Dhakeshwari, meaning ‘Goddess of Dhaka’ is the primary Hindu temple in Bangladesh. In the year 1966 it began to be called Dhakeshwari Jatiya Mandir, the result of a campaign by Bangladeshi Hindu groups who had been demanding official recognition following the declaration of Islam as the state religion in 1988. It is state-owned, giving it the distinction of being Bangladesh’s National Temple.
According to legend Dhakeshwari was built in the 12th century by King Ballal Sen of the Sena dynasty. It is said the king dreamt of a statue of the goddess Durga buried in the jungle and after finding the statue installed it in his temple as Dhakeshwari. The current architectural style of the temple cannot, however, be dated to the 12th century because of the numerous renovations, repairs and rebuildings that have taken place over time. The present temple is two hundred years old and was built by an agent of the East India Company, though quite probably the agent merely renovated the existing temple. It is a three-roomed structure with a veranda in front and has beautiful wooden doors with carvings. In the northeastern corner of the complex are four small Shiva temples constructed in the 16th century by King Mansing. The Dhakeshwari temple is open everyday and people from all religions are welcome.
The Dhakeshwari Temple is a hub of socio-cultural as well as religious activity. Each year, the large celebration of Durga Puja (the most important event in the Bengali Hindu calendar) in Dhaka is held at the temple. Several thousand worshippers and onlookers (including Muslims) stream through the premises where they are offered Prasad (food – usually rice and lentils). Durga Puja comes to an end after five days, with the idols of Durga and her four children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik and Ganesh taken in processions from the temple for immersion in river or sea. A Bijaya Sammelani cultural program takes place in the adjoining parade ground a few days after Durga Puja is complete, and it is also a major cultural event in the Dhaka calendar, regularly attracting some of the top performers from the Dhaka music and film industry.
One of the most important events of the year is the Janmashthami procession which starts from Dhakeshwari temple and then proceeds through the streets of Old Dhaka; this occurs on the day of Lord Krishna’s birthday, which is also a public holiday in Bangladesh and second only to Durga Puja in importance in the Bengali calendar.