I wish to begin with the submission that India and Greece were ‘civilization States’. Hence, to think of a unipolar ‘cultural nation’ is not quite acceptable or palatable to those who have intrinsic faith in ‘inclusive state’. Sane voices are seldom or hardly heard in the cacophony of demand for unipolar cultural systems – rather they are bound to be rebutted and debunked but not to raise them at all may make your conscience guilty. This article is written with this in mind and should be taken in the same spirit. It is said that a nation without history is as good or bad as a man without memory. So, nations, states (provinces), cities and localities all have the same sanctity in the human mind. Regarding Allahabad and renaming it as ‘Prayagraj’ reminds us immediately of Shakespeare who had taught us not to bother about names – “what’s in a name?” Taking a historical perspective of the city of Allahabad, we have to move to the earliest human existence here. According to Sanatan (Hindu) mythology, Brahma created this ‘human world’.
It was to begin with a “maanas shrishti” or created through sheer mind-power – Manu being the first human. From Manu-Shatrupa (another creation of Brahma, but this time, from His right side) sprang human civilization. They had a daughter, Ila who got married to Mercury (Buddh), the son of the Moon, and gave birth to a son Pururwa who established the “Chandravnashi” dynasty of rulers. Their capital was at Partisthanpur across and to the east of the Ganges or the Sangam to be precise. Hence to rename the city, I would go by the name “Ilawaas” which due to passage of time got distorted to “Allahabad”. The local dialect still has this same defect – the “V” or “W” is pronounced as “B”. So now, let us take up the issue systematically and chronologically. Before moving ahead, we must remember certain geographical and geological facts. Ganges alone ran down from the Himalayas eastwards to reach the Bay of Bengal.
It was only later due to some natural disaster that the Yamuna which was a river streaming down from Himalayas and had a confluence with Saraswati before its merger with the Arabian Ocean, became an eastward flowing one while Saraswati went underground. This Yamuna had some stream or tributary of Saraswati still running with it that is why in public or folk memory, it has persisted that Saraswati too came to have a confluence with Ganga and Yamuna. This confluence was at a place/site which is known till date as “Bharadwaaj Ashram” and later shifted to its present site. “Prayag” (not Prayagraj) was the earliest site of Brahma’s sacrificial altar – thus it was so named, according to Sanskrit etymology! It was near or opposite “Bharadwaj Ashram” then – shifting now to its present site. Thanks to folk-memory, the tradition of “Kalpwas” was instituted to remember the creation and the land-formation through the “churning of sea” or the famous “Samudra-Manthan” and its related tale of nectar or “Amrit”.
Had there been no real land – the entire region of what is now known as North India had been submerged under the shallow Tethys Sea – then human civilization would not have been possible. Thus, the cycle runs from the Full Moon day of Paush month to the Full Moon day of the Magh month according to the Hindu calendar. It is thus in the month of Magh that “Kalpwas” at this Sangam is held perpetuating the memory of emergence of land and Brahma’s sacrifice thence. Reverting to “Bharadwaj Ashram”, we should remember that it was a big and prominent “Gurukul” (ancient University) in the “Treta Yug” (which came after the Satyug) and such ‘gurukuls’ were always away from the cities and palaces – where sages performed their religious and teaching duties along with serious research in medicine, chemistry, physics, astronomy etc. These ‘gurukuls’ were always located in silent, serene ambience of the “Aranyas” (‘vans’ or jungles) – that is why in his 14 years of “vanvaas” (exile) you find Ram visiting this ashram.
To conclude: ‘Prayag’ is etymologically associated with Brahma the creator but when we talk of human culture and civilization the earliest name associated with this region is that of ‘Ila’ and her son ‘Pururwa’! Thus “Ilawaas” reminds us of the earliest human ancestor – and we as humans build memorials to perpetuate memory of our ancestors. Now, let us move to Akbar. Prior to Akbar and even in days of the “Mahajanpadas” (6th century B.C.E. onwards) we have reference only to “Kausambi” to the west of “Pratisthanpur” or Jhunsi, which was the capitalcity of the ‘Chandravansi’ dynasty of kings founded by Pururwa (son of Ila). Thus, even in the pre-Mughal period, we have the headquarters of the Turk and Afghan rulers at KaraManikpur (twin cities either side of the Ganges). When Akbar came to the throne, he had trouble from the eastern quarters – so he kept visiting Kara and waging battles crossing the rivers. He saw the Sangam or the area of “Prayag” (referred to as, “Piyaag” by Abul Fazl) and decided to defend his Empire’s eastern frontier from here. The foundation of the fort laid in 1574 could be completed in 1583 but in 1580 he reconstituted the provinces and named “Ilawaas” as a “Suba” or province and the headquarters was to be the new city that he was developing south of the region of “magh mela” and “Prayag” and south-west of the site of the Sangam. This city “Ilawas” was a walled city and spread from the foot of the fort of what is called Allahabad Fort to the gate of “Khuldabad Serai”, which formed the western gate of this walled city. Thus, this city was totally away from the site and region of Prayag or Sangam. We should read Nevins Gazetteer (1911) or “Prayag Pradeep” of Saligram Srivastava (1937) and B.N.Pande’s “Allahabad: Prospect and Retrospect” (1955) for the name “Ilawas”.
kbar might have been influenced by Hindu folk memory and retained the name. However, most of the histories of this period were completed after his demise. He had used “Ilahi” again and again – ‘gaz-Ilahi’ or ‘Din-i-Ilahi’ or ‘Ilahi era”, so from the reign of Shajahan (not before it) we find the name being written as “Ilahabad”! It was the British rulers who with their foreign accent gave it a new nomenclature, “Allahabad”. We as citizens of Allahabad have been visibly shaken and uprooted almost violently from our ancient roots and memories and asked to call our Allahabad by a new name. Having spent at least four decades teaching history at the University of Allahabad and having lived here close to six decades, I feel at a loss with this new ‘identity’. It is, in fact an ‘identity crisis’ for people of Allahabad like me – we never dreamt of it.
Moreover, in a democracy, the best way to change and wrench citizens from their past is to have a ‘referendum’. Even the preamble of our Constitution begins with the expression: “We the people” – and, it is “we the people”, whose right to decide for ourselves has been denied. The decision was announced arbitrarily at a function to celebrate the “ArdhKumbh” – again erroneously (though deliberately) termed as “Kumbh” where the functional head of the State Legislature (Chief Minister), Executive (the Governor) and Judiciary (Hon’ble Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court) were present on the dais. It was announced as if to fulfil the ‘wishes’ of the people – we may guess which people – but who among those mentioned above was an “Ilahabadi”? Even if the rulers so wish and announce it at a public function then too they should be judicious rather than arbitrary – justice should not only be done, but also appear to have been done. Is it not so? We feel betrayed and have a sense of being rendered rootless by a single announcement.
The writer is former Head of the Department of History, University of Allahabad.