Where is Indraprastha? How large or small was it? What is the significance of its ‘universal’ name? What are the archaeological, historical and literary evidences to authenticate it? Here is first of the five series article on Indraprastha covering current problems, archaeology, history and literary evidences, and multifarious potentials of an ancient heritage city
I don’t think there is anyone unconnected to, or working outside the Archaeology sphere, who could have seen the most interesting picture of ‘Indraprastha’. The above image is of the excavation site of Purana Quila. In the foreground is Sher Shah Suri’s ‘Sher Garh’, so beautifully juxtaposed with the distant background silhouette of the Indraprastha Power Plant! What a telling picture of the ‘power’ of ‘Indraprastha’ encompassing the superimpositions of history and struggling to emerge out from the depths of history itself, through the excavations by our archaeologists!
The explorations and excavations to dig out the common cultural links of Indraprastha with other Mahabharata period cities like Hastinapur, have been conducted by Archaeological Survey of India in 1954-55, 1969-72, 2002 and 2013-14 at Purana Quila, and by Delhi Archaeology Department too, in several areas of ancient areas of National Capital Region, with very positive findings. This interests me as I have been studying and promoting the history and cultural heritage of ancient India, especially of the Mahabharata period, since almost two decades.
In this backdrop, I was so happy and excited to read the big headlines in the Times of India’s July 3, 2015 Times City article titled ‘New Archaeological Park in the heart of the city’. The article carried a photo of the ‘renovated / conserved’ Purana Quila, clearly identifying the ‘heart’ of the capital of India with ‘Lutyens’ Imperial City area, which as we know, was also the ‘heart’ of the first planned city of NCR here, Indraprastha. Indraprastha, the centre of ‘power’ of Pandav brothers saw several later rulers, vying to make it the power centre of their rule, and built their forts over the ancient base of Indraprastha.
But my excitement lasted only a few seconds, as my attention moved to the smaller header above, and to the details in the article. I was shocked to read the name of the new Archaeology Park, as ‘Dinpanah Archaeology Park’. I was foxed, trying to figure out what connection archaeology can have with ‘Dinpanah’. If archaeology means ‘rare, ancient history, the study of antiquity’, does ‘Dinpanah’ fit this definition? If archaeology is also defined as ‘the scientific study of the historical or pre-historical peoples and their cultures by analysis of their artifacts, inscriptions, monuments and other such remains, especially those that have been excavated’. Archaeology of a place, by its very nature, means the oldest known ruins/ cultures as per literary evidences, historical records and or found during excavations at an area, signifying the antiquity of a place / region or civilisation of that area. Was ‘Dinpanah’ the oldest antiquity at the heart of NCR region, the Imperial City area of today, and of ancient Indraprastha? Certainly not!
Some books tell us Humayun wanted to create ‘Dinpanah’, a place devoted to people of a particular sect of a specific religion, and started building this on the ancient ruins of Indraprastha at Purana Quila. It was his short lived idea because Sher Shah Suri defeated him and rebuilt Indraprastha, Purana Quila, as his own city of Sher Garh. Though Humayun returned to regain control of this ancient region, he died within a few months of his second reign. The ‘archaeological’ connection and most ancient findings here reveal antiquity, which is centuries old and how does Dinpanah qualify here?
So why was this name given to an Archaeological Park, located in the prime area of the National Capital Region (NCR) region? Incidentally, it should be mentioned here that the Purana Quila, Humayun’s Tomb, and several other tombs / sites / ruins/ buildings in this area are under the protected list of the Archaeological Survey of India. So can an archaeological park be named without proper consultations with Archaeological Survey of India, and also the policy making body, National Monuments Authority. And, should not ancient history and the findings of the various excavations carried out for over half a century, be considered and the name derived from the oldest known place that existed / exists here? Which are the organisations best equipped to advise one about the antiquity and oldest known ruins/ history of any place? It is the Archaeological Survey of India and to some extent the National Monuments Authority. So, were both these organisations taking a nap when this process was taking shape, or were they so enamored by the arguments of the ‘extra secularists’ that they became oblivious to the subtle attempts to ‘kill’ the first city of antiquity here? After all, it could not have happened overnight, and surely not without their knowledge.
The article says that Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has made changes in the Master Plan of Delhi and Notified the new ‘Dinpanah Archaeology Park that covers the ‘heart’ of the NCR. This article also mentions the Consultants of DDA for this initiative. Under whose ‘advice’ and ‘pressure’ was such a step taken, a step that plays with the history and identity of the origins of our capital city? The Notice of November 12, 1912 given in The Gazette of India 1913 clearly identifies Purana Quila with Indraprastha (5th point under name and description of Monument page 426, part 2). Survey of India Map of 1877 shows Indraprastha being a revenue district of the larger NCR region. Gazetteer of Delhi District 1983-84, Imperial City Gazetteer’s (V. 11, V 20 – 1908,) and many more government records, all mention the region of Indraprastha. Till early 20th Century, a village with the name of ‘Indrapath’ existed within the complex of Purana Quila itself? DDA officials are very well aware of the fact about Indraprastha being the oldest known city at the heart of our capital.
So, why has this ‘deliberate mischief’ been done and to what purpose? Who can answer this? I at once contacted DDA Vice Chairman, and gave a written objection to the Notification. Initially they kept directing me to various Commissioners and the Complaints Cell, but after about a month they all refused to help in any way, I also simultaneously approached the Ministry of Culture, and wrote to both the Secretary and the Minister, quoting proper facts of Archaeological and historical sources as well as government Notifications on Indraprastha. The Minister’s office did take some prompt steps and asked the Archaeological Survey of India for authenticating the facts put up by me and what should be the appropriate name of this Archaeological Park. The Secretary asked me to meet Secretary Urban Development as DDA comes under their Ministry and Notification of name was by DDA. I wrote to both the Minister and the Secretary in Ministry of Urban Development. Secretary did not fit it worth replying but Minister’s office quite promptly connected me to Additional Secretary Urban Development. He heard my plea, requested documents and promised to rectify the wrong done.
It is now one year and five months since July 3, 2015, and over one and half years since the surreptitious attempts of some over smart group of individuals to indirectly drown identity of Purana Quila with the Indraprastha city established by the Pandavs. My RTI to DDA has a standard response that matter of notification is under process? What / which process? No clear answers are coming from anywhere.
While researching this development, I came across a book which is being sold at Humayun’s Tomb and from ASI counters. It says the antiquity of Delhi is 1000 years old, many cities came up here and Dinpanah was built by Humayun at Purana Quila. THERE IS NO MENTION OF INDRAPRASTHA CITY? It carries an image of Purana Quila with the caption ‘Dinpanah’. The book meant for children proudly claims that yearly footfall of children here is in lakhs. So, how many young minds have so far been exposed to ‘subjective narrow and biased historical knowledge’ about our capital city? Likewise, the Sound & Light show at Purana Quila gives just about a minute to Indraprastha and more than 95% to medieval era history. Is this fair? Indraprastha and Purana Quila existed from Dwapar era till 1192 under indigenous rulers. In fact even during Akbar’s time Hemu Chand defeated Akbar’s army to crown himself King at Purana Quila itself. It is another tale that he was brutally killed and Mughal rule continued till 1857. But recognition and significance of Purana Quila as central to Indraprastha, the city established by Pandava brothers, always remained.
Is it not our duty and responsibility to protect our roots, the cultural and historical originality, and identity of our capital city? The Constitution gives me the right to do so. Our civilisation is deep rooted and widespread. These roots need nourishment so that the tree of our antiquity retains its evergreen leaves and fruits of spirituality and knowledge that have enriched humanity for centuries. Awareness comes from knowledge and faith. I say with confidence that antiquity of our national capital region and the Imperial City area goes back to at least 3,000 BC, if not more, and to the Mahabharata and Pandava city Indraprastha period.
Where is Indraprastha, how large or small was it, what is the significance of its ‘universal’ name, what are the archaeological, historical and literary evidences to authenticate my arguments? Wait for answers to this and more in coming weeks.
(The writer is chairperson of the Draupadi Trust)