Pre-Mughal period Dhaka (shaded area)
On the derivation of name ‘DHAKA’ - the capital of Bangladesh, the observations made by historians/scholars are given below:
1. Dr. James Taylor, C.S. Dhaka in his book “A sketch of the Topography & Statistics of Dacca” in 1840 (reprinted by Asiatic Society of Bagladesh, ISBN 978-984-33-1646-2, Page47):
a. "Bollalsen is supposed by all classes of the Hindoos here to have been the son of the Berhampooter (Brahmputra), in the guise of a Brahmin, by one of Adisur’s wives, and to have been born and brought up in a jungle to the north of Boorigonga, whither his mother has been banished by Adisur. Tradition further asserts that in gratitude for the protection he received from Doorga (Durga) in this situation, he or Adisur, by whom he was subsequently adopted, built a temple to the goddess, whose idol Bollalsen had discovered in the jungle. This place, from its concealed situation, was called Dehaka Iserry, but the jungle being cleared away, a town sprung up, which received the name of ‘Dehaka’ or Dacca."
2. Francis Bradley Bradley-Birt's book "The Romance of an Eastern Capital" published in London in 1906.
Ballal Sen, round whose name gather almost all the traditions that still linger, so great was his repute that many things, of which in later date the origin was unknown, seem to have been attributed to him on the universal principle of 'to him that hath shall be given.' Such confusion has this wrought that events centuries apart are placed by tradition as happening within his reign. It seems evident that there must have been two Ballal Sens, one the son of Adisur, and the other the last of the Sena kings, but such is the maze of rumour and tradition that surrounds their names that to disentangle their life stories is well nigh impossible at the present day. The object of so much veneration it is not strange to ascribe to the first Ballal Sen or that the miracle should be attributed to the great river the Brahmaputra, which has so indelibly impressed its influence for all time upon this land and people (p28). One day while still a youth and roaming in the forest he found, hidden in jungle of Durga, his protectress, and on the spot, in her honour he raised the temple of Dhaka Iswari, the concealed goddess, from which tradition says the city of Dacca to have its name in the after-days.
The present temple is only two hundred years old, and said to have been built by a Hindu agent in the employ of the East India Company.
3. S.M. Taifoor’s book “Glimpses of Dhaka,” printed in 1952:
a. A temples said to have been constructed by Raja Ballal Sen son of Raja Bijoy Sen of Bikrampur that in course of time having been ruined was covered up by a kind of stray plant called ‘Dhak’ (Butea Frondosa) and hence they began to be called Dhakeswari temples (i.e. temple of Dhak goddess).
b. Dhaka derived its name from the Sanskrit word ‘Dhakkya’ meaning observation tower.
c. In the 4th century BC when Guptas ruled this country when Dhaka was known as Devaka.
d. There are a few other place-names of Dhaka in U.P and northern India, all of which existed from pre-Muslim times.
4. A.H. Dani in his book “Dacca- a record of Its Changing Fortunes” (1962) said:
a. The origin of the city of Dhaka is shrouded in mystery; various suggestions are given to explain the derivation.
b. According to the most popular opinion, the word Dhaka or Dacca is derived from ‘Dhak’, the name of a tree Butea Frandosa, which is plentiful here.
c. Dr. James Taylor's note....(mentioned above).....this tradition is hardly believable, in general the name of a patron deity derives from that city, and not vice-versa.
d. The third opinion is given in the words of Sayid Aulad Hasan: “Tradition, however refers the etymology of Dhaka to Dhak, the Bengali for a big drum. The constant aggression of the Afghans and the Mugs from east necessitated removal of the seat of Govt from Rajmahal to some place near the eastern frontier of the Nizamat, Shaikh Alauddin Islam Khan, the Mughal Governor of the province, came out in 1608 in a state barge accompanied by a fleet of boats, in search of his future capital. The place he landed is still called Islampur. He commanded three of his attendants to go, one to the east, another to the west and third to the north, each with flag-staff, and plant it at the place where the sound of drums would ceased to be audible. This being done he called the place Dhaka from Dhak, a drum, and ordered boundary pillars to be erected at the places.”
e. Dr. N.K. Bhattasali (Curator, Dacca Museum from 1914) observes, "These popular stories hardly deserves credence. I have no hesitation in rejecting the well-known and fantastic story of the drum (Dhak) as well as the story of the name of town after hidden goddess (Dhakeswari) of Ballal Sen discovered by Man-Sinha during his stay in these regions. Anyone who has any acquaintance with images and who has carefully observed the image of Dhakeswari will unhesitatingly declare that it can by no means be of the time of Ballala Sena.”
f. Dr. D.C.Sircar has suggested Dacca is probably equivalent to ‘Dhakka’ which means ‘watch-station’ in Kalhana’s Rajtarangini.
g. The name Dhaka is not traceable in the historical records of the ancient period. Even the name Buriganga is not seen in earlier accounts.
5. Prof Abdul Karim in his book “DHAKA- The Mughal Capital”, 1964, ISBN-948-553-013-3
a. The origin of the name of Dacca has been subject of great speculation among scholars. According to one tradition, Dhaka has been named after the Dhak tree (Butea Frondosa) which was supposed to be plentifully available here.
b. The name was derived from the fact of the Hindu Goddess Durga being concealed therein.
c. Islam Khan, while establishing the capital caused the drums (dhak means drum) to be beaten from the central place and fixed the boundary in the capital at the last limit from where the sound of the drum could be heard.
d. Some modern writers have tried to rationalize the origin of the name by deriving it from “dhakka” or watch station, used in Kalhana’s Rajtarangini, because in the low-lying Eastern Bengal. These writers have found additional support for their contention in the name of a ‘Prakrit’ dialect called ‘Dhakka Bhasha’.
6. BANGLAPEDIA (National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh):
a. The origin of the name of Dhaka is obscure. Suggestions put forward about the origin of the name are derived from the Dhak tree (Butea frondosa) which was once found in the place in abundance;
b. The Hindu Goddess Durga, found concealed (dhaka-Ishwari or concealed goddess) in the place;
c. The dhak or drum beaten by order of ISLAM KHAN while inaugurating the capital;
d. A Prakrt dialect called Dhaka Bhasa;
e. ‘Dhakka’ used in the Rajtarangini for a watch-station; or it is the same as Davaka, mentioned in the Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudra Gupta as an eastern frontier kingdom.
The origin of the name of the city is shrouded in mystery. Various suggestions are given by scholars to explain the derivation of the name ‘Dhaka’. The earliest reference to a place named Dahaka was found in an inscription of Sultan Rukunuddin Barbak Shah dated 1460 and discovered from Birbhum district (W. Bengal, India), but it is doubtful whether that place may be identified with modern Dhaka.
The pre-Mughal relics are two mosques at Dhaka proper and one at Mirpur; the earliest one is dated from 1456 AD. Joao De Barros found Dhaka prominent enough to be inserted in his map drawn c 1550. Mughal emperor Akbar’s court historian Abul Fazal who authored Ain-i- Akbari, that contained Todar Mall’s revenue settlement of Bengal of 1582 refers to ‘Dhaka-baju’ as a pargana of Sarkar Bazukha of Bengal. The reference to Dhaka as a place of importance is found in Akbarnama in connection with the war operations against the independent Bhuiyans (chiefs) of Bhati (lower Bengal) from 1583-1605. It refers to a thana and a thanadar as the first stage of the growth of a town Dhaka or in the Dhaka-baju pargana of Sarkar Bazuha. A thana meant for offense and defense contained a garrison for several hundred soldiers.
Before Islam Khan Chisti sailed the river in search of his new capital the location Dhaka was situated in Bhati the low-lying river-grit near the rebel held areas. Islam Khan found it a suitable place for a capital in his plan of establishing Mughal authority in Bengal near Sonargaon capital of Shahi Sultanate and Afghan rulers. Dhaka acquired glory and prominence only after transfer of capital of Bengal by Subahdar Islam Khan Chisty in 1610. Once made the capital of province, Dhaka was destined to grow; it served both as the administrative and commercial centre of the country.
From contemporary description of Mirza Nathan in 'Baharistan-i-Ghayebi' it seems evident that the extent of Dhaka city during Islam Khan's time was extended from Chawkbazar in the west to Sadarghat in the east. The western and northern area may be populated only as a result of the incursion of Mughal establishment as the capital of province. The name of settlement was given by Islam Khan as 'Jahangirnagar'.
Foreign travelers sebastien manrique came to Dhaka in 1640, thirty years after the establishment of the capital, manucci came in 1663 and tavernier three years later (1666). According to them there was a rapid expansion of Dhaka during these years. Thomas Bowrey (1669-70), saw the city of Dhaka as spacious, no less than forty English miles in circuit, but it stood on low marshy ground.
The literal meaning of the name Dhaka is "covered/veiled/concealed" in Bengali. But, the most popular opinion of the scholars, however, is the derivation of name Dhaka or Dacca from ‘Dhak’ tree (Butea Frandosa), which was plentiful here.
Contemporary records show that Dhaka was spelt as ‘Dacca’ and ‘Dhaka’. By the mid 19th century the spelling was standardized as anglicized name of city ‘Dacca’. The name was officially made Dhaka in 1983 and since then the anglicized form ‘Dacca’ is totally out of use.