POST TIME: 24 May, 2019 00:00 00 AM
Dhaka’s alleys and bazaars
Syed Mehdi Momin

Dhaka’s alleys and bazaars

Some of you must have wondered about the reason behind naming of the locality “Bhuter Goli”. Well, though translated into English it means “ghost’s alley” actually the reason has nothing to do with otherworldly or ghostly affairs. The simple fact is a certain British civilian named Mr. Boots used to live here and the area came to be known as “Boots shaheber goli” (the lane where Mr. Boots live.) Later it was mispronounced and misspelt into Bhuter Goli. Similar things happened to other localities as well. Gandaria was initially known as “Grand Area” where the elite and glitterati of the city lived. Dhaka was a trade hub since the Mughal times. Dhanmondi area was a big rice market–mandi is market in Hindusthani. Amligola is a place where the tamarind traders used to gather–Amli or Imli is the Hindustani term for tamarind. Aloo bazaar was the major potato market of the city. Bashpatti was the centre of bamboo products including handicraft items.

The naming of the areas and localities of Dhaka, a city of 400 years is interesting indeed. There was a time when Dhaka was called a city of ‘Bahanno Bazaar ar Teppano goli’ (52 markets and 53 alleys). Of course with the passage of time the number of roads and bazaars have increased manifold. Dhaka, basically a Mughal city, has seen two huge spurts of growth in the last 65 years or so. The first one came in 1947 when this sleepy mufassil town suddenly became the capital of East Bengal–later East Pakistan– the eastern wing of the newly formed country of Pakistan. The next one was obviously after the Liberation in 1971, when it became the capital of Bangladesh. While a number of magnificent buildings were built during 105 to 1913 when Dhaka was the capital of the short-lived province of East Bengal and Assam, the city didn’t really grow much during that period.

There were a number of foreign settlements in Dhaka and Armanitola (Armenians), Farashganj (French), English Road (English), Estkaton (Scottish) symbolize that period. ‘Dhaka: Smriti Bismritir Nagar’ by Muntassir Mamun. Mogbazaar was the abode of those members of the Mog community who surrendered to the Mughals and was allowed to live in Dhaka. Manipuri Para has a similar history. The China Building area in Azimpur speaks of the small but thriving Chinese community in the city. Some areas are named based on the concentration of certain professional groups. Mahuttuli, it is believed, was named because lots of mahuts (elephant riders’ used to reside here). Kumartuli was named such because many kumors (potters) lived there. Tantibazar was the traditional quarters of the Tantis or weavers. Similarly Goal Nagar area was the abode of the goalas or milkmen. Malibagh was the residential quarters of the malis or gardeners who were in great demand by the city elite. And of course Shakharibazar the traditional quarters of the makers of conch shell ornaments is still thriving.

Syeda Nazmunnahar, in her thoroughly researched book ‘Dhakar Rajpother Itihash’ (the History of Dhaka’s Streets), has written about the etymology behind the nomenclature of the numerous roads of Dhaka. In this article we will share with the readers the interesting (and at times intriguing) facts behind the naming of some of the roads of Dhaka. However first let us talk how Dhaka (once spelled Dacca) itself was named. While there are a number of theories, according to the noted historian Dr. Muntassir Mamun, the most credible one come from the tome “Rajatrangini” written by Kalhana, a Kashmiri Brahmin. It says the region was originally known as Dhakka, which means watchtower. Sonargaon and Bikrampur, strongholds of Bengal rulers were situated nearby. So Dhaka was most likely used as the watchtower for fortification purposes.   There are other legends too. It is said that once there were large forests of Dhak tree (Butea Frondosa) in the area of present Dhaka and the name Dhaka came from Dhak. Ballal Sen, a great Raja built the famous Dhakeshwari Temple. There is a story which says that Islam Khan (a Mughal governor) defined the boundary of Dhaka by the last points from where the sound of dhaks (a huge percussion instrument) of Dhakeshwari temple could be heard and this area came to be named Dhaka.

Coming back to the naming of Dhaka streets, most people are under the assumption that Indira Road is named after the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Not true. Actually it was named after another Indira, daughter of Dwijanath Babu a rich and influential Dhakaiite of the 19th century. Indira unfortunately committed suicide being heartbroken after her husband left her for a white woman. Dijanath Babu built the road to immortalize his daughter’s name.

Farsi lawn is known as Ramna. During the Mughal period the whole of Ramna area was covered in gardens and forests. In 1824 Dhaka’s Collector Mr Dows established Ramna Green.

Sheikh Shaheb bazaar contrary to the perception of many people was named because it was a place where many famous Sheikhs of Middle- Eastern ancestry lived in. Begum Bazar was named after Lovely begum, the daughter of Naebe Nazim Sarfaraz Khan. Rahmatganj was named after Nawab Rahmat Khan. Hazaribag was named after a certain Hazari who established a huge orchard in the area.

During the Mughal period Dhaka had a significant presence of the army. Peelhkha was the place where the elephants of the Mughal army were kept. Elephant road is also a legacy of the period. Urdu is not simply the name of a language. It also means military camp. Thus the name Urdu Road where there were a number of military camps. The British also established their military presence in the city. Purana Paltan, before becoming a residential area was a big British military camp. Shahbagh and Paribagh were named after the two daughters of Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah.

Mahakhali was named after a now extinct famous temple known as “Mahakali Mandir”. Nilkhet obviously is a legacy of the indigo cultivation in Dhaka.  The oldest locality, most experts believe is the Bangla Bazaar area which was in existence even before the Mughals. As you can understand it is not really possible in one article to describe the history behind all the roads of Dhaka. However those interested can always get hold of these two fine books–‘Dhaka: Smriti Bismritir Nagar’ by Muntassir Mamun and  ‘Dhakar Rajpother Itihash’ by Syeda Nazmun Nahar.  

 The writer is Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent and can be contacted at: [email protected]