Ahsan Manzil – Dhaka
Ahsan Manzil was the official residential palace and seat of the Nawab of Dhaka. The building is situated at Kumartoli along the banks of the Buriganga River in Dhaka. Construction was started in 1859 and was completed in 1872. It was constructed in the Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture. It has been designated as a national museum.
Ahsan Manzil is one of the most significant architectural monuments of Bangladesh. The building has a broad front-facing the Buriganga River. On the river side, an open spacious stairway leads right up to the second portal and on their stands the grand triple- arched portals. There was once a fountain in the garden in front of the stairs which does not exist today.
The palace Ahsan Manzil is divided into two parts: the eastern side and the western side. The eastern building with the dome is called the Rangmahal and the western side with the living rooms is called Andarmahal. The high octagonal dome is placed on the central round room.
History of Ahsan Manzil:
Sheikh Enayet Ullah:
In Mughal era, there was a garden house of Sheikh Enayet Ullah, the landlord of Jamalpur Porgona (district), in this place. He acquired a very big area in Kumortuli (Kumartuli) and included it in his garden house. Here he built a beautiful palace and named it “Rongmohol” (Rangmahal). He used to enjoy here keeping beautiful girls collected from the country and abroad, dressing them with gorgeous dresses and expensive ornaments. There is a saying that, the foujdar of Dhaka (representative of mughal emperor) was attracted to one of the beautiful girls. He invited Sheikh Enayet Ullah to a party one night and killed him in a conspiracy when he was returning home. That girl also committed suicide in anger and sorrow. There was a grave of Sheikh Enayet Ullah in the north-east corner of the palace yard which was ruined in the beginning of the 20th century.
Probably in the period of Nawab Alibardi Khan around 1740 century, Sheikh Moti Ullah, the son of Sheikh Enayet Ullah, sold the property to the French traders. There was a French trading house beside this property. The trading house became wealthier after purchasing this property. In that time, French traders could do business here without paying any taxes by a decree from the emperor Aurangzeb. In that time, the French became very wealthy by doing business here in competition with the English and other European companies. They made a big palace and dug a pond for sweet water in the newly purchased property. The pond still exists in the compound of Ahsan Manzil which was called “Les Jalla” in that time. In the English-French war, French got defeated and all their properties were captured by the English. On 22 June 1757, the French left the trading house with a fleet of 35 boats from the river station of Buriganga in front of Kumartuli.
French tradesman named Mr. Champigni
In 1785, the French transferred the property to a French tradesman named Mr. Champigni, and retaken it at 1801. According to Paris agreement of 1814, the French claimed all their left properties at Dhaka, and in 1827 the property was again returned to the French. For the increasing power of the English, the French was forced to leave subcontinent. They decided to sell all their properties in Dhaka. So in 1830, the trading house of Kumartuli was purchased by the established landlord of Dhaka Khwaja Alimullah.
Khwaja Alimullah and family
After some renovation work, the trading house became the residence of Khwaja Alimullah. In his time, a stable and a family mosque was added in the compound. After his death, his son Khwaja Abdul Gani made a great flourish to the property, and named it “Ahsan Manjil” on his son Ahsan Ullah. In the east side of the old building, he made a new building with a different design, and also done great renovation work to the old building. Since then, the old building was called “Ondor Mohol” and the new building was called “Rong mohol”.
In the evening of 7 April 1888, a devastating tornado hit Dhaka city causing great damage. Ahsan Manjil was severely damaged and abandoned. An English engineer from Kolkata arrived here to examine the palace. He gave opinion that except for the “Rangmahal”, all the other parts of the palace would have to be reconstructed. So Khwaja Abdul Gani and his son Ahsanullah turned their full attention to rebuild the palace. Both of the buildings were reconstructed during that time with a new design and supervised by the local engineer Gobinda Chandra Roy.
The old French building was reconstructed to a two storied building keeping similarity to the Rangmahal. A gangway was made with wood connecting the first floors of the two buildings. The most beautiful thing made in this time was the dome, which made the palace so beautiful.
After the death of Khwaja Ahsanullah in 1901, the glory of Ahsan Manjil was ended. His successors could not continue the glory because of the internal family quarrel. They rented different parts of the palace to tenants, who actually made it a slum.
Become Govt. Property
In 1952, govt. acquired the property and left in supervision of the Dhaka Nawab court. In 1985, Dhaka National Museum acquired the property and made it a museum following a massive restoration programme which utilised historic photographs of the property.