sunārgāon, meaning Golden Hamlet) is a historic city in central Bangladesh. It is one of the old capitals of the historic region of Bengal and was an administrative center of eastern Bengal. It was also a port and trading center. During British colonial rule, merchants built many Indo-Saracenic townhouses in the Panam neighborhood. Sonargaon was central to the muslin trade in Bengal.
Sonargaon is located near the old course of the Brahmaputra River. To the north of Sonargaon are the Wari-Bateshwar ruins, which archaeologists have considered to be the emporium (trading colony) of Sounagoura mentioned by Greco-Roman writers. The name Sonargaon originated with the ancient term of Suvarnagrama. Sonargaon was ruled by Vanga and Samatata kingdoms during antiquity. The Sena dynasty used the area as a base. The Deva dynasty king Dasharathadeva shifted his capital from Bikrampur to Suvarnagrama in the middle of the 13th century. Sonargaon is also one of the possible locations for the fabled land of Suvarnabhumi that is referred in cultures across the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
Muslim settlers first arrived in Sonargaon circa 1281. In the early 14th century, Sonargaon became part of the Delhi Sultanate when Shamsuddin Firoz Shah, Delhi's governor in Gauda, conquered central Bengal. Firoz Shah built a mint in Sonargaon from where a large number of coins were issued. Delhi's governors in Bengal often tried to assert their independence. Rebel governors often chose Sonargaon as the capital of Bengal. When Firoz Shah died in 1322, his son, Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah, replaced him as ruler. In 1324, the Delhi Sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq declared war against him and succeeded in capturing Bahadur Shah in battle. During the same year, Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq released him and appointed him as the governor of Sonargaon.
Sonargaon began to develop as a seat of Muslim learning and Persian literature. Many Persian and Persianate Turkic immigrants settled in Sonargaon. Maulana Sharfuddin Abu Tawwama of Bukhara came to Sonargaon circa 1270 and established a Sufi khanqah and madrasa, which imparted both religious and secular education. The institutions became reputed throughout the Indian subcontinent. Sharfuddin Yahya Maneri, a celebrated Sufi scholar of Bihar, was an alumnus of Sonargaon. Tawwama's book on mysticism, Maqamat, enjoyed a strong reputation. During the administration of Roknuddin Kaikaus (1291-1301 AD), son of Nasiruddin Bughra Khan, Nam-i-Haq, a book on fiqh (jurisprudence), was written in elegant Persian poetry, in Sonargaon. It is in 10 volumes and contains 180 poems. Though the authorship of this book has been ascribed to Shaikh Sharafu’d-Din Abu Tawwama, the author’s introduction testifies that the book was actually written by one of the disciples of Shaikh Sharafu’d-Din on the basis of his teachings.
The Sultanate of Sonargaon became a shortlived independent state with control over central, northeastern and southeastern Bengal. When Bahram Khan died in 1338, his armour-bearer, Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah, declared himself the independent Sultan of Sonargaon. Fakhruddin sponsored several construction projects, including a trunk road and raised embankments, along with mosques and tombs. The Sonargaon Sultanate conquered Chittagong in 1340. The fourteenth century Moorish traveler Ibn Battuta visited the Sonargaon Sultanate. He arrived through the port of Chittagong, from where he proceeded to the Sylhet region to meet with Shah Jalal. He then proceeded to Sonargaon, the capital of the sultanate. He described Fakhruddin as "a distinguished sovereign who loved strangers, particularly the fakirs and sufis". In Sonargaon's river port, Ibn Battuta boarded a Chinese junk which took him to Java. After the death of Fakhruddin in 1349, his son Ikhtiyaruddin Ghazi Shah became the next independent ruler of Sonargaon.
In 1352, Sonargaon's Sultan Ikhtiyaruddin Ghazi Shah was defeated by Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah, who established the Sultanate of Bengal and united the Bengali-speaking region to a single state separate from Delhi's authority. The third Bengali Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah held his court in Sonargaon, in addition to Pandua. Sonargaon flourished as a center for writers, jurists and lawyers. The vast amount of Persian prose and poetry produced in Sonargaon during this period has been described as the "golden age of Persian literature" in Bengal. The Sultan invited the Persian poet Hafez to the Bengali court in Sonargaon. The institutions founded by Abu Tawwama were maintained by his successors, including the Sufi preachers Saiyid Ibrahim Danishmand, Saiyid Arif Billah Muhammad Kamel, Saiyid Muhammad Yusuf and others. There are references to the compilation of valuable works in Sonargaon, including Fatwa-i-Tatarkhani compiled at the initiative Tatar Khan, the governor of Sonargaon, and a Sanskrit-Bengali dictionary Shabda-Ratnakari compiled by the court poet Nathuresh. The prosperity of the Bengal Sultanate was attested by European travelers, including Ludovico di Varthema, Duarte Barbosa and Tomé Pires. When Sonargaon was not a capital, it was one of the "mint towns" of the Bengal Sultanate, where silver taka was produced and the district administration was based. Sonargaon was one of the chief cities of the sultanate, along with Pandua, Gauda, Satgaon, Chatgaon, Fathabad, Jalalabad and Khalifatabad. Bengal attracted many immigrants, including people of Rajput, Marwari, Turkic, Persian, Arab and African ancestry.
During the 15th-century, a Ming naval fleet visited Sonargaon. The information about this expedition comes from the book of one of its participants, Ma Huan. In 1451, Ma Huan described his experience in the book The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores. The fleet was commanded by Admiral Zheng He and sent on the orders of Emperor Yongle. Bengal and China enjoyed robust diplomatic relations in the 15th-century. Sonargaon also became the eastern terminus of the Grand Trunk Road, which was built by the Sher Shah Suri, who interrupted the reign of the Bengal Sultanate in the 16th-century. The Grand Trunk Road connected Bengal to North India and Central Asia.
Under Sultan Taj Khan Karrani, the nobleman Isa Khan, who was prime minister in the Sultan's court, gained an estate covering the area of Sonargaon. The Karrani dynasty was defeated by Mughal forces in western Bengal. Isa Khan and a confederation of zamindars resisted Mughal expansion in eastern Bengal. The confederation is known as the Baro-Bhuyan (Twelve Bhuiyans). The confederation included Bengali Muslim and Bengali Hindu zamindars, many of whom had Turkic and Rajput ancestry. Isa Khan gradually increased his strength and he was designated as the ruler of the whole Bhati region, with the title of Mansad-e-Ala.
In the Ain-i-Akbari, Abul Fazl wrote about the "fine Bengali war boats" of Isa Khan's navy. In the Akbarnama, Abul Fazl stated "Isa acquired fame by his ripe judgment and deliberateness, and made the twelve zamindars of Bengal subject to himself". Isa Khan used the Jangalbari Fort. In 1578, the Twelve Bhuiyans defeated Mughal viceroy Khan Jahan I under the leadership of zamindars Majlis Pratap and Majlis Dilawar, after Isa Khan was forced to retreat during a battle on the Meghna River. In 1584, following an invasion by Shahbaz Khan Kamboh, Isa Khan and Masum Khan Kabuli launched a successful land and naval counterattack in Egarosindur on the banks of the Brahmaputra River, which repulsed the Mughal invasion. In 1597, Isa Khan's navy dealt a massive defeat to the Mughal Navy on the Padma River. The Mughals were led by viceroy Man Singh I, who lost his son in the battle. Isa Khan's navy had surrounded the Mughal fleet on four sides.
In 1580, the English traveler Ralph Fitch described Isa Khan's kingdom, stating "for here are so many Rivers and Lands, that they (Mughals) flee from one to another, whereby his (Akbar) horsemen cannot prevail against them. Great store of cotton cloth is made here. Sinnergan (Sonargaon) is a towne sixe leagues from Serrepore, where there is the best and finest cloth made of cotton that is in all India. The chief king of all these countries is called Isacan (Isa Khan), and he is chief of all the other kings, and is a great friend to all Christians". In 1600, the Jesuit Mission stated that after the defeat of the Bengal Sultanate, "Twelve princes, however, called Boyones [bhūyān] who governed twelve provinces in the late King’s name, escaped from this massacre. These united against the Mongols [sic], and hitherto, thanks to their alliance, each maintains himself in his dominions. Very rich and disposing of strong forces, they bear themselves as Kings, chiefly he of Siripur [Sripur], also called Cadaray [Kedar Rai], and he of Chandecan [Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore], but most of all the Mansondolin [“Masnad-i ‘ālī,” title of Isa Khan]. The Patanes [Afghans], being scattered above, are subject to the Boyones."
Isa Khan died in September 1599. His son, Musa Khan, then took control of the Bhati region. But after the defeat of Musa Khan on 10 July 1610 to the Mughal general Islam Khan, Sonargaon became one of the districts of Bengal Subah. The capital of Bengal later developed in the new Mughal metropolis in Dhaka.
Sonargaon was one of the districts (sarkars) of Mughal Bengal. The Mughals built several riverside fortifications near Sonargaon, as part of defences for the provincial capital Dhaka against Arakanese and Portuguese pirates. These include the Hajiganj Fort and Sonakanda Fort. The Mughals also built several bridges, including the Panam Bridge, Dalalpur Bridge and Panamnagar Bridge. The bridges are still in use.
During British rule in the 19th-century, the neighborhood of Panam City developed with townhouses, offices, temples, and mosques. European architecture influenced the design of the neighborhood. Panam was a wealthy textile business center, particularly for cotton fabrics. The merchants included Bengali Hindus, Marwaris and Bengali Muslims.
The Bangladesh Folk Arts and Crafts Foundation was established in Sonargaon by Bangladeshi painter Zainul Abedin on 12 March 1975. The house, originally called Bara Sardar Bari, was built in 1901. On 15 February 1984, Narayanganj subdivision was upgraded to a district by the Government of Bangladesh.
A subdistrict of Narayanganj District was named as Sonargaon. Due to the many threats to preservation (including flooding and vandalism), Sonargaon was placed in 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Fund.
Sonargaon was an ancient center of muslin production and textile manufacturing. The fertile farmland around the town also generated rice exports. The English traveler Ralph Fitch described the cotton textile weaving culture of the area in the 16th-century. Weavers formed a large part of the population. In 1580, he states "The houses here, as they be in the most part of India, are very little, and covered with straw, hay and a few mats round about the walls, and the door to keep out the Tygers and the Foxes. Many of the people are very rich. Here they will eat no flesh, nor kill no beast; They Hue of Rice, milke, and fruits, they goe with a little cloth before them, and all the rest of their bodies is naked. Great store of cotton cloth goeth from hence, and much rice, wherewith they serue all India, Ceylon, Pegu, Malacca". Sonargaon was a river port with access to the Bay of Bengal through the mouth of the Bengali delta. Maritime ships travelled between Sonargaon and southeast/west Asian countries.
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