Allahabad Fort: From the Grandeur of Akbar to the Tyranny of Raj

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Allahabad Fort was built by Emperor Akbar due to military compulsions. After Akbar, the fort was under several rulers. During the British regime, General Kyd was its commandant. The Britishers had converted it into a modern stronghold by the year 1938. Irreparable damage was caused to its architecture, by several rulers, particularly the English. After, independence, the legacy of military occupancy continued. It represented grandeur during Akbar’s rule. It also saw the tyranny of the Raj. Here’s an in-depth report by Arindam as part of the Different Truths’ special feature on the World Heritage Day.

Two things are of utmost importance here. Firstly, though Indian historians, including many stalwarts that Allahabad produced, opine that the largest fort built by Emperor Akbar in the Sangam City is rightfully a Heritage site, it does not figure in the UNESCO list. This is very sad. Different Truths wishes that the Allahabad Fort be recognised as a World Heritage Site. Secondly, the Army vacated the Red Fort in Delhi and Agra Fort in Agra, but it hasn’t let go its hold on the Allahabad Fort. We must campaign to achieve both ~ Editor.

It was in the scorching heat of June 9, in 1567, that a battle-weary emperor, after crushing rebellion, had marched to Allahabad. He rested for two days. He realised the strategic importance of the city and had decided to build a fort here. He was the great Moghul emperor, Akbar.

There were turmoil, rebellion and uprisings till 1580. Battles were fought. In those turbulent times, the foundation of Akbar’s Fort, better known as Allahabad Fort, was laid, in 1575, according to the Muslim recorder Badaoni. That was also the year when the foundation of the city was laid. It was called Ilahabas. However, Nizam-u-Din Ahmad, author of Tabaqut-i-Akbari dates it nine years later, in 1584, in his book. The emperor had commanded that a fort and city be built at Prayag, under the name Ilahabas. From here, Akbar went to Agra, where he spent four months.

Yet another story in circulation states that Akbar spent some time in Ilahabas, on his way to Bengal, to crush the revolt of 1580. Many kings paid homage and lavish gifts to the Emperor. The Raja (king) of Jhusi too had been invited. But, his income was paltry. He called his minister, the legendary Birbal and said that Akbar should be told that the king was ill. The witty minister heard the Raja’s story and asked him to forget his worry. He observed the Emperor and noticed that he behaved like a Hindu. Birbal found out that Akbar’s Hindu wife Jodhabai (Man Singh’s sister) had tremendous influence on him.

The following day, Birbal got a silver sledge and hammer, some Ganga sand on a silver plate. He also took some Ganga water, flowers and Tulsi leaves. The Raja accompanied Birbal and visited Akbar. After the Raja left, the gifts were opened, in the presence of Birbal. Akbar was annoyed. Birbal swung into a damage control exercise. He explained that his Raja wanted Akbar to build a memorial at the holy place. The gifts included symbolic implements for laying the foundation and performing the ‘puja’ (worship). Akbar was pleased with Birbal’s explanation.

Next morning, Akbar ordered that the various gifts that were given to him by various kings, be handed over to the Raja of Jhusi, so that he could get the fort built. More money was sent from Delhi. The fort was constructed by the Raja, under Birbal’s supervision.

Needless to add that Hindu rituals with Tusli and Ganga water of a monument erected by a Muslim Emperor was to mark the palpable beginnings of Secular India, at Prayag, later Allahabad, on the banks of Yamuna.

It was the foresight of Birbal that he changed the course of Ganga, by constructing Triveni bund, with a view to save the fort and to ensure that the Raja’s residence in not too close to the Emperor’s fort. Later, Akbar ordered Birbal to accompany him to Delhi.

Allahabad Fort, 1997. Painting 30X40 in. By Richa Dalela

Allahabad Fort, 1997. Painting 30X40 in. By Richa Dalela

The Allahabad Fort was built on the necessity of military compulsions, ever since the laying of its foundation. After Akbar, the fort was under several rulers. During the British regime, General Kyd was its commandant. The locality Kydganj was named after him. The Britishers had converted it into a modern stronghold by the year 1938. Irreparable damage was caused to its architecture, by several rulers, particularly the English. After, independence, the legacy of military occupancy continued.

Jodhabai’s Palace and Other Structures

Emperor Akbar’s Fort in Allahabad, popularly known as Allahabad Fort, was a residential-cum-military fort. The plan of the fort took the form of a wedge (an irregular segment of a circle, with very wide dimension). It was 37 jarib (a 60 yards long chain) in length and 27 jarib in breadth, which is about 35.96 lakh square yards. Its cost at that time was Rs 6,17,20,214/- (Rupees six crore, seventeen lakh, twenty thousand, two hundred and fourteen only), according to Dr Prabakar Pandey, curatorial associate, Allahabad Museum.

Sriranjan Shukla, art historian and assistant keeper of Allahabad Museum, added that it took some 20 thousand men to construct the fort, in 45 years. It was planned out in four portions. In the first portion, buildings were constructed for private use, the second part of the building was meant for Begums (queens) and princes, the third portion was reserved for royal guests and the fourth portion was meant for soldiers and subjects.

Originally, it was an irregular triangle in outline, surrounded by lofty red sandstone wall. It had three magnificent gateways. One opened towards the Ganga, in the east, the second gate opened in the south, towards Yamuna, while the third gate opening on the landside was protected by a deep fosse and a low outer work, similar to that of the Agra fort. Years of degradation stole its grandeur. Otherwise, it could vie with the opulence of the forts at Agra and Delhi.

The British pruned down its towers and the high stone ramparts on the side were topped with turf parapets, obscured by a green sloping glacis. The south gate, opening towards Yamuna was closed and the upper storey of the main gateway was pulled down, leaving a bare concrete shell of the main dome, the interior of which still bears traces of its original beauty, in the shape of carved stone work and sadly worn out frescoes.

The celebrated Patalpuri temple and sacred Akshyavat stood at the site, prior to the Allahabad Fort. These religious spots are now inside the fort, at the outer courtyard, towards the Yamuna, in the south. Tradition says that devotees cast themselves from the Akshyavat, into the Yamuna, for Nirvana (salvation).

The palace of Akbar’s queen, Jodhabai, is also an interesting structure inside the fort, said Shukla.

He added that the Ashokan pillar, which was erected and set up at Kaushambi, was later removed and fixed at its present site by Emperor Jehangir. It contains six Ashokan inscriptions in Brahmi script, famous eulogy to King Samudragupta by his poet-minister Harisena, also in Brahmi script. Other than these, Persian inscriptions of Jehangir to commemorate his accession to the throne, two minor edicts and many later inscriptions are there on it.

Asoka pillar-Allahabad Fort

Asoka pillar-Allahabad Fort

Treaty of Allahabad: A Weak Emperor changed History

In 1765, the East India Company (hereafter, Company) had entered the Allahabad Fort, following the signing of the Treaty of Allahabad, between the Moghul Emperor Shah Alam and the Governor General Robert Clive.

Shah Alam was a weak emperor. The Jats had started attacking Delhi by the mid-18th century. They had established their supremacy in and around Agra. The Marathas, who had established their domination in Deccan, brought Shah Alam to Allahabad fort and had kept him under their protection. In fact, after the Battle of Plassey, in 1757, British interference had increased, said Prof Susheel Srivastava, who teaches modern history, in Allahabad University.

In 1764, there was the Battle of Buxar, when Sujauddaula, the Nawab of Avadh, who was the Wazir (minister) of the Emperor, alongwith the Emperor’s army, joined the forces of Mir Quasim. The Company’s forces chased them away as far as Kara. The Britishers had kept their reinforcement in Chunar fort. That helped them to consolidate their position. Clive was not in India, when the battle was fought and won. So Verelst, an English officer was busy drafting a pact with Shah Alam, wherein he wanted that the Emperor should completely annihilate Sujauddaula. Meanwhile, Clive returned to India and exchange of robes took place between him and Moghul Emperor, according to Prof Srivastava.

He added that on that very day, as per an arrangement made by Clive, the Treaty of Allahabad was signed. It was decided that the revenues of Allahabad, Kara and Manikpur (the latter two areas were very fertile) was to be given to the Emperor and an indemnity of Rs 30 lakh was imposed on Sujauddaula. As per this treaty, the Emperor was to be protected by the forces of the Company. A garrison was placed in the Allahabad Fort. The Company, in return, got the Diwani (revenue collecting rights) of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

By the year 1772, Shah Alam had decided to return to Delhi, under the protection of the Marathas. He had been reduced to a puppet in their hands. Thus, Allahabad, Kara and Manikpur came totally under Company’s influence. By 1801, the Nawab of Avadh had failed to pay the heavy indemnity imposed on him. Thus, the Company occupied east UP, upto Gorakhpur and beyond. The tyranny and cruelty of the English was such that they managed to control the entire area east of Allahabad, he explained.

Map after the Treaty of Allahabad

Map after the Treaty of Allahabad

That was a time of pillage and plunder. The Company’s managers were very corrupt. But, by the year 1772, much of the corruption was contained. Only a select few were corrupt. The question before the Company was how to make money. Trade was the answer. The silk trade from Beneras (Varanasi) was stepped up. By the year 1800, opium was taken from east UP. Thus, with Allahabad Fort under their control and the three states under their sway, the  Company was controlling entire east UP (alongwithAvadh), Bihar, Bengal and Orissa.

When the Company made an attempt to dominate the trade route, Allahabad once again emerged as an important centre.

The merchants of the Company started residing at the same place, where we now have Jamuna Christian College. Near Mankameshwar temple, one finds buoy, on Saraswatighat. Large boats (or small ships) were loaded and unloaded, there. All along the banks of Ganga, right upto Shiv Kuti, there were depots, built for storing ammunition or cargo, he informed.

Tyranny of the Company:

When the shortsighted Emperor Shah Alam signed the Treaty of Allahabad, with Robert Clive, on August 9, 1765, he wrote the death sentence of the Moghul Empire. By giving away the revenue collection rights of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, he had remained an emperor for namesake, a hollow ruler, with no powers, according to an underground publication, Bharat meyAngrezi raaj, by PanditSunderlal, a banned book in the British era, now with a private collector (name withheld on request).

Revenue collecting rights gave rise to rampant corruption amongst the East India Company’s servants. Their tyranny too was unparallel. Sample some of the English footnotes, of the book under reference.

In just over a month, after the signing of the Treaty of Allahabad, things had come to such a pass, that Clive wrote to the directors, on September 30, 1765, “The sources of tyranny and oppression, which have been opened up by the European agents acting under the authority of the Company’s servants, and the numberless black agents and sub-agents acting also under them, will, I fear, be a lasting reproach to English name in this country…. Ambition, success, and luxury, have, I find, introduced a new system of politics, at the severe expense of English honour, of the Company’s faith, and even of common justice and humanity.”

Old Sketch of Allahabad Fort

Old Sketch of Allahabad Fort

Warren Hastings’ period was perhaps the worst. He had only one aim, to make money by hook or crook. An English officer, Coolebrooke, wrote in a private letter to his father, on July 28, 1788: “It was Mr Hastings who filled the country with collectors and Judges, who adopted one pursuit – a fortune. These harpies were no sooner let loose on the country, than they plundered the inhabitants with or without pretences…. Justice was dealt out to the highest bidder by the Judges, and thieves paid regular revenue to rob with impunity…

“Nor did his crooked policies and shameless breach of faith affect none but the princes and great men; the deposition of zaminders, the plundering of Begums, the extermination of the Rohillas may be forgotten, but the cruelties acted in Gorukhpore will forever be quoted to the dishonour of the British name.

“The system upon which the British dominions have been governed in the East, has affected the happiness of the people … not to mention the monopolies of salt and opium, or the principles upon which the Company’s investment has been provided, I may confine myself to stretching the land rent to the utmost sum they can produce. A proprietor of an estate under Moghul government seldom paid half of the produce of his estate, and in small properties much less; he was further allowed to take credit for a certain sum by way of pension or held rent-free land in lieu thereof. Under the Company, a landholder is allowed ten per cent of net produce as his share…

“The treatment of the people has been such as will make them remember the yoke as the heaviest that ever conquerors put upon the necks of the conquered nations.”

Pix from Net.

Other stories of this theme:

Enigmatic Rome: Majestic Capitolini and Colosseum

Nagda Nestled in Lonesome Solitude

Mahabalipuram: Chariots of Stone

Machu Picchu: Revisiting the Wonders of the Lost Incan City


Arindam Roy has 37 years experience in various newsrooms. He was the Managing Editor of a reputed Gurgaon-based Citizen Journalist portal and has held senior positions in several publications. As Correspondent and Bureau Chief, he has written extensively for Associated Press, Times of India, Hindustan Times and multiple news outlets. He has contributed 13 chapters to various publications. Of these, seven chapters were published in two Coffee Table Books, published by the Times Group. He is a co-author of a novel, Rivers Run Back that he penned with Joyce Yarrow. The novel was launched at the American Centre, New Delhi, on January 2015. He lives in Allahabad.