Allahabad or Prayagraj
is a historian's paradise. History lies embedded everywhere, in its fields,
forests and settlements. Forty-eight kilometres, towards the southwest, on
the placid banks of the Jamuna, the ruins of Kaushambi, capital of the Vatsa
kingdom and a thriving center of Buddhism, bear silent testimony to a forgotten
and bygone era. On the eastern side, across the river Ganga and connected to the
city by the Shastri Bridge is Jhusi, identified with the ancient city of Pratisthanpur ,
capital of the Chandra dynasty. About 58 kilometres northwest is the medieval site of
Kara with its impressive wreckage of Jayachand's fort. Sringverpur, another ancient site
discovered relatively recently, has become a major attraction for tourists and antiquarians alike.
Prayag is an extremely important and integral part of the Ganga Yamuna Doab,
and its history is inherently tied with that of the Doab region, right from the inception of the town.
The city was known earlier as Prayāga - a name that is still commonly used. That it is an
ancient town, is illustrated by references in the Vedas (circa 1500 B.C.) to Prayag, where
Brahma, the Hindu Creator of the Universe, is believed to have attended a sacrificial ritual.
Excavations have revealed Northern Black Polished ware objects in Prayag, further corroborating
the conjecture that Prayag existed as a town as early as 1100 B.C.
When the Aryans first settled in what they termed the Aryavarta, or Madhyadesha, Prayag or Kaushambi
was an important part of their territory. The Vatsa (a branch of the early Indo-Aryans) were rulers
of Hastinapur (near present day Delhi), and they established the town of Kaushambi near present day
Prayag. They shifted their capital to Kaushambi when Hastinapur was destroyed by floods.
In the times of the Ramayana, Prayag was made up of a few rishis' huts at the confluence of the sacred
rivers, and much of the vats country 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.
The Doaba region, including Prayag 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 local Kannauj empire which became very powerful.
Objects unearthed in Prayag indicate that it was part of the Kushana empire in the 1st century AD.
In his memoirs on India, Huien Tsang, the Chinese chronicler who travelled through India during
Harshavardhana's reign (A.D. 607-647), writes that he visited Prayag in A.D. 643.
When the Muslim rule came, Prayag became a part of the Delhi Sultanate when the town was annexed by
Mhd Ghori in A.D. 1193. Then the Mughals took over from the slave rulers of Delhi and under them Prayag rose to prominence once again.
Acknowledging the strategic position of Prayag in the Doaba or the "Hindostan" region, at the
confluence of its defining rivers which had immense navigational potentials, Akbar built a
magnificent fort – one of his largest – on the banks of the holy Sangam and re-christened
the town as Illahabad in 1575. (The Akbar fort has an Ashokan pillar and some temples, and
is largely a military barracks. On the southwestern extremity of Prayag lies Khusrobagh that
antedates the fort and has three mausoleums, including that of Jehangir's first wife – Shah Begum.)
It was from Prayag that Prince Salim, later to become emperor Jehangir, revolted against his father,
the Mughal emperor Akbar. In 1602, prince Salim held a parallel imperial court in Akbar's fort here,
ignoring the royal summons to leave Prayag and proceed to Agra. However, before his death in 1605,
Akbar named Salim his successor.
Before colonial rule was imposed over Prayag, the city was rocked by Maratha incursions.
But the Marathas also 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 lost the war
of Buxar to the British. Although, the British did not take over their states, they established a
garrison at the Prayag fort --- realising its strategic position as the gateway to the north west.
Governor General Warren Hastings later took Prayag 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 Doaba and adjoining region in its west (including Delhi and Ajmer-Mewara regions)
were won by the British. When these north western areas were made into a new Presidency called
the "North Western Provinces of Agra", its capital was Agra. Prayag remained an important part of this state.
In 1834, Prayag became the seat of the Government of the Agra Province and a High Court was established.
But a year later both were relocated to Agra.
In 1857,Prayag 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 North west Provinces to Prayag, which
remained so for the next 20 years.
In 1877 the two provinces of Agra (NWPA) and Awadh were merged to form a new state which
was called the United Provinces. Prayag was the capital of this new state till the 1920s.
An ancient seat of learning
It was a well-known centre of education (dating from the time of the Buddha), and in the first few decades
of the 20th century. Allahabad University was established on 23rd September 1887. it is the fourth oldest
university of India after Calcutta, Bombay and Madras University. In the 19th century, the Allahabad University
earned the epithet of 'Oxford of the East'. Its jurisdiction at the time extended over a large part of north and
north west India (today's U.P, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and M.P.). Between 1887 and 1927 at least thirty-eight
different institutions and colleges of this area were affiliated to Allahabad University. Allahabad University
is also a major literary centre for Hindi. It also holds the world record for the world's first letter delivered
by airmail (from Prayag to Naini, just a few km. across the river Yamuna) (1911).
Prayag's role in the freedom struggle
During the 1857 rebellion there was an insignificant presence of European troops in Prayag. Taking advantage of this,
the rebels brought Prayag under their control. It was around this time that Maulvi Liaquat Ali Khan unfurled the banner
of revolt. Long after the mutiny had been quelled, the establishment of the High Court, the Police Headquarters and the
Public Service Commission, transformed the city into an administrative center, a status that it enjoys even today.
The fourth session of the Indian National Congress was held in the city in 1888. At the turn of the century Prayag also
became a nodal point for the revolutionaries. The Karmyogi office of Sundar Lal in Chowk sparked patriotism in the hearts
of many young men. Nityanand Chatterji became a household name when he hurled the first bomb at the European club. During
the movement for independence, Prayag was at the forefront of all political activities. Alfred Park in Prayag was the site
where, in 1931, the revolutionary Chandrashekhar Azad killed himself when surrounded by the British Police. Anand Bhavan,
and an adjacent Nehru family home, Swaraj Bhavan, were the center of the political activities of the Indian National Congress.
In the climactic years of the freedom struggle, thousands of satyagrahis, led, inter alia, by Purshottam Das Tandon, Bishambhar
Nath Pande and Narayan Dutt Tewari, went to jail. And when freedom finally came, the first Prime Minister of free India, Jawahar
Lal Nehru, and Union ministers like Mangla Prasad, Muzaffar Hasan, K. N. Katju, Lal Bahadur Shastri, all were from Prayag.
Prayag was the birthplace of Jawaharlal Nehru, and the Nehru family estate, called the Anand Bhavan, is now a museum. It was
also the birthplace of his daughter Indira Gandhi, and the home of Lal Bahadur Shastri, both later Prime Ministers of India.
In addition Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Chandra Shekhar were also associated with Prayag. Thus Prayag has the distinction of
being the home of several Prime Ministers in India's post-independence history.
The first seeds of the idea of Pakistan were also sown in Prayag. 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.
Reorganisation of Prayag
Prayag division and the district was majorly reorganised a few years ago.and teh city was renamed again as Prayag.
The Etawah and Farrukhabad districts of the Prayag division were merged with the Agra division, while Kanpur
dehat was carved out from the Kanpur district and a separate Kanpur division was created.
Parts of the western areas of Prayag were carved out to create a new district named Kaushambi.
Now the new Prayag division consists of Prayag, Kaushambi and Fatehpur districts.