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Blast from the past

  • Published at 01:46 pm December 9th, 2019

Panam Nagar is a remnant of the rich and diverse socio-political heritage of Bengal as an affluent scene of crafts, commerce and politic sin the undivided Indian subcontinent.

According to the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Panam Nagar falls under the ‘Northern Group’ of historical sites that are situated in and around Sonargaon, the once thriving capital of Bang. 

With a history that overlays medieval Hindu empires, Sultanate and Mughal splendor and Colonial decree, the archaeological remains of Sonargaon are a unique historical rendezvous in themselves. From the descriptions of ancient travelers it is evident that Sonargaon had gone through varied circumstances of rise and fall throughout the course of its history. Left in oblivion after the shift of the capital to Dhaka during Mughal rule, the lavish settlement of Panam in many ways reclaimed its past glory.

Panam Nagar is thought to be an urban settlement established by Hindu merchants that flourished through trade with the East India Company during the late 18th and early 19th century. Whether or not the town was built on the site of an earlier Muslim occupation remains undetermined but the existence of nearby structures, bridges and the surrounding canal system indicate that it certainly was a suburban area of the medieval city of Sonargaon. It is also indicative of an organized local urban authority that maintained planning regulations and principles during the Colonial period. 

The architecture of Panam Nagar marks a strong departure from the typical style of building that was prevalent in the indigenous house form. It provided a completely new residential typology that complied with the urbanistic aspirations of the new elite. 

Set along an approximately five-meter-wide road that paves its way through subtle bends and changes of vista, the six-hundred-meter long stretch of Panam Nagar is still lined by 52 attached and detached houses of dilapidated condition. The residences create a distinct edge on both sides forming a strong sense of enclosure that is essential for the ideal urban ‘street’. 

The houses are mostly two-storied with a few one story and some three storied structures as well. Although each house is different in style and organization the overbearing correspondence in scale, frontality and axiality creates a harmonious visual symphony as one walks past the rhythmic recurrence of loggias, balconies and porches.  

The layering of space through verandas, shaded corridors and colonnaded porticoes display a rich hierarchy of spatial experiences as one moves through the formal frontage of the façade towards the shared open space beyond. Even in this derelict condition the relics of Panam still echo with the vitality and richness of life it once housed within its wall. 

Ismat Hossain is Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture, North South University. [email protected]

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