Monday 31 December 2012

The name of the ancient town that Aurangzeb could never change

This place today is a pale shadow of its once glorious past. Its reference point is from the times of Ramayana. It then again found mention in the Mahabharata.
Apart from the epics, this place is closely connected with the first Indian empire-the Mauryas. The Mauryan Emperor, Ashoka, arguably the greatest Emperor of India, married the daughter of a banker here.
Kalidasa’s Meghadoot has immortalised this town which is the tri junction of three rivers. It also has the remains of  India's only votive pillars with palm-leaf capitals-the Heliodorus pillar, also known as Khamba Baba.
It also features prominently in the Brahmin, Jain and Buddhist texts. This is also the town that the last great Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb (1658-1707) wanted desperately to name after himself. Try as much he did, he failed to get the name changed.
Today that town still retains its old name of Videsha. However its old glory is gone forever and it is a small city with a magnificent past. The three rivers of  Betwa,Bes and Choprel flow quietly, oblivious of the crowd. These three rivers form the boundary of the ancient town of Besnagar.     
The first reference to Videsha in the Ramayana of Valmiki. He says that Shatrughna's son, Shatrughati, was placed in charge of Vidisha.
During the Mahabharata period, this place was called Bhadravati and it was the residence of Yuvanashva who supplied the famous horse to Yudhishthira during his Ashvamedha sacrifice
Three kilometres from Videsha is another old city with a past. This is Besnagar, which is also identified closely with ancient Vidisha. Besnagar is on the banks of the Betwa.
The name Besnagar dates back to pre-Christian ages. It figures prominently in Buddhist, Jain and Brahmanical literature under various names such as Vessanagar and Vaisyanagar.
Legend connects Besnagar or Vessanagar with Raja Rukmangada who neglected his own wife for the sake of the Apsara, Visva Mohini. He also named a town after her and called it Vishvanagar.
It was sometime in the 7th century AD that Besnagar was destroyed. This town was on the west of the Betwa. However, another town arose but on the eastern side of Betwa located on the western side of the river Betwa and it came to be called Bhailaswamin or Bhillaswamin, which later came to be corrupted as Bhilsa or Bhelsa.
The name Bhelsa can be traced to the temple of the Sun God which was built here.
When Ashoka was still a prince aged 18, his father the Emperor Bindusara, who was ruling from Pataliputra, appointed him as Viceroy of Ujjain.
Ashoka left Pataliputra for Ujjain, Enroute he halted at Besnagar. Here, he met Vidisha Devi, the daughter of a banker. Though she belonged to the Sakya clan, Ashoka had no qualms about marrying her as she is believed to have nursed him when he fell sick.
Devi was Ashoka's first wife She gave birth to twins-a son Mahendra and daughter Sanghmitra. After the Kalinga war, she moved away from Ashoka, appaled by the scale of the killing.  
Both the children spent a lot of time at Besnagar. When Ashoka became the Emperor of India, both Mahendra and Sangamitra went to Ceylon as their father's religious ambassadors.
They carried a twig of the original Bodhi tree to Ceylon. They also led the first Buddhist Mission to Ceylon. On her part, Devi never visited Patliputra. She stayed on at Besnagar only and embraced Buddhism afterwards.
A monastery type building has been excavated near the magnificent stupa at Sanchi. This was Devi’s residence and there are strong historical evidence to prove that  Ashoka built her the structure.
Sanchi is just 8 kms from Besnagar. Before Mahendra and Sangamirtra set sail for Ceylon, they came to see their mother at Besnagar. Devi then took both of them to Chaitya Giri or the place where the Sanchi Stupa was constructed.
After the Mauryas, the Sungas, the Kanvas, the Nagas, the Vakatakas, the Guptas, the Kalchuris of Mahishmati the Parmars, and even the Western Chalukyas ruled over Vidisha. Artifacts of these dynasties have been found in and around Vidisha.
Under the Guptas, Besnagar-Vidisha was a flourishing city. The Udayagiri caves are a testimony to the Gupta presence here. The caves contain many Gupta idols and carvings and are worth a visit.
Later, this region remained under the control of the Mughals. Aurangzeb tried to rename the City as Alamgiri Nagar after himself, but without success.
He destroyed the Brijmandal temple and built a mosque from the materials of the Hindu temple in 1682. He called it Alamgir mosque. Yet, the name of Alamgiri Nagar never took off and even then preferred to call it Vidisha.
After the Mughals, it was the turn of the Marathas and Peshwas to lord over the area. Thereafter, it became a part of the Scindia's Gwalior State and was a tehsil of  the Isagarh Pargana.
In 1904, Vidisha became a district having the two Tehsils of Vidisha and Basoda till the formation of Madhya Bharat in 1948. In 1949, Vidisha was enlarged in area with the merger of small states of Kurwai. The Sironj sub-division which was formerly in Kota district of Rajasthan and the small paragana of  Piklone belonging to the Bhopal State were added to the district when Madhya Pradesh took birth.
Even today, the antiquity of the  plateau of Vidisha vividly reflects its grandeur in the form of Besnagar, Gyaraspur, Udaypur, Udaygiri, Badoh-Pathari and other smaller villages and towns. There is too much of history to chronicle here and too many ruins to name.  
Vidisha is 56 kms from Bhopal the capital of Madhya Pradesh. The Udayagiri caves belonging to the Gupta caves are nearby.
Vidisha is well connected by roads. It is one the Mumbai-Delhi and Delhi-Chennai rail line.

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