excerpt: The frontier city

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.


Cultural Influences

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 of Buddhism.

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 Brahmanical temples.

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




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