Saturday, 31 March 2018
A for… Ahichchhatra and Ajayameru
Ahichchhatra, also known as Ahi-kshetra, was the capital of the Uttar (North) Panchala kingdom during the time of the Mahabharata. The city derives its name from the legend of an Ahir King, Adi Raja (Lord Vishnu) resting under the hooded canopy of the serpent Vasuki. In Sanskrit, the word Ahi means serpent and Chhatra means an umbrella or canopy. Hence the place came to be called Ahichchatra. The Ahirs were a tribe who worshipped the serpents, and belonged to the ancient Naga group of people, and the region of Ahichchhatra was known as the kshetra (region) of the Nagas.
During the time of the Mahabharata, Ahichchatra was a prosperous city ranging about 18 square miles and its adjacent region extended upto 40 hectares, thus making it one of the largest cities of its times. It was the second-most important city in the un-divided kingdom of Panchala, ruled by King Drupad.
We are aware of the friend-turned-foe relationship between Guru Dronacharya and King Drupad and legend has it that Guru Dronacharya sent his best pupil Arjun in arms, to ‘teach a lesson’ to his earlier friend King Drupad. Arjuna, executing the wishes of his master, captured King Drupad and brought him bound to Dronacharya. Drupad had earlier mocked the Guru saying that friendship could only happen between equals and while he was a King, Dronacharya was a mere poor Brahmin who had nothing. As King Drupad was captured by Arjuna and his kingdom annexed to Hastinapur, the kingdom was divided into two parts, Uttar (north) and Dakshin (south) Panchala and Uttar Panchala was given to Guru Dronacharya and Dakshin Panchala returned to King Drupad. Thus Dronacharya now became equal to King Drupad in the status of a King over Uttar Panchal.
The city of Kampilya continued to remain as the capital of South Panchala, while the prosperous city of Ahichchatra was made the new capital of North Panchala and was given to Guru Dronacharya by the aid of the Kurus of Hastinapur. However, as the Guru merely wanted to ‘teach Drupad a lesson and demolish his pride’, and had no real intentions of ruling over the kingdom as a King, Ahichchatra and north Panchala was given to Dronacharya’s son Ashwathama who continued to rule the kingdom being subordinate to the rulers of Hastinapur.
The city of Ahichchatra flourished and continued to remain till the end of the Mahabharata war post which we do not find much mention of the city either in the mythological or historical texts. However, there are mentions of Jain temples and Buddhist stupas being erected in the region, which date back to the Gupta period of Indian history. Even Ahichchatra finds a singular mention in the accounts of Hieuen Tsang who said that the region had quite a few stupas and temples when he visited there around 630-640 AD.
The site of Ahichchatra was excavated in 1940-44 and much of the ruins were discovered in modern-day Ramnagar, a village located in Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh.
In the period 721 to 734 AD, there ruled a powerful King called Ajayaraja I in the line of the valiant Chahamana dynasty of the Rajputs. The Chahamanas are better known in history as the Chauhans and Ajayaraja I is said to be one of the first Kings in their dynasty. The Chauhans ruled from Shakambhari (modern-day Sambhar) in Rajputana. During the latter part of his reign, Ajayaraja I commissioned a fort to be built on top of a hill in his kingdom, in the Aravalli mountain range. Once the fort was built, he named it ‘Taragarh’ – the Star Fort – given its magnificence and brilliant position on the top of the hitherto un-named hill. Gradually settlements began to form on the foothills and slopes leading up to the Taragarh fort.
His successor Ajayaraja II, chose to develop the region in the foothills of Taragarh, taking the opportunity of safety that the hill and the fort presented for the region, and gradually a city came up. The king called the city ‘Ajayameru’ - the indestructible hill. [Ajaya meaning invincible and meru meaning hill]. Gradually with more of local and colloquial influence the city Ajayameru came to be called ‘Ajmer’, the name with which we know it today.
During the reign of Prithviraj Chauhan, the most valiant of the Chauhan Kings, the Chahamana Empire extended over majority of Rajputana and also included Delhi. Ajmer shone bright as the capital of this extensive empire. However, it was not before long that history handed down a fatal twist to Ajmer. Once Prithviraja Chauhan, fell in the battle with Muhammad Ghori in 1192, the new Islamic rulers of Hindustan wreaked havoc on all the kingdoms of Northern India, waging bloody wars. Muhammad Ghori’s slave-general in Delhi, Qutbuddin Aibak, did not waste time in marching against Ajmer and for the first time in history, Ajmer’s Taragarh fort was breached and the city captured.
Though after the death of Qutbuddin Aibak in 1210, the Chauhans had briefly recovered parts of their kingdom, but the respite was only short-lived as Aibak’s son-in-law Iltutmish continued the sway of the Islamic rulers and gradually recaptured the territories once again. Iltutmish is also credited with enhancing the mosque hurriedly built by Aibak on the slopes of Taragarh hill in Ajmer, during his first campaign. The mosque and its extended precincts still stand today, famous as the ‘Adhai din ka jhopra’ as it is said to have built hurriedly within two and a half days.
Ajmer, an important city in Rajasthan today, is also home to the famous Dargah Sharif - tomb of the Chisti founder of Sufi saints, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. Sufism was greatly promoted by the Mughals in India and like many other Sufi shrines, Ajmer too was well looked after by the Mughal Badshahs.
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I am participating in the #BlogchatterA2Z challenge and today’s letter is ‘A’.
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