Ganga, Yamuna & invisible Saraswati Sangam of history, culture & literature: Allahabad

The social and religious reform movements of the 19th century gathered roots in Allahabad. The city became an epicenter of our national freedom struggle led by Gandhi & Nehru. Chandrashekhar Azad embraced martyrdom in the Company Bagh here. Progressive movement in literature was germinated in its cosmopolitan and composite cultural milieu. After independence, Allahabad has been home to a lot of cultural & literary movements. Hindi and Urdu have flourished equally in the city’s literary environment

A strong sense of religious-cultural identity still defines the city of Allahabad. Its history has been studied many a time and still fascinates people. It’s a mixture of history, religion and strong literary tradition that attracts people to this fantastic place. And it’s no surprise that the city has made a place for itself on the world’s tourist map.

As per the 2011 census, Allahabad is the seventh most populous city in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Its population was more than twelve lakh. It’s numbered at thirty sixth most populous city in the country.

On the livability index it was ranked third in the state and twenty-ninth in the country. The city has a number of colleges, research institutions and the iconic Allahabad University that attracts students not only from across the state but from other parts of the country. These students make the city look young and provide much needed vibrancy. You find these students spread across the city. Before I proceed to modern day Allahabad lets briefly look at its history and thus significance.

The history

In ancient times the city was known as Prayag. The present day Jhunsi area that is very close to Sangam was the kingdom of Chandrabanshiya King Pururava. Under the rule of Vatsa and Maurya nearby Kaushambi prospered. The Chinese traveller Huan Tsang in 643 BC found Prayag inhabited by many Hindus who considered it a holy place. In 1575 Akbar founded the city by name of ‘ILLAHABAS’ which is now known as Allahabad. In 1801 Nawab of Oudh ceded the city to the British. The city was epicentre during the first war of independence in 1857. It was here at Minto Park that the East India Company officially handed India over to British Empire. In 1868 Allahabad High Court was established and became a seat of justice. This city was the heart of the Indian Freedom Movement against the British rule with Anand Bhawan being the epicentre. It was in Allahabad that Mahatma Gandhi proposed his program of non-violent resistance to liberate India. Allahabad has provided the largest number of prime ministers of Post-independence India Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and V.P.Singh. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar was a student of Allahabad University.

Literature and Culture

From the days of early civilization, Allahabad has been a seat of learning, wisdom and writing. It is the most vibrant politically and spiritually conscious and awakened city of India. The ancient Sangam status of Allahabad as exemplified in the Magh & Kumbh-melas underwent a transformation in medieval times when it also became a home to almost all the sufi and bhakti sects, ganga-jamuni tahzeeb and a syncretic social order. Allahabad played a major role in the anti-imperialist first war of Indian Independence (1857) under the leadership of Maulavi Liaquat Ali. Professor Pranay Krishna Shrivastava, a litterateur at the department of Hindi, Allahabad University says “The social and religious reform movements of 19th century also gathered roots in Allahabad. Allahabad became an epicenter of our national freedom struggle led by Gandhi & Nehru. Chandrashekhar Azad embraced martyrdom in the Company Bagh of Allahabad. Progressive movement in literature was germinated in the cosmopolitan and composite cultural milieu of Allahabad. After independence, Allahabad has been home to a lot of cultural & literary movements. Nirala, Mahadevi & Pant of Chhayavaad movement decided to make Allahabad their home. The literary movements of ‘nayikavita’ and ‘nayikahani’ flourished in Allahabad. Novelists and short story writers such as Amrit Rai, Shreepat Rai, Upendra Nath ‘Ashk’, Bhairav Prasad Gupta, Markandeya, Shekhar Joshi, Amarkant, Doodhnath Singh, Ravinndra Kalia & Manta Kalia came from different parts of the country and settled at Allahabad. In Urdu literature, doyens such as Aqbar Allahabadi, Aihtesham Hussian, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Saiyyad Aqeel Rizvi, Shamsurrahman Farooqui constitute the literary glory of Allahabad.

The similar sentiments are expressed by Professor Ali Ahmad Fatmi of Urdu department of Allahabad University. He says that history and character of Allahabad have been very ‘sufiyana and fakirana’. He says that city was known as the confluence of two rivers. The tradition of ‘gyan and dhyan’ attracted Muslims too and a lot of sufi saints came here. He brings forth a very interesting fact that sufis and sadhus alike were against the establishment. It gave rise to a culture of rebellion here. He says “all these put together made the place centre of culture and literature;initially of Hindi and later of Urdu too. Allahabad has been a centre of sufiyanaghazal singing. It formed the character of literature here. Literature and poetry of protest, sufiyana poetry has been a tradition here. The poets of Allahabad took part in freedom move-ment actively. Progressive writers association was established here. This tradition continues till today”.

While the city has produced many great writers and literary figures, Firaq Gorakhpuri is said to be the most eccentric of them. Though there are many interesting tales about him we must mention one that involved Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Once Nehru was speaking in the Senate Hall of Allahabad University. Ramesh Chandra Dwivedi who was present there writes ‘Nehru often in his speeches used to mention historical facts. The moment Nehru finished his speech famous historian Doctor Ishwari Prasad stood up and told him that he has mentioned the year of an event wrong. Firaq could not take it. He stood up and said ‘sit down Ishwari, you are a crammer of history and he is a creator of history’. Every afternoon he would go to coffee house and people there would gather around him. He would express his opinion on everything. Coffee house in those days used to be den of intellectuals. At times he would pick up a fight during the conversation but lot of people used to come only to listen to him.

Changing with times

When urbanisation is rapidly taking place the city also cannot remain untouched. A fact that is not going down well with the old timers. They say that in the country and also in the world things are changing very fast. Market has spread its wings and consumer culture is rampant. Prof Fatmi says “in this scenario how can Allahabad re-main untouched. Now even books and thoughts are being marketed. On top of that party politics has contributed immensely to the situation city finds itself in today. But still there is hope as the literary culture of this city is still vibrant. Even today entire politics is discussed and debated in the coffee house which is not there even in Lucknow or Delhi”.
While old timers are still hopeful,the picture is not that rosy. Built structure and urban forms are not only increasing in numbers but also changing the urban fabric. In sharp contrast encroachment in open spaces is leading to haphazard development while regulated development of new city promotes planned urbanisation.

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