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.