On Friday, we went in search of a temple for our new home. Unaware of where to find one and with the lack of Amazon in the country, we asked the priest who had come a few days earlier, on the 27th of October, to perform the housewarming puja. This is a prayer done by Hindus before entering a new home. It’s done with the objective of purifying the house and warding off evil spirits. The puja involves praying, letting milk boil over and performing a homa or fire ritual where offerings of flowers, basil leaves, clarified butter and grains are made to a burning fire. At the end of the ritual, holy water from the Ganges river is sprinkled in every corner of the house.
The priest told us we could go to Shankari bazaar to buy the temple. Shankari bazaar (as per the Hindus and Shaakari bazaar as per the Muslims here) takes one and a half hours to reach from home, but, on Fridays, which is the first day of the weekend here (the day of Sabbath for Muslims), the journey time is much shorter. So, on Friday, we set out to the bazaar. The roads were empty as expected and driving through the city was a pleasure. The bazaar opens only at 10.30 a.m., so, we left at 10.00 a.m.
On the way, we crossed Dhaka university (the driver pointed it out in the car) and then took a detour to Dhakeshwari temple. It is Bangladesh’s national temple and is state-owned. ‘Dhakeshwari’ means ‘Goddess of Dhaka’. It felt nice knowing that despite Bangladesh being a Muslim country, Hinduism is respected as a religion here and that the anti-Hindu hate crimes are one-off incidents and can in no way be used as a yardstick to judge the country’s tolerance of other religions.
Shakhari bazaar is one of the oldest areas in Dhaka’s old town. As per Wiki, the place got its name from the ‘Shankari’ community living there. These people (Bengali Hindus) were brought from India by a Mughal emperor during the colonial period and given this area to stay in. Shankaris are conch shell workers who make bangles and rings out of slices of conch shells. They are a very close-knit community. During the 1971 liberation war of Bangladesh, a large number of this community was massacred by Pakistan. Now only a few remain in Dhaka. The industry of making these ornaments has now moved to Kolkatta (in India) which is on the other side of the border.
Shankari bazaar is essentially a long, narrow lane with short brick buildings on either side, that house stores selling idols of Gods and Goddesses worshipped by Hindus, musical instruments such as tablas (a special kind of drum used for Indian music) and brass and copper utensils used for prayers by Hindus. The area itself was rather messy as the narrow lane had been dug up, and we had to walk over a plank to get to a shop on the other side of the lane. Below the plank, water flowed in an open sewer and on the heap of mud dug up, a man sat on his haunches, selling crabs. Each time he opened the cane basket to show off his ware, the crabs tried to scramble out, making him quickly shut it, with another cane basket. In another inner lane, fish sellers sat in a row with open trays of fish. We went to a few shops asking for a temple but did not find the kind we wanted- they only had metal ones. Then, one shopkeeper informed us that we would find it in Shami baag which is half an hour away from Shankari bazaar.
On the way out of Shankari bazaar, I noticed people bow their heads before what looked like empty stores. As per wiki, the place has a number of temples. We, however, did not visit any. We probably need to go back another time specifically in search of the temples in Shankari Bazaar.
Shami baag (called by Muslims in the region), is actually Swami baag ( Swami means a Hindu religious teacher). There are apparently many temples here and it is where the chariot festival or rath yatra starts, every year, on a particular date, and ends at the Dhakeshwari temple. Shami Baag or Swami baag had a few stores selling beautifully crafted wooden temples. We managed to find one we liked and within our budget at the Vrindavan store. Vrindavan incidentally is a historical city where Krishna, the Hindu deity is supposed to have spent his childhood. In Dhaka, it’s all in the name- the men making the temples wore white sleeveless bunions, chequed lungis (sarongs) and sported beards that began at their chin. They could easily be mistaken to be Muslims, except for their names which clearly indicate they were Hindus. I found that beautiful and secular in a way – the means of identifying a man’s religion through his attire or length and shape of his beard does not apply in Bangladesh. The name of the store owner was Dassharat (the name of the king in the Hindu epic, Ramayan).
While our temple got polished and varnished, Dassharat told us that he had spent fourteen years in Singapore before returning to his hometown. He belonged to a family of temple-makers.
Here’s a video of the temple being polished. In the background, you can hear the sounds of Dhaka.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post and got a feel of the city. Stay with me on my journey, as I continue to explore the city.
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