Panam Nagar: A fully abandoned city of the Hindu merchants in Bangladesh

Panam Nagar is a fully abandoned city of the Hindu merchants in Bangladesh built in early nineteenth-century, located about 37 km south of the capital city Dhaka. It is a popular tourist attraction in Bangladesh and one of the highlights of the country – a must visiting site to the travelers visiting Bangladesh.

Abandoned city Panam Nagar

Abandoned city Panam Nagar. ©Photo Credit: Raw Hasan

How was Panam Nagar established

Panam, ancient Painam, a locality in Sonargaon, is said to have been the site of the Hindu capital city of Sonargaon emerging in the late thirteenth century. The Panam area formed part of the Muslim metropolis developed on the south of the old city, and perhaps constituted the place of residence of the early Muslim governors of the Sultanate of Bengal from 1338.

After the Mughal conquest of Sonargaon in 1610, the Panam area was connected with the ruling metropolis by the construction of highways and bridges which still exist. The existence of these bridges and the canals enclosing the site on three sides is indicative of its being a suburban area of the medieval city.

In the early 19th century during the colonial rule, Sonargaon developed into a center of trade in cotton fabrics, mainly English piece goods. It is estimated that there were about 1400 families of Hindu and Muslim weavers in and around Panam at that time. The British East India Company at that time established its factory in Panam for the purchase of muslin and other cotton fabrics.

At that time, a group of wealthy Hindu merchants from Kolkata, which was then the capital of colonial India, returned to their ancestral land in Sonargaon and started to build a small township at Panam area over an older ruined settlement. Thus established the new township of Panam Nagar (Panam City). The existing buildings in Panam Nagar which were the residents of the Hindu merchants were established from the early nineteenth to the early twentieth century. Panam Nagar continued to flourish until the end of the Second World War.

Dilapidating buildings in Panam Nagar

Dilapidating buildings in Panam Nagar. ©Photo Credit: Raw Hasan

How was the city become abandoned

Panam Nagar was abandoned after a series of racial riots, sparked during Bengal Divide in 1947. The city was finally deserted after the migration of the Hindus to India during the Indo-Pak War of 1965, making it an empty township.

Panam Nagar was later exposed to threats of flooding, vandalism, unauthorized occupation, litigation by illegal occupants, illegal development, poor maintenance, and earthquakes.

In 2006, World Monument Fund declared Panam Nagar as one of the 100 ruinous historical establishments.

Local girls going to school through Panam Nagar

Local girls going to school through Panam Nagar. ©Photo Credit: Jessica Shulman

The settings of Panam Nagar

Panam Nagar is densely built on a single street 5 meters wide on the average and 600 meters in length. All the buildings have the character of urban street front houses and are lined up on either side of this street. Fifty-two houses in the dilapidated and abandoned condition in the settlement have been identified in the city. Single to three-storied attached and detached houses of varying types and sizes.

In its present state of disuse and dilapidation, one can still feel the vibrant life of Panam Nagar in its prime time. A subtle competition to glorify the houses as an expression of self-image among the owners is apparent. Each owner was presenting a facade to Panam Street to enrich the visual symphony of his house, where each building keeping its own identity blended with the harmonious whole.

Panam Nagar appears to be well protected by artificial canals all around. Shared use of backyard facilities among the adjoining houses can be observed from the layout of pond, ghat, well, etc. The buildings follow a pattern language by which unity has been achieved, like the use of two or three-story height, symmetry, arched openings, etc. On the other hand, varieties have been achieved in the pattern of the buildings by the introduction of veranda, balcony, loggia, and porch.

The crowning of the buildings with decorative parapet and projected cornice fascinatingly interlocks the structures with the sky in the backdrop. The decorative treatments of the buildings in Panam Nagar were transposed from European architecture and blended in places with local motifs.

Buildings in Panam Nagar

Buildings in Panam Nagar. ©Photo Credit: Raw Hasan

Types of buildings in the city

The buildings in Panam Nagar can be categorized as four different types:

Central Hall type:

The central hall is the nerve center of this typology of houses. The halls were highly romanticized with extensive decorations. These are the most expensive part of the house expressing the wealth and power of the owner. On some buildings of this type, the halls are located on the first floor. (1, 2*, 5*, 16, 26)

Central Courtyard type:

This is derived from traditional rural house form cantering around a courtyard. The courtyards are essentially enclosed, paved and open to the sky. The enclosing walls of the courtyard are extensively delineated with arched openings and pilasters having ornamentation in base, shaft, capital, cornice, and parapet. It appears that almost similar emphasis was given to the design of the street facade and courtyard facades. (36, 40)

Consolidated type:

The majority of houses in Panam Nagar belong to this type without having any inner court or hall. The consolidated types are designed with either an entrance portal or a veranda or a high plinth as transition space from street to inner house. No uniformity is found in the organization of inner cells and rooms. Formal balance has been maintained in all the front facades unrelated to the inner organization of the houses. Single storied buildings in Panam mostly belong to this typology.

Compartment type:

These are the single compartment houses without articulation of interior spaces but a formal balance has been maintained in the outer facade to relate the buildings with the setting. In plan, these buildings have single compartments. (35, 39, 41, 42, 44)

The construction materials of Panam Nagar

Bricks are the main construction material of Panam Nagar, modeled in different shapes. Bricks are either plastered or left exposed for facade delineation.

The roofs stand on the joist and made of wood in most cases. I-beam was also used occasionally. The brick vaulted roof usually covered the small rooms. Plaster decoration has been extensively applied in facade design and interior decoration.

False wooden doors and windows shaped with plaster were also applied as a common decorative element. Stone quoins have also been copied in brick and plaster. Cast iron brackets, ventilators, window-grill, balusters had been extensively used.

Mosaic decoration with broken china locally known as ‘chinitikri’ work was very popular in interior decoration. Modest exterior application is also found in some examples.

Dilapidating houses in Panam Nagar

Dilapidating houses in Panam Nagar. ©Photo Credit: Raw Hasan

The current state of Panam Nagar

In 2009, fifty-two buildings, and eventually the city, were freed by Bangladesh govt. from unauthorized occupation. The Department of Archaeology then declared the area a protected heritage site. A new road has been made to bypass the city for the residents around the city, who used the Panam Street to access their residence.

Accessing the city by the locals has been limited by making protection fences and gates. Security forces have been deployed to protect the city from vandalism. It is now open to visitors six days a week by paying an entree-fee and has become a very popular attraction to the local tourists mostly coming from Dhaka.

Local kids in Panam Nagar

Local kids in Panam Nagar. ©Photo Credit: Raw Hasan

Visiting hours of Panam Nagar

  • Tuesday – Saturday: Open from 9.00 am – 5.00 pm.
  • Sunday: Closed.
  • Monday: Opens after 02.00 pm.
  • Government holidays: Closed.

A dilapidating house in Panam Nagar with an in-house temple

A dilapidating house in Panam Nagar with an in-house temple. ©Photo Credit: Raw Hasan

Entry fees of Panam Nagar

  • Price for the locals: 15 BDT
  • Price for the foreigners: 100 BDT

How to reach Panam Nagar

It is possible to reach Panam Nagar from Dhaka by first coming to Gulistan and taking a bus from there to Mograpara, then taking a CNG (tuk-tuk) to Panam Nagar. There is a direct bus running between Narayanganj and Panam Nagar.

Reference

Have you ever visited Panam Nagar? How fascinating have you found the city? Have I missed something here? Share your thoughts and experience with us in comments.

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