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Pandara Road: How a clerical error pushed Pandavas off New Delhi map

The name Pandara does not strike a bell, unlike those of most roads named by the colonial government, mostly in memory of British monarchs and Viceroys, as well as rulers, dynasties and prominent figures from the subcontinent’s — and particularly Delhi’s — long history.

Written by Sukrita Baruah | New Delhi |
Updated: April 19, 2019 7:07:47 am
pandara road, new delhi pandavas road, india gate, road name change, delhi road name change, indian express  Pandara Road branches off southwards from the India Gate complex. (Express Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)

A clerical error denied the Pandavas a central place in the new capital of New Delhi when the name of the road to be named in their honour was erroneously typed, becoming the city’s well-known Pandara Road. The road branches off southwards from the India Gate complex. The other roads radiating from the complex have names which are far more easily identified — Akbar Road, Ashoka Road, Shahjahan Road and Sher Shah Road, for instance.

The name Pandara does not strike a bell, unlike those of most roads named by the colonial government, mostly in memory of British monarchs and Viceroys, as well as rulers, dynasties and prominent figures from the subcontinent’s — and particularly Delhi’s — long history.

The unfamiliar name also irked Delhi’s Chief Commissioner in 1942, A V Askwith, writes historian Dr Swapna Liddle in her book Connaught Place and the Making of New Delhi. She writes that the name appears in the oldest official maps of the new capital, such as the Delhi Guide Map of 1933 which shows road names.

Upon submitting an enquiry, Askwith received a response from the New Delhi Municipal Corporation president stating that it was likely supposed to be ‘Pandava’, after the heroes of the Mahabharata. “The handwritten lower case ‘v’ in ‘Pandava’ had been erroneously typed up by some clerk as ‘r’, and the mistake was never corrected!” writes Dr Liddle.

That the Pandavas would have a road named after them falls in line with the pattern of the makers of the new capital invoking the lineage of dynasties and rulers who had governed Delhi in the past.

Indraprastha — the capital city believed to be founded by the Pandavas and located where Purana Qila stands — finds several mentions in a paper by Herbert Baker, one of the primary architects of the new city, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts in 1926, shortly before Government of India moved into the new Secretariat at Raisina Hill.

On a debate in 1912 on whether the new capital should be constructed at a site to the north of Shahjahanabad, “with its historical associations of the Mutiny and of the famous Delhi Darbars”, or at its current site, which was considered more favourable, Baker wrote: “The battle of science and of faith in the future of the new Capital against association and sentiment, and of a clean against a rather dirty architectural slate, raged for some time, as in the long drawn wars of the Mahabharata between Hastinapur and Indraprastha. But as in that Homeric contest, Indraprastha won. For now the great central vista of New Delhi faces Indrapat, the reputed Indraprastha of the first legendary city of Delhi.”

The error that led to the Pandavas being pushed off the map of the new capital, however, has led to some amount of speculation about the meaning of ‘Pandara Road’ as is evidenced by discussions on online forums. Among some of the guesses hazarded by people are that it is a mutation of the name Pandora from Greek mythology, or that the road was named after Pandara Vanniyan, who revolted against the British Ceylon Empire and Dutch Ceylon Empire in the 18th Century.

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