On Friday, December 17, President Ram Nath Kovind inaugurated the reconstructed Ramna Kali Temple in Ramna, part of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka where the Suhrawardy Udyan monument (the former Ramna Racecourse) is located.
The temple was destroyed by Pakistani forces during their Operation Searchlight in March 1971, the brutal crackdown that led to the genocide and the Bangladesh Liberation War.
“The historic Ramna Kali Temple is a symbol of the spiritual and cultural ties between the peoples of India and Bangladesh,” Kovind said on Friday.
After Bangladesh shook off Pakistan’s yoke, a small temple was set up on the site for people to offer prayers. A reconstruction of the complex was announced in 2017, when the then Foreign Minister, the late Sushma Swaraj, inaugurated 15 development projects in Baridhara, Dhaka.
Ramna Kali temple
In the 17th century, Dhaka was a provincial capital of the Mughal Empire and an important trading center. The history of the area called Ramna (“lawn” in Persian) dates back to the early 1600s, when it was occupied by high Mughal officials. There was a Mughal garden, open green spaces, and garden houses. After Dhaka came under British rule in 1858, the “Ramna Jungle” was cleaned up and a racecourse and boulevard were built for the enjoyment of the Raj’s elite.
The region’s temple, dedicated to the goddess Kali, is said to have been built during the Mughal period. Professor Muntassir Mamoon, one of Bangladesh’s foremost historians, told The Indian Express that the temple is around 400 years old, although it is difficult to determine the year it was built.
“The temple was built by a Hindu sect, but it is difficult to identify exactly who built it. It is said to have been built by a certain Haricharan Giri who was a mahant in the temple, but we cannot be sure. It was not a very large temple and its architecture was quite ordinary. However, it is the second oldest Hindu temple in Bangladesh, with the Dhakeshwari temple being the oldest, ”said Professor Mamoon.
The temple rose to prominence at the start of the 20th century when the famous Saint Ma Anandamayi built her ashram within its grounds. Anandamayi was commonly referred to as “Shahbag-er ma,” or Shahbag’s mother, Professor Mamoon said.
The Temple and the War
On March 27, 1971, the Pakistani army destroyed the temple and massacred 85 Hindus, including priests and worshipers, according to “Minorities and the State: Changing Social and Political Landscape of Bengal,” an edited volume published in 2011.
Professor Mamoon said the temple was close to the Dhaka University campus and the Pakistanis attacked the campus before turning on the temple. “It was important because it was close to the university. The other temples are in the old city, ”he said. “The temple was small, but it had a tall spire. It was therefore visible from afar as a Hindu temple.
Days before the temple was razed, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman delivered his historic March 7, 1971 speech at the Maidan at Ramna Racecourse, in which he urged the Bengalis: “The struggle this time is for emancipation ! The fight this time is for independence!
In one of the photographs from that day (available on the Bangabandhu Museum website), the Bangabandhu can be seen in the middle of a sea of people, with the pyramid-shaped top of the Ramna Temple in the background. It is believed to be one of the last images of the temple available in the public domain.
On January 10, 1972, Pakistan being defeated and Bangladesh liberated by the Indian army, the triumphant Bangabandhu returned to the Maidan. “My compatriots, rejoice. Bangladesh is now a sovereign and independent nation, ”he said. This time, however, there was no temple as a backdrop.
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