Have you seen the entire complex? Have been to the back of the Mazar? The man constantly followed us while we were busy trying to photograph each and every section of the mausoleum. At one point the man assertively pointed out to the various Hindu mythological characters still very much visually present. He then smiled and said, “Sir, I am a Hindu and I come here often, not only me but many like me have been coming here for generations and seeking the blessing of the Ghazi. You wish out here and it will be fulfilled by the Ghazi”.
It took me five years to write this blog, not because I was lazy but because to start with my first set of photographs of this place was not clear as it had become dark during my first shoot way back in 2015 and finally when I could again shoot the entire complex I had to deal with various conflicting version of Zafar Khan Ghazi.
For some historians, he was an Islamic crusader while some legends talk of him as the worshiper of Ganges while some refer to him as the Sufi who built Madrasas and Mosques. Do you know who Ulugh-i-A’zam Humayun Zafar Khan Bahram Itgin was? Probably not, do not worry even I did not know before finishing my last blog in the Chinsurah series. Today I am going to take you to Tribeni, which is a small town in the Hooghly district in West Bengal, India. This small town has the tomb of Ulugh i A’zam Humayun Zafar Khan Bahram Itgin or better known to all as Zafar Khan Ghazi Mosque and Dargah or was it someone else who was buried there?
Temple or Mosque?
Before going to the details of Zafar Khan Ghazi let us understand the significance of this place. According to the timeline mentioned in some of the inscriptions, this could very well be the oldest surviving (13th – 14th Century AD) Islamic structure in Bengal.
If you look around the structure of the mausoleum and the mosque, you can clearly see references of a Hindu temple, a Buddhist monument, a Jain monument and last but not the least a Mosque itself. It is very much clear from many references by earlier historians as well as a visual reference also suggest that the Dargah (mausoleum) itself was a Vishnu Temple and many of the stone blocks used in the construction have been taken from the temple itself. Surprising the builders have left the Hindu mythological characters as it is and it can still be very much seen around the site.
There are some stones with the Dargah where Sanskrit verses can clearly be seen. While the structure as a whole seems to have been modified like the Eastern entrance to the temple have been blocked but the original door jambs can clearly be seen.
Further, down the Mosque it has artifacts from the temple site as well as from a mosque, which may or may not have been the same mosque before reconstruction or might have very well come from another nearby site.
Who Was Zafar Khan Ghazi?
This is the most controversial question to which even I do not have a straight answer. After reading over a dozen books, I have found that Zafar Khan may have very well multiple characters in the history of this region within a specific time period. The name “Zafar Khan” could well be a title, which the sultan may have conferred for being a great warrior, learned man, a man of great virtues, someone with a great knowledge of Islam or can be anyone who has done something significant for the sultan.
Therefore, what I have done is to list all the various possibilities as to who the Zafar Khan Ghazi might be who is buried out here and revered as a saint by Muslims and well as the Hindus.
Zafar Khan the Commander
According to some historians, Zafar Khan (Zafar Khan Bahram Itgin) was, in fact, a commander of Ruknuddin Kaikaus Shah (Sultan) of Bengal. He was appointed the governorship of Bengal while Ikhtiyaruddin Firoz Itgin was the governor of Bihar region. The similarity of the surname suggests that they might have well been (brothers) related. In 1298 A.D. Zafar Khan was then the governor of northern parts of greater Bengal (Devkot – Dinajpur) was asked to go towards the southern part of Bengal to expand the reach of the kingdom.
Around that time the southern part of Bengal was mainly dominated by Hindu kings and zamindars and it was the duty of Zafar Khan to capture this territory for the expansion of the Sultanate. So during one of his expedition, he had come to Tribeni where he has been forever buried in the dragah.
Zafar Khan – Daraf Khan Gaji
Then there is another version wherein Zafar Khan is being referred to as the well learned Sufi who has the finest knowledge of Sanskrit and has written verses in praise of Ganges. These have passed on from one generation to the other orally and thus might have diverted from its actuality.
According to legends passed down orally, there was a saintly man at Khamarpara which is located very near to Tribeni by the name of Bhikaridas. One fine morning when the saint was cleaning his teeth while sitting atop a wall Daraf Gaji from Tribeni came to visit the saint sitting on a tiger. As he approached the saint ordered the wall he was sitting on to move and it miraculously moved and came face to face with the Daraf Gaji. This made both the saint as well as Daraf Gaji accept each other’s superiority and both came down and embraced each other. Thus, it is said that Daraf Gaji accepted the power of the saint’s belief and made him study Sanskrit. Later on, Daraf Gaji is set to have written praise about the Ganges also.
सुरधुनि मुनिकन्ये तारयेः पुण्यवन्तं स
तरति निजपुण्यैस्तत्र किन्ते महत्त्वं ।
यदि च गतिविहीनं तारयेः पापिनं मां तदपि तव महत्त्वं तन्महत्त्वं महत्त्वं।
Oh! Suradhuni Gunga, the daughter of Jahnu Muni, What will be thy greatness if thou wilt bestows salvation on the virtuous, who are saved by their own merits! –
If thou bestows salvation on me, who am a helpless wretch,
I would then proclaim thy glory to the highest extremity.
If you are unable to view Sanskrit font then click here to open it as an image file.
Bhikaridas is set to be somewhere at the beginning of the 14th century and later on, when you read about the mosque and madrasa you will find dates overlapping with this. Daraf Gaji could very well be Zafar Khan Ghazi and the difference in the name would be due to the deformation in linguistic translation over the generations.
Zafar Khan the Turkish Invader
Zafar Muhammad Khan was a crusader and wanted to expand into the plains of fertile Bengal. He raided the area around Tribeni defeating the Hindu kings and zamindars. His first conquest was that of Man Nripati who he managed to convert to Islam and then further proceeded to the second battle against the much powerful Raja Bhudeb. In this second battle, Zafar Khan faced defeat and was killed during the battle.
With the death of Zafar Muhammad Khan, the conquest of lower Bengal did not end but was carried on by his son Ulugh Khan who managed to finally defeat Raja Bhudeb and then also married his daughter.
Zafar Muhammad Khan body is said to have been buried at this very Dargah and later even his sons and daughter in law were buried here. The only issue out here is that the name Ulugh Khan surprisingly is not buried at this site.
Zafar Khan the Avenger
This version of the history is similar to that as the above but here Zafar Muhammad Khan along with Shah Saifuddin who was the nephew of Firuz Shah II (Jalal-ud-din Khalji) the founder and first Sultan of the Khalji Dynasty controlling much of Delhi. He had apparently sent Zafar Muhammad Khan to avenge the death of Shah Saifuddin’s son.
Raja Bhudeb is said to have sacrificed the life of a child belonging to Shah Saifuddin as a punishment for cow slaughter. The close aide of the sultan was celebrating ritual circumcision with hundreds of guests and for the feast, a cow was slaughtered. To avenge this the Raja had captured the son and sacrificed it as a punishment.
Here it is also mentioned that Shah Saifuddin went to a Pir (Shaikh Sharafuddin Bu Ali Qalandar) at Panipat to seek blessings and to ensure victory in the war.
Shah Saifuddin along with Zafar Muhammad Khan and Bahram Saqqa marched on to Hugli (Hooghly) to a place known as Chota Pandua and had defeated the Hindu king in the battle.
Surprisingly as per historical records seems to match up in this case, as there are several references to Shah Safiuddin of Chota Pandua who was a Sufi Saint and the battle conquest of Zafar Khan in this area. There is a mosque out here where Shah Saifuddin is buried along with his sons.
The problem hers is with the date as the war in Chota Pandua was around 1340 AD while the date in Ghazi Dargah Mosque is 1298 AD and Firuz Shah II ruled between 1290 AD to 1296 AD.
Zafar Khan the Governor
Zafar Khan was then appointed the governor of northern parts of greater Bengal (Devkot – Dinajpur) by Shamsuddin Firuz Shah and was asked to go towards the southern part of Bengal to expand the reach of the kingdom.
The deciphered text from the tomb in Tribeni suggests this to be the same, Zafar Khan. This also leads you to assume that Zafar Khan was victorious in the war with the Hindu king and was not killed in the battle with him.
Shihabuddin Zafar Khan
Sultan of Lakhnauti appointed Shihabuddin Zafar Khan as the administrator of Saptagram. Shihabuddin Zafar Khan as per some records founded a madrasa in Tribeni. Could this be the same madrasa which is mentioned in the Dargah?
Therefore, you can clearly see there are many different theories as to who the original Zafar Khan Ghazi was for whom the Dargah was built and who is actually buried there, as there are many stories and legends that are overlapping each other.
Zafar Khan Ghazi Dargah
Right on the banks of Hooghly River at Tribeni, you will find a road going up towards a raised section about ten to twelve feet above the ground. As you, approach you will find several roadside shops selling chadars, flowers, kewra water, incense sticks, candles, etc. These are for the believers of Ghazi to offer these at the Dargah.
I would suggest you to first go towards the eastern face of the Dargah which is facing the river and see the ornamented window but in reality, this was the main entrance of the Vishnu temple which you can clearly make out by looking at the door jamb. The place where the door was supposed to be had now been replaced by stone grills possibly from a different section of the original temple.
There is a small flight of stairs which after climbing you will be able to see a piece of iron rod sticking out. You can pull it with your hand and can clearly see it moving. People refer to this as the “Gazir Kurul” or the axe of Ghazi. As per legends, this is part of the battle axe of Ghazi and you can move it but cannot pull it out.
গাজীর কুড়ুল নড়ে চড়ে কিন্তু পরে না
(Gajir Kurul Nore Chore Kintu Pore Na)
If you are unable to view Bangla (Bengali) font then click here to open it as an image file.
In order to enter the Dargah, you have to enter the main heritage site. The Dargah section has two rooms one to the east (Room 1) and one to the west (Room 2). Both of these rooms are without a roof. As per historians, the Dargah is actually a Vishnu temple where Room 1 is the Antarala and Room 2 is the Garbagriha.
It’s more evident on the black basalt plinth where you can clearly see figures from Ramayana and Mahabharata thus can be clearly understood was from the original temple which was here at this very spot.
Inside the two rooms, you will find several stone blocks with Sanskrit verses written in Bengali script. These are scattered all around the two rooms usually around one foot above the ground.
Room 1 has the tombs of Barkhan Ghazi, his two sons Rahim Khan & Karim Khan. Room 2 has the tombs of Zafar Khan, Ain Khan Ghazi, Ghain Khan Ghazi & wife of Barkhan Ghazi. Surprisingly Zafar Khan is buried in the second room and not the first room, the locals quite a few of them pray to the first tomb in Room 1 belonging to Barkhan Ghazi more than the other tombs. Maximum number of Chadars are offered on the tomb of Barkhan Ghazi. This puzzled me a lot and to make the matters worse many of the locals were insisting that the first tomb in room 1 belonged to the “Ghazi”.
Some of the scenes which are depicted on the exterior
walls are from Ramayana:-
Khara Trisiras Vadh
Rama Ravana Vadh
Sita Nirvash Ram Abhishek
Mahabharata (Sri Krishna):-
Dhrishtadyumna Dussasana Yudh
Krishna Banasura Yudh
What people often miss out is the western and the northern wall (back) of the Dargah which has some of the best preserved stone carvings clearly understood from the original temple.
Inscriptions Inside The Zafar Khan Ghazi Dargah
Room 2 Stone Tablet: Kept on the northern side surprisingly earlier historians had given the location of this stone at the mosque thus, it can be easily assumed that during the repairs over the years these must have been shifted. The translation of the inscription as follows:-
This mosque was built by the great Khan, the exalted grandee, Ulugh Ajmal Khan – may God preserve him in both words, – the commander of the army of the exalted nobleman Iqrar Khan, who is the guardian of the honour of the royal harem, commander and vazir of the district of Sajlamankhbad, and the town of Laobla – may his exalted qualities endure forever, during the reign of the just, liberal, earned and perfect king, Barbak Shah son of Mahmud Shah, the Sultan. 1456 A.D.
The two long black basalt stones which can be seen on the tombs of Room 2 from the northern side has the following inscription:-
First Slab: Praise be to Him to whom praise is due! This Madrasah which goes by the name Dar-ul Khairat, was built during the reign of the Lord of munificence, the owner of the crown and the signet, the shadow of God on earth, the generous, the liberal, the great, the master of the necks of nation, the sun of the world and the faith Shams Uddunya Wa-uddin, who is distinguished by the grace of the Lord of the universe, the heir of the realm of Salaiman, Abdul Muzafdar Firuz Shah – may God perpetuate his reign
Second Slab: By order of the distinguished Khan, the generous, the respected, the liberal, the praiseworthy, the helper of Islam, the aider of mankind, the mentor of truth and faith, the supporter of kings and sovereigns, the patron of enquirers, Khan Muhammad Zafar Khan may God give him victory over his enemies and guard his friends. 28 April 1313
These above two slabs gives us the date of the madrasah, which was opened by Zafar Khan as 1313.
Zafar Khan Ghazi Mosque
Just like the Dargah, the Mosque is also built with materials taken from an earlier temple as well as from an earlier mosque. In most probability, there would have been an earlier mosque, which was demolished to build the new mosque. To make matters more confusing some of the stones with inscriptions as per historians are from a different mosque, which was brought here and might have been installed when the mosque was being rebuilt. This leads to confusion of dates but it is a well-known fact that the mosque was built by Zafar Khan thus we can very well figure as to which of the inscription originally belonged to this place.
The mosque had ten domes, which was divided into two rows, five to the east and five to the west. Out of the ten domes, only six domes are visible. Four domes of the west section are missing. The mosque originally had five mihrabs but now only three are visible. None of the minarets is visible and a dump towards the northeast section of the mosque shows several pieces of stones, which almost resemble a minaret.
Some portions of this mosque still have a close reference to the temple like the ornamental design patterns or for that matter some of the pillar which has very distinct temple patterns on them. The mosque also has some terracotta panels, which can be obviously made out due to its natural coloring and creates an unusual visual bond with the other stone structures.
Inscriptions Inside Zafar Khan Ghazi Mosque
Right of South Mihrab (Marked in Red): And I (Zafar Khan) hope to obtain the pious wishes of such as are learned in the law, the God may strengthen my faith at the time I am in the tomb. May God reward me; for He is truly merciful, and liberal, and kind; and (hope) He will honor me.
Top of South Mihrab (Marked in Yellow): Zafar Khan,
the Turk, the lion of lions, and the most excellent one of builders of
benevolent edifices, after the heroes, and by smothering the Infidels with
sword and spear, and lavishing treasures on every…
Keystone (Marked in Green): Also contains inscriptions.
Left of the South Mihrab (Marked in Pink): And by honoring all the learned of the faith, in order to elevate the standard of God. 1298 A.D.
The date 1298 A.D. is very significant, as that would mean this would be one of the oldest mosques in Bengal.
Black Basalt Stone Left of the South Mihrab: (verses from Surah Al Mulk from the Holy Quran). The Surah emphasizes that no individual can impose his will on another, he may only guide and set an example. Blessed is He in whose hand is dominion, and He is over all things competent [He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving [And] who created seven heavens in layers. You do not see in the creation of the Most Merciful any inconsistency. So return [your] vision [to the sky]; do you see any breaks? Then return [your] vision twice again. [continued]
Black Basalt Stone Right of the Central Mihrab: (verses from the Holy Quran).
O God, vouchsafe unto us in this world a great comfort, and in the world to come a great comfort. (Quran II 197). A help from God, and an approaching gift; announce it to the believers (Quran LXI 13).
God has said “Surely he will build the mosques of God who believes in Him and in a future life, and performs his prayers, and gives the legal alms, and fears no one except God. Such perhaps will belong to those that are guided (Quran IX 18). And he upon whom be peace has said – “To try and to begin is mine; but the completion rests with God.” God has said – “The mosques belong to God. Worship no one else but God (Quran LXXII 18).
Rectangular Black Basalt: (verse 255 of second Surah Al Baqarah)
Allah! There is no god but He – the Living, The Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him Nor Sleep….
Other Unknown Structures
There are some new tombs around the complex, which do not have any direct connection historically and most probably belong to the caretakers or members of the family taking care of this site.
Apart from this on the North West side of the property near the mosque, you will find a section scattered with stones some of which have visible carvings of patterns. Therefore, it can be safely assumed that these are most probably from the original mosque which had been present here and which in turn had used sections of stones from the temple.
In the end, I have laid down all the possibilities as to who Zafar Khan Ghazi could have been and showed you all the remaining fragments of the temple and well as the mosque. It took me sometime but I had to interpret some of the stone tablets to ensure that no information is missed. I would urge the readers not to go into the past and find out the reason why this temple was remodelled into a mosque and a Dargah rather I would urge you to look at it from the point of historic significance.
All the information have been collected from various sources thus if you happen to find any mistakes or discrepancies please feel free to write back to me.
This blog would have been complete without additional inputs. Special thanks to Qussain Gujjar for the Arabic and Persian translations and Shashi for the Sanskrit translations. These were important to make this blog complete with the missing pieces of the puzzle.
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Graphics from pngtree.com