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Thirthraj is famous in the history of Prayag and also has a relationship with the citizens of Prayag. Prayagwal is a Brahmin of high society, which includes citizens of both Saryupari and Kanyakubj. The descendents of Tirth Purohit of Prayag, who were chosen by Lord Ram as Tirth Purohit of his Raghukul after his victory over Lanka in Treta yuga, are still living in Kavirapur, Battupur of District Ayodhya.
Of his generational customs, Tirth Purohit of Mishrakul are still living here who are the teachers of Kshtriyas. Tirth teacher Prayagwal and the Panda casts are the synonyms of same caste. In post-historic times, when Prayagraj was covered by dense forest except for the huts of rishi munis, there was no other place for pilgrim travelers. Since that time the huts of these holy priest have been the main staying place for travelers. The holy offerings received from these travelers have been the source of living for the rishis.
According to custom, all rights for offerings of religious work are given to only Prayagwal not to any other caste. Tirth Purohit have received respect since the time of Maharaja Harsh, and they have been respected through offerings in the Triveni area.
Famous Chinese traveler Hen Tsang has written that following the footsteps of his ancestors, Maharaja Harsh has given away the total wealth accumulated in 5 years within a few days. First he offered his precious gems by making a statue of Lord Buddha, then he gave away the rest of the money to the holy priests who were living there and the remaining money to a priest who came from outside.
After the ruin of Emperor Harsh during the period of King of Gaud and Parihar, Rajpootas of Kannauj, the priests, were respected in the same way through offerings. King Trilochan Pal was living Pratishthapur of Prayag in 1027 BC. He gave a village as an offering to a priest living in Pratishthapur (Jhunsi) after Parihars, the priests, were respected by Gaharwar Rajpoots. After the rein of Rajpootas, at the time of Gulamvansh in Yawankal and at the time of Emperor Khilji, the priests were respected. The forgiveness letter given by Allah-ud-din Khilji is still present at the priest Panch Bhaiya Daraganj, on whose behalf the mela area land is provided free. Today this is where the mela is organized. This land has been given by Yawan rulers to the Prayagwal ancestors in the form of forgiveness, which is tax free.
In District Jatariya Key Nabil has written, “Prayaagwal organizes Mela. Without local priests the Mela cannot be organized. Only Prayagwal organizes Kalpwasi, no other group does it.”
As the story goes, when Emperor Akbar laid the foundation of the Fort of Prayag, its Southern walls started falling due to the waves of the Yamuna River. At that time he was asked to sacrifice a Brahman. The Brahman who showed his desire to be sacrificed asked as a vardan that his family should get the rights for receiving offerings in the Triveni area, and no one else should get it. Emperor Akbar accepted this. At the time of Emperor Akbar there were two divisions of Paragyawal’s — Pikshayi and Pardeshi. The person who was to be sacrificed was of Pardeshi. After this sacrifice, Pardeshi’s became the main prophets. But as time passed the Pikshayi’s started to dominate and there was an understanding between both the groups. Still today on the Southern wall of the fort their is a sign of man and elephant, who were sacrificed. From the Prayagwals an incharge named Chaudhari was elected to organize the mela.
Emperor Akbar had given 250 bigha of free land to Tirth Purorhit of Prayag Chandrabhan Kishanram, who was the son of Jayaram, for setting up the Prayag mela. The pronouncement in this regard is still kept at Panch Bhaiya Prayagwal. In this document, Prayagwal is addressed as ‘Jujha rada ran’, meaning the wearer of the sacred thread or janeyu. The land was tax-free and the mela was being inhabited there. After the sacrifice of a Brahmin at this spot, Emperor Akbar tried to donate a human statue made of gold, and also a replica of an elephant in gold. However, the then priests refused to accept the donations because of religious reasons. Upon this, the king was unhappy and, in a fanatic decision, issued a royal decree expelling these residents of Prayag. These men were deported to the other side of the Yamuna.
Thereafter these priests settled down in the region of the Maharaja of Riva. The Baghel Rajput Riva Naresh gifted them 12 villages for sustenance.
The thok (ancestral stock) of the Tirth Purohit sacrificed by King Akbar, and the 12 thok of priests living in 13 villages, make for 13 thok in all. The entire Prayagwal community is divided in these 13 thoks.
After some time, King Man Singh came to Prayag after conquering Bengal. He amended the royal decree and brought back the Tirth Purohits to Prayag and inhabited them there. The earlier royal decree for giving away free land for the mela was accepted by the later Kings Jahangir and Shahjahan. During the time of King Aurangzeb in 1666 AD, the Maratha ruler Shivaji fled from Agra to Prayaag and stayed in the house of a Tirth Purohit at Daraganj. The Tirth Purohit of Prayag were considered warriors and they took part in religious warfare from time to time. The Sikh Guru Ram Singh and Gobind Singh had also acknowledged the greatness of these Tirth Purohit, and had given donations to them.
The place in Prayagwal where Shivaji had stayed belonged to the family of Mathuranath or Ranagnath Panchbhaiya. Shivaji went to Kashi after leaving Sambhaji with the Purohit. After due passage of time, Sambhaji took this host Tirth Purohit to Maharashtra and made him a minister in the government of Sambhaji. He was later given the title of “Kavi Kallu”. During the time of Aurangzeb also, the dignity of Prayagwals remained intact in Prayag.
Nawab Safdarganj, Ali Kuli Khan, Nawab Shujauddaula and Wajid Ali Shah of Avadh had also issued various pardons to the Prayagwal people. The deeds issued by Nawab Shujauddaula and Ali Kuli Khan are still intact with Pandit Imliyadeen Karmaha. These Prayagwals have preserved the donation scrolls, tamrapatras, stone tablets, patta, deeds, pronouncements, stone replicas etc. issued by kings and maharajas of India such as Rajputs of Rajasthan, Kashmir, Mysore, Baroda, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Kutch, Malabar, Travancore, Cochin, Nepal, Tripura, Mayurganj, Avadh etc. These are invaluable historical treasures that need to be studied and researched.
Mr. Skinner, an English traveler, has written this about the Prayagwal and the mela in 1826 AD:
“This was a religious fair that congregated at the confluence of two rivers. I did not find anything being sold there. Only bathing, prayers and meditation were the main activities there. Several rectangular wooden planks, about 8-9 feet in size and standing on tall pillars, were kept on the river bank. There were large umbrellas on them and people rested under them. The purohits and pandas appeared to be typical and exclusive teachers of the pilgrims and had their seats in the middle. They did not budge from their places and with beads in their hands, they prayed for the fulfillment of the celestial desires of the pilgrims. It was a very interesting sight.”
Mr. Neville has written in “Ex darshan in India 1833” that “The pilgrims coming to the Magh mela are given shelter and space by the Prayagwals and they fulfill their religious duties also. There is detailed description of this in the Matsya Puran and Prayag Mahatmya.”
The master plan of the mutiny that took place in Prayag in 1857 was prepared in the midst of Prayagwals. The Rani of Jhansi had come to Prayag and had stayed with the Tirth Purohit of Prayag. The Prayagwals had collaborated with the Faqir Maualvi Liaquat Ali of Mahagaon to rebel against the British. The huge 2-maund brass bell at the chrch near Kotwali was broken down by some Prayagwal of Kydganj, and he was hanged for this. The houses of Prayagwals of Daraganj and Kydganj were ransacked and they were punished also.
There was immense contribution of the Prayagwals in the freedom struggle. Among them, Pandit Basantlal Sharma, Pandit Pashupati Nath Sharma, Pandit Kashi Prasad Awasthi, late Ranganath Sharma, late Chhavinath Sharma, late Mata Prasad Roy who was a friend and colleage of martyr Chandra Shekhar Azad and also of late Batuk Nath of Ajain living on the Yamuna Bank road.
There is a specific Tirth Purohit of all pilgrims to Prayag. The relationship of a pilgrim with a Tirth Purohit is that of a teacher and disciple. These Tirth Purohits are the religious teachers of the pilgrims and have the exclusive right to accept donations at the Triveni area.
Mr. Neville writes in the District gazetteer:
“All religious rites of pilgrims coming to Prayag are conducted by the Prayagwals. First there is obeisance at Beni madhav, followed by the sankalp, the shaving of the hair, a holy dip, pind daan, shaiya daan, godan, bhumi dan and thus in the end, the Prayagwal gives his blessings to the pilgrims.”
All the daan and up-daan are conducted by the Prayagwals. The descriptions and family history of the pilgrims are in the scrolls carried by the tirth purohit. The accommodation and shelter for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and kalpawasis coming to Prayag are arranged by the Prayagwals. The Prayagwal gets the land on lease from the administration, arranges for a hut or tent on this land, puts up the pilgrims in them and accepts whatever is given as donation, and manages his livelihood with that only.
The pilgrims are dedicated to the Prayagwals on the basis of region and the rituals. The Prayagwals also preserve the descriptions of their pilgrims. The pilgrims derive immense pleasure upon seeing the signatures of their ancestors in those thick, ancient scrolls preserved by the Prayagwals, who immediately search out the family tree and family history as soon as the pilgrims approach them.
There are two kinds of Prayagwals – Pidhiya or permanent who are original residents of Prayag, and Pardeshi, who are descendants of relatives who came to Prayaag and settled there. The Prayagwals are given land on a token lease for sheltering the pilgrims, and they are given land for putting the planks and cots for conducting the religious rites near the Sangam, Ganga patti and Yamuna patti. The allotment of this land is done at the behest of Prayagwal Sabha and the members decide the order and the area of place to be allotted. There have been no complaints regarding the Prayagwals roaming around to conduct the rites at any place except the designated one. Some of these Prayagwals also have the licence to conduct the Benidaan.
These Pandas of Prayag take you back in time. They claim that online archives and digital records cannot match their thick books. Pilgrims flock to their tents to review the ancestral records of our forefathers. Each Prayagwal tent is marked by a fluttering flag, symbolising the territory of which they have records. These tents interspersed between the various tents and billowing facades of the asrams and tirthas make the mela ground a festival of color.
All the pilgrim has to do is recognise the panda of their clan, with the help of specific colourful flags, tell them where they come from, and the pandas will show them their family’s chronology.
“We ask for the name of the district, village and one’s caste. We are then able to tell him of the panda that he might belong to. Many youngsters these days don’t know even the names of their grandfathers. They come here to look up in the book and we help them trace their ancestors,” said Kedar Nath panda.
“They are registered as a recognised body — Prayagwal Mahasabha — with the administration. At present, our number is 1884… We will remain in business as long as devouts throng the melas,” he added.