Allahabad , also known by its original name Prayag (Hindi: प्रयाग), is one of the largest cities of the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in India. Although Prayaga was renamed Ilahabad in 1575, the name later became Allahabad in an anglicized version in Roman script. The city is situated on an inland peninsula, surrounded by the rivers Ganges and Yamuna on three sides, with only one side connected to the mainland Doab region, of which it is a part. This position is of importance in Hindu scriptures for it is situated at the confluence, known as Triveni Sangam, of the holy rivers. As per Rigveda the Sarasvati River (now dried up) was part of the three river confluence in ancient times. It is one of four sites of the Kumbh Mela, an important mass Hindu pilgrimage.
The ancient name of the city is Prayag (Sanskrit for “place of sacrifice”), as it is believed to be the spot where Brahma offered his first sacrifice after creating the world. Since its founding, Prayaga renamed Prayagraj has played an important role in the history and cultural life of India.
The city was believed to be known as Prayaga (place of the confluences) – a name that is still often used. That it is an ancient town is also illustrated by references in the Vedas (the most ancient of Hindu sacred texts) to Prayaga. It is believed to be the location where Brahma, the Creator of the Universe, attended a sacrificial ritual.
The Puranas, another important group of religious texts, record that Yayati left Prayaga and conquered the region of Sapta Sindhu. His five sons Yadu, Druhyu, Puru, Anu and Turvashas became the main tribes of the Rigveda.
The centre of action at that time was in the Punjab, where the Vedas were written. The Rig Veda, written during that period, has a special mention of Prayag as a holy place. The Vatsas, or Vamsas, are called upon to become a branch of the Kurus. The Kurus ruled the Doab and Kurukshetra area from Hastinapur (near present-day Delhi). In the Later Vedic period, when Hastinapur was destroyed by floods, the Kuru King Nichakshu transferred his entire capital with its citizens to a place next to Prayag, which he named Kaushambi (identified with the village Kosam, 56 km away from Allahabad).
The Vatsa or Vamsa country corresponded with the territory of modern Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. It had a monarchical form of government with its capital at Kausambi, now part of Allahabad division .Udayana was the ruler of Vatsa in the 6th century BCE, the time of Buddha. He was very powerful, warlike and fond of hunting. Initially king Udayana was opposed to Buddhism but later became a follower of Buddha and made Buddhism the state religion.
As the centre of activity shifted from the Punjab to the Doab, by then also known as Aryavarta in the post-Vedic period, the importance of both Kaushambi and Prayaga rose significantly. Indeed, Prayaga became the centre of the post Vedic culture and the emergence of modern Hinduism, as we know it today. In the coming centuries, Kaushambi also became an important seat of Buddhism.
The Kurus were later divided into the Kurus and Vatsas. With Kurus controlling the Upper Doab and Kurukshetra area, while the Vatsas controlling the middle and lower Doab. Later the Vatsas too were divided into two groups, with one group ruling from Mathura, and the other group ruling from Kaushambi.
During the Ramayana epic era, Prayaga was made up of a few rishis’ huts at the confluence of the sacred rivers, and much of the countryside was continuous jungle. Lord Rama, the main protagonist in the Ramayana spent some time here, at the Ashram of Sage Bharadwaj, before proceeding to nearby Chitrakoot.
Excavations have revealed Iron Age of Northern Black Polished Ware in present-day Allahabad. Archaeological sites in India, such as Kosambi and Jhusi near Allahabad in present-day Uttar Pradesh show iron implements in the period 1800–1200 BC. When this area in the North Western part of India was first settled, Prayag was part of the territory of the Kuru tribe, although most of Doab was not settled and consisted of dense forests at that time.
The Doab region, including Prayaga, was controlled by several empires and dynasties in the ages to come. It became a part of the Mauryan and Gupta empires of the east and the Kushan empire of the west before becoming part of the Kannauj empire. Objects unearthed in Prayaga (now Allahabad) indicate that it was part of the Kushana empire in the 1st century AD. According to Rajtarangini of Kalhana, in 780 CE, Prayag was also an important part of the kingdom of Karkota king of Kashmir, Jayapida. Jayapida constructed a monument at Prayag, which existed at Kalhana’s time.
In his memoirs on India, Huien Tsang, the Chinese Buddhist monk and chronicler who travelled through India during Harshavardhana’s reign (A.D. 607–647), writes that he visited Prayaga in A.D. 643.
In contrast to the account of Xuanzang, the Muslim historians mention the tree to be located at the confluence of the rivers. The historian Dr. D. B. Dubey states that it appears that between this period, the sandy plain was washed away by the Ganga, to an extent that the temple and tree seen by the Chinese traveler too was washed away, with the river later changing its course to the east and the confluence shifting to the place where Akbar laid the foundations of his fort.
As the majority of the houses would have been mud-walled, a flood could easily destroy them. Sir Alexander Cunningham, founder of the Archaeological Survey of India, concluded as much in his reports published in 1875 on the Archaeological Survey, supporting that assumption: “I infer that during the long period that intervened between the time of Hiuen Tsang and that of Akbar, the two rivers gradually carried away the whole of the sandy plain. Long before this time, the old city had, no doubt, been deserted, for we know that the fort of Allahabad was founded on its site.” However, present day Cambridge archaeologist Dilip Kumar Chakrabarti disagrees. He argues that there is no way modern Prayag is ancient, but that the city site of Jhusi located opposite of the confluence was the ancient settlement of Prayag.
The early 19th century historian Sir Henry Miers Elliot believed that a town existed before Allahabad was founded. He adds that after Mahmud of Ghazni captured Asní near Fatehpur, he would not have crossed into Bundelkhand without visiting Prayag, had there been a city there worth plundering. He further argues that its capture would have been heard about when Muhammad of Ghor captured Benares. However, Ghori’s historians never took notice of it. Yet the Akbarnama mentions that the Mughal emperor Akbar founded a great city in Prayag. `Abd al-Qadir Bada’uni and Nizamuddin Ahmad mention that Akbar laid the foundations of an Imperial City at Prayag which he called Ilahabas.
Akbar’s fort was built between 1574 and 1583. The Akbarnama states that, “For a long time [Akbar’s] desire was to found a great city in the town of Piyag, where the rivers Ganges and Jamna join, and which is regarded by the people of India with great reverence, and which is a place of pilgrimage for ascetics of that country, and to build a choice fort there.” He had been impressed with its strategic position, as it sat on the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna, with the fort allowing for any movement along both. Other writers also attribute it to the facilitate the collection of pilgrimage tax from those visiting Triveni, though this appears unlikely as he had already abolished it in 1563.
It is said that Akbar was so impressed by its strategic site after visiting it in 1575 that he ordered that a fort be constructed and renamed it Ilahabas or “Abode of God” by 1584, later changed to Allahabad under Shah Jahan. Speculations regarding its name however exist. Because of the surrounding people calling it Alhabas, has led to some people holding the view that it was named after Alha from Alha’s story and was renamed by Akbar in the interest of Islam. James Forbes’ account of early 1800s claims that it was renamed Allahabad or “abode of God” by Jahangir after he failed to destroy the Akshayabat tree. The name, however, predates him, with Ilahabas and Ilahabad mentioned on coins minted in the city since Akbar’s rule, the latter name became predominant after the emperor’s death. It has also been thought to not have been named after Allah but ilaha (the gods). Shaligram Shrivastv claimed in Prayag Pradip that the name was deliberately given by Akbar to be construed as both Hindu (“ilaha”) and Muslim (“Allah”).
In 1580, Akbar reorganized his empire into 12 divisions, per Ain-i-Akbari, “to each of which he gave the name Subah and distinguished them by the appelation of the tract of country or its capital city.” He combined the provinces of Jaunpur, Kara-Manikpur and territory of Bandhogarh into the “Subah of Ilahabas”. Akbar deputed his son Salim to carry on the war against Mewar while leaving to campaign in Deccan. The latter, however, tried to seize Agra’s treasury in mid-1600 and came here after his failure. Upon reaching Allahabad, he seized its treasury and set himself up as a virtually independent ruler while raising an army.
After concluding his campaign, Akbar returned to Agra in August 1601 and negotiated with Salim for eight to nine months. The latter, however, started advancing upon Agra with a 30,000-strong cavalry ostensibly under the pretext of paying respects to him. Akbar offered him the choice to return to visit him only with a small escort or return to Allahabad if he did not feel safe in doing so. Salim chose to return to city. In May 1602, Salim had his name read in Friday prayers and his name minted on coins in Allahabad. Abu’l Fazl was sent to deal with him but the prince had him assassinated. Akbar then reconciled with him and Salim returned to Allahabad, where he spent his time drinking and taking opium before returning to the royal court in 1604.
A unique artefact associated with Jahangir’s reign found in Allahabad is a large jade terrapin, now in the British Museum’s collection. In 1720, the Sayyid brothers negotiated the surrender of the rebellious governor Girdhar Bahadur, under the condition of him being made the governor of Awadh, being able to appoint all civil and military officers in the province and being given 30 lakh rupees from Bengal’s treasury.
In 1580, Akbar reorganized his empire into 12 divisions, per Ain-i-Akbari, “to each of which he gave the name Subah and distinguished them by the appellation of the tract of country or its capital city.” He combined the provinces of Jaunpur, Kara-Manikpur and territory of Bandhogarh into the “Subah of Ilahabas”. He had been worried about the administration of the area, particularly after Ali Quli Khan Zaman’s rebellion. Allahabad was selected as its capital. Akbar deputed his son Salim to carry on the war against Mewar while leaving to campaign in Deccan. The latter, however, tried to seize Agra’s treasury in mid-1600 and came here after his failure. Upon reaching Allahabad, he seized its treasury and set himself up as a virtually independent ruler while raising an army. In May 1602, Salim had his name read in Friday prayers and his name minted on coins in Allahabad. Abu’l Fazl was sent to deal with him but the prince had him assassinated. Akbar then reconciled with him and Salim returned to Allahabad, where he spent his time drinking and taking opium before returning to the royal court in 1604.
After Khusrau’s death in 1622 at Burhanpur, he was buried alongside his mother Shah Begum in a garden near Khuldabad. This garden was later named Khusro Bagh after him. In March 1624, Jai Singh I and other Kachwaha nobles seem to have retired from Deccan under Parviz and Mahabat Khan. On the orders of Jahangir, they proceeded to Allahabad to check Prince Khurram’s rebellion. After capturing Jaunpur, Shah Jahan ordered the siege of Allahabad. The siege was however lifted by Abdulla Khan after Parwez and Mahabat Khan came to assist the garrison.
A unique artefact associated with Jahangir’s reign found in Allahabad is a large jade terrapin, now in the British Museum’s collection. In 1630-31, a man named Abdal near dense forests of Allahabad rebelled, constructed a fort and used to plunder passersby. The subedar Qulij Khan Turani consequently attacked him, arrested 1,000 rebels while their ladies committed jauhar. The place was renamed Islamabad and the temple constructed by the rebel was converted into a mosque.
During the Mughal war of succession, the commandant of the fort of Allahabad who had joined Shah Shuja made an agreement with Aurangzeb’s officers and surrendered it to Khan Dauran on 12 January 1659. In 1720, the Sayyid brothers negotiated the surrender of the rebellious governor Girdhar Bahadur, under the condition of him being made the governor of Awadh, being able to appoint all civil and military officers in the province and being given 30 lakh rupees from Bengal’s treasury.
Nawabs of Awadh
The East India Company coveted the fort for the same reasons of military strategy for which Akbar built it. British troops were first stationed at Allahabad fort in 1765 as part of the Treaty of Allahabad signed by Lord Robert Clive, Mughal emperor Shah Alam II, and Awadh’s Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula. The combined forces of Bengal’s Nawab Mir Qasim, Shuja and Shah Alam were defeated by the English at Buxar in October 1764 and at Kora in May 1765. Alam who was abandoned by Shuja after the defeats, surrendered to the English and was lodged at the fort, as they captured Allahabad, Benares and Chunar in his name. The territories of Allahabad and Kora were given to the emperor after the treaty was signed in 1765. He spent six years there and after the takeover of Delhi by the Marathas, left for his capital in 1771.
Upon realizing the Maratha intent of territorial encroachment, however, Shah Alam ordered his general Najaf Khan to drive them out. Tukoji Rao Holkar and Visaji Krushna Biniwale in return attacked Delhi and defeated his forces in 1772. The Marathas were granted an imperial sanad for Kora and Allahabad. They turned their attention to Oudh to gain these two territories. Shuja was, however, unwilling to give them up and made appeals to the English and the Marathas did not fare well at the battle of Ramghat. In August and September 1773, Warren Hastings met Shuja and concluded a treaty, under which Kora and Allahabad were ceded to the Nawab for a payment of 50 lakh rupees.
Saadat Ali Khan II after being made the Nawab by John Shore, entered into a treaty with the Company and gave the fort to the British in 1798. Lord Wellesley after threatening to annexing the entire Awadh, concluded a treaty with Saadat on abolishing the independent Awadhi army, imposing a larger subsidiary force and annexing Rohilkhand, Gorakhpur and the Doab in 1801.
Before British rule was imposed over Allahabad, the city was conquered by the Maratha Empire. The Marathas left behind two beautiful eighteenth-century temples with intricate architecture.
In 1765, the combined forces of the Nawab of Awadh and the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II lost the Battle of Buxar to the British. Although the British did not take over their states at that time, they established a garrison at Fort Allahabad, understanding its strategic position as the gateway to the northwest. Governor General Warren Hastings later took Allahabad from Shah Alam and gave it to Awadh, alleging that he had placed himself in the power of the Marathas.
In 1801 the Nawab of Awadh ceded the city to the British East India Company. Gradually the other parts of Doab and adjoining regions to its west (including the Delhi and Ajmer-Merwara regions) were won by the British. These northwestern areas were made into a new province called the North-Western Provinces, with its capital at Agra. Allahabad was located in this province.
Acquired in 1801, Allahabad asides from its importance as a pilgrimage center, it was a stepping stone to the agrarian track upcountry and the Grand Trunk Road. It also potentially offered sizeable revenues to the Company. Initial revenue settlements began in 1803. The quangos assisted the British Collector Edward Cuthbert. They provided physical paper records and histories of revenue returns which helped in negotiations with the cultivators, tehsildars, zamindars and those who owned rent-free lands.
In 1834, Allahabad became the seat of the Government of Agra Province and a High Court was established. A year later both were relocated to Agra.
In 1857, Allahabad was active in the Indian Mutiny. After the mutiny, the British truncated the Delhi region of the state, merging it with Punjab, and transferred the capital of the North-Western Provinces to Allahabad, where it remained for the next twenty years.
In 1877 the two provinces of Agra and Awadh were merged to form a new state which was called the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. Allahabad was the capital of this new state till the 1920s.
Allahabad, the freedom struggle, and Indian politics
During the Mutiny of 1857, Allahabad had only a small garrison of European troops. Taking advantage of this, the rebels brought Allahabad under their control. Maulvi Liaquat Ali, one of the prominent leaders of the rebellion, was a native of the village of Mahgaon near Allahabad.
After the Mutiny was quelled, the British established the High Court, the Police Headquarters and the Public Service Commission in the city. This transformed Allahabad into an administrative center, a status that it enjoys to this day.
The fourth and eighth session of the Indian National Congress was held in the city in 1888 and 1892 respectively on the extensive grounds of Darbhanga Castle, Allahabad. At the turn of the century, Allahabad also became a nodal point for the revolutionaries.
In 1931, at Alfred Park in Allahabad, the revolutionary Chandrashekhar Azad killed himself when surrounded by the British Police. The Nehru family homes of Anand Bhavan and Swaraj Bhavan, both in Allahabad, were at the center of the political activities of the Indian National Congress. In the years of the struggle for Indian independence, thousands of satyagrahis (nonviolent resistors), led by Purshottam Das Tandon, Bishambhar Nath Pande and Narayan Dutt Tiwari, went to jail. The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as several Union ministers such as Mangla Prasad, Muzaffar Hasan, K. N. Katju, and Lal Bahadur Shastri, were natives of Allahabad.
The first seeds of the idea of Pakistan were sown in Allahabad. On 29 December 1930, Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s presidential address to the All-India Muslim League proposed a separate Muslim state for the Muslim majority regions of India.
After independence, areas from the adjoining region of Bagelkhand in the east were merged with Allahabad district, which remain part of the district to this day. The Mayawati government split the original Allahabad district into two districts, Kaushambi and Allahabad district. From 16 October 2018 it is officially renamed as Prayagraj.
Historical and archaeological sites
Allahabad has many sites of interest to tourists and archaeologists. Forty-eight kilometres to the southwest, on the banks of the Yamuna River, are the ruins of Kaushambi, which was the capital of the Vatsa kingdom and a thriving center of Buddhism. On the eastern side, across the river Ganges and connected to the city by the Shastri Bridge is Pratisthan Pur, capital of the Chandra dynasty. About 58 kilometres northwest is the medieval site of Kara with its impressive wreckage of Jaichand of Kannauj’s fort. Shringaverpur, another ancient site discovered relatively recently, has become a major attraction for tourists and antiquarians alike. On the southwestern extremity of Allahabad lies Khusrobagh; it has three mausoleums, including that of Jahangir’s first wife, Shah Begum.
Allahabad is the birthplace of Jawaharlal Nehru, and the Nehru family estate, called Anand Bhavan, is now a museum. It is also the birthplace of Indira Gandhi, and the home of Lal Bahadur Shastri, both later Prime Ministers of India. Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Chandra Shekhar were also associated with Allahabad. Thus, Allahabad has the distinction of being the home of several Prime Ministers in India’s post-independence history.
Prayaga was a well-known centre of education (dating from the time of the Buddha), and into modern times. Allahabad University was founded on 23 September 1887, making it the fourth oldest university in India. It has been granted Central University status. Allahabad University is a major literary centre for Hindi studies. Many Bihari, Bengali and Gujarati scholars spent their lives here, propagated their works in Hindi and enriched the literature. In the 19th century, Allahabad University earned the epithet of ‘Oxford of the East’. The founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada attained sainthood in this place.
Many famous writers of Hindi and Urdu literature have a connection with the city. Notable amongst them are Munshi Premchand, Mahadevi Varma, Sumitranandan Pant, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, Upendra Nath ‘Ashk’ and Harivansh Rai Bachchan. This is the literary Hindi heartland. The culture of Allahabad is based on Hindi literature. Maithili Sharan Gupt was also associated with this literary Hindi soil in many ways.
The famous English author and Nobel Laureate (1907) Rudyard Kipling spent time at Allahabad working for The Pioneer as an assistant editor and overseas correspondent.
Another landmark of the literary past of Allahabad was the publishing firm Kitabistan, owned by the Rehman brothers, Kaleemur Rehman and Obaidur Rehman. They published thousands of books, including those by Nehru. They became the first publishers from India to open a branch in London in 1936.
Sanskrit scholars like Ganganath Jha, Dr. Baburam Saxena, Pandit Raghuvar Mitthulal Shastri, Professor Suresh Chandra Srivastava, and Dr. Manjushree Srivastava were both students and teachers at the University of Allahabad. The most prominent Arabic and Persian scholars included Dr. Abdul Sattar Siddiqui and his colleague Muhammad Naeemur Rehman who was known for his well organized personal library of tens of thousands of books, which was open to all.
A noteworthy poet is Raghupati Sahay, better known under the name of Firaq Gorakhpuri. Firaq was a major Urdu poet and literary critic of the 20th century. Both Firaq and Harivansh Bachchan were professors of English at Allahabad University. Firaq Gorakhpuri and Mahadevi Varma were awarded the Jnanpith Award, the highest literary honour conferred in the Republic of India in 1969 and 1982 respectively. Akbar Allahabadi is one of the most well-read poets of modern Urdu Literature. Other poets from Allahabad include Nooh Narwi, Tegh Allahabadi, Raaz Allahabadi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, and Asghar Gondvi. Professor A. K. Mehrotra, former head of English department at the University of Allahabad, has been nominated for the post of professor of poetry which was earlier held by poets like Matthew Arnold and W. H. Auden.
Short story writers Azam Kuraivi, Ibn-e-Safi, and Adil Rasheed are all from Allahabad. Critics like Dr. Aijaz Husain, Dr. Aqeel Rizwi and Hakeem Asrar Kuraivi also hail from Allahabad. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, who edits Shabkhoon, is known all over the Urdu world as a pioneer in Post Modernist literature. Rajendra Yadav, Mamta and Ravindra Kalia, Kamaleshwar, Namwar Singh, Doodhnath Singh and many other new age literary writers and critics began their literary careers in Allahabad. The city is also home to many young and upcoming literary figures. It has also been one of the biggest centres of publication of Hindi literature; examples are Lok Bharti, Rajkamal and Neelabh.
Dr. Rajesh Verma is working on a book about eco-feminism, which will be the first major work on environment-related issues to be published in Allahabad. Allahabad has also produced a great lyricist, Virag Mishra, who recently won the Stardust Award for Standout Performance by a lyricist, for “Zinda Hoon Main”.
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