What’s in a name?

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It’s a cold morning. The city is slowly awakening from its slumber from the previous night. Very few people are walking on the roads. Of the handful of people, a peculiar sight is that of a man perched up on the city boards. He is painting over the old, rusty name of Allahabad with a dazzling coat of ‘Prayagraj.’

The present political discourse has been flooded with the discussion of renaming Allahabad to Prayagraj. The past few weeks have been spent in trading fire between the opposition and the ruling party over the issue. It has aggravated further as talks of renaming cities like Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Aurangabad etc. have surfaced in various parts of the country. The issue is definitely not as simple as it looks like.

What’s in a name? What is the purpose of a name? Why is a name so important?

A name, is an identity. It is what others use to address you or any place, item etc. Names make it easier for us to identify anything. A name is powerful; in Egyptian mythology, if you know the ‘secret name’ of a person, then you can exert control over him/her, such was the belief. (My interpretation is that a secret name is basically a deed which the person did and does not want the world to know. Basically a secret.)

An illustration of how a name can be feared lies in Harry Potter. No one in the Potterverse (Harry Potter universe) used to say the name of Lord Voldemort out loud because they feared him so much. He would simply be referred to as, ‘he who must not be named‘ or ‘you know who.’

In recent years, a trend has developed to shed the old colonial identity of India. Some cities were renamed. Popular examples are, Bombay to Mumbai (1995), Madras to Chennai (1996), Calcutta to Kolkata (2001), Bangalore to Bengaluru (2014), Mysore to Mysuru (2014). It is an undeniable fact that the British rule was (and continues to be) detested by a majority of Indians. It is logical that we should remove the mark of imperialist British.

On the contrary, the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj is not as simple as the renaming of cities from colonial names to ‘Indian names.

We will delve into a little bit of history and geography to understand the issue of Allahabad being renamed to ‘Prayagraj.’ (We shall be referring to the city as Prayagraj because that is the official name now)


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Location of Prayagraj (Formerly known as Allahabad); Source: Google Maps

The city of Prayagraj is located on the confluence of three of the most important rivers of the Hindu faith, Yamuna, Ganga and Saraswati. Out of the three rivers, Saraswati is no longer ‘visible’ and is said to flow underground (And later join the other two).

If you look at the map, you will see a place called ‘Triveni Sangam‘ just south of ‘Allahabad Fort.’ It is at this location the three rivers merge. The site is of great religious importance for Hindus. The historic ‘Kumbh Mela’ which takes place at an interval of 12 years is also hosted at this very site. It has also become a popular site for the immersion of the ashes of some great Indian leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi back in 1948.

In 1583, the 3rd Mughal Emperor, Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar or popularly known as Akbar renamed the city to ‘Illahabad’ (“City of God”). The city served as the provincial capital for the empire. Interesting fact is that Jehangir had made Illahabad his headquarters when he had rebelled against his father Akbar (Later they resolved their dispute)


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Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar (1556-1605) or Akbar the Great

We can deduce from the aforementioned details about Prayagraj’s historical and geographical significance that it is a site of great reverence for Hindus across the world. This was the justification which was given by the Uttar Pradesh government when the proposal for the renaming of Allahabad was put forward.

When is a city renamed? There are three reasons. First, a foreign power has seized the city and has renamed it to establish their dominance and legitimacy over the city. Second, to remove presence of an undesired past (As mentioned before, renaming of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras) or third, commemorate a historical or political event.

The former is usually carried out by Imperialistic powers. Back in the ancient and medieval times, when conquest was the accepted method of growing influence; Emperors and Kings would regularly attempt to instill a sense of belonging in the people by renaming cities. In modern era, majority of the governments are democratically elected, which means that they already hold the mandate of the people and are not required to establish legitimacy. Which means that the motive for renaming could be either of the remaining reasons.

In the discourse surrounding the renaming of Allahabad, the opposition has accused the ruling government of having a motive to remove the role of ‘Mughals’ (indirectly, Muslims) from the history of India. They claim that the ruling dispensation is against the community and wants to ensure that they be termed as ‘outsiders.’
The Mughals, though they did come from Afghanistan, cannot be termed as outsiders. Unlike the British, they stayed in India and worked for the people who lived in the subcontinent. They did not loot the subcontinent and disappear. They remained, they assimilated and took India to greater heights (In medieval era, the subcontinent was contributing 23% to the GDP of the world!). They are an integral part of India’s culture and history. We regressed culturally, politically and economically under British rule.

On the contrary, the ruling party has stated that the only reason they have renamed the city of Allahabad to Prayagraj is because the latter was the original name of the city. Along with it, the city is of great importance to the Hindus and hence it is justified that they ‘regain their city’
To be fair to the Hindus, we cannot deny the fact that they did face atrocities based on religion in medieval India. Therefore, there’s no harm in renaming the city back to its original nomenclature, to restore their faith.

What is my Perspective?

Personally, I do not feel that there is any harm in renaming the city of Allahabad to Prayagraj. But, there are very certain aspects of which I am against.


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Secularism in a nutshell

The renaming of the city along religious lines is a little worrisome. This renaming should not become a catalyst for further marginalization of the minority community living in India. We are a secular nation and it would be incoherent with the values of the constitution if that were to happen.

Even though the government is well within its rights to rename the city. It should be done so only when there is a popular demand for it. After all, we live in a democratic country. If the people demand it, it should be implemented. A plebiscite should be conducted to determine the will of the people.

My biggest opposition is the derogatory motive which underlines this move for renaming the city. Using this renaming to ‘exclude’ Mughals (Muslims) from the history and culture of India. They are an integral part as I have mentioned before. It is my appeal to not just the ruling power, but to the people of India as well. Please change your perspective towards Mughals (and even the Delhi Sultanate). They were different from other invaders, they have contributed a lot to Indian culture. Not just culture, we have adopted many systems which they developed. We can trace the origins of our present Land (System of surveying and classifying land), revenue (System of determining amount of revenue to be collected), defense (System of a central army), administrative (Bureaucratic systems) systems back to the Mughals!

Hence, I believe that the renaming of a city should not cause hullabaloo in the country. There is nothing wrong if this renaming reconciles the faith of the people. But, it should not lead to the maligning of India’s history and culture. If the latter is the motive, then it is malevolent and should not be tolerated.

India is a nation built out of diversity. Without diversity, India would just be a barren land, like a desert.

In conclusion, to cement my argument I present to you this quote:

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” – Marcus Garvey

Priyamvad Rai


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4 comments

  1. A very nice article. Indeed renaming of some cities is a step to restore the lost values,ethos & characterstics. However renaming must be done without criticising any particular religion otherwise it will become a political issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. But do people really want this change in the long run? Of course when you amend or tinker with the infrastructure (intangible in this case) of a city, there is an expenditure borne by you, which I would rather call an expense since I don’t see any fruitful benefit out of this whole name change propaganda. The amount of money rather than being spent on feeding the ego of the religionists, could have been spent on developing the city and working towards real problems. For starters, cleaning the rivers they so proudly worship.

    Liked by 1 person

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