Allahabad was recently renamed Prayagraj under the pretext of restoring culture and history. The Mughal king Akbar named the city as Ilahabas in the 1500s when he laid the stone for the foundation of a fort there. Allahabad translates to Abode of God in Urdu – a language of the Mughals and interestingly one of the official languages of the Uttar Pradesh.
It is interesting because the changes of names of places in India is often attributed to linguistic reasons. To restore the linguistic roots of the name distorted by the foreign invaders. Restoration of culture, I suppose. Foreign is an ambiguous term when it comes to history. Indo Aryan invasion happened 3000 years ago followed by Mughals who were followed by the Europeans. Where do we draw the line in history to distinguish the foreign from the indigenous?
And even if we dare that, then on what basis is the line drawn? The basis of the religion? The progress the foreigners brought about? Their culture? In this case of Allahabad vs Prayagraj, the line was drawn on the basis of the ruling party. If history is our guide in these arguments of nativity, we would be disappointed to know that we were all immigrants to our lands with different origins and timelines. Human civilisations orbited around opportunities of survival. Culture was an accidental by-product.
Human civilisations orbited around opportunities of survival. Culture was an accidental by-product.
History and culture go hand in hand. Every time a significant change in history occurs, it alters the culture. History is the sequence of events and culture, its consequence. Our culture isn’t fragile to be broken by ‘foreign’ invaders. It has changed its form, sure, but isn’t that the nature of an unyielding culture? Change and adaptability? Change to emerge stronger and adaptability to be inclusive and hence, widespread.
The justification presented for name change by the State was ‘restoration of history’ to the times before Akbar. This makes one wonder the significance of history between the period of 1500 to 2018. By restoration of history, the state government probably means annihilation of the Mughal history.
Allahabad, recently known as Prayagraj is the venue of the colossal Kumbh Mela. The state government intends to boost the publicity of Kumbh Mela through this name change. Even with a Muslim name, the Kumbh Mela held in Allahabad was the largest Hindu gathering and was recognised by UNESCO as a ‘Cultural Heritage of Humanity’. Clearly, a Muslim name never deterred the pilgrims or wavered their devotion. Neither did it diminish the fame of this event at an international level. It fails me why Hinduism, an inclusive religion, or India which never misses a chance to flaunt whole ‘unity in diversity’ tag, cannot take pride in the fact that the largest gathering of Hindu Pilgrims is hosted by a city named by a Muslim king. Probably they do take pride. Probably it is politics that has failed both Hinduism and India.
Following the suit was Faizabad which was rechristened to Ayodhya, preceded by Mughalsarai to Deen Dayal. Now there are proposals to change Ahmedabad to Karnavati- Ahmedabad which is India’s First UNESCO World Heritage City. There are requests to change Hyderabad to Bhagyanagar, Aurangabad to Sambhaji Nagar, Osmanabad to Dharashiv. To put it in a nutshell, Sanskritisation of Urdu, annihilation of Mughals, and finally alienation of Muslims. While we are at it, why not change the Missile man of India? If propositions of internet in Mahabharata could made in public, the concept of missiles in Mahabharata is not too far-fetched.
By restoration of history, the state government probably means annihilation of the Mughal history.
The communal animosity has flared to such an extent that the Pandit politician of UP has declared that Taj Mahal is not the pride of India. Stripped of pride in inclusivity – a gift from our founding fathers, India today stands naked in the fire of communal hatred, thanks to these careless comments by powerful people.
The Preamble of India originally described India as a sovereign state. It was in 1976 in the 42nd amendment that the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ were added to it giving it the present form. From 1947 to 1976, It took us almost 3 decades to respect all religions equally. But every time we selectively skip the Mughal history to restore our culture, we are taking a step back in the progress the Preamble made.
This sends out a strong message to Muslims that they don’t belong here. Their citizenship is reduced to second class status because the ‘secular’ State still sees them as foreign invaders. Their history is not ours. They are tenants on our lands and they shall be surgically removed. Sometime. Anytime. Soon. This selective alienation with every restoration of history and culture digs up ghosts of Partition and Babri. It wakes up the nightmare of Gujarat riots. It scratches the bruises of lynching and communal violence.
With every rechristening of a place with an Urdu name to Sanskrit one, the secular state emphasised in the Preamble fades a little and is overwritten with intolerance. The Mughal invasion occurred at a time in history when the ideas of secularism and democracy were bizarre. Unfortunately, they hold a stronger meaning in the present times. The argument that the Mughals looted us, destroyed our culture and history so we must redo their deeds is akin to a child’s silly fight.
A wise man once said, “An eye for an eye makes the world blind.” The same wise man sang out “Ishwar allah tero naam, sabko sanmati de Bhagwan” (Your name is Allah, your name is Ishwar. Bless everyone with equanimity, God). His wisdom is blindfolded and sent out in a street fight for power. The wisdom of love and tolerance was disfigured in the power fight and now it wears the cloak of fear.
Hindus fear Muslims, Muslims fear Hindus. History is restored. Secularism has been defeated, and rechristened to hypocrisy. On paper, we are secular. To the world, we are almost secular. Deep within, we have no idea what on earth that word means.
Featured Image Source: The Quint