Historic Dhaka City: Past Glory and Present Crisis

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  • Topic: Dhaka, Mughal Empire, Shah Jahan
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Historic Dhaka City: Past Glory and Present Crisis
-Md. Mashrur Rahman Mishu

From its beginning as a small city with few people, Dhaka actually faced a dramatic historical turn up and today it has become one of the fastest growing mega cities of the world. Its existence as a major urban agglomeration has been consistent over a period of 400 years. Even the most developed countries in the world today cannot trace back to 400 years of uninterrupted and organized existence that Dhaka does as a historic city.

Today’s Dhaka stands on a long history dated back to 7th century AD. It was ruled directly or indirectly by Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims in successive periods of time. In 16th century during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar it was a thana or military outpost having a population of only 3000 with an area 2 km².(UNEP,2005). Then making Dhaka a capital city of the province in 1608 by Subadar Islam Khan was an epoch making one. Since then Dhaka has been experienced with actual urbanization and trend of development. Islam Khan named the city as Jahangir Nagar and built a fort for his residence in the site of present central jail. One of the main constructions of that time is known as Chandnighat served for the landing station of army and navy. The bazaar occupying area in between the ghat and fort was originally known As Badshahi Bazar (Chawk Bazar at present). The spacious building which goes by name ‘Bara Katra’ also bears the testimony of great Mughal architecture during the 17th century built by Shah Shuja. Then it was Mir Jumla who contributed greatly for the development of Dhaka. For the safe guard of the city he built Mir Jamal’s Gate situated at present Ramna. Also for quick dispatch of ammunition, two important roads Dhaka-Tongi and Dhaka-Fatulla were constructed. These two roads had definite influence on the growth of future Dhaka in these two directions. It was then Shaesta Khan who added the pomp and splendor of Dhaka city during his period. Choto Katra, Chawk Bazar mosque, Babubazar mosque, Sat Gombuz mosque Lalbag fort and Pari Bibi’s tomb- these are the most prominent architecture which still bear the glory of Mughal Dhaka of that time.

Since the city was dignified as a capital, its rapid development in Mughal flavor could not be checked. The whole 17th century is remarked as a golden age in the history of Dhaka. The Mughal Dhaka extended to the east up to Narinda, to west upto Hazaribagh and to the north up to Fulbaria on the fringe of Ramna. The sables of elephants were placed at western end as what we know as Peelkhana. The fort served as nerve of the central city. The residential quarters of officials, government functionaries and merchants etc grew in the area between the fort and Peelkhana and between fort and Fulbaria.

As a capital for its suitable location Dhaka soon became an important commercial hub and manufacturing station. It was famous for its fine cotton textile “Muslin” in the outside world. Dhaka witnessed brisk of trading activities especially with foreign countries including Arabia, Persia, Armenia, China, Malay, Java and Sumatra. As a consequence of this, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, the French and also the Armenians found their interest to set up their trading houses here in the eve of 17th century. They selected Tejgaon area outside the main city as their commercial establishments of factories and trading houses. Whenever Dhaka was at the peak of Mughal glory, the 0.9 million and the total area was extended up to 50 km².(UNEP,2005).

However, in 1717 the capital was again shifted from Dhaka to Murshidabad. Thus the peak of Mughal glory came to an end resulting in serious decline of demographic and urban structure. At the beginning of the British period, Dhaka suffered from famines, floods, disease epidemics and also loss of trade and business especially the traditional Muslin was on the verge of extinction. These resulted in a dramatic decrease of population. The...
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