Allahabad didn't mean city of Allah, but city of god

Last Updated: Fri, Oct 19, 2018 09:37 hrs

The sudden decision of Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adityanath led BJP government to change the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj hasn’t shocked many people. A government led by a politicized seer, despite sitting on a huge majority has been an all-round flop. The governance is in a mess with different projects stalled at different level and the nomenclature may help the government win a few brownie points.

The government that has nothing to show, in terms of development, after much deliberation, seems to have realized that if it needs to do well in the next parliamentary elections next year, it needs to show something concrete to its electoral base. UP with its 80 Lok Sabha seats was the biggest prize in the saffronites’ kitty that single-handedly propelled them to the political center-stage with two third majority at the Center.

Allahabad didn’t mean the City of Allah

Many uninitiated may tend to believe that Mughal Emperor, Akbar, named Allahabad as the City of God, on the name of Allah. But this is far from truth. In Urdu, the city was called Ilah Abad and not Allahabad. Ilah in Arabic means god, any god. And thus Ilahabad meant, the City of God or deva bhumi. It had nothing to do with Islam or Allah. On the contrary, the name revered the pristine history and glory of the place that was dear to the large Upper Caste Hindu population that remained in Gangetic plains at that time.

History of Allahabad

A detailed description of the history of Allahabad is found in ‘Agra Vol Xiv’. It says, “All that is known of the Hindu period is that the northern part of the district across the Ganges formed part of the kingdom of Kosala, and that the portion south of the Ganges was under the Bhil and other Bundelkhand chiefs, so that the city itself, so far as it then existed, was probably a Bhil settlement When Hwen Tsang visited it he found only two Buddhist convents and hundreds of Hindu temples, but long before that it must have been of some importance as a seat of the Buddhist religion”.

It goes on to add, “The Emperor Babar wrested the district from the Pathans in 1529, and in 1675 Akbar re-named the city and erected the fort towards the end of his reign, his son Salim, who was afterwards the Emperor Jahdngir, was governor of Allahabad, and lived in the fort. His two sons, Khusru and Khurram, lived with him till Akbar’s death, when Salim became emperor as Jahangir, and Khusru at once rebelled against his father : he was twice defeated and captured and was at last made over to his brother Khurram (afterwards Shahjahdn), in whose custody he died in 1615, and the mausoleum in the Khusru Bagh at Allahabad was then erected in his honour : it was completed in 1622”.

Emperor Akbar’s secular credentials

Akbar, whose secular credentials are known to everyone, and who is despised by many extremists among Muslims, is least of all expected to name a city at the cost of displeasing his Hindu subjects and nobility. Akbar was a secular emperor who not just physically brought India together, but developed the unique Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb of the country that ensured communal amity across the Gangetic Plains.

Amartya Sen, while writing in his, ‘Argumentative Indian’ says:

“It was indeed a Buddhist emperor of India, Ashoka, who, in the third century BCE, not only outlined the need for toleration and the richness of heterodoxy, but also laid down what are perhaps the oldest rules for conducting debates and disputations, with the opponents being 'duly honoured in every way on all occasions'. That political principle figures a great deal in later discussions in India, but the most powerful defence of toleration and of the need for the state to be equidistant from different religions came from a Muslim Indian emperor, Akbar. This was of course much later, but those principles of religious toleration, enunciated in the 1590s, were still early enough at a time when the Inquisition was in full swing in Europe”.

Mughal emperor, Akbar, not just entered into matrimonial alliances with Hindu rajas and maharajas, he cultivated very close family relations with Rajput nobility. This was a tradition that was later followed by other Mughal rulers, only with the exception of Aurangzeb.

There is no denying that the matrimonial alliances that Akbar entered with Rajpur kings and other Hindu nobility across North India were of different nature than the old alliances. The Mughal emperor gave complete religious freedom to his Hindu wives and gave an honoured place to their parents and relations in the nobility. He also allowed the worship of Hindu deities inside his palaces, and his Ibadatgah had place for Hindu deities as well.

How he cultivated close relations with the Hindu nobility can be gauged by the fact that Raja Bharmal of Amber was made a high grandee. His son, Bhagwan Das, rose to the rank of 5000 and his grandson, Raja Man Singh, to the rank of 7000. This rank was accorded by Akbar to only one other noble, Aziz Khan Kuka, his foster brother. He showed his special relations with Kachhawaha ruler in other ways. The infant prince, Danyal, was sent to Amber to be brought up by Bharmal's wives. In 1572, when Akbar went on a military expedition to Gujarat, Bharmal was placed in charge of Agra, where all the royal ladies were residing, a signal honour given only to nobles who were either relations or close confidants of the emperor.

The secular traditions of the Mughal court were visible in Delhi till their twilight years and also during the Mutiny of 1857 when Hindus and Muslims got together under the leadership of Bahadur Shah Zafar and revolted against East India Company’s misrule. But this all is not going to be visible to either Aditya Nath or his cohorts. Their blinkered worldview will not allow such light to enter their minds.

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