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Prayagraj divides Allahabad

The new order: Activists putting up a banner with the new name at Allahabad station after the announcement.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Soon after the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet on Monday proposed to change the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj, Akshat Lal Srivastava changed his last name on Facebook.

As a mark of protest, the civil service aspirant added “Ilahabadi” to his name, a reference to the faithful of Allahabad. “My message to [Chief Minister] Yogi Adityanath is that, ‘You can change the city’s name, but not mine. You cannot kill Allahabad, it is alive through my name’,” said Mr. Srivastava.

Over the past week, Mr. Srivastava has started an online petition and a door-to-door signature campaign to gather support for the continuation of the name Allahabad.

“This is the city of Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb representing the diverse culture of Hindu-Muslim unity. Making it Prayagraj would appease just one community and fundamentalist groups, and it would damage the universal fabric of Allahabad,” read the petition, addressed to President Ram Nath Kovind.

Swami Narendra Giri, the head of the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad, the body of 13 top Hindu sects in the country, however, welcomed the move, rejecting Allahabad as a “name of slavery.” “We have got the original name back. CM Adityanath has displayed courage in taking such a step,” said Swami Giri, adding that he would soon felicitate Mr. Adityanath and Governor Ram Naik.

Mixed response

The decision to rename Allahabad has met with mixed response in the city, with some welcoming it and others calling it an assault on the social fabric of the Sangam city.

Amid the polarised opinions, a discussion on the identity of the residents has gripped the city.

Zafar Bakht, who runs a prominent career coaching centre near the famous Company Bagh, was depressed by the name change and believed it to be a part of the BJP’s agenda to transform India into a “Hindu Rashtra.”

“It is an emotional thing. I relate with Allahabad, not Prayagraj. Prayag is a small mohalla and a railway station here. It seems that one locality has been imposed on the entire city,” said Mr. Bakht.

Jitendra Jain, a well-known doctor, while admitting that the name change would bring unnecessary logistic burdens like the need for new signboards, welcomed Prayagraj.

“Prayagraj is our old culture. The name has changed but many things like the people, culture and the food of the place do not change. I have no issue with Allahabad but Prayagraj reminds us of our culture and where we stood,” said Mr. Jain.

Scholars, too, have offered differing opinions. The BJP government has claimed that an ancient city of Prayag existing at the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna was renamed Allahabad during the period of Emperor Akbar. However, the former head of the Medieval and Modern History Department of Allahabad University, Herambh Chaturvedi, debunked this theory, arguing that Prayag was never a city but only a pilgrimage site near the Sangam temporarily inhabited by seers and their disciples during the month of ‘magh’.

Historian Laiq Ahmed supported this proposition, saying that Prayag was only a “pilgrimage station” and that the city of Allahabad was a separate entity.

Mr. Ahmed said the new city came to be known as ‘Ilahavas’ or ‘Illahabas’ or the abode of the gods, depicting the influence of syncretic religion Din-i-Ilahi propagated by Akbar, who built a fort at the Sangam.

Mr. Chaturvedi says the new city came to be known as Ilavaas till the time of Akbar’s grandson Shahjahan, when it started to be popularized as Illahabad.

While the 1911 District Gazeeteer does not clarify if the area called Prayag was renamed as Allahabad, it says that after Akbar’s fort started to be constructed in 1572, “a new city sprang up to the west of the ancient site.”

Mr. Chaturvedi adds that it was during Akbar’s rule that two barrages were commissioned to stop flooding of the plains, making the city livable.

The 1911 Gazeeteer notes that though the name Prayag was still used among Hindus after the fort was built, it denoted “the scene of religious worship rather than the city.”

“It is noteworthy, however, that the peasantry of the neighbourhood almost invariably call the town Alhabas, and this fact has given rise to some discussion as to whether this name is merely a Hindu-ised form of Ilahabas or whether there was really a town called after Alha, one of the celebrated Banaphar twin-brethren of Hindu story, and renamed by Akbar in the interests of Islam,” said the Gazeeteer.

Professor Yogeshwar Tiwari, HOD of Medieval and Modern History at AU, however, argues that the renaming of Allahabad was a "mere correction” to its past name.

“It was Akbar who renamed it as Ilahavas in 1574. He was the monarch, he had occupied India. And he was planning to construct a fort here, so that he could keep an eye on the recently acquired territories. He was here for about nine years,” said Mr. Tiwari. 

The professor said that the “antiquity of Prayag” dated back to the times of the Vedas and there were “plenty of evidences” of it in texts including the Valmiki Ramayan, Mahabharata, Puranas and Kalidas’ Raghuvansh.

“It was so holy and sacred that this place was called Thirthraj Prayag. There were other Prayags but at this place rishis and munis performed yagnas all throughout,” said Mr. Tiwari.

Meanwhile, K.K. Roy, an Allahabad High Court lawyer, said he was drafting a PIL to challenge the government decision. Mr. Roy said his plea would be based on a 1975 government notification according to which the “names of places of historical importance should not be changed” and on the documented historicity of the location.

“Prayag and Illahabad are separate entities. Prayag was a pilgrimage site, Allahabad was a city. It reeks of communal agenda to say that Akbar changed Prayag to Allahabad,” said Mr. Roy.

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 7:23:29 AM |

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