Dhaka the capital of Bangladesh, has a fairly long history. Its existence in the pre-Muslim period cannot be ascertained with certainty. But it grew as an urban centre in the Sultanate period and rose into prominence in the Mughal preiod when it enjoyed the position of a provincial capital. Its history has here been dealt with in two sections: Dhaka to 1800 AD and Dhaka since 1800 AD. Its physical growth has been dealt with in the context of its history in the last section.
Dhaka (to 1800 AD) was a place of some importance in the pre-Mughal period, but it came to the limelight of history under the Mughals. The origin of the name of Dhaka is obscure. Suggestions put forward about the origin are: the name is derived from (i) the Dak tree (Butea frondosa) which was once found in the place in abundance; (ii) the Hindu Goddess Durga, found concealed (dhaka-Ishvari or concealed goddess) in the place; (iii) the dhak or drum beaten by order of islam khan while inaugurating the capital; (iv) a Prakrt dialect called Dhaka Bhasa; (v) Dhakka used in the Rajtarangini for a watch-station; or it is the same as Davaka, mentioned in the Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudra Gupta as an eastern frontier kingdom.
The pre-Mughal relics are two mosques at Dhaka proper and one at Mirpur; the earliest one is dated from 1456 AD Joao De Barros found Dhaka prominent enough to be inserted in his map drawn c 1550. In the Akbarnama, Dhaka is referred to as a thana (thana), a military outpost, and in the Ain-i-Akbari, Dhaka-baju is a pargana in Sarkar Bajuha. Islam Khan Chishti transferred the capital of Subah Bangalah from Rajmahal to Dhaka in 1610 and renamed it Jahangirnagar after the name of the emperor. The name Jahangirnagar was used in official circles, but to the general people Dhaka was more popular. All foreign travellers and foreign company officials used the name Dhaka in their records and dispatches.
The Buriganga (Budiganga) and her mother river Dhaleswari (Dhaleshvari) connect Dhaka to the great rivers and through them with almost all districts of Bengal. Dhaka is also situated in bhati, the low-lying river-girt Bangalah and the abode of the rebels against the Mughals. So Islam Khan Chishti found it a suitable place for a capital in his plan of establishing Mughal authority in Bengal. Islam Khan, on reaching Dhaka, took up his residence in what is called the fort of Dhaka. Whether it was a brick-built structure or not, Islam Khan made arrangements to make it suitable as a residence of the subahdar. The fort is identified with the Dhaka Central Jail compound. The old city of Dhaka was small, centering round Pakurtali (modern Babubazar area), but on becoming the capital of the Mughal Subah the city was extended along the bank of the river from the fort in the west to modern Sadarghat in the east.
Once made the capital, Dhaka was destined to grow. Administrative requirements and expansion of governmental activities must have led to an expansion of the city. The names of different localities in Dhaka, which persist even today, suggest how the city grew and developed. For example, Urdu Road suggests the camp of soldiers, Diwanbazar, Bakhshibazar, Mughaltoli, Hazaribagh, Peelkhana, Atishkhana, Mahouttoli, all signify that they had been occupied and inhabited by Mughal civil and military officials and their retinue at one time or another. Commercial and professional interests also contributed to the growth of the city. Kayettoli signifies the quarter of the Kayets (or Kayasthas), the Hindu writers of the Mughal government. Places like Tantibazar, Sankharibazar, Banianagar, Kamarnagar etc were residences of Hindu professional groups; places whose names end with ganj, like Nawabganj, Alamganj etc were developed by business interests, and places ending with dewri, like Becharam Dewri, Mir Jammal Dewri, etc were connected with landed interests.
sebastien manrique, who came to Dhaka in 1640, thirty years after the establishment of the capital, says that the city extended for over a league and a half from Maneswar (Maneshvar) in the west to Narinda in the east and to Fulgari (Fulbaria) in the north. There was, therefore, a rapid expansion of Dhaka during these thirty years, but the expansion was mainly to the west. In this part were located the Mughal governmental establishments. manucci, who came to Dhaka in 1663, describes the city as neither strong nor large. But, according to him, it had many inhabitants and most of the houses were made of straw. The next foreign traveller, tavernier, who came to Dhaka three years later (1666), says that Dhaka was a great and populous city, but it extended only in length because everyone desired to have a house by the side of the river. Tavernier found the city over two leagues in length. Thomas Bowrey, who came three years later (1669-70), saw the city of Dhaka as spacious, no less than forty English miles in circuit, but it stood on low marshy ground. In the 18th century, though Dhaka lost the glory of being capital of the province, it extended further, particularly to the north, because the European Companies built their factories in that area, ie, around Tejgaon. In 1786, the east india company's government accepted the boundaries of the city as Buriganga in the south, Tongi-Jamalpur in the north, Mirpur in the west and Postgola in the east. In 1800 AD John Taylor, the English Commercial Resident of Dhaka put the boundaries of Mughal Dhaka as Buriganga in the south, Tongi in the north, Jafrabad in the west and Postgola in the east. The extent of the Mughal city of Dhaka was, as Bowrey estimated, no less than forty English miles in circuit.
Established as the provincial capital of Bengal in 1610, Dhaka enjoyed that status for about one hundred years. The city served as the administrative headquarters, and the residence of subahdars and other imperial officers with their establishments. Prince Shuja (1639-59) shifted the capital to Rajmahal for both personal and political reasons, though he remained for a few years initially at Dhaka. With the transfer of the subahdari establishment, Dhaka was reduced to a subordinate station. After the war of succession among the sons of Shahjahan, Shuja fled to Arakan, and the next subahdar mir jumla again made Dhaka the headquarters. Dhaka's status as capital continued until the beginning of the 18th century, when due to a quarrel between the Subahdar Prince Azimuddin (azim-us-shan) and the Diwan murshid quli khan, both shifted their offices from Dhaka, the subahdar to Patna and the diwan to Murshidabad. Dhaka continued to be the seat of deputies of the Subahdars for some years more, till 1715-16, when Murshid Quli Jafar Khan became subahdar, then more popularly called nazim. Murshid Quli Khan, however, ruled the province from Murshidabad. Dhaka became a seat of Naib-Nazim (Deputy Nazim or deputy subahdar) and continued as such till 1843 when the office of Naib-Nazim was abolished.
Islam Khan Chishti, on his way to Dhaka, sent a party
of officers from Shahzadpur (Pabna) in advance. He ordered them to construct
the fort of Dhaka and to prepare the place, hitherto the seat of a thanadar,
for the reception of the subahdar and the government establishments.
The fort could have been a brick-built structure, but more probably was
an open place surrounded by mudwalls, with sufficient arrangements for
guarding the place to make it suitable for the subahdar's residence.
Mughal subahdars of Dhaka generally lived in tents, as theirs were
short-term appointments and transferable jobs; they hardly built residential
houses of their own. Tavernier found shaista
khan living in a wooden palace surrounded by a brick wall and
makes adverse comments on the palace.
The construction of the only fort in Dhaka, the lalbagh
or Aurangabad fort was undertaken by the prince Azam Shah (1678-79),
but the construction was left incomplete. Besides the fort, the
other important place of the time of Islam Khan was Chandnighat
on the river Buriganga; the ghat was meant for the review
of imperial war-boats and also served as the landing station of
the imperial army and navy.
Bara Katra, Dhaka
The next subahdar who undertook construction activities
at Dhaka was shah
shuja. In 1645 Mir Abul Qasim, diwan of Shah Shuja,
built a spacious building which goes by the name of bara
katra. Built on the bank of the river Buriganga and to the
south of modern Chaukbazar, the building was endowed for the residence
and welfare of the visiting merchants and hence came to be known as Katra.
Mir Abul Qasim also built an Idgah on the spacious plain to the
north of Peelkhana on the way to Satmasjid.
In 1649 a Mughal officer, Muhammad Beg, built a mosque at Churihatta,
near Chaukbazar and in 1661, Muhammad Muqim, the darogah
of the nawwara (navy) built a Katra. The place beyond
the eastern and main gate of the modern Central Jail is still
known as Muqim Katra, though no trace of the Katra
A part of Mir Jumla's Gate,
Mir Jumla's name is connected with a number of constructions,
the first of which is Mir Jumla's gate, lately known as Ramna gate, on
the Mymensingh road near curzon
hall and to the
west of the old High Court Buildings. The gate was probably meant to guard
the city from the north. He also had to guard the city and its suburbs
from Magh attacks.
For speedy dispatch of troops and ammunition by land, he built
two roads connecting Dhaka with a network of forts built for the
defence of the capital. One of the roads connecting the city with
northern districts, now known as Mymensingh road, led to a fort
at Tongi-Jamalpur; the Tongi Bridge on the river Turag was built
by him. The other road went eastward and connected the city with
Fatullah (old Dhaka) where two forts stood, and on extension went
up to Khizrpur where another fort was situated. Mir Jumla also
built the Pagla Bridge off Fatullah.
Lalbag Fort gateway, Dhaka
The next subahdar, Shaista Khan, was a great builder.
His own palace was built of wood, probably for its cooling effect, but
he built a Katra, now known as chhota
katra, to distinguish it from the Bara Katra of Shah
Shuja. He also built a number of mosques and tombs; of the mosques Chaukbazar
mosque, Babubazar mosque and Sat Gumbad mosque are prominent; of the tombs
Bibi Pari's tomb is the most prominent. Other tombs are those of Bibi
Champa, Dara Begum and others. As a builder Shaista Khan is so famous
that his style of architecture is called the Shaista Khani style. Khwaja
Ambar built a well, a sarai, a bridge and a mosque at Karowan Bazar,
and a merchant built the Narinda bridge to connect the main city with
its eastern part on the bank of the Dulai canal. Prince Azam Shah's unfinished
Aurangabad fort, now known as lalbagh
fort, contains some beautiful structures, including a mosque
and Bibi Pari's tomb. Prince Azimuddin built a palace at Poshta (Posht-qila),
but it was washed away by the river and Murshid Quli Khan built the Begumbazar
mosque. Prince Farrukh Siyar (later emperor) built a mosque close to the
southeastern limit of Lalbagh fort, now known as the Shahi mosque. Khan
Muhammad Mirdah built a mosque at Atishkhana to the northwest of Lalbagh
With the coming of the Shia Muslims, and the increase
of their number, a Shia religious building, the husaini
dalan, was built. The naib-nazims used to live in the qila
or fort of Islam Khan Chishti. After the Company's acquisition of the
diwani in 1765, the fort was occupied by English officers and the naib-nazim
moved to the Bara Katra palace. After the construction of the nimtali
palace (on the site of the old Dhaka Museum buildings) the
naib-nazim moved to this palace. The palace is no more to be seen
but its gateway exists in a ruinous condition on the premises of the asiatic
society of bangladesh. Between Islam Khan's residence and the
Chandni Ghat, a market grew up.
Originally known as Badshahi Bazar, it later came to be known
as Chaukbazar. The masonry construction of the bazar was
the contribution of Mirza Lulfullah, or murshid
quli khan II, Rustam Jang, in 1728.
Nimtali Palace, Dhaka
Situated on the water routes Dhaka was a centre of local
trade even in the pre-Mughal period. With the transfer of capital there,
its population increased; along with the army, navy and people connected
with administration came the artisans, manufacturers and other professional
groups. Dhaka witnessed brisk trading activities of provincial, inter-provincial
and foreign merchants including those from Arabia, Persia, Armenia, China,
Malaya, Java and Sumatra. There came moneylenders, the Marwari bankers.
From the middle of the 17th century the European companies came and established
their factories. Among the Europeans, the portuguese
came first. By the time Dhaka became the capital, the Portuguese had already
established a settlement at hughli.
They built a factory at Dhaka and the Portuguese priests built churches.
But due to their oppressive conduct and piracy by their brethren from
Arakan and also owing to the competition of the dutch
companies and merchants, the Portuguese trade could not prosper. At Dhaka,
the Dutch established a factory in 1663, the English in 1667 and the french
in 1682. All these companies had their principal settlements on the bank
of the river Bhagirathi; the Dutch at chinsura,
the English at Hughli (later Calcutta) and the French at chandannagar.
Dhaka was a manufacturing station. The cotton textiles produced at Dhaka were of fine quality and were in great demand in the outside world. The various kinds of cotton goods called muslin were exported, and European companies had to import huge amounts of bullion to pay for their purchases. She also had port facilities for receiving and dispatching both local and imported goods. Dhaka's annual export of cotton goods in the 18th century through the English East India Company alone amounted to about thirty lakh rupees.
In 1640 Manrique estimated the population of Dhaka and its suburbs at 2 lakhs; in 1786 the Collector of Dhaka gave the same figure as did the Commercial Resident of Dhaka in 1800. Whereas the former two estimates were conjectural, the last one, although to some extent conjectural, was based on the determination of holdings prepared by a police officer. The commodities were cheap on the Dhaka market, as is known from the East India Company's records and labour was also cheap. It is a common knowledge that during the viceroyalty of Shaista Khan rice was being sold on the Dhaka market at the rate of 8 maunds per rupee. In 1740 in the time of sarfaraz khan, the price of rice again came down to that level. [Abdul Karim]
Nathan, Baharistan-I-Ghaibi, 2 volumes, (tr) MI Borah, Government
of Assam, 1936; SM Taifuor, Glimpses of Old Dhaka, Dhaka 1952;
A H Dani, Dacca, A Record of its Changing Fortunes, Dhaka, 1962;
A Karim, Dacca The Mughal Capital, Dhaka, 1964; Sharif Uddin Ahmed
(ed.), Dhaka Past Present Future, Dhaka, 1991.
Dhaka (since 1800) The decline of the political power of the nawabs of Bengal and the rise of the east india company led to the waning of the administrative importance of Dhaka in the late 18th century. In addition, the commercial and manufacturing policies of the East India Company wrecked the financial bases of the city. In consequence, large numbers of people including some of the former ruling elite became unemployed and left the city for other places and the countryside in search of an alternative livelihood. Thus the population of Dhaka declined very sharply. This naturally led to the shrinking of the physical extent of the city to such a degree that by the beginning of the 19th century Dhaka was 'a shadow of its former self'. Its administrative importance, its trade and manufactures were virtually gone. Likewise its cultural and social activities dwindled greatly.
In the Mughal period the dramatic rise and development of Dhaka were primarily due to its advantageous geographical location; its political and administrative importance as the capital and later as the sub-capital of a very wealthy and resourceful province; its flourishing internal and external trade and its famous manufactures, especially the Muslin. At its peak during the Mughal period, the city with its suburbs was said to have a population of some 900,000. The population comprised nobility, high officials, business people, soldiers, manufacturers, traders and service people of various kinds. The inhabitants were of different races and religions. The city proper stretched seven to ten miles along the Buriganga and up to two and a half miles inland. The suburbs extended from the Buriganga to the Tongi Bridge, fifteen miles to the north, and from Mirpur- Jafarabad on the west some ten miles east to Postogola.
The declining fortune of the city, as noted above, had a catastrophic impact upon the population and physical boundaries of Dhaka. In 1801, the city had a population of some 200,000; by 1840 it dwindled to 51,636. Between 1801 and 1840 many localities close to the city, such as Narinda, Faridabad, Wari, and Alamganj to the east and the northeast, which had once been densely populated, were largely abandoned; while Fulbaria, Diwan Bazar and Monohar Khan Bazar in the north, and Dhakeswari, Azimpur and Enayetganj to the northwest and west, still partly inhabited in 1801, became totally desolate. Some of the magnificent bridges over the Dulai river became ruined for lack of repair.
However, the 1840s proved also to be the beginning of a new era in the history of the city, ushering in a new phase of development and a new period of prosperity which since then have continued unabated. The forces which led to the renewal of the city were the same which had earlier led to its rise - a very resourceful hinterland (virtually the whole of South and East Bengal), a suitable geographical location, administrative growth and the appearance of new types of education, trade, business, manufactures and industries. At the same time the cultural renaissance following the establishment of Bengal's connection with Europe aided the growth of Dhaka steadily but surely as an important urban centre through various educational, political and social regeneration activities.
Growth Already a centre of District administration, Dhaka became the
headquarters of a large division, namely the Dhaka Division, in 1829.
Thereafter its administrative importance grew fast as the East India Company
and later the British India Government expanded their governmental responsibilities
to include education, health, communication and construction, local government
and other welfare activities - some of whose offices had wider jurisdictions
to include large areas of East Bengal. The final effect of the proliferation
of governmental offices during the colonial period was to make the city
of Dhaka by 1885 the largest 'civil station' after Calcutta, in the province
The administrative importance of Dhaka further grew dramatically
during the years 1905-11 when it was made the capital of the new
province of East Bengal and Assam. The superstructure of a provincial
administration was introduced with different departments and various
high and middle-ranking officials.
Old High Court Building,
A Lieutenant Governor was appointed, with a High Court
and a Secretariat. Though short-lived, the event had its impact upon the
growth of the city and its population. The more lasting development in
the rise of Dhaka as a centre of administration took place in 1947 with
the end of British colonial rule and the establishment of a new province
of independent Pakistan, namely East Bengal/ East Pakistan, of which it
became the capital. Henceforth, Dhaka not only became the administrative
headquarters of the new province but also the seat of the Legislative
Assembly of East Bengal/East Pakistan as well as of the National Parliament,
albeit for particular sessions.
High Court Building (new),
The state of Pakistan, however, did not survive for long.
On 16 December 1971, East Pakistan became an independent state and came
to be known as Bangladesh. As the capital of a free sovereign state, Dhaka
assumed the status of being its most important centre of political power,
administrative functions and economic, social, educational and cultural
activities. In the absence of any serious policy of devolution, the city
is now the absolute centre of all administrative power. It is the place
where virtually all decisions are made, being the headquarters of all
government departments. The city is also the military headquarters of
Political Importance As it grew administratively, the political significance of Dhaka also increased simultaneously. Indeed the city's role in the political life not only of Bangladesh but also of the entire subcontinent during the last two centuries has been very checkered. In the 19th century it was one of the important centres of the first War of Independence against British colonial rule, the sepoy revolt of 1857. The Sepoys of the Bengal army stationed at Lalbagh Fort resisted the effort of the British administrators to disarm them, signaling the revolt of the native army in other parts of the country. The event proved a turning point in the history of the city, the British administrators taking cruel measures and the local population maintaining a deep sense of resentment against the colonial rulers ever since. The place where the Sepoys were hanged became a symbol of national resistance. But the event also revealed the great loyalty and support for the British by the wealthy local landlords and businessmen, particularly the nawab family of Dhaka. With the foundation of the indian national congress in 1885, the city became the centre of Congress activities aimed at mobilising support from the whole of eastern Bengal. But the political role of the city during the early twentieth century was crucial in bringing about the partition of the province in 1905, symbolising a victory for the cause of the Muslims of East Bengal. The part played by the nawab of Dhaka, Sir salimullah, in this connection was very significant. From 1905 Dhaka also became a champion for the cause of the Muslims of the subcontinent. It was Sir Salimullah who again took the initiative in founding in Dhaka, in 1906, the first political party of the Muslims of the subcontinent - the muslim league - which, as opposed to the Indian National Congress, aimed primarily to serve the Muslim interest. The partition of bengal also led to the Nationalist or swadeshi movement and extremist activities by Hindus opposed to the partition. Dhaka became the centre of all these activities and the stronghold of one of the extremist groups, anushilan samiti. In the following years Dhaka played an important role in the independence movement against the British.
The creation of Pakistan however did not fulfil the hopes and aspirations of the people of East Pakistan, especially of its educated middle class. The declaration of the rulers of Pakistan that only Urdu shall be the state language of Pakistan provoked a sharp reaction from the East Pakistanis, who took great pride in their language and cultural heritage. Dhaka became the chief centre of the language movement, which also gave rise to a nationalistic feeling among East Pakistanis. The Language Movement became the precursor of the freedom movement of Bangladesh, in which Dhaka played the most vital role. The movements for parity (the six-point programme), the People's uprising of 1969, the historic speech of Bangabandhu on 7 March 1970 and the launching of the War of Liberation - all started from this city. It was also in this city that the surrender ceremony of the Pakistan Army took place at the Ramna Race Course on 16 December 1971.
However, the emergence of Bangladesh had its genesis in the educational
development of the region and particularly of the city of Dhaka. Indeed,
the significance of Dhaka as a centre of education has actually grown
in modern times. As the focal point of a large hinterland the city became
the main source of new English education and western culture for thousands
of young people of East Bengal when in 1835 the Dhaka Government Collegiate
School was founded. The event led not only to the widespread dissemination
of western education but also to a cultural renaissance and social revolution
in Eastern Bengal; the newly educated young men, enriched by knowledge
of the western arts and sciences, began to question many of the harmful
social and religious customs and traditions of their motherland. The growth
of education in the city continued steadily. In 1841 the Dhaka Government
College was established.
In 1874, the Dhaka Madrasa was founded, enabling the Muslim youths
of East Bengal to learn Arabic and Persian, which their religion
demanded, as well as English which the need of the age made pertinent
for them. In 1884, the Jagannath College was established as a
private enterprise, and it eventually became one of the best centres
of higher education during the British period.
Jagannath College, Dhaka
In addition to general education, specialised educational
institutions were also founded, beginning with the Law Department of the
in 1863, Dhaka Medical School (attached to the mitford
hospital) in 1875, and the Dhaka Survey School in 1876.
These institutions proved to be the nucleus of the full-fledged
technical and specialised educational systems that later on developed
for medicine, law, engineering etc. In 1878, a different type
of educational institution was established, namely the Eden Girls'
School exclusively for girls whose educational training had so
far been a social taboo, thus ushering in a social revolution
in the country.
Mitford Hospital, Dhaka,
However, the climax of the educational developments
in Dhaka in this phase was reached in 1921 with the foundation of the
of dhaka. Against much opposition it was established as a gateway
to the educational and cultural development of a much-neglected territory
and the advancement of a relatively backward Muslim community.
The University in addition to imparting education soon
turned into a centre of cultural and social regeneration for the whole
of East Bengal. Eventually it developed into a powerful seat of the movement
for freedom for the subcontinent from British colonial rule. It was this
university which also led to the growth of an educated middle class in
the region, especially among the Muslims.
From 1947 the growth of education in the city progressed steadily, but after 1971 it leaped forward dramatically and at present Dhaka houses several public and private universities and technical institutions imparting education in varieties of arts, sciences, engineering, medicine, fine arts, music, painting and other subjects. Educational progress has reached such a scale that Dhaka has not only a large student population but also much of the city's political, economic, social and cultural life moves around educational institutions and students. At present most of the country's leading intelligentsia, top civil servants, diplomats, other technocrats, doctors, lawyers, politicians and literati are products of Dhaka's educational institutions. The city's importance and prosperity to a great extent are due to these educational developments.
Trade and Commerce During the past two centuries Dhaka had slowly but steadily emerged as a significant centre of trade, commerce and industries in South Asia. In Mughal days its fortune greatly depended upon the production and export of muslin, the fine textiles which had clientele even among European Royalty. However, its chief patrons were the emperors, kings and rich nobles of India. In general it also had a large home market in Bengal. But the commercial prosperity of the city disappeared with the decline of indigenous power and the rise of the English. Even in the 1740s Dhaka's annual muslin production (manufactured both in the city and the neighborhood) was valued at Rs. 28,50,000. As late as in 1800, the value of muslin manufactured annually in Dhaka amounted to Rs. 26,00,000. Thereafter, the production of muslin declined chiefly owing to the loss of Indian patrons and the import of cheap factory-made English textiles.
The decline in the manufacture and trade in muslin had a catastrophic effect upon the city. However, the commerce in indigo in the 1820s and 1830s for a while and later the trade in jute in the 1850s came to the rescue of the city's commercial fortune. By the 1880s the city became an important centre of jute trade and jute manufactures. Later on, though the phenomenal increase of jute export was handled directly from Narayanganj, which was virtually a port of Dhaka, the entire trade in jute in East Bengal in the 19th and 20th centuries was controlled from Dhaka. In short, it was the unprecedented growth in the production and trade in jute in East Bengal that not only made the region prosperous but also changed the fortune of the city of Dhaka from the late 19th century. However, during the colonial period, competition from England was tremendous and the goods imported from Britain dominated the local market so that Dhaka remained a modest manufacturing centre of jute-goods, textiles, glass, chemicals and of various local arts and crafts, among which the conch-shell ornaments had an all-Bengal market.
The picture changed considerably during the post-colonial period, with government patronage for increased trade and industrialisation and the pouring in of capital from various sources. The import and export policies of the government also produced positive results. The government also set up industrial zones within the boundaries of the city, the Tejgaon area being the prime site. Dhaka quickly grew into an important centre of manufacture of textiles and silk goods; soap; jute-goods; leather-goods; glass; safety-matches; iron and steel-implements; engineering and automobile accessories; foundry products; bricks and tiles; ceramics and potteries; chemicals and pharmaceuticals; plastic goods; beverages, and canned fruits; paper; film etc.
The pace of industrialisation and growth of trade and commerce in the city increased dramatically in the post-liberation period. Although the war destroyed almost all the industrial plants and factories and also caused the withdrawal of capital by the West Pakistanis, the rehabilitation work started quickly. The investment in industries and manufactures also increased steadily, with government and private financial institutions playing a vital role. One must also mention the increased linkage between Bangladesh and the world market after independence.
Today Dhaka and its environs are one of the largest industrial regions of the country, producing varieties of goods and manufactures, from traditional products like textiles, silver and gold ornaments to modern electronic goods - many of these under the joint venture system. There are also industrial zones devoted exclusively to the manufacture of goods for export. These export promotion zones manufacture high-tech goods in particular. The most important industrial activity for which Dhaka has created an important place for itself on the world market in recent years is the garment industry, producing textile and woollen goods on an order basis from foreign buyers. The garments industry is now the highest foreign exchange earner of the country and the city has almost 80% of the total garments factories of the country, employing thousands of workers, especially women. Dhaka is also now a major producer of leather goods.
Dhaka has also become one of the most important commercial centres in the country. There is brisk trade both in local and foreign products, ranging from high tech goods to cosmetics. The city is now dotted with several multi-storied modern shoping centres where varieties of goods are sold. The modern shops are gradually replacing the old-fashioned shops and markets.
Financial Institutions The city at present is also the headquarters of all financial institutions of the country. The bangladesh bank, the country's central bank, is situated in the Motijheel Commercial Area and it controls all the banking and financial transactions of the country. Dhaka's modern banking institutions date back to the 19th century. Prior to this banking was carried out in the indigenous manner and the House of jagat
sheth, the Banker of the nawabs of Bengal had its branch in Dhaka and handled almost all the monetary transactions of the city.
Today Dhaka also houses the national and metropolitan chambers of commerce and other institutions of the business people and industrialists. In short, all the country's trade and commerce, import and export trade are controlled from here. Just as the Bangladesh Bank looks after the public aspect of finance so do the various Chambers of Commerce protect the private business interest. The
Stock Market, a recent growth, has added to the commercial life of the city.
Population The most important development that has taken place in the city's recent history is the overwhelming growth of its population, chiefly through migration. In 1872, at the time of the first census, Dhaka had a population of 69,212; in 1881, 79,076; in 1911, 1,25,000; and in 1941, 2,39,000. After the Partition of 1947 the increase in population showed a steady rise with the arrival of migrants from India and in 1951 the population jumped to 3,36,000. According to the census of 1961, the city had a population of 556,000, a growth of some 44.63% during a decade. This growth rose dramatically after 1971. By 1974, the population increased to 1,680,000; in 1981 it reached 3,440,000; and in 1991, 6,150,000. The unprecedented growth of the city and the lure of jobs and opportunities, real or imaginary, led enormous numbers of rural migrants from all over the country to come to Dhaka. The legal and administrative boundaries of the city nowadays have however been extended to a great extent to include, for example, Narayanganj and Savar, so that the city's present population is more than nine million. Within this boundary there are, however, many patches of rural areas as well as wastelands. This enormous growth in population has had its impact upon the city's housing and various service sectors as well as upon its social and economic life, especially upon its environment. Large parts of the city have developed as slums where poor migrants live in shanties in inhuman conditions.
Housing and Civic services The enormous growth of the city and the
unprecedented increase of population, have made the old-time transports,
housing and civic services totally inadequate and unsuitable. In the nineteenth
century most of the people travelled on foot from home to the workplace;
the use of horses and of boats, at least through the Dulai Khal, was also
in vogue. Such nineteenth-century transports like palki, ponies, elephants
and hackney-carriages however disappeared by the middle of the twentieth
century with the rapid extension of the city, and have been replaced by
a variety of vehicles including the ubiquitous rickshaws, buses and cars.
Towards the end of the
1990s, privately owned luxurious buses and taxis have also been
introduced, but no proper transport system that befits a big capital
city has yet been introduced by the city authorities, resulting
in a very unsatisfactory state.
Kamalapur Railway Station,
Though the total number of dwellings at present in the
city falls short of the demand, resulting in overcrowding, the housing
scenario of Dhaka has changed very impressively over the last two centuries.
The nineteenth century houses, mostly thatched huts erected in a line
upon the edges of narrow streets and lanes have given place to brick-built
houses upon spacious roads and planned areas. Apart from some magnificent
houses built privately by the wealthy citizens on privately owned land,
the idea of having planned residential areas with two to four-storied
buildings and housing colonies of similar height for people of limited
income began to take root only from the late nineteenth century and has
continued to dominate the housing scene ever since. From the 1980s the
shortage of suitable land has led to the construction of high-rise houses
with multiple stories both for offices and residences throughout the city.
A group of very talented local engineers, architects and builders as well
as foreign companies have appeared on the scene and are constructing such
buildings and thus changing the city-scape of Dhaka. In recent times Dhanmondi,
Banani, Gulshan, Baridhara, Uttara, Shiddeshwari, Mirpur, Pallabi areas
have been developed into beautiful residential areas with expensive and
luxurious houses and apartment blocks.
However, the house-building process is far from complete and though the city is full of high-rise buildings and luxurious residences as well as humble one-storied houses, nearly one-third of the population live in slums, in shanties and in the most inhuman conditions.
The civic services in the modern sense started in Dhaka in the nineteenth century with the establishment of the
Dhaka Municipality in 1864. From then on restrictions on building houses were introduced; spacious roads were constructed; sweeping and cleaning of roads and privies were started; piped water-supply began; markets were controlled; a traffic system was introduced and an electricity supply system installed both with government funds and private charities.
The civic services and urban facilities have increased tremendously in the last thirty years or so. A network of roads connecting the various parts of the city as well as establishing links countrywide has been constructed. The Asian Highway, the Tongi Diversion Road, the VIP Road, the Bijoy Sarani Road, the Rokeya Sarani Road, the Mirpur-Muhammadpur Road, the Satgumbud Road, the Dhaka- Sayidabad Road are some of the major roads of the capital, with many small streets branching off from them.
The city has been supplied with gas from the 1970s - a major aid that has helped the capital to develop into a modern place as well as freeing it from much pollution from the use of coal and wood. Water supply, mostly from underground extraction through a deep tube-well system, has been vastly increased but the method is dangerously associated with sub-soil erosion. Recently Syedabad Water Purification and supply plant has been commissioned. It draws water from the Sitalakhya. Likewise, the supply of electricity, though greatly increased in the recent past has proved to be inadequate for a city with about 9.1 million inhabitants and large industrial activities. The ever-increasing demand for domestic purposes, industries, business houses, hospitals and clinics, educational institutions and sporting venues has made the supply so inadequate that the city experiences deliberate cuts in power supply.
Telephones, telex, fax, mobile phones, e-mail and very recently the Internet have revolutionised the city's communication system and its link with the rest of the world.
Activities Dhaka is a major South Asian capital city playing
a significant role in the political, economic, social, cultural
and sporting activities of the region. It has developed into one of the
most important cultural centres of Asia, holding national and international
art, music, cinema, theatre, dance and literary conferences and festivals.
Western-influenced theatrical performances started in Dhaka from the middle
of the nineteenth century and later the appearance of female performers
on stage created a sensation among the conservative sections of Dhaka
society. Today theatre is one of the most popular entertainment in the
city though the organisers, performers and audience are mostly from the
educated middle class. The hub of these activities is the Segun-Bagicha,
Ramna and Shahbag area - an enclave which has been indeed very recently
designed as the Dhaka Sangskrtik Balay or the Dhaka Cultural Enclave.
The University of Dhaka, the Shilpakala Academy, the Bangla Academy,
the Bangladesh National Museum, the National Archives of Bangladesh,
the Nazrul Institute, the Institute of Fine Arts, the Bulbul Academy
of Fine Arts and many other government and non-government organisations
are playing significant roles in this regard.
Bangladesh National Museum,
Very recently Dhaka's name has appeared on the international
sporting scene, hosting international cricket, soccer, hockey, volleyball
and other events. Particularly the rise of Dhaka as a venue of international
cricket competitions has put the name of Bangladesh as the talking point
among the millions of the world.
The Bangabandhu National Stadium has been especially selected
for this purpose. Together with the Bangabandhu Stadium, the Mirpur
Football Stadium, the Indoor Games Stadium and the Ramna Tennis
Complex are now the venues of international sporting events.
The Book Fairs are other major international events.
The month-long Book Fair held each year in February at the Bangla Academy
premises is more than a fair, the entire gamut of Bangladesh's culture
and love for the mother tongue Bangla comes to the forefront on this occasion.
Publishing and trade in books are nowadays a thriving industry in Dhaka,
Banglabazaar area being the heart of the industry.
The publication of Bangla books has recently received
a great fillip with the declaration of 21 February as the 'International
Mother Language Day' to commemorate the martyrs who laid down their lives
in Dhaka for the sake of their mother language. It was on 21 February
1952 that students and citizens of Dhaka, while demonstrating for the
recognition of Bangla as the state language of East Pakistan were brutally
assaulted by the police and some of them were gunned down. On the spot
near the Medical College where the students were shot dead rose the monument
commemorating the event and the Language Movement, the shaheed
minar, which became a symbol of resistance for the Bangalis
and which would now become the Worlds' symbol of the International Mother
Dhaka today is one of the most important centres of entertainment
in the country, with numerous cinemas, theatres and musical halls. The
city is dotted with museums, libraries, art galleries, clubs and restaurants.
Dhaka used to be known as the city of mosques because of the
preponderance of beautiful mosques built in the Indo-Islamic style since
the Mughal days. The nineteenth century saw the construction of some magnificent
buildings built in the Indo-British style. The ahsan
manjil, the Mitford Hospital, the ruplal
house, the Rose Garden and, of course, the Curzon Hall dominated
the architectural scene of the city. In the Pakistan days building activities
took a new turn when western, especially American influence, became marked.
The buildings of the Central Public Library and the Dhaka University Teachers-Students'
Centre are important examples. However, the influence became epitomised
in the planning and development of the Second Capital in Sher-e-Banglanagar
and the building of the jatiya
sangsad bhaban or the Parliament Building designed by the American
architect Louis Kahn. The design received an international award for architectural
excellence and now the building is the prime architectural specimen of
modern Dhaka. A number of very beautifully designed private houses and
apartment blocks amalgamating modern and Indo-Bangla styles have also
come up in various parts of the city, especially in Dhanmondi, Eskaton
and Karwan Bazar, Baridhara, Gulshan and Uttara.
Curzon Hall, Dhaka University
Jatiya Sangsad Bhavan
Food and culinary
fame Dhaka's fame for exotic food and culinary expertise has remained
intact for the last few centuries. The traditional Mughal cuisine, the
Pulao Rice, Biriani, Bakhar Khani and varieties of sweets have retained
their fame and are much loved by the locals and foreigners. Recently,
Dhaka's growing links with the rest of the world have led to the establishment
of Chinese, Thai, Iranian, European restaurants and of course American
style Fast Food shops. These are very popular. The city also has a substantial
number of western-style hotels which have given Dhaka a flavour of internationalism,
the most important being the Pan Pacific Hotel Sonargaon and the Sheraton
Today Dhaka is a prosperous and growing city where tremendous commercial, industrial, financial, sporting and cultural activities take place. It is also politically very powerful, being the capital city and the administrative headquarters of the country. It has grown all around, covering an area of some 360 square km and having a population of over 9.1 million (2001). A substantial number of the inhabitants are very rich. It is also the home of the rising 'Bangladeshi' middle class. However, Dhaka has been caught up in a sudden spree of development and growth, without proper planning and no real control over the haphazard growth. The never ending migration of people from the countryside and district towns often without any jobs is creating tremendous pressure upon the city with its meager housing and other facilities. Thus the city is passing through a period of uncertainties. If things are not taken proper care of, unforeseen developments might overwhelm the place, especially because of the lack of water supply, health hazards and political and social unrest. [Sharif uddin Ahmed]
James Taylor, A Sketch of the Topography and Statistics of Dacca,
Calcutta, 1840; Patrick Geddes, Report on Town Planning-Dacca,
Calcutta, 1911; Sayid Aulad Hasan, Notes on the Antiquities of Dacca,
Dacca, 1912; S M Taifoor, Glimpses of Old Dhaka (revised edn.),
Dacca, 1956; AH Dani, Dacca- A Record of its Changing Fortunes
(revised edn.), Dacca, 1962; Sharif Uddin Ahmed, DACCA - A Study in
Urban History and Development, London, 1986.
Dhaka (Physical Growth) stands on the northern bank of the Buriganga River, about 13 km above its confluence with the Dhaleswari (23° 43' N Lat and 90° 24' E Long). It commands connection by navigable waterways with the Padma, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna river-system that affords the convenience of water carriage to and from any principal place of the Bangladesh. Dhaka is also well placed for land communications being on the southern edge of an old alluvial terrace considerably above the highest level of the surrounding rivers in ordinary seasons of inundation. The northern part of the city is on a laterite terrace that broadens out northwards towards Mymensingh.
The Buriganga, branching off from the Dhaleswari little below Sabhar, comes through the western and southern side of the city and curving rightward it again meets the Dhaleswari beyond Fatullah, thus forming the southern and western boundary of the city. A number of other water channels (mainly Dulai channel, Pandu river and Baloo river) criss-crossed through and around the city. Thus an important topographical constraint was created for the growth of the city. Dhaka stretches from the Buriganga bank in the south towards the north practically to the Tongi river and the stretch of high land is flanked on either side by low-lying marshes and old river beds. The low-lying swamps have crept right into the hearts of the high areas, as in the case of the Mirpur to Cantonment depression from the west to the east as also the Baridhara-Khilkhet-Uttara depression from the east to the west. As a result the physical expansion of the city has not been easy and without difficulty. Topographical considerations dictated the growth of the city in its different phases of existence.
Dhaka's pre-Muslim past is obscure. The near by capital city of
Vikramapura was in the limelight from the 10th to 13th century AD. Some
finds indicate human habitation of the area in the above period. After
Muslim occupation of south-eastern Bengal (late 13th and early 14th century)
the near by city of Sonargaon rose into prominence. Dhaka's existence
as a small town of some importance in the pre-Mughal period (14th - 16th
century) is proved by two mosque inscriptions, remains and literary evidence,
mainly from the pages of baharistan-i-ghaibi.
The area lying to the east, north-east and south-east of Babur Bazar on
the left (northern) bank of the Buriganga formed the pre-Mughal town (Map1).
The conglomeration of Hindu names of localities in this part of old Dhaka
(viz. Laksmibazar, Banglabazar, Sutrapur, Jaluanagar, Banianagar, Goalnagar,
Tantibazar, Shankharibazar, Sutarnagar, Kamarnagar, Patuatuli, Kumartuli
etc) indicate the predominance of the hindu craftsmen and professionals
of pre-Mughal Dhaka, which grew in the vicinity of Sonargaon, the capital,
having some commercial importance. Accessibility by riverways from the
side of Sonargaon determined the location of pre-Mughal Dhaka; the Buriganga
and the Dulai formed its southern and eastern boundary. However, it is
difficult to determine its western limit. If the Naswallagali Mosque inscription
(1459 AD) is taken to bear testimony to the existence of a mosque in the
area of its find (western side of the present Central Jail) and if it
is thought that the Dhakeswari temple existed before Mughal occupation,
which is quite likely, then it would be fair to assume that the western
limit extended beyond Baburbazar to a line in the Dhakeswari - Urdu Road
axis. The existence of the dargah of Shah Ali Baghdadi at Mirpur,
who died in 1577 AD, proves the existence of a pre-Mughal locality in
the area. It is quite likely that following the course of the Buriganga
settlements grew on the southern, western and north-western parts of the
city. Rayerbazar on the western part, on the river, might have grown as
potters' locality, though the date of settlement cannot be ascertained.
These, of course, were sporadic growths with the river bank determining
the basis of settlements. However, the concentration of the population
was definitely in the area to the east of Baburbazar.
Mughal phase The
pre-Mughal Dhaka was turned into a thana (military outpost) during
the military operations of Akbar. But it rose to prominence only after
the transfer of the capital of the Subah by Islam Khan Chisti in
1610 AD, when it was named Jahangirnagar. The fort (in the site of present
central jail) and Chandighat, on the river bank straight to the south
of the fort which are the two areas referred to in the Baharaistan to
have grown in his time. The bazar occupying the area between the fort
and Chadnighat (present Chawk Bazar), originally known as Badshahi Bazar,
as also Urdu Bazar (market place of the camp) to the west of the fort
are likely to have grown at the same time. Islam Khan is credited to have
excavated a canal oining the Buruganga near Babur Bazar with the Dulai
Khal near Malitola-Tantibazar. This canal practically demarcated the 'old
Dhaka' with the 'new Dhaka' of Islam Khan. (Map 2). The area lying
parallel to the riverbank from Babur bazar to Patuatuli was named Islampur.
The existence of Old Mughaltuli in the Bangshal-Malibagh area testify
to early Mughal occupation of the area in 'old Dhaka'.
The 'new Dhaka', inaugurated by Islam Khan had its continuous growth under the subsequent subahdars till 1717, when the provincial capital was officially shifted to Murshidabad. Dhaka enjoyed the status of a provincial capital for slightly more than a century; administrative needs coupled with flourishing commercial activities led to Dhaka's transformation from a suburban town to a metropolis. Mughal Dhaka encompassed 'old Dhaka' within itself and extended to the east up to Narinda, to the west up to Maneswar and Hazaribagh and to the north up to Fulbaria area (the area lying to the south of central telephone exchange where was once situated the Dhaka Railway station) on the fringe of the Ramna area. The Peelkhana (the stables of the elephants) was established at the western end. The residential quarters of the officials, government functionaries, merchants etc grew in the area between the Fort and the Peelkhana to the west; and between the Fort and Fulbaria to the north. The city (now called Old Dhaka) with winding roads, not set to a plan, clearly bore the flavour of a Mughal city. The Fort served as the nerve centre of the city and the other areas (mahallas) grew out of residential and commercial needs. The area to the south and south-west of the Fort up to the river grew as commercial areas and the areas to the north, north-east and north-west grew as residential areas.
The northern limit of the extended up to the gateway built by Mir Jumla (1660-63), which at present lie near the the modern mausoleum of three leaders and to the west of the Dhaka University Science Library. Mir Jumla built two roads connecting Dhaka with a network of of forts built for the defense of the capital. One of the roads was towards the north up to Tongi-Jamalpur and the other towards the east towards Fatullah, whereabout two forts were constructed. These two roads had definite influence on the growth of the city in these two directions.
Shaista Khan's period (1663-78; 1679-88) saw Dhaka's expansion and large-scale building activities by the viceroy. Travernier, who came to Dhaka in 1666 AD, speaks of Dhaka as a great town, which extended only in length, because every one desired to have a house by the side of the river. Thomas Bowrey (wrote in about 1669-79) found the city no less than forty English miles in circuit. In the available early records of the East India Company (1786 and 1800) the boundary of the city is mentioned as: Buriganga in the south, Tongi in the north, Jafarabad-Mirpur in the west and Postagola in the east. But it should be made clear that the area lying to the north of Mir Jumla's gate was very sparsely populated. The European trading companies had their factories in the Tejgaon area. The area between Fulbaria and Mir Jumla's gate, known as Bagh-i-Badshahi, had formed the outer ring of the main Mughal city. The extension of the Mughal city was mainly to the west of the Fort and following the river bank Mughal settlements had gone up to the Jafarabad-Mirpur area in the north west of the city. The present day Satmasjid Road running up to Shaista Khan's Satgambuj Mosque possibly formed the axis of Mughal settlements in the north-west. The road constructed by Mir Jumla connecting Bagh-i-Badshahi with Tongi outpost (in laters years it formed a part of the Dhaka-Mymensingh road link) formed the axis for the future development of the city in that direction.
It should be noted that Dhaka was not a continuous high land. There was high land strip in the south parallel to the Buriganga from Postagola in the east to Hazaribagh in the west and the northern limit of this belt extended up to the Bagh-i-Badshahi of the Mughals. The area to the north of this belt right up to Tongi was interspersed with waterways, marshes and swamps created by incursions of river water both from the west and the east. On the western side were depressions and incursions in the Dhanmandi, Shyamali-Kalyanpur and Mirpur-Cantonment zones; and on the eastern side through the Begunbari canal there was an incursion right into the heart of the high land zone, south of Karwan Bazar. This depression extended northwards up to the Gulshan-Banani strip of high land, which extended to Uttara and Tongi. Marshes and swamps surround this strip on either side, inundated by the waters of the Turag from the west and the Baloo from the east. The expansion of the city in the Mughal period naturally followed this dictation of nature. Dhanmandi area, till the other day, was an expansive rice field right up to the Dhaka College-New Market area in the south.
Due to its commercial importance Dhaka attracted the European traders - the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English and the French, as also the Armenians. All came and established their trading houses in Dhaka in the 17th century. They established their factories in the Tejgaon area, which continued to enjoy commercial importance during the next century or so. The road built by Mir Jumla formed the axis of the European settlements on its either side, north of the Karwan Bazar (which was also an important trading centre in the Mughal period) and Khwaja Ambar's bridge, now extinct.
Dhaka's period of glory came to an end with the shifting
of the provincial capital to Murshidabad in 1717. Dhaka becane the seat
of Naib Nazim (Deputy Governor) and continued to remain the headquarters
of the Mughal army and navy in eastern Bengal. However, the increase in
the commercial activities of the European traders kept the city alive,
though without any further expansion. After the acquisition of the Diwani
in 1765 by the East India Company the decline of the city set in. By 1828
the city was reduced to a mere district headquarters, though retaining
its position as a provincial Court of Circuit and Appeal. The decline
of the cotton textile trade in the late 18th and early 19th century hastened
the process of decline, and by 1840 this decline reached its nadir. Most
of the former Mughal city had either been deserted or had fallen victim
to the encroaching jungles. Dhaka suffered physical shrinkage; once populated
areas became desolate. The jungle-beset city was shown in a topographical
map prepared in 1859 covering an area only a little over three miles and
a quarter by one and a quarter. (Map 3).
Early colonial phase The establishment of the Municipal Committee in 1840 and of the Dhaka College in 1841 marked a new dawn for Dhaka. Backed by several positive forces, the city slowly reemerged turned into a modern place under the European influence. The second half of the 19th century marked the beginning of the physical renewal; the city limit did not expand, but the Mughal city was transformed into a modern city with metalled roads, open spaces, street lights and piped water-supply. English Magistrate Charles Dawes started the process in 1825, when the Ramna area was cleared and the racecourse (now the open green area of Suhrawardy Udyan) was laid. Russell Skinner (appointed Magistrate in 1840) further added to the expansion process. The Arathoons, an Armenian zamindar family, bought land west of the racecourse (present Atomic Energy Commission and Dhaka University's TSC) and built a house. Within a short period of time in the second half of the 19th century the Nawabs of Dhaka developed the area on the western side of the racecourse and built large building complex and gardens. The area came to be called Shah Bagh. Besides Shah Bagh, the nawabs (family of Khwaja Alimullah) developed Dilkusha and Motijheel area in the north eastern outskirt of the city, where they build garden-houses as pleasure resorts.
Dawes cleared the area north-east of Nawabpur and transformed it into a cantonment, which later came to be known as Purana Paltan. The cantonment had to be removed back to Lalbagh fort in 1853 (due to mosquito menace) and finally after the Sepoy wars of 1857 it was shifted to the Mill Barracks at the eastern end of the city on the river bank. The Purana Paltan area continued to be practice ground of the sepoys; part of it was turned into Company's Bagicha and playground.
The development of Dhaka till the last quarter of the 19th century followed the banks of the river Buriganga where the wealthy citizens built their magnificent houses like the Ahsan Manjil and the Ruplal House. The embankment of the northern bank and the construction of a promenade on it by the energetic Divisional Commissioner C.E Buckland made the riverfront a picturesque site and the Buckland Bund a rendezvous of the city's nature lovers (completed in three phases in the 1880s. The Dhaka Government School, the Mitford Hospital, the Dhaka Water Works and the St.Thomas Church Complex are some of the landmarks of the nineteenth century Dhaka. It was only after the coming of the railways that the river bank gradually lost its importance and receded to be reckoned as the back of the town.
In the late 19th century the old areas of Narinda and Gandaria in the eastern and south-eastern part of the city were developed to form new residential areas. At the same time the Hazaribagh - Nawabganj areas in the western part of the city were also developed; the former as a business centre for hides and skin and the latter as a centre for jute pressing and bailing. The Courts of the District and subordinate judges and the offices of the magistrates and Collectors were built in 1866 in the area opposite St. Thomas Church. Even today they exist in the same site. In 1885 Frederick Wyer, the Collector of Dhaka, developed the Wari area as a fully planned residential area for the upper-middle class with broad roads and proper drains.
The Narayanganj-Dhaka-Mymensingh State railway was opened in 1885-86; the rail line was laid almost parallel to the Mughal road from Tongi through Tejgaon, Kawranbazar to the Shah Bagh area, then in order to save the garden area it formed a loop around Ramna and turned towards the east cutting through the Nimtali-Fulbaria area it turned south towards Fatullah and Narayanganj. The placement of the railway line gives us an idea about the existence of the main city in the areas south and west of the loop formed by the railway line. The Fulbaria area was developed into a complex of the Railway including the Dhaka railway station.
1905 Partition phase
A break through in the fortunes of Dhaka came in 1905, when Dhaka
was made the capital of the newly formed province of Eastern Bengal and
Assam. 'New Dhaka' emerged, the beginning of which was made by Lord Curzon
in 1904 when he laid the foundation of the Curzon Hall in the Bagh-i-Badshahi
to the northeast of Musa Khan's mosque. The Ramna area from the Curzon
Hall in the south to the Minto Road in the north and from from the Government
House, built opposite to the Curzon Hall a little to the east (Old High
Court building), in the east to the Nilkhet area in the west was developed
during the period 1905-1911. (Map 4). The area was adorned with
modern European type of buildings and planned network of metalled roads.
The new road going through the Nilkhet area was named Fuller Road, after
the first Lt Governor of the new province, Sir Bampfylde Fuller.
The most notable of the buildings constructed during this period are the Governor's Residence (the old High Court and now Ministry of Defense Office); the Secretariat Building (now the Dhaka Medical College Hospital) and the Curzon Hall. A string of beautifully designed residential houses were constructed for high officials and a larger area was earmarked for future extension especially in the north. It was during this time that the first staff colony for middle and lower ranking government officials was started in the Dhakeswari area and was called the Amlapara, heralding a new culture of urban living in the city and the precursor of the Azimpur staff colony. A well-laid out new capital was envisaged and to befit the new situation a large open space was created to the north to curve out a park to be called the Ramna Park. The park was laid out and experts from the London's Kew Garden were brought to plan the flowerbeds, the planting of beautiful and rare trees and the excavation of lakes. Round about the same time Siddheswari area to the northeast of Ramna was cleared and was developed as a residential area. Thus the 'new Dhaka' of the 20th century had its birth at the hands of the British rulers. However, even before the planning was completed and the construction of some of the buildings was finished, the partition of Bengal was annulled and the entire project of building a new capital was dropped.
After the annulment of the partition in 1911 Dhaka reverted back to the status of a district town. The establishment of the University of Dhaka (1921), which came to occupy most of the new buildings in the Ramna area, was the only important event in Dhaka's history till 1947, when Dhaka again attained the status of a provincial capital. Connected with the university many new buildings were also constructed which not only beautified the city but had remained the landmarks of the city ever since like the science buildings along the Curzon Hall and the Salimullah Muslim Hall - a students' hostel.
Pakistan phase Needs of the officials, the business communities and above all the residential needs growing out of a sudden onrush of people to the new provincial capital contributed to the growth of the city. The arrival of large numbers of Muslim population from India led to a 103% increase of population, which in turn led to new settlements in the vacant areas within the city as well as in the outskirts. Dhaka's urban area increased from 6 square miles in 1947 to 25 square miles within two decades in 1962. Initially the official needs were fulfilled by appropriating the government buildings in the Ramna area. The University was allocated the whole of Nilkhet and a part of the Shah Bagh for its own development. The construction of government quarters started in the Dhakeswari, Palashi Barrack (established by the English in the post-Sepoy war period) and Azimpur areas. The construction of the New Market was completed in 1954. The areas of Purana Paltan to Naya Paltan; Eskaton to Maghbazar; Siddheswari and Kakrail to Kamalapur through Rajar Bagh and Shantinagar; the Segun Bagicha - all came to be occupied. The sudden inflow of people in the post-1947 period created the 'new Dhaka' in the available highland north, north-east and north-west of Ramna. The 'old Dhaka' of the Mughals, nourished by the Nawab family in the late 19th and early 20th century, reverberated with life.
Motijheel, once desolate and on the fringe of marshes and swamps, came to be earmarked as the commercial area in 1954. By that time the area north of the Nawabpur Railway crossing up to the Purana Paltan was developed as an open area with the stadium (present Bangabandhu National Stadium) forming the nerve centre of sporting activities and the Jinnah Avenue (now Bangabandhu Avenue) was laid to form the main thoroughfare by the western side of this expansive open area. In the 1950s for the first time a dual carriageway was built along the Jinnah Avenue and extended up to the Airport. Several other roads were broadened.The Baitul Mukarram, the national mosque, was built as a landmark in the area in the early 1960s. During the Pakistani days some other landmarks of this area were the DIT Building, the seven-storied Adamjee Court, the office of the Pakistan International Airlines, and Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation building.
To cater to the ever-increasing residential needs of the new capital, Dhanmandi was developed as a planned residential area after 1955. The Mirpur road formed an axis and the high land on its either side came under a residential belt right up to Mohammadpur and Mirpur, and these two localities came to be developed by the government in mid-1960s mainly to accommodate the migrant Muslim population. The Tejgaon Airport and the Tejgaon industrial area came under governmental schemes in the early 1950s.
The rich Muslim businessmen found accommodation in the newly built Ispahani colony and Bilalabad. Then came the turn of Eskaton Gardens, where on one side private houses and on the other government flats were built right up to the Ladies' Club. Still ahead the Holy Family Hospital was founded in March 1953 forming a new generation of modern medical facilities in the city.
About the same time the government started building staff quarters in Rajarbagh for the Police and for employees of Post and Telegraph and others in Shantinagar. The public came along to fill the gaps, and the whole area of Shiddheswari, Kakrail, right up to Kamalapur, grew up into a large residential colony.
In the second half of the 1960s the decision to locate a second capital of Pakistan at Dhaka was taken and Sher-e-Bangla Nagar was established in the area west of the Tejgaon Farm and the Airport. The project, designed by Loius I. Kahn, though started in the sixties was finally completed in the mid-1980s. The 400 hectares area of Sher-e-Bangla Nagar is beautifully landscaped with two lakes and wide tree-lined avenues. The most characteristic feature of the whole area is that it is typically low rise except for the massive Sangsad Bhavan (Parliament House), a landmark in Dhaka modern architecture.
With the creation of the Dhaka Improvement Trust [DIT] in 1956 (transformed into Rajdhani Unnayan Katrpaksa [RAJUK] in 1987) started planned development of the city. DIT developed the Gulshan Model Town in 1961, Banani in 1964, Uttara in 1965 and Baridhara in 1972 (first conceived in 1962). The Dilkusha Gardens, adjacent to Motijheel, came to be engulfed by the ever-growing commercial needs. It is noticeable that in selecting the sites for Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara and Uttara the method of picking the highlands along the Dhaka-Tongi axis road was followed.
In the mid-1960s the railway track was shifted; it turned eastward after Tejgaon and rejoined the old track near Swamibagh-Jatrabari cutting through Rajarbagh, Kamalapur and Basabo. A new Railway station was built at Kamalapur. The old railway track has since been transformed into a link road connecting Karwanbazar with Jatrabari through Nilkhet, Palashi Fulbaria and north of Wari and Narinda, bearing the name of Sonargaon Road.
All these developments in the north brought about a fundamental change in the character of the city. The old Mughal city remained most of it as before with narrow and winding streets and crowded dwellings, shopping centres and bazaars and in sharp contrast to the spacious and planned new extensions in the north. This contrast made Mughal Dhaka the 'old Dhaka' and the northern extension the 'new Dhaka'.
The creation of the independent state of Bangladesh in 1971 bestowed
on Dhaka the glory and prestige of the capital of a sovereign country.
This led to Dhaka's phenomenal growth. The earlier planned areas of Gulshan,
Banani, Baridhara and Uttara came to be fully occupied, leaving very little
open space. Recently Nikunja has been added to the list of RAJUK developed
area and Uttara has been further extended to the north up to the Tongi
river and leftwards towards Ashulia. Nikunja occupies the low-lying area
between the Kurmitola cantonment and the new airport and earth filling
had to be undertaken to make it habitable. The airport had to be shifted
to its new location to the southwest of Uttara in the early 1980s.
Low-lying areas on the east - Jurain, Goran, Badda, Khilgaon, Rampura - and on the west - Kamrangir Char, Shyamali, Kalyanpur - all were brought under habitation. Dhaka's growth picked up tremendous pace since 1971 and private initiative played a dominant role in the development of these areas and hence lack of planning is evident.Planned growth in the private sector is noticeable recently in the area east of Baridhara - the Basundhara, where considerable low-lying areas were raised for housing.
Since 1971 the pressure on Dhaka has been enormous. The city registered a steady growth in the number of residents. Along with it there is large floating population, the pressure of which has resulted in the growth of slums in all vacant pockets in between the built-up areas.
The recent phenomenon of high rise buildings, both in
the commercial and residential sectors, clearly manifest that highlands
within the city have been exhausted. To cope up with ever-increasing pressure
Dhaka has started going upwards, an inevitable and common phenomenon in
all modern cities with dense population and little scope for horizontal
expansion due to topographical reasons. Dhaka is on the verge of a change
in its urban character, vertical growth taking the place of horizontal
expansion. From a small suburban town Dhaka has emerged as a Megacity
in course of about four centuries.