Cultural Paradise

 Our amazingly diverse, beautiful and awe inspiring world is the result of the combined works of nature and human creativity

Dhaka City


Dhaka is the capital city of Bangladesh. It is situated on the northern bank of river Buriganga and conveniently located centrally within the country. Today, it is emerging as a modern mega-city and very eager to catch up with cities like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The history of the city goes back to 1610, when it was first established as the provincial capital of Bengal (Bengal, Bihar and Orissa) by the Moghul Subahdar (viceroy), Islam Khan Chisti. It was a major centre for economic activties during the 17th century, attracting traders from around the world, including Europe and Central Asia. Hotel like rest houses, such as Choto Katra and bara Katra, were built for their conveniences, some of whom stayed for several months to complete their business transactions.

Many European nations obtained permission from the Bengal ruler to set up factories to carry out their trading activities,primarily to purchase Bengal products. Although a variety of products were available, the most famous item was the Dhaka Muslin, a highly sought after fabric around the world. Among those who set up factories included the Portuguese, English,French and Dutch.

The city's fate first began to change in 1717 when the capital of the moghul province was shifted to Murshidabad, situated in present day West Bengal in India. Subsequently, after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the British conquest of Bengal, the city began to experience a dramatic decline. The scale of this can be gazed from the population table below.

The recovery of Dhaka city began during the 1840s and the catalyst for major developments were the setting up of the elected Dhaka Municipality in 1885, Bengal partition in 1905, establishment of Dhaka University in 1921, creation of Pakistan in 1947 and independence of Bangladesh in 1971. My exhibition traced the history of Dhaka City since 1610 and then focused on many aspects of present day dynamism of the capital.

Year           Population

1608             30,000

1700            900,000

1800            200,000

1838              68,000

1867              51,636

1891              83,000

1911            126,000

1941            240,000

1951            336,000

1961            550,000

1974         1,680,000

1981         3,440,000

1989         5,000,000

2001        10,712,000

The construction of Lalbagh Fort (above right) was started in1678 by Moghul subahdar (viceroy) Muhammad Azam and continued by his successor Shaista Khan in 1679. Shaista Khan served as the subahdar during 1664-88 with a short break when Muhammad Azam was appointed (1678-79). It remains an incomplete Moghul palace fortress, originally situated on the river Buriganga, but now the river has shifted. The mosque like structure is the mausoleum of Bibi Pari, the daughter of Shaista Khan who died early in 1684 at the age of thirteen. This was a great shock to the subahdar. The work was discontinued and not re-started before his successor Ibrahim Khan was in post. The complex now consists of three main buildings - a mosque (out of view in the above picture), Bibi Pari Mazar and a musem - a huge pond and a number of ruins. The domed roof of the mausoleum is based on a unique synthesis of Hindu interior and Muslim exterior designs.

Holly Rosary, a Portuguese church built in 1677, situated in Tejgao. It is now part of a complex where the main Catholic Church of the city is based. As well as the main church building sitting opposite, this building is also used by the city's Catholic community for worship. Dhakeshwari Temple (right), the most prominent Hindu place of worship in Dhaka. According to legend it was built by King Ballalsena around eight hundred years ago, during the Sena period in Bengal history. The architecture and colour makes it a uniquely recognisable Dhaka landmark.

Husaini Dalan, a Shiite place of worship, situated near Chauk Bazar. Its origin goes back to the Moghul period, although repaired several times subsequently, especially after the 1897 earthquake. As well as normal daily worship, the centre also hosts events, such as the annual Ashura. Armenian Church, built in 1781 and situated in Armanitola on the site of a previous smaller construction where the same community worshipped. The church has a graveyard and from the inscriptions on the gravestones, the origins of many of Dhaka’s Armenians can be established.

Ruplal House (second from bottom right), a 19th century building on the Buriganga riverfront. Jointly built by two wealthy merchant brothers, Ruplal and Ragunath Das, on the site of an old Armenian building, purchased in 1840 from Aratun, a business tycoon. It was styled on European Renaissance architecture.

The pictures below show the modern and developing faces of Dhaka city. Recently, the pace of change has accelerated and it is clear that Dhaka City architecture is becoming, on the one hand, more South East Asia like with tall buildings, and on the other, more varied, creative and interesting in terms of efficiency, utility, quality and aesthetics. Skyscraper alleys are beginning to emerge and mega shopping centres and beautifully designed and constructed buildings, green spaces and public arts will form the future faces of Dhaka.