From legend of Mahabharata to Sultanate era, Gurugram has more than a millennium of heritage

From the legend of Mahabharat to the Sultanate era, Gurugram has a rich history, which it is yet to recognise and reclaim. Experts say there is a need to raise awareness and protect whatever remains.
Farrukhnagar Fort, Gurugram, 29 September 1976 .(N Thyagarajan/ HT Archives)
Farrukhnagar Fort, Gurugram, 29 September 1976 .(N Thyagarajan/ HT Archives)
Updated on Aug 10, 2018 03:10 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Gurugram | BySadia Akhtar

All contemporary discussions on Gurugram focus on its high-rises, tony apartment complexes, expressway-like roads, a private metro network, entertainment and shopping hubs of global standard and the network of corporates. Rarely one hears about the city’s heritage, it’s history, the roots.

Unlike it’s neighbour Delhi, where every nook and cranny is awash with history, monuments in Gurugram have failed to garner such interest. However absurd it may sound for a city that traces its history, according to some accounts, to the Mahabharat era, one is forced to ask if the city has a dearth of monuments. Pose the same query to historians and heritage lovers and they would quickly junk it.

Naveen Piplani, a conservation architect, said it would be wrong to say Gurugram doesn’t qualify as a heritage city. “From the mythological to Colonial, all kinds of structures exist in the city. What else do you need to call it a city with a rich history and heritage?” asked Piplani.

“The need of the hour is to introduce the city’s heritage to people and for the locals to recognise their roots. For this to happen, people need to appreciate the city’s history,” he said.

A 1976 photo of Farrukhanagar Fort. It was an octagonal, enclosed town founded in 1713 which played a crucial role during the 1857 revolt. The revolt ended with the death of nawab of Farrukhnagar, Fauzdar Khan. (N Thyagarajan/ HT Archives)
A 1976 photo of Farrukhanagar Fort. It was an octagonal, enclosed town founded in 1713 which played a crucial role during the 1857 revolt. The revolt ended with the death of nawab of Farrukhnagar, Fauzdar Khan. (N Thyagarajan/ HT Archives)

The history of Gurugram could be traced through decades in the information recorded in the official Gazetteers. The earliest being the one that was published in 1910.

Historians recall it being an ordinary village. “Gurgaon, as the name suggests, was a simple village. There was nothing to make it stand out,” said KC Yadav, a historian.

Yadav, however, debunked the theory that the city had a connection with Dronacharya, the guru of the Pandavas and Kauravas from Mahabharat. “It was a myth, based on which now they have changed the name of the city. There is no historical evidence or document to show that this city ever belonged to anybody other than the villagers,” said Yadav.

The historian said that there was a greater possibility of the city tracing its name to corruption of the word ‘gur’ (jaggery). “In those days, travelling across the Yamuna wasn’t convenient. To avoid it, essential commodities used to be stocked in mandis. Banjaras (nomads) would transport jaggery from Uttar Pradesh and store them here. These stockpiles of gur probably gave birth to the name Gurgaon,” explained Yadav, a resident of Sector 23.

In the medieval times, the importance of Gurugram was associated with Sheetla Mata, whose temple is located near the city bus stand. “There was a belief among the people that getting small pox meant that the goddess was unhappy. People used to come from far off places to please the goddess,” said Shikha Jain, convener INTACH, Haryana chapter.

In the nineteenth century, the British rulers started building their bungalows in the city, remnants of which can still be found in the present-day Gurugram. The Gurgaon district, till 1857, formed a part of the Delhi Division of the North-Western Provinces of the Bengal presidency, as per information in the gazette.

According to the Gurgaon District Gazetteer, 1983, “not much is known about the ancient history of the areas comprising the Gurgaon district but it seems always to have been held under the sway of the rulers of Delhi.”

The city’s geographical proximity to Delhi was a crucial factor in shaping Gurugram, say experts. “Gurugram’s growth story is largely about a transfer of population. Delhi was congested, whereas Gurugram had open spaces. Those who had less space and more money started moving to Gurugram. Gradually, MNCs started arriving here, heralding a new era,” said Yadav who has been living in the city since 1996.

Another important development that shaped the city’s recent history is the setting up of the Maruti plant in the mid-70s. Jagannath Mangla, president of Gurgaon Industrial Association, recalls how the arrival of Maruti changed the industrial face of the city and it put it on the growth map.

“In the 60s, there were a few rubber and crockery industries around. Things changed after the arrival of Maruti, something which Sanjay Gandhi pushed for. It was the beginning of full-fledged industrialisation. Hero Honda followed Maruti and there has been no looking back ever since. Today, the city has become an industrial hub,” said the 70-year-old Mangla who has been living in the city since 1952.

Maruti employees being addressed, May 2, 1980. The setting up of the Maruti plant in the mid-70s put Gurugram on the industrial map of the country. (HT Archives)
Maruti employees being addressed, May 2, 1980. The setting up of the Maruti plant in the mid-70s put Gurugram on the industrial map of the country. (HT Archives)

Yogesh Mehta, whose brothers worked with Maruti, recalled how the automobile company entwined the family with Gurugram.

“Two of my elder brothers were working with Maruti in 1987. One of them got lucky and was allotted a house in the draw of lots organised by the Maruti housing board. In November 1990, we moved to Gurugram,” said Mehta, who now lives in Mohyal Colony.

A heritage lover, Mehta fondly remembers how the area around the colony used to be dotted with small “monument-like structures”. “I remember seeing a few small monuments scattered around in the late 70s. The area where CyberHub stands used to be a huge pond. On any given day, one could spot around 100 of peacocks there,” recalled Mehta.

Mehta said urbanisation has come at the cost of history. “Successive state governments have focused on industries and revenue generation. No attention was paid to heritage and history. Several small historical structures are scattered around the city but people are not aware of their value. The government doesn’t make the effort to promote these places,” said Mehta.

Like Mehta, other residents also expressed concerns. In its quest for growth, the city is leaving behind its heritage, they say. “What is the qualification to be a smart city? Doesn’t heritage constitute a part of the city? I see people now talking about heritage a little bit. But, that’s largely happening because people want to put a tick mark on their list of things to be done. A sense of connection and ownership of the city’s heritage is missing,” said photographer Aditya Arya, who has been living in DLF Phase 3 since 1997.

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