Prayagraj: An introduction
Prayagraj, earlier called Allahabad, lies at the confluence of the Ganga (Ganges) and the Yamuna, two sacred rivers that have been cradles of the Indian civilisation. The city is mentioned in the oldest Indian literature such as the Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas. According to Hindu mythology Lord Brahma, the creator chose a place where three of the holiest rivers on earth could meet in harmony. The city is also referred to as
Tirth Raj' or theking of pilgrim centres’.
The Aryans had settled here and the city was then known as Prayag. It later became the capital of the Gupta Empire and was subsequently ruled by the Mughals, at which time it was renamed as Allahabad by Emperor Akbar. It was also part of the Maratha kingdom. The British acquired it from the Nawab of Avadh in 1801 and converted it to an administrative district. During the first struggle for Independence in 1857 the Cantonment was destroyed and was rebuilt later. The city became a focal point for the independence movement and has been very important politically. Prayagraj has provided India with four Prime Ministers – Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and V.P. Singh.
The Sangam (or confluence)
The most sacred spot in Prayagraj is the confluence of three rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Devout Hindus come to this sacred pilgrimage place to offer prayers and take a dip in the holy waters. It is believed that a holy dip taken at the Sangam washes away all sins.
Every year the Magh Mela is celebrated here. Moreover, The Ardh Kumbh is celebrated here every six years. And the Purna Kumbh or Mahakumbh is held every 12 years.
The Maha Kumbh brings an estimated 45 million people who converge to bathe in the sacred waters of the Ganga. The first Maha Kumbha Mela of this miillenium was in January 2001. This was the largest gathering of humanity on Earth. Here, a vast array of religious ascetics – sadhu-sanyasins and mahatmas come from their abodes in forests, mountains and caves on the auspicious occasion of the Kumbh.
The Mughal emperor Akbar built the fort in 1583 A.D overlooking the Sangam. It has three galleries flanked by high towers. The British recognised its strategic importance and based a munition depot and military contingent here. A limited area is open to visitors as the Indian army is using it. Within the complex you can see the Asoka Pillar, the Saraswati Kup, the Patalpuri temple, the Akshaya Vat and Jodhabais Palace.
The Ashoka Pillar is of polished sandstone and has inscriptions from the time of Emperor Ashoka in 232 BC. Other inscriptions from the 4th century AD refer to the victories of Samundra Gupta. Apart from several edicts there is a Persian inscription commemorating Emperor Jehangir’s accession to the throne.
The Saraswati Kup is believed to be the source of the mythical Saraswati River, the mystical river of Enlightenment.
It is an extremely ancient temple. And legend has it that Lord Rama visited it during his travels. The famous Chinese traveller and writer Hiuen Tsang also visited it. Within this underground temple lies the Akshaya Vat – or the immortal tree. This Banyan tree finds mention in many ancient manuscripts. The tree stands in a deep niche above an underground shaft, which is believed to lead to the Sangam.
Other sites in Prayagraj
This particular temple has an idol of Lord Hanumana in a reclining posture. It is situated close to the Sangam and is considered unusual because of the supine image. When the Ganga is in spate, the temple often gets submerged.
Shankar Viman Mandapam
The 130 feet high structure has idols of Kumaril Bhatt, Jagatguru Shankaracharya, Kamakshi Devi and a Yogsahastra Sahastrayoga Linga. This Shiva temple is situated at Saraswati Ghat on the banks of the Yamuna.
Swaraj Bhawan/Anand Bhavan
Formerly Anand Bhawan, the building was donated to the nation in 1930 by Motilal Nehru, for use as the headquarters of the Congress Committee. Indira Gandhi, late Prime Minister of India was born here. This is the ancestral home of the Nehru family and is now a museum. It had become a focal point for the Indian National Congress during the freedom struggle.
In the early 20th century, it was regarded as the highest citadel of learning in the country. It has a large campus and many fine buildings representative of colonial architecture.
This museum has a large collection of sculptures from the Gupta era on display.
Dating back to 1874 this imposing campus has its architecture in a mix of Gothic and Indian traditions. The quadrangle is designed with a 200 feet minaret in the centre.
Chandra Shekar Azad Park
Next to the museum, this splendid park was earlier known as Alfred Park. It is locally referred to as Company Bagh (from the East India Company). The park has some colonial style buildings and a public library. The library was shifted to the present premises in 1879. It has a collection of 75,000 books, and many valuable manuscripts and journals.
All Saints Cathedral
This is architecturally one of the finest cathedrals in India. It was designed by Sir William Emerson in 1870 and is built in white stone with a marble altar with intricate inlay and mosaic work.
48 kms away on the Yamuna river one can visit the ruins of this ancient capital of the Vatsa kingdom and a once important Buddhist centre. The Buddha is believed to have given sermons here on two occasions. The ruins of an ancient fort and a monastery bear witness to the antiquity of the place.
Jhusi or Pratihisthanpuri
On the banks of the Ganga this is the ancient city of Pratisthanpur, capital of King Purarava of the Chandravanshi (lunar) dynasty. People come in search of spiritual peace here. There are many small ashrams and temples located here.
About 60 km away is the old fort of Jayachand. Situated on the banks of the Ganga this was once a provincial capital of the Mughals. The Sheetla Mata Mandir and Kaleshwar Mahadevji temple are visited by many.
This archaeological site is located 20 km away and the excavations date back to 300 BC. Tons River Aqueduct (43 km) is a picturesque picnic spot, ideal for a daytime excursion, as is Upardaha Lake (44 km).
Climate of Prayagraj
The temperature in summer goes up to 46 degrees centigrade. So the best season to visit is October to March.