Monday, January 15, 2007

Shankhari Bazar - Dhaka

Elevation of the building facade (pic credit - dhaka smritir sahar)

Vulnerable buildings demolished (photo credit - daily star)

View of Shankhar Bazar lane

A Hindu temple (Mandir) in the lane

Bangles from Conch Shell (Shankha)

Foreign visitors in the shop (photo credit - New Age)

Shankhari Bazar: Dhaka was once renowned for the art of making bangles and other kinds of ornamental adornments from conch shells. Originally centered in Shankari Bazar in the Old Town, the area had been home to these artisans for centuries.

James Wise (1883) had written most about the Shankharis (shell artisans) and recorded that of the total 11,453 artisans in Bengal, 835 used to live in old Dhaka alone. Legend goes that these group of craftsman were brought to Bikrampur south of Dhaka district long time ago by a local ruler Ballal Sen. Later, the Mughals brought them to Dhaka city and gave them tax free land to settle.
A total of six different professionals are needed to make each Shankha, starting with the designing, sketching, cutting, carving, polishing and the like. Conch shells were imported from Sri Lanka and later from Tamilnadu in India. It is unique among Bengali married Hindu women to wear a pair of Shankha bangles to show marital culture negating widowhood; 'Shankha' and 'Sindur' (vermilon) on forehead is a part of Hindu religious custom in Bengal.

'Shankharis' due to restriction of land space, built their houses without side windows on narrow slices of plot 10-12 feet wide and 20-30 feet in length with a front facade of 3-5 feet in width. A small front door gives access to the house and a slim long corridor passes deep inside that lead to the stairs to climb to upper floors (2-4 floors). Every house has a tiny central courtyard open to sky for ventilation and lighting.
Shankharis used heavy arc-shaped manually operated steel saw with handle at both ends, it cuts both ways to slice conch shell (Shankha) placed between the thighs held in a clamp . The awesome huge saw has now been abandoned and replaced by electric saws. One such saw, an important artifact in the conch shell industry of Dhaka has now been kept in the office of 'Shankhari Association' for display to the visitors. The phrase “Shankher Karat” (conch saw) has a negative connotation in Bengali literature.

Hindu women, who are not well off, wear cheap white plastic bangles, which look like Shankhas. The Shankhari artisans say that they are living from hand to mouth. They have lately been switching to other professions. Of the original 142 Shankha shops of the lane, only 15 remains today.

Many temples stand on the narrow streets of Shankhari Bazar. Over the years it has become the most popular centre for Hindu religious festivities. Being one of the most densely populated areas in the world, Shankhari Bazar also has the largest concentration of the Hindus in Dhaka. There are about 10,000 people living in Shankhari Bazar within an area of 4.6 acres of land.

The narrow slender buildings built about 200 years ago, are too old and dilapidated to live in. A number of these structures collapsed in 2004 killing 19 lives. Shankhari Bazar’s centuries old buildings have an architectural value that outstrips their utility as places of residence. The place and way of life of the Shankharis is now a tourist attraction.

6 comments: said...

Hi Ershad,
Your blog is very interesting and the pictures are very beautiful. I wrote an email to you but I did't receive a reply.


Ershad Ahmed said...

It's so nice of you Lori, thanks for the complements.

Anonymous said...

Your posting are fantastic, gives a glimpse of home, too beautiful , Yet sad reminder of dark side of the moon “Probash”

Ershad Ahmed said...


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