Down Memory Lane | Society

A change in Agra’s name?

The Amar Singh Gate at Agra Fort

The Amar Singh Gate at Agra Fort   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Historians say there’s no past account of it being Agravan

It was Akbarabad no doubt for the nobles and literati at Akbar’s court, but some 56 years earlier, when Sikandar Lodi made it his capital, he confirmed its name as Agra – the area that was agar or ahead of the swirling Jamuna. Now history has been turned on its head with the demand to change the name to Agravan.

But the move, initiated by the late MLA Jagan Garg of Uttar Pradesh, has met a roadblock with Prof Sugam Anand, Head of the Department of History at the local Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar University reporting that there is no historically based evidence of Agra having had another popular name in the past. He had been entrusted by the U.P. Government with the task of investigating Agra’s antecedents and proof of the city being known by any other name in antiquity. Prof Anand says that none of the 25 e-mails he had received in response to his invitation to the public to send information backed by historical evidence on the issue, threw up any.

“Only views had been expressed and no book or record or even any historian had been mentioned in support.” Now a team from the department will work on the topic, and try to unravel evidence about Agravan or any other official name that had been used for Agra in days gone by.

Meanwhile, the 82-year-old former Head of the Department of History at the local St John’s College, Dr Ramesh Chandra Sharma says that Agra never went by any other name, and that there was no evidence to suggest that Agravana or Angira or Angalpura was used. In an interview, the historian, who has guided research on subjects related to Agra and its historical monuments, said he had discussed the matter in his paper published in the Journal of Historical Research of Ranchi University as far back as 1970.

According to him, there was a belief that the Agra region was the place of meditation and penance of Rishi Angira, which prompted some to say that Angira was the original name. The other name Agravana, mentioned in the Mahabharata was not that of a city but a place meaning ‘forward area’ or borderland of a forest. Some people used the name Agravana for a city, which was not correct, “while a Jain author gave the name Angalpura in his autobiography”.

He says both the names Angira or Angalpura were not widely used, though they are mentioned in some literary works of the 16th century. Also the names do not refer to a flourishing city. Maintaining that the present name was the correct and most suitable one, he emphasized that Agra was mentioned as such in the Diwan of the Persian poet Masud-bin-Sad-bin-Salman in the court of Mahmud Jr., grandson of Mahmud of Ghazni, who conquered the city and fort of Agra between AD 1076 and 1080 from its ruler Jaipal after a fierce battle. The court poet also wrote a panegyric in praise of the city even then called Agra.

Dr Sharma says that the name Agra must have been used even before 1076, because it has been mentioned by the Latin writer Quintas Curtius as per the ASI Report for 1871-72 vol. IV on Delhi and Agra. The city, he explains, enjoyed a prime position being the imperial capital of the Mughals for long periods and now has three World Heritage monuments, the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.

He adds that the name had never been challenged over the centuries and had existed from pre-Muslim times. So there was no question of giving it communal overtones. “Perhaps the matter should end there, with no one it seems to bell the cat,” concludes historiographer Dr Neville Reginald, former Head of the Dept of English, B. R. College, who has written extensively on Agra. His late father Thomas Smith, author of Agra Rambles and Recollections, was awarded by the U.P. Government headed by Kalyan Singh for his life-long work on the city and its twin, Delhi. Never did he use any other name but Agra.

The writer is a veteran chronicler of Delhi

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 1:14:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/a-change-in-agras-name/article30318904.ece

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