DHAKA: Dilapidated Ruplal House: A Historic Past

Sheikh Arif Bulbon

The New Nation
July 16 2008

It is a big shaded enclosure where traders are squabbling with buyers
in rows of grocery shops, godowns of onions, dried chillies, turmeric,
garlic, ginger, betel leaves and other spices. This is the present
day portrait of what was once an imposing edifice, Ruplal House
in Farashganj-one of the few prominent colonial structures left in
Dhaka city.

Ruplal House, overlooking a riverfront promenade, is a grand 19th
century building in old Dhaka. It was built by two Hindu merchant
brothers, Ruplal Das and Raghunath Das, on the northern bank of River
Buriganga. They purchased an old building from Aratun, an Armenian
tycoon, in 1840 and had it pulled down.

Ruplal House was built on the site at a huge cost according to the
design of an architect of the Martin Company in Kolkata. Divided into
two unequal blocks in slightly different styles, it is a two-storied

At present, the Ruplal House is occupied by local spice and vegetable
traders and a colony of unauthorised squatters. It has recently
been included in the ‘protected’ list of buildings by the Department
of Archaeology.

When this correspondent visited the compound of the 150-year old
palatial residence of the well-known merchants, the Das Babus, the
whole area was buzzing with wholesalers and retailers turning the
entire complex into a grimy and chaotic trading hub. People, pushcart,
wheelbarrows, pickup vans and coolies rushing in and out of the place
with loads of supplies apparently unaware of the historical value of
the house.

There are around 50 rooms in the house including a central hall in
the upper floor of the west-wing of the building. The ceiling of the
hall contains elegantly floral motif and the dance floor laid with
teak wood, which was pilfered over the years, said a local resident.

The architecture of the two-storey Ruplal House is unique. It is
divided into two unequal blocks built in slightly different styles. The
building contains over 50 rooms of various sizes, including a number
of spacious halls. In 1888, when Lord Duffrin, the Viceroy of India
visited Dhaka, a ball was arranged in his honour in the dance hall
of this mansion.

The central hall, an elegantly decorated dance hall with a wooden
floor, is situated on the upper floor of the more impressive
west-wing. On the north and south two broad verandas run the
entire length of the block and are supported on either round or
semi-Corinthian columns or rectangular brick pillars with segmented
or trefoil arches above.

Ruplal House first came into limelight in 1886 when one of the
brothers, Ruplal Das, threw a ball in the honour of Lord Duffrin
when Ahsan Manzil was the dominating contemporary edifice. A massive
cross-migration of Hindus and Muslims took place after the partition of
the Sub-Continent in 1947. At that time the families of Das brothers
left for Kolkata. Through a formal deed of exchange in 1962, one
Siddiq Jamal became the owner of the place.

Tawhid Amanullah, a conservation expert, said, "The floral motif on
the columns is the characteristics of classical Corinthian fluted
column. On the northern and southern sides there are elongated
verandas with grills made of cast iron. The motif on the grill is
called art-deco, which is found in the contemporary buildings like
the ones in Panam Nagar, Tajhat Rajbari in Rangpur and Puthia Rajbari
in Rajshahi."

To turn the place into a tourist spot, Amanullah suggested setting
up of a museum, library and a cultural centre in the house to attract
local and foreign tourists.