The city of Prayagraj holds a venerated position in Indian history; from its first mention in the ancient holy Hindu scriptures called the Vedas, to being the birthplace of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the mere mention of the city invokes an array of memories that it has been associated with over centuries. The seventh largest city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and with a population of over 1.5 million, Prayagraj has many names, from Prayaga to Kosambi to Allahabad. Today, it is best known for its enduring significance in Hindu culture, with the most noteworthy characteristics being its proximity to the Triveni Sangam, or the confluence of the three holy rivers of Yamuna, Ganga and Sarasvati, and the major pilgrimage of the Kumbh Mela.
The city’s past lies scattered around it in close proximity; archaeological findings at the nearby sites of Jhusi and Kosambi reveal inhabitation as far back as the Iron Age, corroborated by its mention as the ancient city of Prayaga in the Vedas dating to 1200-1000 BC. The site of Kosambi 48 kilometres away featured prominently on the Silk Route, revealing its status as one of the greatest cities of India from the late Vedic till the Mauryan period, acquiring a Buddhist flavour alongside a Hindu one. It was given its more recognisable name of Allahabad in the Mughal era, when the emperor Akbar founded the ‘new’ city. It went on to become a pivotal stepping stone in cementing colonial rule in India; the Treaty of Allahabad signed in 1765 marked the introduction of British constitutional involvement in the country, and Allahabad proceeded to become an important revenue centre and also a hub of revolutionary activity. It was officially given the name of Prayagraj in 2018 as a nod to its first name of Prayaga.
Prayagraj contains plentiful evidence of its glorious past; particularly notable is the Allahabad Pillar, a relic belonging to the age of the Mauryas and considered to be a part of the Ashokan edicts. Uniquely, this pillar contains inscriptions not only from Ashokan times, but from later kings too, including Samudragupta’s inscriptions from the Gupta Empire and Emperor Jahangir’s inscriptions from the Mughal Empire. Surviving architecture from Mughal times includes the Khusrau Bagh, a mausoleum for Jahangir’s son, while the Garhwa Fort from the Gupta age presents an ancient temple complex dating back to 5-6th century. Prayagraj also witnessed the blossoming of the Indo-Saracenic style, with prime examples being the Queen Victoria Memorial, the All Saints Cathedral, Allahabad University and the Allahabad High Court. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s erstwhile residence, the Anand Bhawan, is an additional place of interest.
While the Kumbh Mela, named an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2017, occurs as a massive ritual gathering every twelve years, a smaller, annual version called the Magha Mela takes place over six weeks between January and March. Both festivals are characterised by large crowds, fairs and ritual dips in the holy river, and are visited by pilgrims from all over India. Prayagraj has inherited a rich heritage of writers and poets, both in Urdu (Akbar Allahabadi and Firaq Gorakhpuri) and Hindi (Sumitranandan Pant and Harivansh Rai Bachchan), as well as a continued association with Indian politics. A number of Prime Ministers including Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, Gulzarilal Nanda and V.P. Singh have been known to call Prayagraj their birthplace, Allahabad University their alma mater or have been elected to Parliament from the city. The University itself is one of the oldest modern universities in the country, having been called the ‘Oxford of the East’, and boasting a long list of notable alumni, including Chief Justices of India, presidents and other ministers of state. Moreover, the city has also nurtured Indian classical music, seen in erstwhile competitions held by the University as well as still extant bodies such as the Prayag Sangeet Samiti.
Prayagraj remains a storehouse of memory, both recent and ancient, and the city retains its contemporary relevance through a variety of religious customs and festivals that are celebrated to this day.
As a part of the My City, My Heritage launch, Prayagraj is celebrated through a social media campaign showcasing heritage mapping done therein as a part of the project. This includes sharing interesting facts and anecdotes about the city, quizzes, competitions and a digital walk.