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Alta Estate: The Lost History of an Estate that Used to be the Center of Sufism

syed jaffer imam Reported By Syed Jaffer Imam |
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The Alta Estate, located 13 kilometers away from the district headquarters of Kishanganj, preserves several historical stories within its premises. Situated in the Kochadhaman block, there is a 200-year-old mosque, and right in front of it, there is an Eidgah. Several ponds can also be seen around the mosque with four domes.

The prayer hall of the mosque is located on the roof of three domes. At the main entrance of the mosque, there is a small chamber that sits beneath the fourth dome of the mosque. The architecture of the mosque is similar to the mosques in Mahingaon and Singhiya Estate of Kishanganj, but the presence of the fourth dome at the main entrance distinguishes the mosque in Alta Estate from other ancient mosques in the district.

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Alta estate’s Eidgah still attracts visitors on Eid

In front of the mosque, there is a wall of the Eidgah where the Eid prayers are still performed. Muzaffar Kamal Saba, a descendant of the residents and the landlords of the estate, mentioned that more than half a dozen villages come here to offer Eid prayers in the Eidgah of Alta Estate. According to him, since this Eidgah is the oldest in the surrounding area, people from nearby towns have been coming here to offer Eid prayers for years. Apart from the mosque and the Eidgah, there are no remaining buildings in Alta Estate to depict its history. On the right side of the mosque, there are stairs leading to the ablution area (Wuzukhana), which are now completely dilapidated.

People used to perform ablution in the pond after descending the stairs. Now, that pond has dried up to a great extent. Apart from that, a locked chest was seen buried in the grass and bamboo sticks at a short distance from the mosque. When Muzaffar Kamal Saba was asked about the old chest in the open field, he mentioned that years ago, there used to be a palace-like structure in the same place. The construction of this iron chest was similar to the chest kept in Churli Estate, which is still intact in its place even after nearly 200 years.

The Architecture and History of Alta Estate Mosque

The book “Atufat Nama,” based on the life of the founder of Alta Estate, Atufat Khan, provides some important information related to Alta Estate. In the book “Atufat Nama” written by Mohammad Murad Hussain, Atufat Ali is referred to as the emperor of the Alta Estate. The book also mentions the construction of the mosque and the grandeur of the Eidgah.

Interesting information has emerged from the conversation with the descendant of Atufta Ali’s third generation, shared in ‘Main Media.’ Muzaffar Kamal Saba revealed that their great-grandfather Atufat Ali came to Alta from the Hasan Dumaraya region in Kishanganj in the mid-18th century. At that time, the Mughal rule was prevalent, but the East India Company had expanded its influence in Bengal and Bihar and collected revenue from these estates.

According to Muzaffar Kamal Saba, in 1790, the foundation of the ancient mosque in Alta Estate was laid, and it took its final form as a mosque in the 1800s. The date of the mosque’s establishment was inscribed on its walls, which has now faded away.

The architecture of the mosque resembles the mosques built in the Bengal princely states. It is believed that craftsmen from the Dhaka region came to Alta Estate to construct this mosque. Similar mosques of this design can be found in the Purana Khagra and Qutubganj Haat in Kishanganj.

The area where Alta Estate is located often faced the problem of floods, so the mosque and Eidgah were constructed at a slightly higher elevation. Muzaffar Kamal mentioned that during the floods in 2017, while other areas were submerged, the mosque remained unaffected by water. However, the outer walls and stairs of the mosque have become worn out.

Traces of foreign travelers in the Estate

Along with being the founder of Alta Estate, Atufat Ali Zamindar was also a faujdar (military officer) of the East India Company and a member of the “Board of Members” in Purnea. In a book called “Atufat Nama”, he is referred to as an “Honorary Magistrate”. Muzaffar Kamal showed us an old badge of Atufat Ali, which had the inscription “Eilaakai Kachehri Alta, Zamindar Atufat Ali” in Roman script. According to Muzaffar, he found this badge a few years ago during the excavation of a pond a few meters away from the mosque. Apart from this badge, Zamindar Atufat Ali was also awarded a medal by Edward VII. The Edward VII Medal was given to the most important officials of the princely states within the British government and the top commanders of the British Army. This award was named after King Edward, the Emperor of the British Raj and the Indian subcontinent.

Muzaffar Kamal also showed us an Iranian coin. It is believed that during the Mughal era, foreign traders coming to India for business from Iran and Arab countries would travel through Kishanganj in the northeastern part of India and continue their journey towards the east. Therefore, it is likely that these foreign travelers would stay at the estate overnight because they felt more secure in these government estates. During that time, prominent traders from Middle Eastern countries would come to India and purchase spices.

History of Sufi Education and an Arabian Family in Alta Estate

In Alta Estate, there was a tradition of Sufi education and a Durga temple. The landlord of Alta Estate, Atufat Ali’s only son Ali Muzaffar had four sons. According to Nishat Muzaffar, Ali Muzaffar’s son and the current Sarpanch (village head) of Kamalpur Panchayat, said to ‘Main Media’ that in Alta Estate, the tradition of education was prevalent. Along with the school, there were also madrasas (Islamic schools), and studying religious subjects was in vogue then.

“Alta Estate was quite active in educational matters. It was a common practice here to provide meals to the villagers through the estate. Every day, a bell would ring at a specific time in the estate, and the sound of that bell would attract travelers and people from nearby to come and have food. Additionally, the estate had its court where people’s problems were resolved and justice was served.”

According to Nasrul Minallah, Nishat Muzaffar’s nephew and the grandson of landlord Atufat Ali, Alta Estate had a very conducive environment for education. He said that his father, Muzaffar Hasnain, had written a detailed account of the book “Atufat Nama,” in which he mentioned schools and madrasas. According to Nishant Muzaffar, there was a Sufi cultural environment in Alta Estate. Religious classes were held in the estate, where teachers from other districts and states would come and give religious teachings. It is said that people used to come from far away to attend these Sufi classes.

Nasrul Minallah mentioned that a family from Arabia came to Alta Estate to learn and their descendants still live there. The mausoleum of Ali Muzaffar, the son of Atufat Ali, is in Maner Sharif, Bihar. Maner Sharif, situated near Patna, is famous for the mausoleums (Mazaars) of Sufi saints.

Alta Estate donated land for the famous Durga Temple

Muzaffar Kamal Saba and Nasrul Minallah shared information that land was donated by Alta Estate for Alta Middle School, Alta Hospital, and a Girls’ School. Apart from this, after independence, ‘Laal Cards’ were made, and the land was donated to the villagers, and in some areas of Dighalbank, thousands of acres of land were given to the Bihar government as part of the land reform.

Under Alta Estate, the Durga temple located in Alta Hat (market) was established on the land donated by Ali Muzaffar, the son of landlord Atufat Ali. For nearly 80 years, devotees from many villages come to this ancient Alta Hat Durga temple for Durga Puja. According to local people, Ali Muzaffar took great care of the Durga temple until 1956. He provided significant contributions to its maintenance. In 1956, he passed away. The “Atufat Nama” mentions Alta Hat and refers to it as “Chhota Hindustan” (Little Hindustan).

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Syed Jafar Imam, born in Kishanganj, began his journey in journalism from Delhi in 2017. He has worked for Public Vichar, A.M. 24 Bihar, Scribblers India, Swan Tree Foundation, and Jamia Patrika. Since the publication of his book "A Panic Attack On The Subway" in 2021, he has been vocal on social media about mental health issues.

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