Delhi has a history which goes back to Mahabharata times. It’s time we enshine it in a museum. Purana Qila, which takes us back to Indraprastha times, is thus the most appropriate place to have one
It is a feeling of national pride when one notices that the capital city, Delhi and the nation have become important global attraction. Every prominent world leader has been visiting Bharat or inviting our Prime Minister and President to his country. Even citizens from different parts of Bharat are frequenting the capital more often. This reminds us of the glorious time of ancient Indraprastha, when the coronation of Yudhisthira was attended by leading kings from Aryavarta. The city of Indraprastha needs to reclaim it’s ancient pride.
“Ancient Dilli was founded on the site of Indraprastha, once the capital of a powerful empire, this opinion is supported by Abul Fazl, and in the account of the early Muhammadan kings, Purana Qil’ah is also called Qila Indrapat.” (Carr Stephens, Archaeology and Monumental Remains, 1876). Till date, Purana Qila is known as ‘Pandavon ka kila’ and ‘Indra ka khera’. During Commonwealth Games, Delhi was publicised as having a history of 5,000 years. The capital city is the ‘face and window’ of our nation. It is embedded in our memory since the time immemorial, providing us cultural and spiritual strength.
Delhi’s capital antiquity dates back to several thousand years, yet what we see today is medieval forts and graveyards which are only few hundred years old, all creating a false sense of history. We know history speaks and repeats itself. It is time we should find out the truth. It is indeed a fact that any national or international tourist, when visiting Delhi, is shown around the Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb, the Red Fort and Purana Qila and he thinks of Delhi as having a history of not more than 500-600 years old. Little is told about the antiquity of Purana Qila that it is at least 3,000 years old, if not more, because ancient Indraprastha lies within, unexposed and unpreserved. This in spite of the fact that some of India’s best archaeologists have excavated Purana Qila and various parts of Delhi and found the cultural sequence of different rulers, from Painted Grey Ware (PGW), associated with Mahabharata period, revealing sequence of rules of various periods like Sunga, Kushan, Gupta, Post-Gupta, Rajput and Sultanate periods.
In management, we say right time and place are necessary for success and impact. The importance and need of showcasing Delhi’s history through ages cannot be more timely than now, and Purana Pandav Qila being intrinsically linked to ancient times, the ideal place. It actually represents the history of Bharat. We have many museums, but no world class interpretation site museum to tell us the antiquity, glorious history and journey of our capital from Indraprastha to Delhi, Indraprastha being the first planned city here. Purana Indrapat Qila (as per
revenue records, gazetteers, etc) and Delhi’s, antiquity and history of most ancient times has been revealed by excavations here in 1954-55, 1960’s, ‘70’s, latest being in 2013-14.
Delhi needs a Museum to tell its own untold tale. Purana Qila having the ideal location, space and ambience is thus the most appropriate for a magnificent museum, telling tales of centuries of heritage via latest technology, and archaeological walk of the excavated site here. It will tell us its own story, through an ‘experiential’ interactive interpretation of its civilisation journey, revealing rich antiquity of thousands of years, which is not shown in any of the varied museums of Delhi. It is important to present this history for better understanding and appreciation of our deep roots, but more significantly for other reasons too. The Byrappa Report shows how in the 70’s a committee was especially formed for this very purpose.
It is noteworthy that a very large amount of PGW was found at Humayun’s tomb. (Dr BR Mani, Delhi: Threshold of the Orient). There was also an ancient mound there, which shows that the archaeologists claim has been destroyed.
Worse is the fact that the objective of the upcoming Humayun’s Tomb Interpretation Centre states, “The Centre will serve as a window into the history of the site, narrating its evolution over an unbroken history of seven centuries of building activities and cultural confluence, with royal families ranging from the rulers of Slave Dynasty to the Mughals and finally the British.” This is precisely what the booklet on Humayun’s tomb, sold at the ASI shop at Purana Qila, also presents “Delhi is just about 1,000 years old, as Indraprastha never existed, and Purana Qila is just Dinpanah, even though current structures are of Shershah’s Shergarh.” This is what almost three lakhs students per year, as claimed by the booklet and others that visit this tomb learn. Is this not misrepresentation of Delhi’s history, confining it to a limited period, swallowing ancient linkages of the tomb’s place.
The problem with the Western historiography is its sectarian and limited approach to study. Recently, there was a lecture by an Asst Prof., Dept of History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh, USA on Building History, wherein she talked about five prominent buildings of Delhi, including Qutub Minar and Purana Qila. She based her study on Delhi’s archives of British era, attacks ‘hegemony of archives’ stressing that the British documented them due to pressure from local communities. She actually raised doubts on the demolition of hundreds of temples and ancient identity of Purana Qila. What one can say when scholars make such bizarre claims without even bothering to study records of pre-Mughal or even Mughal period, leave alone ancient. Pity is that an Indian scholar was sharing her ‘limited’ approach with other Indians, and the worry is that this foreign university professor will publish, disseminate information and would get accolades for creating misperceptions about Indian history.
The situation becomes worse when a section of the very ‘secular’ scholars dole out volumes on these structures, without the slightest mention of the actual history of place where these tombs and forts now stand. This creates an impression that prior to these 400-600 years old buildings Delhi kings lived probably under trees.
Very smartly books are titled Chandani Chowk: A Mughal City. How can one call Chandani Chowk a Mughal City in this age and time, just because it has some buildings of that era? The subtle art of creating misperceptions about history of any place flourishes with generous multilevel support from vested interests, national and international, and keeps them ‘secular’. Soon after we scheduled the First Indraprastha Festival we approached INTACH, the generously funded organisation to present a paper. They agreed, but within a few weeks time they announced big plans for Heritage City Walks highlighting Sultanat/Mughal era cities, and Indrapat Qila as only Dinpanah! It is surprising that hugely rich culture trusts never ever go into ancient history.
To create a better understanding and appreciation of our capital’s history, should we not introspect and listen to our own history and do our bit to at least tell the world about the actual history of Delhi evolving from ancient Indraprastha? Our history is all encompassing for humanity, and for each to learn from it, not to promote a specific race, caste, sect or region.
(The writer is chairperson of Draupadi Dream Trust)