Sonargaon: A historical treasure
A hop and a skip from Dhaka lies one of Bangladesh’s most impressive historical treasures: the one time capital of Bengal, the ancient city of Sonargaon.
Throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Sonargaon was ruled by a variety of kings, sultans, and overlords. Even during such turmoil, the city thrived. In fact in the early fourteenth century, it was home to a mint as well as being a center of trade.
In the 16th century, Sonargaon was the capital of Isa Khan’s kingdom. After Isa Khan’s death his son briefly ruled the area, before succumbing to the Mughal army. In the early seventeenth century, the capital of the region shifted to Dhaka and Sonargaon began to fade.
In the late 19th century, Sonargaon experienced a period of revival when Panam City was established as a trading center. Hindu merchants set up shop in the city, building stately houses and selling fine fabrics. However, it wasn’t to last and Panam City too faded as many of the Hindu merchants left for India after partition, leaving the city virtually abandoned.
Today Panam City is basically a ghost town. Visitors can explore the nearly deserted narrow streets, lined with colonial homes overgrown with foliage. So much is unchanged; it’s as if you’ve stepped back in time or onto a movie set. The elements are gradually taking their toll on the building facades, but the darkened stone and concrete seems to only add to the haunting quality of this once bustling city.
One of the must-see places in Sonargaon, is the Folk Art Museum. Housed in a Rajbari built at the turn of the century, the building itself is a stunning piece of art with blue and white mosaic work around the facade. The building sits on picturesque grounds with shady trees and peaceful ponds. All this scenery before even stepping inside! The museum’s goal is to preserve and celebrate the traditional art and culture of Bangladesh. The museum has a large collection including pottery, carvings, ornaments, bamboo and brass crafts, paintings, and of course, textiles.
In fact, Sonargaon has been for their textiles for centuries. In the 14th century, Ibn Batuta specifically noted the volume of high quality fabric being made in Sonargaon. A few centuries later, British traveler Ralph Fitch was enamored with the muslin woven in Sonargaon. Sonargaon is specifically known for Jamdani, a truly magnificent, highly decorated muslin. It is still woven today in villages around Sonargaon
Jamdani fabric are very labor intensive to weave, each is sewn individually, not mass produced, and the patterns are from memory, one Jamdani can take 15 days to 6 months to complete. The fabric is light and sheer, decorated with floral or geometric patterns. They are prized throughout Bangladesh, and in the world, for their fine quality and exquisite decoration. Jamdani Saris are passed down as heirloom from mother to daughter and defines the craftsmanship of Textiles in Bangladesh to this day.