Bahadur Shah Park, A Witness of History
Bahadur Shah Park is a historical park situated on Jhonson Road, near Sadarghat, at the old part of Dhaka in Bangladesh. The park has witnessed many historical events of almost two centuries.
In the late 18th century, the present park was replaced by the Armenian Billiard Club of Dhaka. The locals named it Antaghar. The locals used to call the billiard ball Anta. From there the word ‘Antaghar’ came. Adjacent to the clubhouse was a field known as Antaghar Maidan. After Queen Victoria took over the rule of India in 1858, the Commissioner of Dhaka Division read out a proclamation in this field. Since then, the place has been named Victoria Park. Until 1947, the park was known as Victoria Park.
Bahadur Shah Park is a very important place for historical reasons, commemorating the revolutionaries of the Sipahi Revolt of 1857 (usually mispronounced as ‘Sepoy Revolt‘). The park bears witness to the history of British rule and their exploitation and the sacrifices of the freedom fighters against it. The British seized power in India on 23 June 1757 with a fraudulent victory in the Battle of Palashi. Since then, the heroic freedom-loving Muslims have repeatedly revolted against the exploitation and oppression of the British. One such glorious revolt is the Sipahi Revolt of 1857. The Sipahis started a revolt to establish the weak and aged Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah in power. The Sipahi Rebellion is referred to as India’s first war of independence.
In the beginning the name of this movement was ‘Azadi Andolon’ or the war of independence. Azadi Andolon was referred to by the British as the ‘Sipahi Rebellion’ but in reality it was not a rebellion, it was a war for independence. This has even been acknowledged by some English historians and writers. The freedom-loving revolutionary Muslims were the main force of this movement. The British government suppressed this revolt very ruthlessly. They killed many innocent men and women, children and old people indiscriminately.
It is known from history that Bahadur Shah Jafar was the last Mughal emperor. At the beginning of Sipahi Bidroho, the rebel forces entered Delhi’s Lal Kella, proclaimed Bahadur Shah Jafar II, the nominal emperor, as the independent emperor of India, and swore allegiance to him and vowed to make India independent. Then the piecemeal resistance war spread all over India including present day Bangladesh. One rebellion after another began in the barracks. After suppressing the Sipahi Rebellion in 1858, the British deposed Bahadur Shah and deported him to Rangoon (present-day Yangon, Myanmar), where he died. The park is named after him. Bahadur Shah Park as a memorial to the great war of independence of 1857 still reminds us of the great sacrifices of our ancestors.
The Sipahi Rebellion caused extreme tension throughout Bengal. The resistance in Chittagong and Dhaka and the skirmishes in Sylhet, Jessore, Rangpur, Pabna and Dinajpur continued. On 18 November 1857, the infantry of Chittagong started an open revolt and released all the prisoners from the jail. They seized arms and ammunition, looted the treasury and set fire to the arsenal and advanced towards Tripura. As a result, the question of defending Dhaka became important to the British. In fear of further coup d’etat by the Sipahis, the British authorities sent three companies of the 54th Regiment and one hundred navies to Dhaka. At the same time a naval brigade was sent to Jessore, Rangpur, Dinajpur and several other districts of Bangladesh.
After the arrival of the British troops in Dhaka, their conflict with the Sipahis intensified. The then influential Nawab of Dhaka, Khwaja Abdul Gani, sided with the British. Eventually the British were able to suppress the Sipahi revolution in Dhaka. Many Sipahi soldiers were killed and captured. The captured Sipahi soldiers were handed over to a military court formed immediately for a brief trial. Among them, 11 Sipahi fighters were brought to the then Antaghar Maidan (now Bahadur Shah Park) and hanged in public. The bodies were hung from trees in Bahadur Shah Park for months to terrorize the pro-independence people and instill fear in the locals.
After the Sipahis were hanged, the colonial English erected a monument at Antaghar Maidan, now Bahadur Shah Park, for the heroism of their troops. In addition, four British cannons were placed at the four corners of the park. On the other hand, the British government built a prison in Lalbagh in 1857 to erase the memory of the place where the blood of the great freedom fighters was shed, which still exists.
Bahadur Shah Park Naming History
At present, where Bahadur Shah Park is located, there was a billiard club of Armenians in Dhaka at this place in the late eighteenth century. In addition to playing billiards at the club, they played racquet, tennis, badminton and had fun here. Occasionally parties or ceremonies were held. The white round balls of billiards were like an egg in the eyes of the local Bengalis, the egg that has to be pushed again with a stick! So they named this club ‘Andaghar’. Because egg is called ‘Anda’ in the regional dialect of Bangladesh. Gradually the word Andaghar changed from human pronunciation to Antaghar. Later, when the Armenians’ political and economic position weakened, they sold the club to the English. When the English demolished the clubhouse and turned it into an open park, it became known as ‘Antaghar Maidan’. This is the history of the name Antaghar.
The main patrons of Antaghar Maidan were Nawab Abdul Gani and Nawab Ahsan Ullah of Dhaka. According to the famous historian James Taylor, even in 1840, the place was a circular garden in a piece of empty space between several streets. Next to it was an open field. Company rule in India came to an end in 1858 after the Sipahi Rebellion. The British were forced to restructure their army, economy and administration in India. At a later stage, India came under the direct rule of the Queen of Britain. After Queen Victoria took over the rule of India, the then Commissioner of Dhaka Division read out a proclamation in this regard here. Since then, Antaghar Maidan has been renamed as Victoria Park. Until 1957, the park was known as Victoria Park. On one side of the park is an obelisk, reminiscent of the British Empire and the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne of India. But still the name of the place did not last. At the next turning point in history, the park dropped the name ‘Victoria Park’ and took another name.
Later, on the occasion of the centenary of the Sipahi Rebellion in 1957, a memorial was erected at this place by the Dhaka Improvement Trust (DIT) and the park was renamed as Bahadur Shah Park. The memorial is a rectangular structure standing on four pillars. Above it is a round dome. As the Sipahi Rebellion took place to end the British rule and re-establish the rule of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II, the park was renamed ‘Bahadur Shah Park’ after him.
Where is Bahadur Shah Park
Bahadur Shah Park is situated on Johnson Road at Sadarghat, the main seaport of Dhaka, on the outskirts of Laxmibazar. The park is oval and surrounded by iron railings. It has two main gates on the east and west sides. Inside the park, a paved road has been built around the railings.
There are 7 roads around the park. It is considered to be the most important area of old Dhaka as it is surrounded by a number of educational institutions including important government buildings. On the north side of the park is St. Thomas Church and Dhaka’s first water tank; Kabi Nazrul Government College and Islamia High School are on the north-east corner; on the east side is the Government Muslim School, one of the oldest schools in Dhaka; Jagannath University is in the south-west corner and Dhaka Judge Court is located just north-west of the park. Besides, the road in this park area is the main road to come to the new area of present Dhaka from some of the important areas of the city like Bangla Bazar, Islampur and Shakhari Bazar.
Khwaja Hafizullah Memorial
Khwaja Hafizullah, the eldest son of Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah of Dhaka, was a trusted and beloved person by the poor people. Everyone respected and cared for him, thinking that he would be the next Nawab of Dhaka. But the sudden death of Khwaja Hafizullah in 1884 cast a shadow of mourning over the Nawab family and the entire city of Dhaka. Nawab Ahsanullah fell ill in grief of losing his son. The Nawab, who patronized the entertainment of the English colonialists, did not organize any more for their amusement. The English then erected a monument to console Nawab Ahsan Ullah and to commemorate his son Khwaja Hafizullah.
A granite monument was brought by ship from Calcutta, the then capital of India. The monument is smooth and has inscriptions engraved on both sides of its base. On 17 February 1885, the Choto Lat (provincial governor) of Bangla inaugurated the “Khwaja Hafizullah Memorial” in a grand ceremony. The park also has a cenotaph, a four-cornered structure on a high altar which is surrounded by a round covering of four pillars. There is also a water fountain in the center of Bahadur Shah Park.
Take a Tour to Bahadur Shah Park on Holidays
Instead of spending lazy time on holidays, you can take a stroll around Bahadur Shah Park in old Dhaka. The people of old Dhaka still come to walk in Bahadur Shah Park in the morning and afternoon. Some people rest here in the cool shade of the trees for a while when they get time. Many people come to Bahadur Shah Park to breathe a sigh of relief to overcome the fatigue and exhaustion of the rough busyness of civic life. This park is a place of peace for the people surrounded by concrete in the capital Dhaka. Considering the historical importance of the park, the Capital Development Authority (now RAJUK) has included it in their master plan as per Section 61 of the Dhaka Metropolitan Building (Construction, Development, Preservation and Removal) Rules, 2008 for its conservation.
The west entrance to the park is currently closed. However, the entrance to the east is open 24 hours a day. It is known that there were many palm trees in this park at one time. It was in those palm trees that the Sipahi rebel fighters were hanged in 1857. One of the warriors was a woman. Now none of those old trees are left. All of them have been cut down. If you have time, besides Bahadur Shah Park, you can also visit many traditional places of interest in Old Dhaka nearby the park.
How to go to Bahadur Shah Park
Wherever you are in Bangladesh, to reach Bahadur Shah Park, you must first come to the capital Dhaka. Then you have to take a bus to Sadarghat from anywhere in Dhaka and reach Johnson Road. You just have to get off in front of Jagannath University on Johnson Road. The park is very close to the University.
Bahadur Shah Park is always open to everyone. There is no fee to visit it.