Twinkling bells of the cycle rickshaws, grinding noise of the large stone pestle and mortars being carved, scraping sounds of the Shakha bangles and sudden siren of the conch shells at puja time: take a step back into the past — welcome to Shakhari Bazaar in Dhaka. Known to be the oldest area continuously inhabited by the Hindu community, Shakhari Bazaar is now the hub for largest Hindu festival celebrations right from the Kite Flying festival of Poush Sankranti to Durga Puja.
The Shakha Pola bangles are whitered bangles, which are the mark of a married Bengali Hindu woman. While the white ones are made of conch shells or shankha, red are made from corals. These bangles have been carved and shaped since at least 300 years by the Hindu community in this congested street. Other intricate jewellery pieces as well as the ceremonial conch shells used for the pujas are also prepared here and when a marriage is planned, brides make a beeline to the shops here for the revered bangles.
Rooted to art
The inhabitants of Shakhari Bazaar were part of the artisans and common workers that made up the working community of Dhaka in the Mughal era. Their houses that line either side of this lane are made up of a variety of architectural designs with a tasteful mix of elements. Narrow lanes lead into the buildings with winding staircases and courtyards on the upper levels for ventilation. However, the buildings are about 300 years old and crumbling. Even though the Bangladesh Government has planned to make it an area of high importance and buildings have been termed as heritage sites, a lack of coordination has resulted in some inhabitants razing their age old buildings to build newer, cleaner ones.
Fight for survival
The Urban Study Group has an ongoing Save Puran Dhaka campaign, rallying for the preservation of the Shakhari Bazaar area in particular. Spearheaded by the architect Taimur Islam, Save Puran Dhaka is trying to convince the land owners of the importance of their heritage.
Words By: Reema Islam