excerpt: The frontier
The city that was spoken of as Po-lu-sha (Purusha) by Fa Hien, as
Po-lu-sha-po-lu (Purushapura) by Hiuan Tsang and as Parshawur by
Masudi, Alberuni and Abul Fazl subsequently received the name of
Peshawar. The old name Purushapura is said to have been derived from
Purush, a rajah whose seat of government it is stated to have been.
It was also known as Bagram and this name finds frequent mention in
the history of the Mughal Empire. The present name (Peshawar) is
generally ascribed to Emperor Akbar whose fascination for innovation
is said to have been responsible for the change of the old name, the
meaning of which he did not know, to that of Peshawar or ‘the
frontier town’ but Raverty would have us believe, on the authority
of an old Persian MS. of Babur’s times which he claimed to have come
across during his stay at Peshawar in the middle of the 19th
century, that the town was originally known as Bagram but was
subsequently renamed as Peshawar by Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna.
It is stated that when the Sultan undertook his first expedition
beyond the Indus and entered the town, then situated on the site of
modern Tehkal, he did not like the low-lying situation and remarked
that it would be much better if the town lay a little more to the
East on a higher level.
The Sultan’s wishes were carried out and the town that sprung up on
the new site was renamed as Peshawar from the Persian verb
Pesh-awurdan, which means ‘to advance’ or ‘to bring forward’.
Another version attributed by the same scholar to the same source is
that the town was renamed as Peshawar by Sultan Mahmud because he
did not like the low position near Tehkal where his tent was first
fixed and had it removed to the mound known as Dhakki. The tent was
brought forward and hence the renaming of the town as Peshawar from
the verb Pesh-awurdan.
The Peshawar Valley has had a very chequered history: It has seen
the rise and fall of many powers it has been the scene of exploits
of many adventurers — Persian, Greek, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh
and British; and it has been the cradle of many civilisations each
of which has left its own traces.
Of the Persian and Greek monuments no vestige is now visible, except
in the remains of some Buddhist buildings which have survived and
which betray unmistakable signs of Persian and Greek influence in
design as well as in details.
To the student of history Peshawar is full of interest. He will find
here material of unrivalled interest and importance. The far-famed
Khyber Pass, accessible both by rail and road, attracts visitors
from far and wide. It is remarkably rich in remains of Buddhist
times, testifying to the fact that it was once a flourishing centre
Among these remains, the most remarkable are Kapar-Kot or ‘the
citadel of the Kafirs’, Spola Stupa, also called Khyber Tope after
the name of the neighbouring village, and the stupa near Ali Masjid
— all situated along the Ali Masjid — Landikhana Road. Just outside
the Ganj Gate of the modern city are the remains of the far famed
Buddhist monuments called Kanishka Chaitya.
There were numerous Brahmanical buildings in Peshawar in the past,
particularly during the period close upon the overthrow of Buddhism
by Brahmanism. But the pre-Buddhist period was not without them
either. There is ample evidence to prove that even during the best
days of Buddhist ascendancy, Peshawar possessed a number of
Unfortunately, however, our information about them, especially as
regards description and detail, at this distant date is so scanty
that we cannot do justice to the subject even if the requisite space
were available. Gor-Khatri (Hindu-shrine) is the oldest and most
important of its class in Peshawar proper. It was one of the most
sacred places of the Jogis among the Hindus. It was so famous during
the early Mughal period that Emperor Babar, Akbar and Jahangir
visited it personally and recorded their impressions.
Among the monuments of the Muslim period which escaped the vandalism
of the Sikhs or which were repaired and renovated later are the
Peshawar Fort (Bala-Hisar), the Serai Jahanabad, the Mosque of
Mahabat Khan, the Tomb or Tower of Nawab Said Khan, two unidentified
tombs and one gateway in Kotla Mohasan Khan, the Maqbaras
(mausoleums) of Asa Shah Mardan and Sayyad Shah Qabul, the Shahi
Bagh, the Wazir Bagh and the Kissakhani Bazaar.
The Peshawar Fort (Bala-Hisar) was founded by Babar. It was razed to
the ground and rebuilt time and again. It was last demolished,
reconstructed and renamed as Sumergarh by the Sikhs and later made
pukka by the British. The inscription in Persian on the inner gate
that Peshawar was conquered and the fort was founded by Maharaja
Ranjit Singh in 1891, Samvat is evidently misleading, for, as
already stated the fort was founded by Babar.
Crowning a small eminence to the Northwest, this quadrilateral fort
completely dominates the city. Its walls rise to a height of 92 feet
from the ground and have a fausse-braye of 30 feet, supported by
bastions at each corner and three sides.
The Serai Jahanabad, founded by Jahanara Begum, daughter of Shah
Jahan, has survived with some changes. Within the precincts of the
Serai the princess built a Jami Masjid and set apart a big endowment
for its maintenance. The mosque disappeared during the Sikh period
and its place was taken by a Shiva temple. The existence of the
Serai as well as of the Jami Masjid within it has been disclosed by
three documents of the Mughal period.
The Mosque of Mahabat Khan is the biggest and the most beautiful in
its class in the whole of the province and bears a close resemblance
to the Badshahi Masjid of Lahore. It is a fairly good specimen of
the later Mughal style of architecture.
Of many monuments of the Mughal period, the tomb or Tower of Nawab
Said Khan and two unidentified tombs in Kotla Mohsan Khan alone have
come down to us intact. The first is an imposing edifice and
resembles very closely the tomb of Anarkali at Lahore.
According to the printed account of this show-piece hanging on the
wall inside, it was surrounded by a big and beautiful garden,
enclosed by a wall having at each corner a watch-tower and within it
marble paved fountains and fruittrees — ‘making a paradise garden,
so typical of the old Mughals’.
The Sikhs built very little of architectural interest and
importance. Of the few forts founded by them, those at Jamrud,
Shabkadar, Akora Khattak and Khairabad deserve a passing mention.
All of them, except one at Akora Khattak, were kaccha or muddy. The
British left their mark mainly in military architecture. They laid
out a large cantonment area, interspersed with metalled roads having
residential bungalows or barracks on either side.
The Peshawar Cantonment is one of the best of its class in the whole
of Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. Among other monuments to the memory
of British may be mentioned the Mackeson Memorial, Hastings
Memorial, the Victoria Memorial Hall, the All Saints Church, the
Saint John’s Church and the Government House
Dawn.Books and authors May 10 ,2009