Usually, people are more interested in the Mahabharata, compared to the Ramayana. That’s probably because the Mahabharata has a broader canvas. Protagonists are more in number. The Ramayana is “Rama’s progress”. Rama is the central character. The Mahabharata isn’t quite like that. It has many more characters, more with whom one can identify and empathise. Despite the passage of hundreds of years, those dilemmas about decisions remain universal, even today.
Events of the Mahabharata primarily occur along the west-east axis of Bharatavarsha while events of the Ramayana are primarily along the north-south axis. What area does the Mahabharata cover, geographically? It is impossible to answer that question. There is the north-western part of Bharatavarsha, there is today’s Gujarat. In the east, we can go as far as Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. But the core geographical area is the Kuru-Panchala region, two of the 16 Maha Janapadas. The Kuru kingdom is the land of Parikshit and Janamejaya, straddling Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh. Civilisation has always been centred on cities. For the Kuru kingdom, one should list Asandivat, Indraprastha, Hastinapura and Kurukshetra. We do precious little about protecting the history or legacy of these places. Understandably, most people know of Kurukshetra and may even have visited the place, because of the Bhagavat Gita, Brahma Sarovar, Sannihit Sarovar and Jyotisar and perhaps even the 48-kos parikrama. It is also true that thanks to the Kurukshetra Development Board and International Gita Mahotsav, infrastructure in Kurukshetra has improved, attracting tourists, domestic and foreign.
Having said this, how many of us visit, or know about, the adjacent Thaneshvara or Sthaneshvara? This is where Krishna and the Pandavas worshipped Mahadeva in the form of Sthanu. There are hardly any visitors to that temple. There are many visitors to Sheikh Chilli's Tomb. It is prominent and the signage is better. No one ventures behind the tomb. Behind it are the ruins of the capital city (Harsh ka Tila) from which the mighty Harsha Vardhana ruled. I think the last excavations there were several decades ago. Ditto for Indraprastha and the other four villages (Panipat, Sonepat, Baghpat and Tilapat).
At least, most people know of Indraprastha, one of Delhi’s several cities. What of Asandivat? Other than historians, I suspect few people have heard of it. It used to be the Kuru capital before Indraprastha and Hastinapura. We are familiar with Hastinapura from films, TV serials and books. This is the place from where King Dhritarashtra ruled, the place where he was seated when Sanjaya described the Kurukshetra War to him. Beyond a mound and a temple, nothing exists. The last excavations were in the 1950s. In fairness, the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) has started excavations again, in and around the region. I am making a point about inadequate excavations, unsatisfactory dissemination of findings (except in archaeological tracts) and our collective disinterest in that history. If Hastinapura attracts tourists, that’s because of the Jain temples there.
However, urban centres of the Kuru kingdom fare better than those of the Panchala kingdom. The latter was divided into two (after the division between Drupada and Dronacharya) and the two respective capitals were Ahichatra (in Bareilly) and Kampilya (in Farukkabad). There is precious little left in Ahichatra, or so I think. However, Kampilya is replete with history, from satya yuga, treta yuga and dvapara yuga. It used to be known as the smaller Kashi. From satya yuga, there is sage Kapila’s hermitage. From treta yuga, there is the Rameshvara temple, where Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are believed to have worshipped, on their way back to Ayodhya. From dvapara yuga, this is the place where Draupadi and Dhrishtadyumna were born from the sacrifice, where Arjuna shot the arrow through the eye of the fish (in Meenpur village) and where Draupadi’s svayamvara was held. Drupada’s fort still exists. I am somewhat surprised that people who are ostensibly interested in the Mahabharata know so little about Ahichatra and Kampilya.
I am writing this column because I read reports about the upside-down Ganesha in the Qutb complex and went to see it, and also see what excavations had revealed about Anangpal Tomar, who founded “Lal Kot”, one of Delhi’s original cities. He is the one who brought the famous pillar to this complex. We can speculate about the origins of the names of Haryana and Delhi. But one inscription, now in the National Museum, states, “There is a region known as Haryana, which is like heaven on earth. The Tomars built the city, known as Dhillika, there.” The iron pillar also bears the name of Dihali or Dilli. I will not get into the controversy over the 27 Jain and Hindu temples. In any event, the matter seems to be sub judice. However, there is an inscription under an arch, to the effect that materials from “27 idol temples” were used in building the masjid. If that inscription exists in Arabic (Parso-Arabic), why not give a translation, in English or Hindi? Lack of a translation suggests there is an attempt to hide history. Hiding history does not automatically lead to attempts to rectify it. It is patently obvious material from Jain and Hindu temples was used. That may mean those temples were deliberately destroyed, or that they had already been destroyed. Who is to tell? More importantly, it is difficult to mess around with an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ganesha is indeed upside down and will probably remain so. But, at the very least, we should be aware.
Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the PM