Gauri Saxena, the CCM/PS and Catering of North Central Railway, had made all the arrangements for a comfortable stay in Allahabad in the ORH. After a sumptuous lunch in her office yesterday she had deputed Lal from her office to take me to the Sangam. She also made arrangements to depute Niranjan, a Chief Marketing Inspector of Allahabad Division to conduct me around the city today. Even though I had been to the Sangam last evening I headed for it again this morning as if drawn by a magnet, after feasting on Allahabadi guavas for breakfast. There were more pilgrims in the morning at the Sangam than last evening. The migratory birds from Siberia make the River look bejeweled. They encircle the boats in the hope of being fed by the pilgrims. And they are seldom disappointed. When they are not active they look like small wooden toys floating on water. When they take to flight they are a magnificent sight.
Akshay Vat means the ‘indestructible banyan tree’. The Akshay Vat near the Patalpuri Temple in the Fort has the legend of Sri Ram’s Vanvas attached to it. It is reputed to be the tree under which Sri Ram, Sita and Laxman rested and lived in the Patalpuri Temple (it is an underground temple, built into the rock) for three days. Sri Ram is supposed to have blessed the Tree with immortality. The writings of Fa Hian and Huen Tsang reportedly mention the Tree. In the afternoon, with the permission of the Army, I visited the OD Fort. The fort was built by Akbar on the banks of the magnificent Yamuna. The entire fort is today under occupation of the EME and Ordinance Depot. It is understood that the fort will be vacated for public visits in the near future. That would do immense justice to this excellent piece of history. The walls of the fort are more than 8 feet thick and near the entrances they are over 20 feet thick. The Rang Mahal is still intact in its original form but is forded off. During the course of the visit I was told that the ‘original’ Akshay Vat is in the fort premises. I was taken around to a huge Banyan Tree that has burn marks on it (Aurangzeb tried his best to destroy the Tree, in vain of course). Apparently, Sri Ram, Sita and Laxman took rest under this Tree and spent 3 nights in the Patalpuri Temple. Since the fort is under army occupation the local priests have built the legend of the Tree also around the Patalpuri Temple! The Akshay Vat was a favorite spot for devout pilgrims to commit suicide by jumping into the Yamuna, expecting Moksha. It is said that Akbar put an end to this practice. The view of the Sangam from the Akhsya Vat in the OD Fort is awesome. The flow of the two Rivers can be seen clearly and the meeting point can also be identified. The Sangam is not a fixed point; depending on the flow of water in the two Rivers the Sangam changes. Near the Akshay Vat is the Jodha Bai Gate, which was used by the Queen to bathe in the Yamuna. Inside the Fort is the remnant of a unique Ashoka Pillar. The Pillar has inscriptions dating from 250 BC to 1605 AD (Ashoka – 250 BC - , Samudra Gupta – 2nd century AD - and Jehangir - 1605).
While returning from Lanka to Ayodhya Hanuman takes leave of Sri Ram on the banks of the Ganges and lies down at a spot on the banks, which is where the statue of Lette Hanuman is located within a temple. The statue shows Hanuman in a lying down position. Every year the Ganges breaches its banks to come up to the temple (with the exception of the past three years). To avoid the flooding of the city Akbar tried to relocate the Hanuman statue to another temple and build a bund. All attempts to excavate the statue failed and it kept on receding further into the earth. Finally, the statue was left alone and Akbar got the temple built for worship. And the alignment of the bund was changed to accommodate the temple. Outside the Hanuman Temple I found a person selling ‘Sada Jeevan’, a plant that never dies. It shrivels up and dries in the absence of water; once soaked overnight in water it regains its ‘life’. The same person was selling ‘Sree Ram Kannd Mul’, the root of a tree, which is supposed to have been the main diet of Sri Ram and others during the Vanvas. The root is supposedly available only in Chitrakoot and Nashik. The root is sweet and soothing and is good for the stomach.
A visit to the Anand Bhavan and Swaraj Bhavan raises goose pimples for it puts you up close with a substantial portion of India’s freedom movement. The Swaraj Bhavan was the original Anand Bhavan. It was gifted by Motilal Nehru to the Congress and the Freedom Movement. As you go around the Anand Bhavan that Motilal subsequently bought and moved into, which is adjacent to the Swaraj Bhavan, you wonder what made the exceptionally gifted and thriving barrister give up his all for the Movement. Such is the obsessive fervor of freedom. The Anand Bhavan tour gives you an insight into the lifestyles of Motilal, his wife Swaroop Rani, Jawaharlal, his wife Kamala and Indira Priyadarshini. Gandhiji, who was a frequent guest at the Anand Bhavan, had his own special room. The CWC meeting in this building had taken momentous decisions of the freedom movement. It was here that Indira was married to Feroze Gandhi. The pictures of the young Jawaharlal in the two Bhavans are striking for its remarkable similarity to Omar Abdulla, the J&K CM.
The Khusru Bagh is close to the ORH and the Allahabad Railway Station, and hence, was only walking distance from where I stay. What was originally built as a pleasure resort by Jehangir became the place to hold the mausoleums of his brother, Khusru and his mother, Akbar’s first wife. Khusru was captured, blinded and banished to this place when he rose in revolt against Jehangir. The mausoleums are quite elaborate and well maintained. Two of the four do not seem to be used as cenotaphs. The Bagh is a popular place for morning and evening walkers and small discourse groups.
It is time to move on from Allahabad.