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The Hidden Treasure of Allahabad
Vinod Anand | 30 Sep 2013

The Hidden Treasure of Allahabad (Vinod Anand) Wherever a person goes in Allahabad, it is easy to see signs of what was once a great city. The signs of Allahabad’s past are everywhere, from the faces on the walls of the Muir Hall, to the gargoyles on the Cathedral of All Souls, to the delicate lines on the rock cuts in Allahabad Museum to the mighty Sangam. But the object of this story is neither the Allahabad of the Raj nor that of the freedom struggle and certainly not the city where two real rivers and mythological one meet. The best kept secret of the city belongs to the period when the Mughals held sway here. The center of Mughal activity in the city as undoubtedly the fort, which dates back to Akbar’s time. The fort occupies a great vantage point, overlooking the Sangam. The river on two sides and high walls on another would have made the fort secure in medieval times. Post 1857 Allahabad Fort, like the Mughal forts in Agra and Delhi, was occupied by the British who turned it into a military base for themselves. After Independence, the Indian Army took over these forts. Unlike Delhi and Agra, where the army has either entirely or partially pulled out of the forts, it remains in Occupation of the fort at Allahabad even today. Whether the presence f the army has been goad for the forts protection from encroachment or if it has accelerated the decay of the forts structure can be the subject of a lengthy debate. But regardless of whatever good the army may have done in the fort complex, one structure that has suffered grievously is the Rani Mahal deep inside the fort. To understand the position of this structure, its location within the fort needs to be understood. Once a visitor enters the fort via one of the well-guarded gates, a long driveway brings him to the main gate of what is now an ordnance factory. Permission from the army’s station headquarters is required to enter and photography is prohibited from this point onwards. V A short walk and another gateway looms, this time a Mughal one. On entering from here, an ugly building becomes .visible on the right. A person is forced to wonder why the British, who built so many graceful buildings everywhere, reserved the ugliest of buildings for the precincts of Mughal enclaves like Allahabad Fort and the Red Fort at Delhi. This ugly building is shaped like a hollow square, the outer layer of which is used as part of the ordnance factory. During my visit, a person employed at the factory opened a shutter into the inner wall of the hollow square and enabled me to step through. It was like walking through a time machine. The veil of the ugly British building lifted and the graceful, symmetric lines of a Mughal palace became visible. This is the Rani Mahal, described by Abul Fazi as Akbarskhalwatgah-i-khas, a private retiring room for the emperor. This building is built on an elevation and is also shaped like a square. Entered into by doorways on all four sides, it is encompassed by a pillared corridor on all sides. The lines of stone work on the pillars are exquisite and it does not take much of an effort to imagine Akbar’s queens in residence here. A narrow staircase leads to upper levels and eventually to the roof. The Sangam is clearly visible from here as is the flotilla of boats converging around the meeting point of the rivers. The breeze can be stiff at times and it is easy to forget that the Mughals are long-gone. As I walked the roof, a voice hailed mc. I looked over the side half-expecting a turbaned Mughal guard, only to find one in the uniform of today informing me that the time for my visit was over. A footnote about the building: while it is structurally intact, the place is bat-infested and stinking from within. Surely, the spirits of Akbar’s queens deserve a better place. Is it not time that the army found a more appropriate location for their factory and handed the fort to the ASI? PAGE  PAGE 2