Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sacred Shakti Peethas: The Northern Trail (Part 1)

According to ancient Hindu texts, King Daksha disapproved of the marriage between his daughter Sati and Lord Shiva. After Sati got married to Shiva, he organised a 'yagna', which is a prayer ceremony, and invited all the deities and heavenly creations and dignitaries, except Sati and Shiva. Due to being ridiculed by the king and the guests. Angry and insulted, Sati sacrificed her body that was given to her by her father.When Lord Shiva came to know of his wife's death, enraged Shiva started dancing with the deceased body (Tandava Nritya). To control this destructive dance of Shiva , Vishnu dismembered Sati's body into 54 pieces and dispersed them all over the world. Wherever her body parts fell, temples called Peetha or Shakti Peethas were established.

Shakti Peethas are some of the most revered sites in the Hindu religion. The Shakti Peethas are places of worship consecrated to the goddess 'Shakti', the female principal of Hinduism and the main deity of the Shakta sect. Shaki is often associated both with Gowrī / Parvati, the benevolent goddess of harmony, marital felicity and longevity, with Durga, goddess of strength and valour, and with Mahakali, goddess of destruction of the evil.Shakti Peethas are shrines or divine places of the Mother Goddess. There are 54 Shakti Peeth linking to the 54 alphabets in Sanskrit.

Five Shakti Peethas are situated in across Bangladesh. They are: Bogra, Sylhet, Barishal, Khulna and Chittagong. This two part blog will provide details of all these sites across the country.

This pice will focus on the Shaki Peethas in the northern belt of Bangladesh. In northern part of the country, there are two Shakti Peethas: one is Shri Shail Temple in Sylhet and the other is Bhabanipur Temple Complex in Bogra.

Shri Shail Temple:
Shri Shail inside neck

Shri Shail Temple is one of the Shakti Peethas which is located at Joinpur village, Dakshin Surma, near Gotatikar, 3 km north-east of Sylhet town, Bangladesh. The Hindu Goddess Sati's neck fell here. The Goddess is worshipped as Mahalaksmi and the Bhairav form is Sambaranand. Shakti Peethas are believed to have been enshrined with the presence of Shakti due to the falling of body parts of the corpse of Sati Devi, when Lord Shiva carried it and wandered throughout the land in sorrow. Each temple has shrines for Shakti and Kalabhairava

Bhabanipur Temple Complex: 
(collected from The Daily Star, originally published on 22nd May, 2015).

Photo courtesy:The Daily Star
Not too many people are aware of a small village that is rich in historical relics, called Bhabanipur. If you go a few kilometres south-west from Bogra, you will get to enjoy a historically significant, yet relatively unknown, landmark of our country – the Bhabanipur temple. Legend has it that the left anklet of Sati fell in Sherpur Upazila of Bogra, Bangladesh and the Bhabanipur temple, as a Shakti Peetha was erected there and become an important Hindu pilgrimage that is deeply respected by the devotees from all over the country. Later, Rani Bhabani had made significant renovations in the Bhabanipur temple and the Goddess Ma Tara of the Bhabanipur temple is named after Rani Bhabani. This legendary structure is equipped with a south facing key temple, Shiv temples, Naat temple, guest rooms, Bashudeb temple, the Shakhari pond and a few other temples.

So next time your are either in Sylhet or in Bogra, do take the time out to visit these sacred sites which are valuable edifices of our history.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hidden Gems along the Mighty Jamuna

Bangladesh has reason to be proud of its rich ancient heritage. There are so many archeological and historical places everywhere in Bangladesh which shows us the reflections of the ancient times.If you are thinking of a tour that compromises of historic and heritage filled locations,take a tour through North Bengal.While heading towards the North, people think mainly of sites such as Mahasthangarh or Kantajeu Temple or Shompur Mahavihara ,we have discovered a few hidden gems in course of our research travels.Following are just four small examples from many of our finds.One can easily see these sites on the way to Bogra with a few small stops.They are: Atia Mosque, Navaratna Temple, Bhabanipur Temple Complex and Kherua Mosque.

Atia Mosque:

Muslim Jamindar Sayeed Khan Panni,son of Baizid Khan Panni established the Atia Mosque in 1608.In the early 17th century, Jamindar Sayeed Khan Panni also received Atia Pargana as a gift from Mughal Emperor Jahangir.
Terracotta Work 
The mosque is near the shrine of Hazrat Shahan Shah,who came to Atia from Kashmir in 913 Hijri along with his 39 followers to preach the Islam in the region.Their graves are also located near the mosque.People believe the mosque was built in the honour of a Saint, Shah Baba Kashmiri.In the 18th Century, it was damaged during the massive earthquake; a reconstruction of the mosque was later made in 1837.In 1909, further reconstruction work was carried out jointly by the two Jaminder Wazed Ali Khan Panni from Korotia and Abu Ahmed Gaznavi Khan from Delduar,Tangail.

Atia Mosque 
Shah Baba Kashmiri Mazar
The mosque has four spherical domes at the top.The larger dome,which is located at the west part of the mosque is known as the Imam;the other three are smaller in size and located at the east side of the mosque all of which are aligned in a single row and are significantly known as Musalli.The domes have ornate design at the bottom and have a small minaret like object on the top. The mosque constitutes of four pillars at the four corners.Each of the pillarsare stylish and decorated nicely. The exterior of the structure is decorated with intricate terracotta patterns.Some has small flowers at the east side, and other two entrance at the north and south side. In recognition of the mosque’s significance as part of our heritage, it was featured on the TK10 currency that was introduced in 1996.

Navaratna Temple, Hatikumrul
Navaratna Temple Complex at Hatikumrul:

It is believed to be a 300 years old temple having similar architecture to the Kantajew Temple of Dinajpur, under the reign of Nawab Murshidkuli Khan (1704-1720 A.D). Ramnath Bhaduri, a Nayeb Dewan of Nawab Murshidkuli Khan was responsible for constructing this beautiful edifice, known as the ‘Navaratna Temple’(9 domed). It is situated at the Navaratna village of the Hatikumrul union, under the UllaparaUpazila of Sirajganj.

Navaratna Temple, Hatikumrul

The original temple is three storied. It is said that during construction of the temple, each brick was purified with ghee.
The ‘navaratna’ style of temple architecture (meaning-nine gems) incorporates two main levels, each with four spired dome pavilion, and a central pavilion above, for a total of nine spired domes. The style arose in Bengal during the 18th Century as an elaboration of the ‘panchatantra’ style that had a pavilion of five spired domes (four at the corners and one above).The Navaratna Temple and its adjacent small temples still offer enticing views to one’s eyes despite the wreckage of time.

Bhabanipur Temple Complex:

Bhabanipur temple complex is a place of worship dedicated to the Hindu goddess Shakti, also referred to as Durga, Sati or Parvati , which is located in Sherpur Upazila of Bogra Disctrict. It is one of the Shakti Peethas of the Indian subcontinent.As one of the Shakti Peethas, Bhabanipur is historically a pilgrimage destination for adherents to this particular denomination of Hinduism, which worships Shakti as their Divine Mother. The Bhabanipur Shaktipeeth is a place of worship consecrated to the Goddess MaaBhabani. The Shakti Devi here is called Arpana and the Bhairava is Vaman.

Shiv Temple
Bhabanipur temple Complex
According to the Mahabharata, in the Satya Yuga, King Daksha arranged a ritual called Yagna in which her daughter Goddess Sati and Her husband Lord Shiva was not invited. Still Goddess Sati attended the function. Unable to bear the insult towards Her husband Lord Shiva, Goddess Sati protested by sacrificing Herself into the fire of the Yagna. Enraged with grief, Lord Shiva started the dance of destruction across the Universe with the corpse of Goddess Sati on His shoulder. To stop this, Lord Vishnu cut the corpse of Goddess Sati with the Sudharshan Chakra and as a result the various pieces of Goddess Sati's body and Her ornaments fell at various places of the Indian subcontinent; of which the anklet, rib of left chest, right eye and bedding fell in the Bhabanipur Temple Complex and in another three or four places within Bangladesh. These places are now known as Shakti Peethas.
Maa Bhabani Temple

Surrounded by a boundary wall, the Temple complex comprises about an area of four acres (12 bighas) - Main Temple, Belbaran Tala, 4 Shiva Temples,Patal Bhairava Shiva Temple, Gopal Temple, Bashudev Temple and Nat Mondir. On the north side, there is a Sheba Angan, Holy Shakha-Pukur(conch-bangles pond), 2 bathing ‘ghats’, 4 Shiva Temples outside the boundary wall and a Panchamunda Asana.

Being a Shakti Peeth, Bhabanipur is a historic place of pilgrimage for the followers of Hinduism. The numerous temples at the site and the holy Shakha-Pukur pond are visited by devotees from all around Bangladesh and beyond its borders, irrespective of sectarian differences. 

Kherua Mosque:

Kherua mosque had been built more than 400 years ago, in the year of 1582 A.D. by Mirza Murad Khan Qaqshal, son of Jauhar Ali Khan Qaqshal. The Qaqshal was an Afghan tribe that, along with other Afghan groups followed Masum Khan Kabuli, who declared himself as “Sultan” and sought to oust the Mughals from Bengal. At that time in Sherpur, where the mosque is situated, had served as the headquarters of the rebels.
Kherua Mosque
The architectural observation avails that; it was built during the Mughal Era. According to the Mughal architecture, their mosques consist of only one prayer hall, which is now single-aisled with three or five bays. The exterior surfaces are plastered and paneled, the cornices are curved, and the buildings look less ponderous than Sultanate ones because of the higher domes.The Kherua mosque is a single-aisled, three domed (bayed) mosque which represents the North Indian and Mughal Era architectures in Bangladesh. But it also carries the Bengali features, such as the brick construction, curved cornice and engaged ribbed corner turrets. There was some ornamentation with terracotta tiles, which are no longer there now. There were two inscriptions engraved on the two sides of the central entrance. One inscription is still there while the other is being preserved in the Karachi Museum. From the shape of the stone used for the inscription, it is assumed that the piece was a part of a statue; and the inscription was inscribed on the backside of the statue and placed on the wall. Kherua Mosque signifies a great importance as an example of early Mughal mosques in Bengal.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Treading water with a Tiger

Treading water with a Tiger
By Quazi Zulquarnain Islam

Photo: Shahrear Kabir Heemel
It’s a beautiful midday Saturday morning in Dhaka. The sun is on your face, but peeking out from behind the low-slung clouds its intensity is calming instead of unbearable. It is perfectly complemented by a cool southern breeze. And silence, of course; blessed silence. A siren that seems to emanate from the heavens breaks the spell. The navigator smiles sheepishly at the startled look in his direction. He points outwards. Even riverways have traffic.
We are standing on the deck of the considerable MV Tanguar Haor, sailing the calm, grey, no-colour waters of the Shitalakshya. A day-cruise organised by the lovely people over at Tiger Tours sounded like the perfect recipe following a neurotic and hectic week. So far it has proved to be exactly that.
The organisation has been impeccable. Pickup at 10 am on a Saturday morning was just perfect -- not too early, nor too late. A short (by Dhaka standards) bus ride on pleasant air-conditioned coasters to Demra and then just like that the painfully stifling city opened up to remarkable views of the Shitalakshya.

Photo: Shahrear Kabir Heemel
We board the regally named boat via a nifty looking contrapment that we later figure out is called a gangplank. Cue sniggers. On the boat, the welcome drinks are sweet and the coffee perfect. There is a live band, ready to entertain and once the Tiger Tours people take the microphone to announce the schedule for the day, we are good to go.
The lounge is the heart of the boat and rightfully so. It is large and inviting at the same time, a place to congregate for more than just lunch or dinner. “The boat was made locally,” says Sumala Chowdhury, director of Tiger Tours. It is a fact that surprises many that do not know how advanced the ship building industry in Bangladesh actually is. “The company that made it delivered it last January but we had to make a number of alterations before we could open for business so it took until June to get started,” she said.
Photo: Shahrear Kabir Heemel
“Our motto is 'Bangladesh unlocked',” continues Sumala. “And on that end, MV Tangaur Haor was designed with a purpose. It has been created specifically so that we can access these untouched areas where infrastructure is not great.” Even the name itself is borrowed from the hard to access haor of the same name located in the country's Sunamganj.

Photo: Shahrear Kabir Heemel
Back on the cruise, the low clouds finally bring forth the rain that they had been threatening. It’s beautiful watching the rain disturb the surface of the water as on the banks young children come to savour it and wave our way. The rain also has the added benefit of driving away the retirees who had taken full control of the inviting sunloungers without any sign of moving. So I try it out. Turns out sunloungers in the rain is not a bad idea at all.
Its soon time for lunch, a delicacy of chicken, fried rice and fresh fish topped off by some quite ridiculously good waffles and honey. It's a feast prepared by the continental chef who makes an appearance at the end to lap up the applause.
Big lunches automatically lead to low energy afternoons, and in this case it was no different. But what better way to spend a holiday afternoon lounging on a river cruise while the live band plays your favourite tunes.
All too soon it is time to go and the giant arc to turn back is greeted with a resigned sigh from all 60 people on board. The journey back home is smooth and Tiger Tours are impeccable hosts.
The company offers six-hour day-time cruises and overnights as well, all within the stately boat that can double up as a hotel in case of a night stay. Certainly all facilities are forthcoming. Yes, hot water included.
If you want to sail up the Padma, the company offers attractive packages in trips towards Faridpur and Shariatpur. But it is the travel downwater that holds the most appeal with the boat capable of travelling all the way down to such luminous attractions as Kuakata and the Sundarbans. Prices of packages vary based on the number of people available, but there is room for 25 people on board for overnights in 11 rooms. Promotional rates currently apply, so waste no time. If you are looking for an escape from the neurotic pace of the city, the MV Tanguar Haor is a fine release.
If you want to know more about Tiger Tours, find them on facebook or go the old route and click on their website ( And if you have time, then don't fail to check out their very nifty blog – bangladeshunlocked.
Published: 12:00 am Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Research on golden tortoise extinction

In order to save the endangered golden tortoise from extinction, the centre for advanced Research in Natural Resource and management is conducting a research by installing Radio transmitter in its body.

The wild life research organization in association with the Ministry of Environment launched the research pro-gramme under Bangladesh tortoise Project at Lawachhara National Park in Moulvibazar district to gather information about golden tortoises.
The International Union for conservation of Nature marked the golden tortoise as the extremely endangered animal of the world.

In Bangladesh, the main habitat of the golden tortoises is the evergreen forests of Moulvibazar, Hobigonj, Sylhet and Chittagong Hill Tract regions.
Sources said Zoologists in the country did not have any data on the life and habitant of these rare species.

After the installation of the transmitter in the body of three gold tortoises, the tortoises were released into the Lawachhara National Park.
Of the three, one was released in the jungle on June 13, and the other two were released on June 14.

The female tortoise was collected form Lawachhara forest and another female and a male were caught from Lama Forest of Bandarban district.
According to the project sources, the three were moving well in the jungle.
The transmitter installation and tortoise release programme was attended by Chief Researcher of the Bangladesh Python Project Shahrier Cisure Rahman, Range officer of the Lawachhara National Park Martuz Ali, Amphibious Animal Researcher Animesh Ghose, Researcher Farzana Taskin, Wild life Researcher of USA Sfot Tregsar and Researcher Erin Tregsar.
Chief Researcher of the Bangladesh Python project Shahrier Cisure Rahman told the journalists the golden tortoise was considered to be the most endangered animal in the world.
The tendency of people to eat the tortoises as a delicacy was the main reason why these reptiles are on the brink of extinction, added the researcher.
Locals said earlier they used to come across seven to eight golden tortoises daily in Lawachhara forest area, but now a days, the animal was rarely seen, maybe only once or twice a year.
A radio transmitter has recently been set up on the hard shell of the nearly extinct golden tortoise for research. The rare species was later released into the Lawachhara  National Park in Moulvibazar to observe its life...

Being amphibious reptiles, people living in the hills could easily catch and eat them, while the ones they don’t eat, they sell, they added.An NGO, Orion society, gave financial assistance to the research programme.
*Dhaka Tribune,Sunday,July 13,2014

Village Flute -"A Few Words"

Village FluteA Few WordsBy- Andrew Eagle
I don't pay attention to dates. But it is eighteen years since I first came to Bangladesh as a tourist. It was January 1996. ….With an Australian friend, we'd only decided to visit because we knew nothing about Bangladesh and because the visa was free. There was no way to imagine that simple journey could alter a life's course. But I used to try to visit Bangladesh every year thereafter. It's a deeply fascinating country. There is so much for a westerner to learn.                                                   * * * * * * *I have discovered that Bangladeshi culture seems to have no limit to its diversity or depth. I have come some of the way to understanding Bangladeshi thinking, the country's history and values. And in recent years working for The Daily Star has allowed me to spread my wings and explore more of the country. I am still learning. I remain fascinated……
I would take this eighteenth anniversary occasion to express sincere thanks to our editor Mahfuz Anam and to the editor of The Star magazine Aasha Mehreen Amin – a remarkable person and the world's best boss – for their constant support and encouragement. Equally I thank The Star magazine team and our readers.
I hope you can forgive such self-indulgence – this once. You see, it's just that I have the world's best job, one that combines my three passions: travel, writing and Bangladesh. I imagine there are others who feel that theirs is the best job in the world. I can hardly help it if they are wrong! But don't worry – from next week the focus must return to where it should be – on our ever-surprising, always-enlightening, beautiful, soulful Bangladesh. I promise.
Extract from an article written by Andrew Eagle in
The Star, A Weekly Magazine of the Daily Star: 6 June, 2014 18th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL.

Bangladesh and Brazil Similarities Beyond the Green Flag

By: Diego Da Luz (Brazilian Traveler)
Children are often great teachers
For Brazilians, Bangladesh sounds unknown and exotic. After all there are 15 000 kilometers, 4 oceans, 9 time zones and thousands of years of completely different histories and cultures keeping these two nations apart. Surprisingly, the similarities go further than the green flag and the capital B in both names, and I'm glad to be one of the few Brazilians that have discovered Bangladesh and fallen in love with its people, food, traditions, and much more.

We share a common history of colonization, late industrial and economic development, present social problems associated with a widening inequality between the rich and the poor and so on. On the brighter side both are lands of opportunity and figure among the so called 11 countries of the future. Without visiting either country, one wouldn't know that these similarities extend to our people, landscape, food and even business. Discovering these paralegals makes me so glad to have included Bangladesh in my trip itinerary at the last minute.

A chart about prehistoric migratory flows on the wall of the natural science museum in Sao Paulo, my hometown in Brazil, tells me that the genetic link between those who moved to the Americas and those in the Indian Subcontinent is very distant and weak. However, 15 minutes on the streets of old Dhaka sitting in a tea stall enjoying my delicious “doodh cha” and watching the common people on the street doing their everyday business tells me that we were born from the same parents.

On the surface, our skin tone reveals the first and most noticeable similarity. The average Bangladeshi flaunts the same beautiful bronze color that is a result of the constant mixing of different European and African nations with Brazil's native inhabitants.

Over the skin runs sweat induced by the hot weather and hard work of the people of both countries that “flees not from battle” (citation from the Brazilian national anthem). On both sides of the world Brazilians and Bangladeshis prove their strength in the everyday fight to overcome the challenges of poverty to achieve better conditions.

Eating some of the best mangoes in North Bengal with  fresh milk...
Under the skin beats the same warm heart that leads every simple conversation to a passionate discussion. It was beautiful to watch how people would put all their hearts into each conversation because it reminded me of home. My family, friends and I all behave exactly the same. Ah, but we must be careful because we share the same serious risk of heart attack, especially when it comes to football! Several times during my stay in Bangladesh I was told that during the World Cup I would see that Bangladeshis are crazier about football than Brazilians. As a matter of fact, I was shocked by the numerous arguments between supporters of Brazil and Argentina and I was happily surprised by the number of Brazilian flags waving around. I shall write a separate piece on that soon!

We've been mutually blessed with the opportunity to live in a great environment. The hot and wet summer followed by milder seasons and a pleasant winter set the perfect weather that in conjunction with the rivers that flow through the always-green flatland, allow us to grow all kinds of plants and food in both places. It is no wonder that our diet constitutes by the same ingredients.  Bangladeshis are the “mango people” boasting jack-fruit as the national fruit. In Brazil we are also crazy for both! We eat rice on daily basis and for having the largest water basin in the world, fish is also a great part of our diet. (I love both cuisines so much that is too hard for me to pick a favorite. Eating with my hands is something that I learned to do and fell in love with in 'Bengal'. This closer connection to food makes me pull in favor of Bangladesh.)

Getting groomed by a local 'professional'
As if all these things weren't enough to make me feel at home, the people's welcoming attitude towards me certainly made me consider moving to Bangladesh. It never took me more than 20 minutes of conversation with a complete stranger either in a social gathering or in the long hours traveling on a bus to get invited to meet their family, have dinner and even stay as a guest in their home. Brazilians are also greatly known for our hospitality and similar situations are not rare. One thing that I experienced was the same is the exaggerated quantity of food that we offer to our guests. Every time I had dinner in a Bengali home I left feeling like I was about to explode, and in Brazil it wouldn’t be different. Whenever I take guests to my family's place my mom and grandma make sure they offer nothing less than the best and, of course, in very large quantity!

With such great connections there are a lot of opportunities for our mutual relations to flourish. In Brazil we have already started learning from Bangladesh's micro-credit ventures. After popularized by  Dr. Yunus, it became a reality in my home country and now it is a case of success with the largest micro-credit bank operating in Latin America benefiting 3.8 millions of people with loans with interest of  8% per year. Tourism is undoubtedly another great area for development. Brazil is a great destination for tourists from all around the globe and with a very well-developed tourism sector, while Bangladesh has a lot of unexplored potential in this matter. I've met some Bangladeshis who went to Brazil for the World Cup and that is a great start, perhaps the next steps could include loosening the visas restrictions and fostering the bilateral exchange.
View from my cabin on the way to Barisal

Getting around in the villages

Photo Credit: Diego Da Luz.

*Writer: Diego Da Luz, a Brazilian traveler who has been travelling across Asia for over one year. He visited Bangladesh during June 2014. He stayed here for one month and travelled all over Bangladesh with Tiger Tours. He is going to continue his travels through India onto Pakistan and Iran and finally ending his long journey in Turkey after which he will go back home to Brazil. Diego has a deep love for people and new places. During his stay, he has travelled to North Bengal, Sylhet, souther coast (Barisal, Khulna, Bagerhat etc) and Cox's Bazar. He is a self taught photographer and a passionate blogger. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tourism not poorism with MV Tanguar Haor

Don’t forget to pack “luxury” alongside “eco-friendly” and “fair trade,” when you plan your cruise through Deshi waterways
Bangladesh is a gold mine when it comes to tourism. Not saying that we have the systems in place or that it is even remotely developed yet, at least not according to the West it isn’t. But what we do have, are places to admire and marvel at.

Speaking of development of tourism and Bangladesh not showing any signs of it, Tiger Tours, a joint venture fair trade tourism company achive the pioneer when it comes to sending out tourists into the unexplored country side along the mighty rivers hallowed by the South West Silk Road to China in ancient times, to show them the sights, sounds and artistic caliber of Bangladesh done in comfort and style. There, you have a signature stand opposing terms like “poor tourism” or “poorism” that Bangladesh is supposedly entitled to. 

With that in mind, this week, Avenue T brings you MV Tangaur Haor, a boat that not only screams luxury but success – success in bringing this country a vessel that swims ashore to cultures and monuments in a way never seen before. So next time, when you’re thinking of a trip to Thailand for a cruise, think again, because you can not only find a better alternative at home but you can also have the opportunity to see the beautiful pieces of landscapes that you have never seen before. 

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