Dhakeshwari, meaning ‘Goddess of Dhaka,’ stands as the primary Hindu temple in Bangladesh. In 1966, it adopted the name Dhakeshwari Jatiya Mandir, a change brought about by the efforts of Bangladeshi Hindu groups seeking official recognition following Islam’s declaration as the state religion in 1988. As a state-owned institution, it holds the prestigious title of Bangladesh’s National Temple.
Legend traces the origins of Dhakeshwari back to the 12th century, attributed to King Ballal Sen of the Sena dynasty. The king’s dream of a buried statue of goddess Durga in the jungle led to its discovery and installation in his temple, giving rise to Dhakeshwari. However, the current architectural form doesn’t align with the 12th century due to numerous renovations, repairs, and reconstructions over time. The present structure, dating around two hundred years, was erected by an East India Company agent, likely as a renovation of the pre-existing temple. Comprising three rooms with a front veranda, the temple showcases intricate wooden doors adorned with carvings. Within the temple complex’s northeastern corner, King Mansing built four small Shiva temples in the 16th century. Notably, the Dhakeshwari temple welcomes visitors of all faiths and backgrounds.
Some consider Dhakeshwari temple a Shakti Pitha, the spot where the jewel from Goddess Sati’s crown fell. Although unverified, the temple has held immense reverence for centuries. While the original 800-year-old Durga statue now rests in Kumartuli, Kolkata, a replica remains within Dhakeshwari.
Tragically, the Dhakeshwari Temple suffered severe damage during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, with over half its structures destroyed. The main worship hall became a storage site for Pakistan Army ammunition. The temple faced further harm during Muslim mob attacks between 1989 and 1992. Moreover, a substantial portion of the temple’s land was lost due to the Vested Property Act and government confiscation. Consequently, the current premises are significantly smaller than the historical extent.
The Dhakeshwari Temple thrives as a nexus of socio-cultural and religious activities. Annually, the grand celebration of Durga Puja—the pivotal event in the Bengali Hindu calendar—takes place here. Thousands of worshippers, including Muslims, partake in the festivities, receiving Prasad (food, usually rice and lentils). The conclusion of Durga Puja involves a procession carrying idols of Durga and her children for immersion in a river or sea. Following Durga Puja, the Bijaya Sammelani cultural program unfolds in the adjacent parade ground, attracting top performers from Dhaka’s music and film industry.
Another significant event is the Janmashthami procession, commencing from Dhakeshwari Temple and winding through the streets of Old Dhaka. This procession marks Lord Krishna’s birthday and is a pivotal holiday in the Bengali calendar, second only to Durga Puja. Originating in 1902, the procession resumed in 1989 after being halted in 1948 due to attacks by Muslim mobs.
Historically, festivals have also graced the temple complex during the month of Chaitra, marking the first month of the year in India’s Hindu and Tamil calendars, the last month in Bengali and Nepalese calendars, and commencing in March or April according to the Gregorian calendar.
Dhaka, once spelled as Dacca, stands as the capital and one of Bangladesh’s oldest cities. Its history traces back to urbanized settlements dating from the 7th century CE. Ruled by the Buddhist kingdom of Kamarupa, Dhaka eventually passed to the Sena dynasty’s control in the 9th century CE. The city’s governance shifted from Turkic and Afghan rulers of the Delhi Sultanate to the Mughals in 1608. Following British rule for over 150 years and India’s independence in 1947, Dhaka became the capital of East Bengal under Pakistan’s rule. In 1971, Bangladesh’s independence marked Dhaka as the new state’s capital.
The name Dhaka carries varied origins. One stems from the establishment of the Dhakeshwari Goddess temple by Raja Ballal Sen in the 12th century. Another perspective arises from the Rajatarangini text written by Kashmiri Brahman Kalhana, which claims the region was originally known as Dhaka, meaning watchtower. With Bikrampur and Sonargaon, previous strongholds of Bengal rulers, situated nearby, Dhaka likely served as a watchtower for fortifications.
For those seeking to behold the architectural marvels of Dhaka, Ahsan Manzil stands as a must-visit destination. Situated to the north of the Buriganga River in the capital city of Bangladesh, this historic gem offers a glimpse into Dhaka’s rich cultural tapestry. Dhaka, renowned for its mosques, rickshaws, and exquisite muslin fabric, boasts a storied past that beckons historians and enthusiasts alike. From its rule under Sultans in the 14th century to its stint as a prominent Mughal capital in the 17th century, and later its British governance from 1757, Dhaka’s narrative is a captivating draw. Ahsan Manzil, once known as Nawab Bari, stood as a symbol of luxury, influence, and aristocracy—a landmark that etched its significance into the annals of history. Notably, this splendid edifice held the distinction of being the city’s first structure illuminated by electricity. Its remarkable history intrigues and inspires visitors to explore this heritage site.
Story of Construction
The tale traces back to the land where Ahsan Manzil now stands—formerly occupied by a summer residence belonging to Sheikh Enayet Ullah. Envisioning grandeur, he expanded the grounds adjacent to Kumartuli and constructed the splendid Rang Mahal palace. Subsequently, the property shifted hands, sold by his son to traders who thrived through tax-free commerce, rivaling even European and English counterparts. The palace complex featured an expansive grand palace and a pond named “Les Jalla,” which, remarkably, still exists. However, the tides shifted with the growing influence of the English, leading to the sale of the property. The family mosque was erected, accompanied by renovations. Over time, the trading house transformed into Khwaja Alimullah’s abode.
In the 19th century, Ahsan Manzil evolved into a residential palace for the Dhaka Nawab Family—a beacon of the city’s exclusive and elite society. Bestowing the name Ahsan Manzil, Nawab Abdul Ghani established its identity. The “Pink Palace,” another moniker, derived from the hues adorning its walls. In 1992, the edifice underwent a transformation, transitioning into a museum to safeguard its storied past and cultural heritage.
The Historical Significance of Ahsan Manzil:
During the 19th century, the Nawab family held a pivotal role in India’s political and independence movements. The palace played host to significant discussions that shaped the All-India Muslim League—a key player in the country’s journey. Notably, even Lord Curzon, the Governor General of British India, visited this esteemed location in 1904.
The Construction Saga of Ahsan Manzil:
Construction commenced in 1859, reaching completion in 1872. Rising from the ashes of a former French factory, the building assumed immense significance. Subsequent restoration led to expansions, showcasing both old and new Ahsan Manzil models in silver filigree.
In 1888, disaster struck in the form of a tornado and an earthquake, wreaking havoc on the palace. Extensive reconstruction was undertaken, with the palace assuming a grandeur that included the distinctive dome—now an unmistakable feature on the city’s skyline.
However, the grandeur waned after Nawab Khawaja Ahsanullah’s demise. Financial difficulties led to neglect, and the government intervened, restoring the edifice and breathing life back into its historical legacy. This restoration served as a monumental stride in preserving the nation’s history.
Exploring the Inner Sanctum:
For a captivating glimpse into Dhaka’s high society of yore, Ahsan Manzil is an imperative visit. Its architecture, marked by a ground floor of 5 meters and a first floor of 5.8 meters, showcases ancient craftsmanship. A towering octagonal dome, standing at 27.13 meters, crowns the structure. An expansive staircase leads to the front garden in the southern quadrant.
Ahsan Manzil bears the imprint of India-Saracenic reform architecture—an amalgamation of Islamic and subcontinental styles. The grand palace, adorned with a crowning dome, commands the attention at the heart of this architectural marvel.
With its resplendent architecture, sprawling verandahs, marble-clad chambers, and intricate wall designs, Ahsan Manzil emerges as a treasure trove for historians and Dhaka’s visitors alike. Its historical significance ensures its prominence as one of Dhaka’s most sought-after attractions. If you harbor an affinity for history, every moment spent within these walls will unveil stories that continue to captivate and enthrall.