The capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka is situated in the south-central part of the country on the north bank of the Dhaleswari River, part of the Ganges delta. The city flourished during the 17th and early 18th centuries when it served as the Moghul capital of Bengal and with the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, it became the country’s capital. The city’s name was changed in 1982 from Dacca to Dhaka.
Little is known of the first inhabitants of what is today Dhaka though the surrounding region was home to two earlier Bengali capitals (Vikrampur and Sonargaon). The city’s modern history began in 1608 when the Moghul Viceroys made it capital of Bengal. It remained capital until 1639 and again between 1660–1704. Its economy boomed as English, French and Dutch companies established themselves, trading the city’s fine quality muslins and silks. Many of Dhaka’s grandest buildings were constructed during this period, including Lalbagh Fort and the tomb of Pari Bibi, the wife of a Bengali governor. However, after the capital was moved to Murshidabad in 1704, Dhaka lost much of its prestige and the economy suffered.
The city came under British rule in 1765. But it was not until it became the provincial capital of Eastern Bengal and Assam in 1905 that it began to prosper again. Following Indian independence and the partition of the sub-continent in 1947, East Bengal joined Pakistan as East Pakistan while West Bengal joined India. In 1948 Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s first Governor General, announced that Urdu would be Pakistan’s state language. Bengalis, outraged at the attack on their mother tongue, Bangla, began a protest movement, the Bhasha Andolon (Language Movement). After the death of four protesters in Feb. 1952, Bangla was officially recognised.
In 1956 Dhaka was made capital of East Pakistan. However, Bengali nationalism thrived on widespread resentment at West Pakistan’s economic exploitation of East Pakistan. In 1971 the political divide led to a war of independence with West Pakistan. After 9 months of fighting which caused much damage to the city, Bangladesh was created with Dhaka as its capital.
Dhaka is one of the world’s most populous cities. It sits in one of the most significant rice and jute producing areas and acts as the country’s principal administrative and trade centre. Other important industries include: food processing, textiles, paper, chemicals and sugarcane.
Much of the city is low-lying and susceptible to seasonal flooding. Linked to this are the serious sanitation problems faced in areas outside the city. The slums, with a population of 2.4 m., are largely devoid of sanitation or health facilities. As a result, water borne illnesses are rife.
There is an international airport 12 miles north of the city and a major port at Narayanganj, 10 miles to the south. Other modes of transport within Dhaka include the inland waterways, cars, buses and over 300,000 rickshaws.
Places of Interest
There is a bustling Old Town with bazaars and mosques which incorporates the earlier Bengali capital of Vikrampur. In contrast, the modern quarter of Ramna in the north of the city is where most of the government buildings, universities and other important institutions are concentrated. There are over 700 mosques in Dhaka, among the most famous of which is the Star Mosque which dates from the Moghul period.