With a population of about 17 million, Dhaka is the largest Bengali-speaking city on the planet. It came into prominence when the Mughals invaded Bengal in the 16th century. The new rulers moved the political centre from the historical capital of Gaur – where the Bengal Sultanate operated from – to Dhaka, looking to use the city as a base to quell numerous rebellions in the eastern half of the new province.
However, the history of Dhaka stretches further into history. Legend has it that the Dhakeshwari Durga temple was founded by the Sena rulers of Bengal in the 11th century. Now squarely in the heart of bustling Dhaka, it was earlier located in the thick Bengal jungle outside the city – hence the temple was covered, or “dhaka” in Bengali, by the forest canopy, which gave the deity her name, Dhakeshwari. Dhakeshwari, in turn, gave the city – now the capital of Bangladesh – its name.
A trip through Dhaka on Durga Pujo will remind one of the Kolkata of the past. The pandals are small and basic. Religion is a far more important part of the festival than it is in Kolkata. There is significantly less money in the Dhaka festivities – with no corporate sponsorships, all money is raised through neighbourhood chanda or donations.