Tirth Purohit and Prayagwal
BY: SUN STAFF
Ardh and Kumbh Mela Pandas (here and below)
Oct 28, 2013 CANADA (SUN) An exploration of the Kumbha and Ardh Melas.
Thirthraj is famous in the history of Prayag and also has an ancient relationship with the citizens of Prayag. Prayagwal is the name for a brahmin of high society, including citizens of both Saryupari and Kanyakubj. The descendents of the Tirth Purohit of Prayag, who were chosen by Lord Rama as Tirth Purohit of his Raghukul after his victory over Lanka in Treta yuga, are still living in Kavirapur, Battupur of District Ayodhya.
By generational custom, the Tirth Purohit of Mishrakul are still living here, serving as the teachers of kshatriyas. Tirth teacher Prayagwal and the Panda casts are 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 priests 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 the 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 B.C. 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 reign 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 Kumbh 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.
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 A.D, the Maratha ruler Shivaji fled from Agra to Prayag 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 gave 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 the 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.
(To be continued…)
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