Photos: Star Lifestyle Archive/sazzad Ibne Sayed
The ruler saw a strange dream: a goddess appeared and told him that she was to be found in a certain area under a particular 'dhakka' tree. Ballal Sen (approx. 1160-1179), the second ruler of the Sen Dynasty of Bengal, went to the place with some of his men and looked for the tree. They found it, and after an excavation, unearthed a statue. Consequently, Ballal Sen built a temple in commemoration of it, known as Dhakeshwari Temple - the temple of the goddess of dhakka tree.
The legend of Dhakeshwari may even predate its founder. Ballal Sen's mother, with the future ruler in her womb, prayed for the safe delivery of her child and vowed that he would one day build a temple.
The mother's wish was fulfilled, and hence Dhakeshwari Temple, arguably the most prominent and celebrated temple of our country, came into being.
Legends and stories surround the temple, including the ones about its origin. Whether the temple is actually this old or not and whether its builder was indeed Ballal Sen of the Sen Dynasty or someone else, are debatable. B.C. Allen, in 'Eastern Bengal District Gazetteers: Dacca', (published in 1912), wrote, "Tradition states that it was founded by Ballal Sen and rebuilt by Raja Man Singh, but no traces of these buildings are left and the present temple is said to have been erected about two hundred years ago by one of the Company's servants."
The temple is a major landmark of Dhaka, with the names Dhakeshwari and Dhaka closely attached to each other. One theory of the etymology of Dhaka claims that this city was perhaps named after the temple. The legend involves the use of 'dhak' (a type of drum) to determine Dhaka's boundaries. From a highly elevated stage at the temple, dhaks were played, with the sound of the beating of drums been heard from long distances. It is said that the area covering the distance till which the sound of dhaks could be heard was named Dhaka.
Let's not dwell into the correctness of this well-known theory. Instead, let it be a reflection of the sheer influence it played on the city and among its people.
The fascination about the temple is definitely not new. "It was in olden times a most famous place of resort." Allen cited an abstract from 1867. "Every stranger coming to Dacca was expected to lose no time in presenting himself before the goddess…"
True, the abstract went on to say that the temple was 'gradually mouldering and falling into decay', but Allen, when he wrote his book about half a century later, said that 'the pendulum has swung back once more', that interest about the temple was renewed.
Today too, Dhakeshwari Temple attracts numerous visitors - not just from Bangladesh but from all over the globe.
As you enter its premises, you will see four identical Shiva temples, set in a row. The main temple is the home of goddess Durga. There is also a pond in the temple compound.
With the sense of divinity all around - made possible by the statues of deities, the chanting of mantras by priests, the striking sound of the temple bell and the occasional beating of dhak - Dhakeshwari Temple is a place soaked with legends and history that you must pay a visit to.