Allahabad – A Conglomerate of Cultures

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Ganga has been more than a river to the people of India. Vedas too have sung hymns in her praise. Since the time immemorial it has spirally made its way down the vast Indo Gangetic plains and folks have always explicitly revered it as their ‘Mother’. River Yamuna, whose banks were playground of lord Krishna has a momentous place in the heart of the Hindus. These two rivers have been cradle of the great Indian civilization from the oldest of the times. Hindus traditionally regard river confluences as auspicious places, more so the ‘Sangam’ at the ‘abode of god’, Allahabad. Present name was given by King Akhbar who called it Illahabas, place where god himself dwells. Sieving down the centuries it became Allahabad. The ancient name of the city was Prayag, which in Sanskrit meant `place of sacrifice`. Allahabad is not only a mere meeting place of putatively three holy rivers but is a place much more significance in Indian history throughout the ages. Only handful of cities can boast of historical heritage as rich as Allahabad.

As you pass through various roads you’ll notice statues and busts of various great leaders and scholars as if welcoming you to their city. You’ll notice temples, mosques and churches acclaiming the diverse culture the city has inherited down the ages. Allahabad is not only a confluence of three mighty rivers but culture, history and religion merge here too.

Even a brief visit to the city is enough to mesmerize you in an unusual way.

In the very first look Allahabad looks like an old decrepit city. For anyone in search of exotic locations instantaneously, Allahabad has nothing to offer. You’ll have to dig deep to get to the implicit beauty of the city. I was welcomed by marauding coolies and rickshaw drivers who were offering me their services desperately. I had to work hard to persuade them that I was expecting someone and must be left alone. On my way to New Allahabad cantonment all I can make out of the window were labyrinthine lanes and crowded markets along with slums visible down the flyover. I was determined to explore every aspect of the city in brief time I had.

The very first place that I visited was Anand Bhawan. It is the ancestral and hereditary home of Jawaharlal Nehru (the Nehru family). Today the place has been converted into an excellent museum. The place has quite a historical value attached to it because several momentous and important decisions and events took place here which were related to the freedom struggle. There are several historically important things in display but Nehru’s bedroom and study is definitely the most interesting portion of the museum. There is a room in the museum that was especially dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, where the “Father of the Nation” used to stay during his visits. In the museum premises lies the Jawahar planetarium which is worth visiting for the celestial trip of a kind made possible by 3D simulation. To explore Allahabad further I hired a cycle rickshaw, most easily available mean of public transport.

I was destined for ‘Sangam’. Passing through civil lines colonial era architecture of various homes was distinctly noticeable. But it was not those old homes that caught my eye, But the massive All Saints Cathedral in Allahabad called as ‘Pathar Girja’ by local people. This church in Allahabad is regarded as the best Anglican cathedral present not only in India but also in Asia. All Saints Cathedral, Allahabad is typical of a European structure. The wonderful architecture of the building is an instant eye catcher. Well apart from the great architectural marvels of Allahabad University building and All Saints Cathedral were reddened roads and walls. I knew chewing betel juice is part of culture in Allahabad and around but still spitting in public has done grave damage to the outlook of the city.

Finally I was there, close to the holy confluence of rivers Ganga and Yamuna. The vast flood plain on my side was deprived of any vegetation due to relentless activity of human beings and water. Whole southern bank was lined with a number of boats of various sizes waiting to be hired and almost equal number of them was floating in the water. I was assaulted again in the fashion similar to the railway station. Initially quoted prices were as high as 600 but in the end we hired a boat at Rs 50 only. The govt prices are Rs 12 per head so it was quite a bargain. Well as the oarsmen took us to the middle of the confluence I was quite mesmerised by the surreal spiritualism in the air around me. The oars man enlightened me that the dark green coloured river out of the west is ‘yamuna ji’ while the river from the northeast with brownish and yet with a tinge of white is the ‘Ganga ji’ who along with the invisible goddess ‘Saraswati ji’ meet here. Flanking the western bank of Yamuna and overlooking the Sangam is mighty Akhbar’s fort which is under Indian Army’s control after independence. In fort premises there are two places which common people are allowed to visit, the underground Patalputri temple and the 10.6 metre high Ashoka Stambha which was erected around 240 BC. So this place, ‘the sangam’ was indeed unique. Millions of Hindus gather here to celebrate the auspicious occasion of ‘Kumbha’ on a bank overlooked by gigantic walls of a fort made by Muslim king which houses an ancient Buddhist Stambha, so indeed Allahbad is a true conglomerate of different cultures.

I had still few hours left before I had to call it a day, so I decided to visit Azad Azad “Bagh, the garden where Chandershekhar Azad breathed his last unwilling to submit himself to slavery of the colonial regime. Frankly speaking, I was quite disappointed that UP govt has taken no care even of the very place, leaving aside entire garden. While UP govt ignores every order issued by the Supreme Court of India and erects great statues isn’t it irresponsible on its part that only a miniature bust of the great revolutionary and that too in a neglected state. Don’t the people feel guilty when they spit betel juice on and around the bust of the revolutionary? When will we stop disrespecting those great people who contributed to the independence we cherish? Whatever it may be but neglected state of Azad’s monument stirred some grave thoughts in my mind. Just outside this park lies the Allahabad museum which has some great artefacts especially from the Gupta era.

Allahabad has strangely preserved its hidden beauty after the advent of globalisation. The local markets are much more famous than the departmental stores that have come up in recent times. The Bazaars are teeming with activity during the noon and I bet you won’t resist browsing through the wide variety of products available while strolling through the crowded alleyways. The best time to visit the city is in winters as summers can be harsh and during the monsoons the sangam ghats are inundated. The best way to travel is by train as it is widely connected to all the metro cities by railway networks. The nearest better-connected airport is Varanasi, 120 km away.

Allahabad bears the footprints of different cultures, take some time to explore it at you’ll be fascinated by the surreal aura of its existence.

Abhishek Sharma

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/clodreno/2104992789/

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