Panam Nagar, which covers an area of 20 square kilometres, is a bustling city. Shitolokkha River runs to the West of this city, and the Meghna River runs to the East. Communities have grown around these riverbanks.
These waterways transport foreign goods to the city, particularly foreign clothing, which is more appealing to the locals. These rivers are also used to export the famous muslin cloth of this region to different cities of the world.
The city has turned into a trade hub. Due to this, the city is always bustling with foreign merchants. The ornamentation of this city exhibits the influence of European architecture as well, owing to the Permanent Settlement. As a result, many structures around Panam Nagar, including mosques, temples, monasteries, Thakurghars, baths, dancing halls, treasury, mints, darbar halls, wide walls, dining halls, and courthouses, exhibit a fusion of Mughal, European, and local artisan's artistic talents.
In this rich, vibrant city, the sun sets on the lap of Shitolokkha every day, but the very next day, a new morning with boundless prospects breaks upon the banks of the Meghna.
The story of Panama City as it is presented here dates back to the early 19th century. What was true back then is now history. Panam's youthful appeal has aged over time and is about to crumble.
What the past reveals
Panam City had the status of a capital, a provincial town, and a commercial hub at different points in time. History tells us that Panam Nagar served as Sonargaon's capital throughout the 13th-century era of autonomous Hindu governance in East Bengal. Later in the 15th century Isa Khan Masnad-e-Ala, the leader of the Baro-Bhuyans, founded the Bhati area here and gave Panam the title of the capital; Sonargaon was thereafter governed from Panam.
The political significance of the entire Sonargaon region, along with Panam Nagar, began to wane after the Mughals took control of Sonargaon in the 17th century since the Mughal capital was moved from Sonargaon to Dhaka. However, during the Mughal period, Panam Nagar underwent some significant reforms.
The Mughals built the Panam Bridge, Dalalpur Pool, Panamnagar Bridge, and the highway in this area, establishing a direct connection between Panam Nagar and the capital. In the following centuries, nothing noteworthy about Panam Nagar appears in the pages of history.
However, the stale Panam City regained its life during the colonial era in the 19th century. The East India Company developed this place as a commercial centre. The establishment of factories and trade in cotton-muslin cloth gave the city life.
At that time, most of Panam Nagar's residents were Hindu merchants, but many Muslims and Marwaris also lived there. By looking at the structures of the city, one can determine the then residents' socioeconomic standing and sense of culture. The adornment of the structures reflected the owners' wealth and prominence. This wealthy state of Panam City was maintained until the Second World War. The inhabitants of this city gradually departed in several phases, particularly following the end of British rule, the pre-independence Hindu Muslim riots, and later in 1965 during the Indo-Pakistan war. Panam Nagar consequently became an abandoned city with no inhabitants.
The lost city today
Visitors enter the city via a square iron gate and are immediately confronted with history. The crumbling structures on each side of the winding lane appeared to greet us in this lost city with memories of the past. After walking a few steps ahead, one will find a clay plaque with the history of the rise of Panam Nagar. The ticket counter is just in front of it.
Due to the low price of tickets, many people of all ages and professions gather in this ancient city. Abrar Nadim Momshad, a 1st-year student at the University of Dhaka, went to Panam City with his classmates. As a history and archaeology nerd, this young man thought that going to Panam Nagar was like walking through history.
"Among all the historical sites in Bangladesh, there aren't many cities like Panam Nagar, so I felt this city to be special. Most are Bihars or temples or palaces of Jomidars. Its main street and surrounding buildings set it apart from other archaeological sites. Which fueled my interest in learning about life at the time," said Momshad.
Panam Nagar, unlike other cities, has just one main road. This road, which is 600 meters long and 5 meters broad, is the centre of the entire city. There are 52 abandoned and decaying houses, with 31 on the north side of the road and 21 on the south. The architectural designs of the houses are eye-catching. The houses were constructed using hand-made bricks in the shapes of circles, arches, squares, semi-circles, curved rectangles, and others.
After that, they were plastered with brick dust and lime. The roofing was made of chinitikri, tinted glassware, mosaic, and wooden beams. The vast majority of the houses are now in perilous condition, and entry is prohibited. Besides, the windows of the building now have brick masonry covering them.
However, the exterior designs of the houses show that they followed the Mughal architectural style and the European style.
The exquisite decorations on the terracotta plates also display the influence of Bengal native art. In addition to these stunning structures, this city is notable for its well-planned urbanisation. Two pretty wide canals that run along both sides of this nearly 500-year-old city provide evidence. These canals gave city residents access to fresh water and improved communication.
Also, wells are seen in almost every house. Being home to both Hindus and Muslims, the city used to be packed with many temples and mosques. Most of the buildings in Panam Nagar are on the verge of destruction, so if we want to retain these monuments of the past, we need complete renovation and preservation.
To enter the city, you will require a ticket costing Tk 15 if you are a local and Tk 100 if you are a foreigner. Before this modification, a ticket was not necessary to enter Panam Nagar. However, the statements of a visitor, Jafnun Naher Pritha, showed that the visitors were satisfied with the ticket price.
"When I visited Panam Nagar the first time, it was accessible to anyone; today, I needed to purchase a ticket to enter. Despite this, there were a lot of people here this time. Even after so many people had left, the place was not dirty. Looks pretty neat to me."
When Panam Nagar was first declared a protected archaeological site in 2003, the government made several decisions regarding its conservation. Since 2015, visitors to Panam Nagar must purchase tickets.
How to go?
Panam Nagar is situated in the Sonargaon Upazila of the Narayanganj District. It is around 30 kilometres Southeast of Dhaka. So, to travel to Panam Nagar, get on any direct bus headed to Sonargaon from Gulisthan in the capital and get off at the Sonargaon Mograpara intersection of the Dhaka-Chittagong highway.
Bus fares range from Tk 40 to 50 per person, and an AC bus costs Tk 70 per person. From Mograpara, a rickshaw or a battery-driven autorickshaw may easily take you to Panam Nagar. In that case, the fare would be Tk 20 per person. Parking is not available at this archaeological site. So, if you bring a vehicle, it must be parked in the Folk Art Museum's parking lot.