Structured languages barely capture the essence of the secret and the sacred. The path towards mysticism rather demands symbolic interactions and engagements.
Devotion and love between the 'Guru' and 'Shishya' (preceptor and disciple) are thought to be the only path to attain Sufism.
Though architecture has long been understood as a cultural discipline able to articulate the human condition and lift the human spirit, yet the spirituality in it is rarely addressed.
Bangladesh, a sacred land of Bauls, Sufi Saints, and Mystic Bards, has numerous shrines, Khanqahs, Akhras, and Dargahs scattered all across the country.
A Khanqah is a place for spiritual retreat where Islamic religious masters pray and meet their followers.
It is also the place where the masters give religious advice to their followers.
Such a Khanqah was built for a Fakir (a Muslim saint) at Datter Bazar in Gafargaon, Mymensingh in 2019.
Architect Lutfullahil Majid Reaz, the principal architect of Archeground Ltd, led his team to design the project covering a total space of 6,000 square feet.
The project is built entirely with local bricks and engaged local workers for construction and detailing.
For all the rooms and prayer space, the roof is made with metal frames and industrial sheets, but the corridor roof around the inner courtyard is made of reinforced bricks.
One interesting construction feature is the sandwich ceiling panel made of metal frames, coconut fibre, and ferro-cement.
"I engaged local masons and workers with the project so that they could feel the place as their own," said Lutfullahil Majid Reaz. "When designing the project, I thought about making use of materials that would nobly blend in with the environment. Brick flooring was given in circulation areas with neat cement finishing for all the rooms and prayer space."
The brick-crafted arch enhanced with metal, the brick 'jali' (perforated) walls, the Islamic pattern calligraphy in brick details, and crafted wood – all of them amalgamate to convey a fine Islamic semblance.
The Khanqah has become a landmark and holy structure for the villagers and the local people regard this place as 'Fakir Bari'.
The interior is decorated with minimal furniture made of metal frames and mahogany wood.
The final layout is divided into three conceptual axes – 'Live', 'Pray' and 'Leave'. 'Live' denotes the entrance of the home; 'Pray' signifies the prayer space, and 'Leave' symbolises the grave.
"It is a low-budget project, though the design is unique. The project follows traditional Bangladeshi architecture where the viewers will experience diverse experiments with bricks," mentioned Lutfullahil Majid Reaz.
"I designed the Khanqah taking both the religious and the social perspectives into account; as people might come here for social meetings and for taking advice and blessings from the spiritual leader," he said.
He added, "So, I blended the Islamic architectural styles with conventional Bangladeshi architecture, which is called 'Courtyard Architecture'. It looks like a semi-covered 'kachari ghar' (sitting house)."
As an attempt to create a low-cost, traditional 'Bangla ghar' with rural architectural characteristics, the project houses two courtyards, an outer courtyard for the public, and an inner courtyard for family members who require privacy.
The inner courtyard also functions as a cross-ventilation area, thus achieving high energy-efficiency and maintenance.
An outdoor kitchen courtyard is created in the north-west corner with brick jali walls, and a toilet zone is placed separate from the bedrooms, following the rural dwelling habit.
This simple but unique piece of architecture has been designed keeping in mind the sanctity of the Khanqah and the original tone of the surrounding natural environment.
"When we planned this project, we thought of using materials that would easily adapt to nature," he said.
The arches built following the Islamic tradition, the latticed brick walls, the calligraphy painted on the wooden frames attached to the walls, all together have become a holy place for the people of this Pir Bari area to pray, practice Islamic brotherhood, and rest.
The project has a story behind its establishment. In Hazrat Shahjalal (R) Mazar (shrine) in Sylhet, AKM Shamim Osman, MP, the client of the project, had met a Fakir.
Gradually he became his follower and decided to build a Khanqah with accommodation for the Fakir.
The project resides at the road level on the east side while the north and west sides are enclosed with paddy fields which turn into shallow water basins during the rainy season.
Spanning a 360 square meter area, there is a home, a public prayer space dedicated to meeting the followers, and an advanced grave for the master.
The main challenge was creating a public function area in a conservative Muslim family.
"As a Khanqah, considering the rural context, we tried to make a simple traditional village house which will not dominate the surrounding nature and other villagers' houses. The plan was to design a place of retreat," said Lutfullahil Majid Reaz.
Archeground has so far created a wide range of successful projects.
The firm has an inclination towards unconventional and experimental works. It believes in collaboration, discussion, and interactive association for completing any project. The project titled, 'A Khanqah for a Fakir', is no exception to that.
It involved a team of architects -- Jubair Hasan, Nabi Newaz Khan Shomin, Md Hasib Mahmud Tipu, together with Structure Engineer Mosharraf Hossain and Site Engineer Nurul Islam.
Archeground Ltd greatly emphasises environmental susceptibility, cost-effectiveness, and traditional and vernacular architecture in pursuit of making a better life for the people and the country.