Though Bangladesh was founded as a secular state, over the years, the country has been ruled by various powers that have imparted equally diverse beliefs. As a result, its unique blend of cultures and religions has directly informed its architecture. The Sultani period, a span between the 13th and 18th centuries when the country was governed by Muslims, was particularly influential.
As a mystical Islamic practice known as Sufism emerged, Sufi saints helped to spread the religion throughout Bangladesh, integrating it into regional politics and encouraging leaders to partake in humanitarian work. These religious figures were revered and often honoured with a Dargah, or mausoleum, to house their grave. The latest of these structures, designed by local firm Sthapotik, honours the legacy of Shah Muhammad Mohsin Khan Uwaisi, the Pir, or religious leader, of the Manikgoni.
Located in his native home of Hijuli, Manikgong, the mausoleum hosts graves for the Pir, his father, and his wife, with an additional space reserved for his eldest son, a renowned scientist who initiated the building’s construction. These graves were previously buried in the Pir’s residence, but his son commissioned a mausoleum to be built overtop to celebrate his memory and contributions to the religion.
The building’s form and material palette were inspired by Sultani mosques and traditional Bengal huts, creating a space that feels familiar yet contemporary. Its uniform brick façade was constructed by local masons, comprised of naturally burned red bricks (the primary building material during the Sultani period) hand-picked from a local brick field.
The repeated semi-cylindrical forms that define the building’s exterior evoke the corner turrets typical of Sultani mosques, while perforations in the upper portion of the cylinders mimic jalis, or perforated screens, which have become synonymous with Indo-Islamic architecture. The perforations’ functions are twofold, filtering in natural light and increasing passive ventilation.
Inside, the mausoleum’s simple eleven-by-eleven metre floor plan draws from square-shaped Islamic tombs, whose conventional forms were adapted to suit Bangladesh’s regional tastes and building requirements. Sthapotik’s design has evolved these traditions to reflect contemporary techniques and ideologies, as well as available resources.
The Persian word Dargah translates to portal, and this symbolism is reflected in the building’s design. Metaphorically, the mausoleum serves as a home for the earthly body, allowing the soul to travel to paradise. The three graves are elevated on a white marble platform, exalting their presence.
In the grand 7.3-metre-high space, the ceiling structure, dubbed the chandelier of paradise, emits a heavenly glow that “connects the earthly body to the higher power.” Inspired by multi-domed mosques, 36 circles are cut out of the gridded concrete slab which supports the building’s large span. At its centre, 16 of these circles have been extruded into cylinders that hang from the ceiling, dramatically illuminating the graves.
“The presence of graves and the pattern painted by the light of the chandelier creates a mysterious celestial ambience that intrigues a spiritual notion in human minds,” the architects explain. “The outer shell is the replication of our reality but the inner space moves the reality beyond it.”
Inspired by regional vernacular, local firm Sthapotik crafts a structure to honour a celebrated religious leader.