When Dwarka was Pappankalan...

R.V. Smith on the history behind New Delhi's Dwarka

Dwarka is today a huge residential colony, the biggest in Delhi - may be in Asia. But there was a time, not so long ago, when it was known as Pappankalan, a name dating back to Moghul times. However, not much is known about this area, though tradition says that it once formed part of the territory of the Dahiyas - one of the two main factions of the Jats, the other one being the Ahulanas. It is interesting to note that "the Muhammadan Gujars of Panchi Gujran also called themselves Dahiyas". This was the finding of F. Cunningham, Barrister-at-Law and historiographer, between 1870 and 1874. In the vicinity of Palam village, it marked the western extremity of the Shrunkan Moghul domain ("Az Dilli ta Palam/Badshah Shah Alam")."The historical tradition of the origin of the Dahiyas," he says, "is embellished in a characteristic story as follows: The son of Raja Prithvi, Harya Harpal, being defeated in battle by the (unnamed) king of Delhi, took refuge in a lonely forest. He was succeeded by his son Dhadhij. One day while hunting, the latter came to a pond where Jat women had come to get drinking water."

In vain

Just then a hefty calf, which was being led to the pond by its owner, broke free from his grasp and bounded away. The man gave chase and was joined in it by his neighbours, but in vain. The calf, in its headlong flight, came across a Jatni, carrying two gharas of water on her head. She quietly put her foot on the rope trailing behind the animal. The calf was caught, as it just couldn't dislodge the firmly planted foot, strain as hard as it could.Dhadhij's admiration for the Jatni turned into infatuation and he decided to marry her, thinking that such a woman would definitely give birth to a line of strong sons. Though she was already married, the raja, by cajolery, threats and gifts, succeeded in winning her hand and she gave birth to three sons - Teja, Sahja and Jaisa - later rulers of parts of Haryana and Delhi.It was one of these sons (some say Jaisa) who got the area of which Pappankalan was a part. Visiting Dwarka with its high-rise flats, who would imagine that the story of a Kshatriya prince's infatuation for a phenomenally strong Jatni had something to do with the habitation of this once forested area?

For the craftsmen

The name Pappankalan was probably given in the late 17th or early 18th centuries. Some think it was in Shah Alam's time that it came to be known as such. Kalan was not actually the English equivalent of borough but a semi-rural area where craftsmen resided. But there were places in the city or its suburbs to which had kalan appended to them. Delhi is a case in point. Kalan linguistically means big (Kalan Masjid). So Pappankalan should mean the greater Pappan area - something like Greater Kailash or Greater Bombay. It is a fact that General Ochterlony did not like to camp here but in Shalimar Bagh, where he caught a chill and died of pneumonia. Now for the name Pappan. How did it stick? Was it a hill or a stream or a man? Old tales say Pappan and Kakkan were two brothers who aspired to become chieftains of a tract of land. They fought a duel over a forest stream and Kakkan was killed. The story reminds one of Romulus and Remus fighting over the seven hills to found a capital. Romulus slew Remus and founded Rome after his name. Both stories are good legends, but convincing only as far as tales go. Ustad Zahooro used to say that Pappan (a derivative of Pappu) was actually Pappan Khan, a nobleman whose estate came to be known as Pappan Kalan. For that matter, who would believe that Basai Darapur was the estate of a nawab once? You never really can tell whether it was Pappan Mian or Pappan Singh who lent his name to the area. Now Dwarka would link it to Lord Krishna's kingdom - though it was thousands of miles away on the western seacoast.