History of Dhaka
Dhaka, formerly spelled as Dacca in English, is the capital and one of the oldest cities of Bangladesh. The history of Dhaka begins with the existence of urbanised settlements in the area that is now Dhaka dating from the 7th century CE. The city area was ruled by the Buddhist kingdom of Kamarupa before passing to the control of the Sena dynasty in the 9th century CE. After the Sena dynasty, Dhaka was successively ruled by the Turkish and Afghan governors descending from the Delhi Sultanate before the arrival of the Mughals in 1608. After Mughals, British ruled the region for around 200 years until the independence of India. In 1947, Dhaka became the capital of the East Bengal province under the dominion of Pakistan. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, Dhaka became the capital of the new born country.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Kamarupa kingdom
- 3 Hindu kingdom
- 4 Sultanate Period
- 5 Mughal rule and rise as the capital of Bengal
- 6 Nawab era
- 7 British East India Company rule (1757—1857)
- 8 British Raj rule (1858—1947)
- 9 East Bengal/Pakistan's capital (1947—1971)
- 10 Post-independence of Bangladesh (1971—present)
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
There are several myths on the origin of the name Dhaka. One is that the name came following the establishment of Dhakeshwari temple by Raja Ballal Sena in the 12th century CE and Dhakeswari is the name of a Goddess. While others say that Dhakeshwari stands the meaning of Goddess of Dhaka; so the temple must have been named after the region. Another myths says that the Dhak (a membranophone instrument) is used as part of the Durga Puja festival in this temple and hence the name Dhaka. Yet another one says it came from the plant named Dhak (Buttea Frondosa) which was widely found in that area.
The more credible theory comes from the source of Rajatarangini written by a Kashmiri Brahman, Kalhana. It says the region was originally known as Dhakka. The word Dhakka means watchtower. Bikrampur and Sonargaon — the earlier strongholds of Bengal rulers were situated nearby. So Dhaka was most likely used as the watchtower for the fortification purpose.
Kamarupa kingdom, also known as Pragjyotisa, existed between 350 and 1140 CE. According to the chronicle of Yogini Tantra, the southern boundary of the kingdom stretched up to the junction of Brahmaputra River and Shitalakshya River which covered the Dhaka region. Pala Empire was the last dynasty to rule the whole Kamarupa region. During their reign between 8th century until late 11th century, Vikrampur, a region 12 miles from Dhaka, was their capital. The Pala rulers were Buddhists, but majority of their subjects were Hindus.
Sena dynasty's founder, Hemanta Sen, was part of the Pala dynasty until their empire began to weaken. He usurped power and styled himself king in 1095 AD. Then largely Hindu community populated the lower Dhaka region. Still existent localities like Laksmibazar, Banglabazar, Sutrapur, Jaluanagar, Banianagar, Goalnagar, Tantibazar, Shakhari Bazar, Sutarnagar, Kamarnagar, Patuatuli and Kumartuli are the examples of settlements of Hindu craftsmen and professionals in that era. According to popular legend, Dhakeshwari Temple was built by Ballal Sena, the second Sena ruler. Another tradition says, there were fifty two bazaars and fifty three streets and the region acquired the name of "Baunno Bazaar O Teppun Gulli".
Upon arrival of Islam in this region, Turkish and Afghan rulers reigned the area from early 14th century until late 16th century. An Afghan fort (also known as Old Fort of Dhaka) was built at that time which was later converted to the present-form of Dhaka Central Jail in 1820 by the British. A 17th century historian, Mirza Nathan, described the fort in his book Baharistan-i-Ghaibi as "surrounded by mud walls and the largest and strongest in pre-Mughal era".
Binat Bibi Mosque was built in 1454 at Narinda area of Dhaka during the reign of the Sultan of Bengal, Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah (r. 1435–1459). It is the oldest brick structure that still exists in the city.
Mughal rule and rise as the capital of Bengal
Dhaka came into the domain of Mughal Empire during the reign of Akbar after the Battle of Tukaroi which was fought in 1575 near the village of Tukaroi now in Balasore District, West Bengal between the Mughals and the Karrani Sultanate of Bengal and Bihar. 
However, during this reign of Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605), Dhaka was referred as a Thana (a military outpost). Dhaka was situated in Bhati region which hosted several rebel forces led by Bara-Bhuiyans from mid to late 16th century. After the leader of Bara-Bhuiyans, Musa Khan, was subdued by Mughal General Islam Khan Chisti in 1608, Dhaka again went directly under control of Mughals.
The newly appointed Governor of Bengal, Islam Khan transferred the Bengal capital from Rajmahal to Dhaka in order to crush further rebel uprisings. This initiated a new era of the history of Dhaka as the capital city of Mughol province of Bengal. He also renamed Dhaka as Jahangirnagar (City of Jahangir); Jahangir was the Mughal Emperor at that time. Due to its location right beside some main river routes, Dhaka was an important center for business. The Muslin fabric was produced and traded in this area. He successfully crushed the regional revolts in Jessore, Bakla (present days Barisal) and Bhulua (present days Noakhali) and brought almost the entire province under the Moghol domain.
As the next governor, Prince Shuja built Bara Katra between 1644 and 1646 in Dhaka to serve as his official residence. He also patronized building of Hussaini Dalan, a Shia imambara in old Dhaka though he himself was a Sunni. In late 1640s, for personal and political reasons, he made the temporary move to shift the capital back to Rajmahal. Dhaka became a subordinate station. Due to political turmoil, Emperor Aurangzeb sent Mir Jumla to deal with Prince Shuja. He pursued Shuja up to Dhaka and reached the city on 9 May 1660. But Shuja fled to Arakan region. As Jumla was ordered to become the next Governor of Bengal,Dhaka was again made the capital of the region. Construction of Lalbagh Fort was commenced in 1678 CE by Prince Muhammad Azam during his 15-month long vice-royalty of Bengal, but before the work could complete, he was recalled by Emperor Aurangzeb.
The largest expansion of the city took place under the next Mughal governor Shaista Khan (1664–1688). The city then stretched for 12 miles in length and 8 miles in breadth and is believed to have had a population of nearly a million people. The Chawk Mosque, Babubazar Mosque, Sat Gumbad Mosque, Choto Katra were originally built during this period. He also built tombs of Bibi Pari, Bibi Champa and Dara Begum. A French traveller, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, arrived Dhaka on 13 January 1666 and met Shaista Khan. He referred Shaista Khan as "the uncle of King Aurangzeb and the cleverest man in all his kingdom".
Prince Azim-ush-Shan became the Governor of Bengal in 1697. Due to conflict with Diwan Murshid Quli Khan, he shifted his office from Dhaka to Patna in 1703. Murshid Khan also shifted his office to Mauksusabad (later renamed it to Murshidabad).
In Bengal region, the Portuguese made the principal trading center in Hooghly. They also made small settlements in Dhaka in about 1580. Ralph Fitch, an English traveller, recorded in 1586 that Portuguese traders were involved in shipping rice, cotton and silk goods. Tavernier mentioned about churches built in Dhaka by Portuguese Augustinian missionaries. J.J. Campos, an editor of Asiatic Society of Bengal, named several Portuguese churches in Dhaka - Church of Our Lady of Rosary, Church of St. Nicholas of Tolentino, Church of the Holy Ghost and Church of our Lady Piety.
Sebastien Manrique, a Portuguese missionary and traveller, visited Dhaka in September 1640 and spent about 27 days around the area. According to him, the city extended along the Buriganga river for over four and a half miles from Maneswar to Narinda and Fulbaria. Christian communities lived around these suburbs in the west, east and north. He further mentioned "a small but beautiful church with a convent" in Dhaka. In his words,
|“||This is the chief city in Bengala and the seat of the principal Nababo or viceroy, appointed by the emperor, who bestowed this viceroyalty, on several occasions, on one of his sons. It stands in a wide and beautiful plain on the banks of the famous and here fructifying Ganges river, beside which the City stretches for over a league and a half.||”|
In 1716 Murshid Quli Khan was made the Governor of whole Bengal. He became so powerful that he acted as the de facto independent ruler of the region. The era continued through Shujauddin Khan (1729–1739), Sarfaraz Khan (1739–1740), Alivardi Khan (1740–1756) and Sirajuddaula (1756–1757). They were unofficially known as Nawabs. They ruled the whole region from their offices in Murshidabad.
Naib-Nazim of Dhaka
The position of Naib-Nazim (Deputy Governor) was created to administer Dhaka Niabat since 1717. They were appointed by the Governors until Sirajuddaula, the last independent Governor of Bengal, lost control to the British in the Battle of Plassey in 1757. Here is a partial list of Naib-Nazims of Dhaka:
- Khan Muhammad Ali Khan (1717)
- Itisam Khan (1723–1726)
- A son of Itisam Khan (1726–1727)
- Mirza Lutfullah (a grandson-in-law of Murshid Quli Khan) (1728–1734)
- Sarfaraz Khan 1734-1739
- Galib Ali Khan (1734-1738)
- Murad Ali Khan (1738-1739)
- Abdul Fattah Khan (1739-1740)
- Nowazish Mohammad Khan (1740-1754)
- Hossain Quli Khan (1740-1754)
- Murad Dowlat (1754-1755)
- Jasarat Khan (1755-1762 and again 1765-1778)
- Mohammed Ali (1762-1762)
- Mohammed Reza Khan (1763-1765)
- Ghaziuddin Haider (1834–1843).
The office of Naib Nazim of Dhaka was officially abolished in 1843.
The Armenians settled in Dhaka in early 18th century. They established successful trade ties in jute and leather with Mughals and Nawabs. The Armenian Church built in 1781 in Armanitola area bears the evidence of their presence. Since the British started ruling Bengal in 1757, Armenians slowly moved out of this area. As of 2003 CE, Michael Joseph Martin was the last Armenian living in Dhaka.
British East India Company rule (1757—1857)
The English formally established their factories in Dhaka in 1668. The English agents were already in the city as early as in 1666 when Tavernier visited. William Hedges was appointed the first governor of British East India Company. He arrived Dhaka on 25 October 1681. The city passed to the control of the British East India Company in 1765 after the Battle of Plassey. The city then became known by its anglicized name, Dacca. Owing to the war, the city's population shrank dramatically in a short period of 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 period of time. Under British rule, many modern educational institutions, public works and townships were developed. 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 Indian Army. Dhaka served as a strategic link to the frontier of the northeastern states of Tripura and Assam.
Charles D'Oyly was the Collector of Dhaka from 1808 to 1811. He made a good collection of painting folios of Dhaka in Antiquities of Dacca. These paintings exhibited much of the ruins of Dhaka from the Mughal era. A short historical account of the paintings was also appended to each book. James Atkinson wrote these accounts, accompanied by engravings done by Landseer.
In 1835 Dhaka College was established as an English School by the then Civil Surgeon Dr. James Taylor. It got the college status in 1841. Local Muslim and Hindu students as well as Armenians and Portuguese were among the first graduates.
Rise of Dhaka Nawab Estate
Under the Permanent Settlement of Bengal enactment by Charles Cornwallis in 1793, the Company government and the Bengali zamindars agreed to fix revenues to be raised from land. As a result, Dhaka Nawab Estate grew to become the largest zamindari in Eastern Bengal. It was founded by Kashmir origin Khwaja Hafizullah and his nephew Khwaja Alimullah. A French trading center is converted as the residence of the Dhaka Nawabs in 1830. It was later constructed into a palace and named Ahsan Manzil. The estate paid Rs 3,20,964 as per agreement to the Company government in 1904. In 1952 the Estate was abolished according to the East Bengal Estate Acquisition and Tenancy Act.
British Raj rule (1858—1947)
Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, British East India Company's ruling ended and the British Crown took direct control of the region in 1858. Dacca Municipality (later Dhaka City Corporation) was established on August 1, 1864.
Lord Curzon arrived Dhaka in 1904 and established Curzon Hall. In July 1905 he decided to take effect the Partition of Bengal. Dhaka became the capital of the new province, Eastern Bengal and Assam, on October 16, 1905. Joseph Bampfylde Fuller entered on his office in Dhaka as the first lieutenant-governor of the region in January 1906. But the partition was revoked in 1911 and Dhaka became a district town on April 1, 1912.
Eden College was founded in 1880. Narendra Narayan Roy Choudhury, landlord of the Baldah Estate, built Baldha Garden in 1909. University of Dhaka was established in 1921. Philip Hartog became the first vice-chancellor of the university. The prestigious Ahsanullah School of Engineering (now the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology) was established in 1912 under the substantial grants and patronage from Dhaka Nawab Family.
East Bengal/Pakistan's capital (1947—1971)
Following the Partition of India on August 1947, Dhaka became the capital of East Bengal under the Dominion of Pakistan. The city witnessed serious communal violence that left thousands of people dead. A large proportion of the city's Hindu population departed for India, while the city received hundreds of thousands of Muslim immigrants from the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam and Bihar. Population increased from 335,925 in 1951 to 556,712 in 1961 registering an increase of 65.7 percent. As the centre of regional politics, Dhaka saw an increasing number of political strikes and incidents of violence. The proposal to adopt Urdu as the sole official language of Pakistan led to protest marches and strikes involving hundreds of thousands of people in Bengali Language Movement. The protests soon degenerated into widespread violence after police firing killed students who were demonstrating peacefully. Martial law was be imposed throughout the city for a long period of time.
The arrest of the Bengali politician Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1968 would also spark intensive political protests and violence against the military regime of Ayub Khan. The 1970 Bhola cyclone devastated much of the region, killing numerous people. More than half the city of Dhaka was flooded and waterlogged, with millions of people marooned. The following year saw Sheikh Mujib hold a massive nationalist gathering on March 7, 1971 at the Race Course Ground that attracted an estimated one million people. Galvanising public anger against ethnic and regional discrimination and poor cyclone relief efforts from the central government, the gathering preceded declaration of Bangladesh's independence on March 26, 1971. In response, the Pakistan Army launched Operation Searchlight, which led to the arrests, torture and killing of hundreds of thousands of people, mainly Hindus and Bengali intellectuals. The fall of the city to the Indian Army on December 16, 1971 marked the creation of the independent state of Bangladesh.
Several prominent architectural development took place in Dhaka during this period. Holy Family Hospital was built in March 1953. New Market was established in Azimpur in 1954. Dhaka College was moved to Dhanmondi in July 1956.
Post-independence of Bangladesh (1971—present)
Despite independence, political turmoil continued to plague the people of Dhaka. The Pakistan Army's operations had killed or displaced millions of people, and the new state struggled to cope with the humanitarian challenges. The year 1975 saw the killing of Sheikh Mujib and three military coups. The city would see the restoration of order under military rule, but political disorder would heighten in the mid-1980s with the pro-democracy movement led by the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Political and student strikes and protests routinely disrupted the lives of Dhaka's people. However, the post-independence period has also seen a massive growth of the population, attracting migrant workers from rural areas across Bangladesh. A real estate boom has followed the development of new settlements such as Gulshan, Banani and Motijheel. In 1985, Dhaka hosted the inaugural summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. It has also hosted the summits of the D8 group and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
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