Shawkat Ali Khan and Noman Chowdhury Daily Sun DHAKA | Saturday | 28 May 2011
Invaluable treasure, including a piece of world’s rare dazzling diamond, precious pearl, enchanting emerald, once owned by Dhaka’s Nawab family has been in the government’s custody for over a century.
The family that reigned in Dhaka from mid 19th century to mid 20th century left the jewels in the treasury after the fourth Nawab Sir Khawja Salimullah was heavily indebted in the early last century.
The then Indian secretary of state paid off some 1,400,000 rupees in 1908 and took custody of the assets, which included nearly 20,000 acres of land, after Salimullah lost a lawsuit over his property with two kings — Shirinath Roy and Srinath Roy — of India.
Salimullah, who was one of the founders of All India Muslim League, took loans from the kings giving mortgage of his assets to carry out social and political activities in this part of the world.
The immovable property of the Nawab Estate have been in frequent discussion in public domain, but its movable and precious jewels worth over 1 million rupees ( as per estimate in 1908) have hardly been talked about.
Beside the land property a huge quantity of movable assets of the Nawab family is being maintained by the land ministry’s Land Reform Board that inherited the authority of the Court of Wards (a court that used to deal with moneys owed to the king by virtue of his position as a feudal lord). Daily sun obtained a copy of the list of movable property of the Nawab.
The list includes the splendid bajoo of Arm ornament containing the large and perfect table diamond known as the Daryiah-ye-Noor, one of the rarest diamonds in the world.
The estimated value of the diamond stood at that time at 500,000 rupees, nearly half price of his total moveable assets.
As many as 110 items, are lying in the vault of Sonali Bank, a land ministry official told daily sun.
The precious items were shifted to the banks’ head office several years ago from its branch in Sadarghat, adjacent to Ahsan Manzil, where the activities of Nawab Estate were carried out.
Some of the valuable items include emerald & diamond clasp with gold belt worth Rs 28,000 (all price estimated in 1908), Lalrise diamond clasp with gold belt (Rs 18,000), engraved emerald & diamond bajoo Bend (Rs 50,000), ruby & diamond head ornament (Rs 48,000), magnificent diamond star formerly the property of the Empress
of the Ranch and known as the enganna star with pearl necklace containing 96 pearls and diamond between each pearl (Rs 95,000), diamond & emerald serpaitch (Rs. 25,000), Jewelle Tez pearls diamonds with pearl and coral tassel (Rs 10,000), diamond-set state sword (Rs 14,000), diamond-set state sword (Rs 17,000), pearl necklace with diamond pendant (Rs. 15,000), three row pearl necklace with diamond Dook Dookle (Rs 14,000), pearl diamond Fez with pearl tassel with emerald drops (34,000), emerald and pearl fez with tassel containing pearls (Rs 14,000), and a diamond and engraved Lalric rose necklace (Rs 22,000).
The official list also included different types of necklace, bracelets, rings, gold chains, gold-plated and pearl-set watch, gold-mounted swords, broaches, etc.
“The items having historic value should be cared properly, otherwise these may get decayed or lost,” said an official of the ministry who preferred not to be named.
“The assets should be handed over to a museum so that people can know about the items used by the Nawab,” he said adding that Salimullah appointed to supervising the Dhaka Nawab Estate was involved in politics and lost the precious wealth.
An official dossier said that the Nawab had taken a huge amount of hard cash pawning the assets of Nawab Estate to King Srinath Roy and Shirinath Roy for political purposes.
The Kings had filed a case with a sub-judge in 1907 against Salimullah for failing to refund the pawn in time and won a decree.
As the Dhaka Nawab Estate almost went to the hands of two kings the secretary of state of India came forward. It paid off the debt worth Rs1.4 million and made a registered deed among the Nawab and the Kings.
Of them, his moveable property stood at Rs 10,09,835, according to official record.
The central government of India then issued a letter to the government of Eastern Bengal and Assam for the supervision of Nawab Estate by the Court of Wards.
Accordingly the former government of Eastern Bengal and Assam disqualified Nawab Salimullah and decided to superintend all movable and immovable property of Dhaka Nawab Estate by the Court of Wards.
Since 1908, all property of the estate has been superintended and managed by the successive governments.
An official at the Land Reform Board said the wealth was kept in the vault of Sadarghat Branch for many years.
Terming the property a part of history, State Minister for Cultural Affairs Promod Mankin said that his ministry will d eagerly take care of the wealth if the government want to open them to public.
“It is meaningless to keep the historic property in the vault or in hidden state,” he told daily sun adding that his ministry would take necessary steps to display these precious items by preserving them in museum.
Bangladesh National Museum’s former director general Samar Paul said that people would want to see the items used by the Nawab.
“The government may open a window for public so that the latter can see them,” he said adding that the authorities concerned at the same time have to keep strong vigil as the government is the safest custodian of those properties.
When asked if the museum had initiated any move, he said, “I have heard about the wealth but to my knowledge there has been no move to this end.”