Golden past of olden Dhaka | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 28, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 28, 2008

400 Years Of Dhaka

Golden past of olden Dhaka

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Md Sharifuddin is too old to do any hard work. He spends most of his time sitting at a quilt shop just opposite the Binat Bibi Mosque in Narinda. He was born and brought up at a house behind the oldest mosque of Dhaka.
"Do you know the history of Binat Bibi? I heard it from my grandfather," Sharifuddin started. "It was around 600 years ago. Binat Bibi came to Dhaka with her father, a businessman from a faraway land, probably from Persia. She died here. In memory of Binat, her father built a mosque by the Dolai river in Hizri 861 and named it after her," he said.
The Binat Bibi Mosque is considered as the oldest mosque in Dhaka. This proves that around 600 years ago Dhaka was already an urban settlement and a trade centre and businessmen from abroad used to come here.
The epigraph of the mosque reads, "… Hayyah-al-falah at night and morning in the name of the Humble One. Musammat Bakhat Binat, daughter of Marhamat. In the year 861 AH (1456 AD)."
Akbarnama mentions that during the reign of Sutha Babak Shah dated 1460 Dahakha (Arabic for Dhaka) was a revenue collection centre and there was qazi in this town.
Now the Dolai river is dead. First it turned into a narrow canal and later disappeared totally due to human aggression.
But still the structure of Binat Bibi Mosque is standing there as a witness to how a small-urbanised settlement became a capital and later turned one of the densely populated mega cities in the world.
Many are celebrating 2008 as the 400th anniversary of Dhaka as the capital. According to many historians after two years in 2010 Dhaka will fulfil its fourth century as the capital of Bangla.
However, many historians believe the urban settlement in Dhaka is more than 1,000 years old.
History says Raja Ballal Sen (father of Laxman Sen who was defeated by Ikhtiar Uddin Mohammed bin Bakhtiar Khilzi) founded the Dhakeshwari Temple in the 12th century. Dhaka and adjoining areas were then identified as Bengalla.
During the early age of Dhaka, the town consisted of a few market places like Lakshmi Bazar, Shankhari Bazar, Tanti Bazar, and a few localities of other craftsmen and businessmen like Patuatuli and Kumartuli, Bania Nagar and Goal Nagar.
After the Sen dynasty, Dhaka was successively ruled by the Turkish and Afghan governors descending from the Delhi Sultanate before the arrival of the Mughals in 1608. The Afghan Fort in Dhaka was located at the present central jail.
In the Banglapedia, it is said, "Its existence in the pre-Muslim period cannot be ascertained with certainty. But it grew as an urban centre during Sultanate period and came into prominence into Mughal period when it enjoyed the position of a provincial capital."
Once became the capital, Dhaka was destined to expand.
Development of townships, public works and a significant growth in population came as the city was proclaimed the capital of Bengal under Mughal rule in 1608. Mughal Subahdar Islam Khan Chisti was the first administrator of the city.
The Buriganga and her mother river Dhaleswari connect Dhaka to the great rivers and through them with almost all districts of Bengal. Dhaka is also situated in bhati, the low-lying river girt Bangalah and the abode of the rebels against the Mughals. So Islam khan Chisti found a suitable place for capital.
The city was called "Jahangir Nagar" (City of Jahangir) in honour of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, father of Shajahan, the founder of Taj Mahal.
Actually, the greatest expansion of the city took place under Mughal general Shaista Khan (1662-1677 and 1679-1689). The city then stretched for 12 miles in length and 8 miles in breadth and is believed to have had a population of nearly one million.
Later the British rulers took control of Dhaka alike the whole India.
The emerging city fell to the control of the British East India Company in 1765 after the Battle of Plassey.
Owing to the war, the city's population shrank dramatically within a short time. Although an important city in the Bengal province, Dhaka remained smaller than Kolkata, which served as the capital of British India for a long time.
Under British rule, many modern educational institutions, public works and townships were developed in Dhaka. A modern water supply system was introduced in 1874 and electricity supply in 1878.
The Dhaka Cantonment was established near the city, serving as a base for the soldiers of the British Raj. Dhaka served as a strategic link to the frontier of the northeastern states of Tripura and Assam.
Following the partition of Bengal in 1905 and again in 1947, Dhaka became the capital of East Bengal. In the course of time in 1921, the University of Dhaka, the first university of this soil, was established which came as a major incident in the socio-cultural and political arena for the Muslim people of Bengal.
On August 15, 1947 East Bengal became a part of the new Muslim state of Pakistan. The city witnessed serious communal violence that left thousands of people dead or homeless.
A large proportion of the city's Hindu population migrated to India, while the city received hundreds of thousands of Muslim immigrants from the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam and Bihar.
As the centre of regional politics, Dhaka saw an increasing number of political strikes and incidents of violence. The adoption of Urdu as the sole official language of Pakistan led to protest marches and strikes involving hundreds of thousands of people. During the Bengali Language Movement, the people of the country fought against the Pakistani rulers to establish Bangla as the state language and succeeded in 1952. The 21st February of 1952 is considered as the first ever language movement victory in the history of world that took place in Dhaka.
The Language Movement was the torchbearer for the people to fight for independence. Plenty more protests took place in Dhaka against the injustice of Pakistani rulers.
After a series of protests, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman held a massive nationalist gathering on March 7, 1971 at the racecourse ground that attracted an estimated one million people. Galvanising public anger against discrimination from the central government of West Pakistani rulers, the gathering preceded the March 26 declaration of Bangladesh's independence.
The fall of the Pakistani army in Dhaka to the joint forces comprising the guerrilla freedom fighters of this soil and the Indian army on December 16 marked the creation of Republic of Bangladesh. Dhaka became the capital of an independent country.

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