How many places of historical interest in India have you visited till date? One or numerous? Ask this question to yourself and the answers may either enlighten your being or leave you frustrated. The term ‘enlighten’ in this context refers to ‘reliving the past glory’ and ‘treading along a path where our ancestors once treaded’. ‘Frustrated’ in this context is the realization that you have not yet taken a glimpse of the remnants or living proofs of our ancient Bharat.
Every region has a past attached to it. While excavations have unearthed our oldest surviving civilization dating back to thousands of years, standing structures like forts and temples speak volume about our glory in the bygone days. Who isn’t familiar with the Indus Valley excavation in the Saraswati- Indus river belt that led to discovery of ancient advanced Indian habitats dating back from 2000 to 8000 years? Keeladi excavations in the Vaigai river belt in and beyond Madurai led to the discovery of a habitat dating back to 2500 to 3000 years, which happens to be as big as Harappa and Mohenjodaro. The recent Asurgarh Fort excavation in Kalahandi of Western Odisha led to unearthing of an advanced civilization dating back to Mauryan or Kushana period. While archaeologists date this to be around 2300 years old, the dating may be beyond what is estimated. According to Vedveer Arya’s book Chronology of Ancient India, the Mauryan period flourished from 16th century BCE while the Kushana period from 12th to 8th century BCE. Going by this, the discovered habitat could be at least 3000 plus years old. The archaeological site of Jwalapuram in Andhra Pradesh has taken us back to 75,000 years, where archaeologists discovered traces of ash of the Toba supervolcanic eruption that occurred in Indonesia. Sets of stone tools, especially agricultural implements, were found above and below the ash layer, proving not only the existence of ancient Vedic civilization but also the fact that ancient Indians involved in agricultural activities. But science books mention that Mesopotamia was one of the earliest cultivators of crops, dating back to 11,000 BCE. Our history books have been distorted to a great extent, especially on dates and events. Most of the artefacts discovered at all of these and more sites are kept on display in museums in respective locations. Visiting these excavated sites and the museums will familiarize us better with our ancient past. Visiting proves more impactful.
What about the ancient and medieval era temples, forts and palaces, akharas and related sites scattered across the country? While visiting Maihar, one of the Shaktipeeths, I along with my husband Yogaditya Singh Rawal, visited Alha Akhara and Alha Talab. Most historical folklores and ballads of North India resonate with the glorious saga of Alha, a general of the Chandela king Paramardideva of Bundelkhand of the later 12th century. Alha and his brother Udal protected Mahoba from the Turks. Warrior Alha was a devotee of Sharda Maa, the deity of Maihar Shaktipeeth. Before offering his prayers to Maa Sharda, he took a bath at the Alha Talab. He was a wrestler and routinely practiced wrestling at the akhara we visited. It is believed Alha still visits Sharda Maa shrine to offer his prayers at dawn, the proof of which is visible everyday when the priests open the locked door of the temple. CCTV cameras inside and outside the temple fail to prove the mystery! Visiting the temple, we got transported to an undated period. And visiting the Alha Talab and the Alha Akhara, we were shipped back to the 12th century and could feel the soulful presence of the Bundelkhand warrior Alha. Our guide, a localite, narrated to us in detail about the site and about Alha. We were already familiar with the account of Alha from a related ballad from YouTube. But it was after the visit that felt connected with the historicity of a brave warrior.
There is a huge difference between reading about these places and structures and visiting in person. Reading may not connect you from within, but visiting these places will leave a lasting impact, the sway of which will remain forever. You will find yourself emotionally and piously connected and bonded with your own identity, your roots, your past. You will robotically learn History on the go.
Thousands of our ancient and medieval era monuments were destroyed by Islamic invaders over time. According to an account by Persian historian Firishta, Mahmud of Ghazni razed many temples to the ground in Mathura, pillaged land and then set the city on fire after looting wealth. Few temples near Mathura were 4000 years old when Mamhud destroyed them, which would have been 5000 years old today. Most standing monuments, especially temples and mutts are standing proofs. The carvings in most of the temples were desecrated by the invaders. For example, we visited a 9th century 3-storeyed mutt that also served as a Gurukul during those times. It had a Shiva temple in its premise. The top floor has an engraved diary where few visitors engraved their names and year of visit. Alauddin Khilji damaged the mutt and the temple but could not raze these to the ground, as these were robustly built. He hid the temple by filling lime over it and set up a mosque in part of the temple premise. In later years, the mutt and the temple were revived and the broken sculptures tell how barbaric the invaders were. The Ranod inscription proves the mutt and temple were constructed by Sage Purandara from the Matta Mayura Sampradaya, a Shaiva sect. This mutt and temple earned the patronage of successive rulers of the region including rulers of neighboring kingdoms. These rulers donated villages, the revenue of which were used to run the mutt. A localite, named Hemant Dubey, a teacher, further narrated to us about the historicity of the site in detail.
We, me and my husband, are avid heritage travelers. Since the last 10 years, we have visited hundreds of our heritage places. Heritage traveling has become a part and parcel of our lives. And the site visits have helped us identify who we are in the true sense of the term. The more we travel, the more we feel proud of our rich past. Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican-born political leader and social activist, has rightly said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Let you, let us visit historical places regularly and learn History, learn our origin, learn our roots. Jai Hind!
- Manoshi Sinha
(Manoshi Sinha is an author of 8 books including two books on Krishna (The Eighth Avatar and Blue Vanquisher). Saffron Swords (to be released in March), a book on unsung warriors of India from last 1300 years, is her latest. A postgraduate in English Literature from the University of Pune, she is a History researcher and blogger and an avid heritage traveler, especially visiting ancient and medieval era temples, forts and fortresses. She is the founder of myindiamyglory.com that features India from past to present with special focus on history and heritage).