The Dhakeshwari Temple is a famous ancient temple, arguably the most prominent temple of Dhaka as well as the most important Hindu place of worship in Bangladesh. It is also said that the name of the city itself as coined after the temple. It is situated on the northern side of the Dhakeshwari Road near Bakshi bazar area of Old Dhaka, less than half a mile to the southwest of the Salimullah Hall of Dhaka University. Popular legend connects the name of a king, Ballalasena, as its builder, but it is not certain that he is identical with the 12th century Sena king of that name. According to one legend, the deity was found hidden underneath the earth and hence the name. It is said that the construction of the temple to Ballalasena, the Sena king, who found the deity and constructed a temple for it. However, the architectural style of the temple (the three-domed roof and three arched entrances and the plastered walls of the temple) does not resemble the typical 12th century standard, but that of the Mughal period, with a little affinity to Arakanese structure as well.
The temple was not mentioned by Abul Fazal, the renowned historian of 16th century in his Ain-i-Akbari; which further inspires the debate whether the temple existed in that time or not. The sculpture of the female deity also indicates that it belonged to the Maghs. From all these it has been suggested that the builder of this temple was one Mangat Ray, who was also known as Ballalasena, younger brother of Arakanese king Shrisudharma, son of famous Arakanese king Raja Malhana. Mangat was obliged to take shelter in Dhaka having been driven away from Arakan. There is another account on the founding of the temple. In the beginning of the 20th century Bradley Birt wrote that the temple is more than 200 years old and a Hindu agent of the East India Company built it. Thus it appears that the origin of the Dhakeshwari temple is shrouded in mystery.
The temple complex has undergone numerous repairs, renovation and rebuilding in its long years of existence and its present condition does not clearly show any of its original architectural characteristics. It may be mentioned that nearby there was an Imambara or Husaini Dalan and in a map of 1864 it was marked as the old Huseni Dalan. The original 800-year old statue was destroyed during the War of 1971. It is said that earlier the female deity was made of pure gold. The temple was further damaged during the riots of 1989/90.
2. Ahsan Manzil:
Ahsan Manzil, situated at Kumartoli of Dhaka on the bank of the Buriganga, was the official residential palace and seat of the Nawab family of Dhaka. The palace became the Bangladesh National Museum on 20 September 1992. It is constructed in the Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture.
It was said to be the Rang Mahal of Sheikh Enayetullah, a zamindar of Jamalpur pargana (Barisal) during the time of the Mughals. Having purchased it from his son Matiullah, the French made it their trading centre. Khwaja Alimullah bought it from the French in 1830 and converted it into his residence, effecting necessary reconstruction and renovations. Nawab Khwaja Abdul Ghani hired Martin & Company, a European construction and engineering firm, to make a master plan for their residence.
The construction of the palace was begun in 1859 and completed in 1872. Abdul Ghani named it Ahsan Manzil after his son Khwaja Ahsanullah. At that time the newly built palace was known as Rang Mahal and the earlier one was called Andar Mahal. On April 7, 1888, a terrible tornado caused severe damage to Ahsan Manzil, particularly the Andar Mahal that was entirely devastated. Nawab Ahsanullah rebuilt the Andar Mahal and also repaired the Rang Mahal, using good quality bricks from Raniganj. The exquisite dome of the present Rang Mahal was interposed. Ahsan Manzil was badly damaged again by the earthquake of 12 June 1897. However, Nawab Ahsanullah had it repaired again.
Ahsan Manzil, an architectural treasure, is a witness to many historical events of Bangladesh. From the last part of the 19th century to the initial years of Pakistan, the Muslim leadership of East Bengal emerged from this palace. Almost all the Viceroys, Governors and Lieutenant Governors of British India who visited Dhaka spent some time at the Ahsan Manzil. In 1874, Lord Northbrook, Governor General of India attended an evening function in the palace when he came to lay the foundation of a water works installed by Nawab Abdul Ghani. In 1888, Lord Dufferin also accepted the hospitality offered at Ahsan Manzil. In 1904 Lord Curzon, on a visit to East Bengal, stayed in this palace on 18 and 19 February to win public support for the proposed Partition of Bengal. Almost all political activities of Nawab Khwaja Salimullah centred round this palace.
Ahsan Manzil was the cradle of the All India Muslim League. With the decline of the Nawabs of Dhaka, Ahsan Manzil also started to decline. When in 1952 the Dhaka Nawab State was acquired under the East Bengal Estate Acquisition Act, it became impossible for the successors of the Nawabs to maintain the palace due to financial constraints. Nawab Khwaja Habibullah started living at Paribag Green House soon after the acquisition of the zamindari. The palace was soon on the verge of collapse as successors rented out rooms without considering its dignity. Over the years illegal occupants turned the place into a filthy slum.
Recognizing the historical and architectural importance of the Ahsan Manzil, the government of Bangladesh took the initiative to renovate it. In 1985 Ahsan Manzil and its surroundings were acquired. After the completion of the renovation work in 1992 under the supervision of the Directorate of Public Works and Architecture, it was brought under the control of Bangladesh National Museum (20 September 1992).
3. Lalbagh Fort:
Lalbagh Fort or Fort Aurangabad, an incomplete Mughal palace fortress at Dhaka, is situated on the river Buriganga in the southwestern part of the old city. The river has now gone further south and flows at quite a distance from the fort. The fort was long considered to be a combination of three buildings: the mosque, the tomb of Bibi Pari and the Diwan-i-Aam, comprising two gateways and a portion of the partly damaged fortification wall. Recent excavations carried out by the Department of Archaeology of Bangladesh, however, have revealed the existence of other structures, and it is now possible to have a more or less complete picture of the fort.
In the present fort area of 18 acres (73,000 m²), excavations have revealed the remains of either 26 or 27 structures, with elaborate arrangements for water supply, sewerage, roof gardens, and fountains. Renovation work by the Archaeology Department has now put Lalbagh Fort in a much-improved shape, and it has now become an interesting spot for tourists and visitors. Construction started in 1678 by Prince Muhammad Azam during his 15-month long vice-royalty of Bengal, but before the work could complete, he was recalled by Aurangzeb. His successor, Shaista Khan, did not complete the work, though he stayed in Dhaka up to 1688. His daughter Iran Dukht nick named Pari Bibi died here in 1684 and this led him to consider the fort to be ominous.
Lalbagh Fort is a witness of the revolt of the native soldiers against the British during the Great Mutiny of 1857. As in the Red Fort in India, they were defeated by the East India Company. They and the soldiers who fled from Meerat were hanged to death at the Victoria Park. In 1858 the declaration of Queen Victoria of taking over the administrative control of India from the Company was read out at the Victoria Park, which was later renamed Bahadur Shah Park after the name of the last Mughal Emperor who led that greatest rebellion against then British Empire.
4. Paharpur Vihara:
Paharpur Vihara, previously known as Somapura Mahavihara is located in Paharpur, Naogaon. It is among the best known Buddhist Viharas in the Indian Subcontinent and is one of the most important archeological sites of Bangladesh. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The excavation at Paharpur, and the finding of seals bearing the inscription Shri-Somapure-Shri-Dharmapaladeva-Mahavihariyarya-bhiksu-sangghasya, has identified the Somapura Mahavihara as built by the second Pala king Dharmapala (781-821) of Pala Dynasty. Some clay seals from the ruins bear the inscription Shri-Somapure-Shri-Dharmapaladeva-Mahavihariyarya-bhiksu-sangghasya. Tibetan sources, including Tibetan translations of Dharmakayavidhi and Madhyamaka Ratnapradipa, Taranatha’s history and Pag-Sam-Jon-Zang, mention that Dharmapala’s successor Devapala (810—850) built it after his conquest of Varendra.
The Paharpur pillar inscription bears the mention of 5th regnal year of Devapala’s successor Mahendrapala (circa 850—854) along with the name of Bhiksu Ajayagarbha. Taranatha’s Pag Sam Jon Zang records that the monastery was repaired and renovated during the reign of Mahipala (995—1043 AD). The Nalanda inscription of Vipulashrimitra records that the monastery was destroyed by fire, which also killed Vipulashrimitra’s ancestor Karunashrimitra, during a conquest by the Vanga army in the 11th century, assumed to be an army of the Varman rulers. About a century later Vipulashrimitra renovated the vihara and added a temple of Tara. The restoration work was alluded to as jagatang netraika vishrama bhuh (a singular feast to the eyes of the world). Atisha Dipankar Srijnan stayed here for many years and translated the Madhyamaka Ratnapradipa into Tibetan.
Over time Atish’s spiritual preceptor, Ratnakara Shanti served as a Sthavira (equivalent to principal) of the Vihara, Mahapanditacharya Bodhibhadra served as a resident monk, and several other scholars spent some part of their lives at this monastery including Kalamahapada, Viryendra and Karunashrimitra. Many Tibetan monks visited the Somapura between 9th and 12th centuries. During the rule of the Sena dynasty, known as Karnatadeshatagata Brahmaksatriya, in the second half of the 12th century the Vihara started to decline for the last time. It was finally abandoned during the 13th century, when the area came under Muslim occupation. One scholar writes, “The ruins of the temple and monasteries at Paharpur do not bear any evident marks of large-scale destruction. The downfall of the establishment, by desertion or destruction, must have been sometime in the midst of the widespread unrest and displacement of population consequent on the Muslim invasion.”
Mahasthangarh is the earliest urban archaeological site so far discovered in Bangladesh. The village Mahasthan in Shibganj thana of Bogra District contains the remains of an ancient city which was called Pundranagara or Paundravardhanapura in the territory of Pundravardhana. A limestone slab bearing six lines in Prakrit in Brahmi script, discovered in 1931, dates Mahasthangarh to at least the 3rd century BC. The fortified area was in use till the 18th century AD. Mahasthan means a place that has excellent sanctity and garh means fort. Mahasthan was first mentioned in a Sanskrit text of the 13th century entitled Vallalcharita. It is also mentioned in an anonymous text Karatoya mahatmya, circumstantially placed in 12th-13th century. The same text also mentions two more names to mean the same place – Pundrakshetra, land of the Pundras, and Pundranagara, city of the Pundras. In 1685, an administrative decree mentioned the place as Mastangarh, a mixture of Sanskrit and Persian meaning fortified place of an auspicious personage.
Subsequent discoveries have confirmed that the earlier name was Pundranagara or Paundravardhanapura, and that the present name of Mahasthangarh is of later origin. According to a local legend, Shah Sultan Balkhi Mahisawar arrived at Pundravardhana in the garb of a Fakir or Saint riding a fish (‘Mahisawar’ is a Sanskrit-Persian word meaning a person who rides a fish). He came from Balkh, Afghanistan with a retinue. The period of his arrival is variably put at 5th century AD, 11th century AD and 17th century AD. At that time a king named Parasuram ruled in Mahasthangarh. Mahisawar requested Parasuram for a piece of land to spread his prayer mat on which he could pray. The request was granted but the prayer mat started expanding as soon as it was laid on the ground.
When the prayer mat reached the area around his palace, a bewildered Parasuram declared war. In the beginning the battle seemed to be favoring Parasuram. A scavenger Harapala informed Mahisawar that it was difficult to defeat the royal troops because of the pool called Jiat Kunda. A dead soldier bathed in the waters of Jiat Kunda came back to life. On knowing this Mahisawar asked a kite to drop a piece of beef in Jiat Kunda. When this was done, the pool lost its powers. The royal troops were on the verge of defeat. The commander of the royal troops, Chilhan, with a large number of his followers, went over to Mahisawar. Thereafter Parasuram and many members of the royal family committed suicide. There are many variations of this anecdote, some of which are sold in Bengali booklets in and around Mahasthangarh/Pundravardhana.
6. Mainamati (Comilla):
Mainamati, an isolated ridge of low hills in the eastern margins of deltaic Bangladesh, about 8 km to the west of Comilla town is a very familiar name in our cultural heritage, where archaeological excavations have revealed very significant materials. The twin names – Lalmai- Mainamati – of the place have significant link with the past: Lalmai or the southern part is identical with Lalambi-vana of the Chandra epigraphs, while the northern part recalls the name of the legendary Chandra queen ‘Maynamati’, mentioned in local ballads and folk-songs. The archaeological finds have now established beyond any doubt that the cultural and political centre of ancient Vanga-Samatata (southeast Bengal) was located here. While rebuilding the old axial road through the hills in 1875, workers accidentally uncovered the ruins of what at that time was thought to be ‘a small brick fort’. It was actually a Buddhist monastery. Some 72 years earlier (1803), from the same area, was discovered the first Mainamati relic, the copperplate of Ranavankamalla Harikaladeva, dated 1220 AD, which records a description of the capital city of Pattikera as ‘adorned with forts and monasteries’.
The name now survives in the modern Patikara pargana of the locality. The Mainamati ruins were rediscovered during the Second World War. While setting up an advance camp, the military came across ancient remains at a number of points in the ridge. In the hurried survey that followed, 18 sites were recognised and protected by the government. In more regular and systematic surveys undertaken between 1955 and 1957, when the entire ridge was undisturbed by human occupation, more than 50 sites were located. Most of those sites lie in the northern half of the ridge, now within the Cantonment. Archaeological excavations started in January 1955. In several phases of excavation of the 50 odd sites nine have so far been exposed. Though the excavations have not yet been completed and have been limited in many respects, the results so far obtained and the information gained provide a sound archaeological basis for the reconstruction of the history and culture of the early period of this hitherto obscure region.
Most important among the excavated sites is the Shalvan Vihara, a large Paharpur type Buddhist monastery which was functional in 7th-12th centuries AD. The grand monastery together with its central shrine was built by Shri Bhavadeva, the fourth ruler of the early Deva dynasty of Devaparvata, sometime towards the end of the 7th or early 8th century AD. Then there is the Ananda Vihara, from where the most attractive monuments of Mainamati have been unearthed. It is also the largest one.
The excavated evidence suggests 7th century AD as the date of the beginning of these monuments. The site continued to be occupied till the 13th century AD as indicated by an Abbasid gold coin recovered from an upper level of the site. Charpatra Mura is another interesting small site, where was uncovered the remains of a small Hindu temple dated in the Chandra period (10th-11th century AD). It is one of the earliest known examples of Hindu temple architecture in Bangladesh.