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Nawada: The Dehradun We Know Less

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Bygone Doon:

By Pradeep Singh

Cities that have some antiquity enjoy a layered past. The patina of time and neglect erase from one’s mind and memory the precincts that once buzzed with life, laboured activity and travails of the times. In the not too distant a past, the Doon Valley was a picture of raw natural beauty – not necessarily the idealised beauty of landscape artists but perhaps more a biodiversity aficionado’s delight. Vast portions of the Valley, especially, the eastern pargana (Parva Doon), were a stretch of wetlands from Mothrowala to Rishikesh barely interspersed with rank marshes, malarial, and wildlife infested.

The geology of the Doon Valley had its own peculiarities in that the copious amount of water that was received in the monsoons, and at other times too, was seen as run-offs that cascaded charmingly in gorges and streams but then disappeared underground to be finally arrested by the Siwaliks to the south of Doon. This mass of water then appeared in several wetlands (locally ‘johards’ and ‘ogals’) most markedly at Mothrowala swamp, at Khattapani, Nakraunda, Gularghati, Golatapar, Teenpani then further eastwards at the Jogiwala Jheel adjacent to Rishikesh.

The Doon Valley was predominantly ruled by the Parmar dynasty since the 13th century, a dynasty that had its primary seat at Shrinagar in present day Pauri district. Their sway was extensive to include all of Garhwal, and its location kept it out of the orbit of the Mughal Empire with which Garhwal shared its southern borders. For governing Doon, the Garhwal Rajas had their administrative centre at Nawada.

Nawada was a carefully chosen site located on the northern spur of the Nagsidh Hill in the Siwaliks. It was at an elevation above the valley that stretched northward towards Mussoorie. The location gave an uninterrupted view of the valley. Besides, it was at a distance from the surrounding marshy tracts that characterised eastern Doon. To its south, across the ravines of the Nagsidh Hill, flowed the Suswa River that had its source nearby in the depths of the Mothrowala swamp, which in those days was an extensive one covering parts of present day Mothrowala village and the south east portion of Clement Town. Beyond the river was a stretch of Sal forests of Phandowala, Bullawala, Kansrao, etc., going eastward till Haridwar. A road ran through the region connecting the western Doon with the eastern pargana. In the given situation, the location of Nawada was strategic for control and administration of the Valley.

Although the official representative of the Raja of Garhwal was posted at Nawada, the sovereign of Garhwal himself used to visit and stay there. A palace with fortifications was available for his comforts. Similarly, in the western Doon, the royal quarters were at Pirthipur, whose remains still exist. The more prominent of the viceroys of the Raja who resided at Nawada was a royal prince, Kunwar Ajab Shah, more popular as Ajbu Kunwar. His memory is perpetuated to this day by a village he founded nearby, aptly named Ajabpur.

Civil and criminal matters were dealt with at the court of the viceroy at Nawada. For those sentenced to capital punishment, there was a spot for hanging which the locals called “phansighar”, which gave notoriety to Nawada. Till not too long ago, locals would tell a person to go to Nawada in jest, which became synonymous with “go hang yourself”.

Once Guru Ram Rai came and settled in Doon, it gradually affected the viability of Nawada as an administrative centre for the Valley. Raja Fateh Shah of Garhwal was devoted to the Guru and had readily parted with several villages for the maintenance of the Guru’s Darbar at Khurbura. These villages, for reason of better location, were in the western portion of the Doon Valley. Thus, with the Raja alienating the rent of these villages in favour of the Darbar, the administrative loci of the Valley itself shifted to the precincts of the Darbar of the Guru. Nawada receded from focus as a consequence and its decline was rapid. Today its ruins are hard to locate and its existence is in recall of narratives like the one you are reading.

Sometime during the days of Nawada, an order of Udasi monks set up their dera there, which offered shelter to passing fakirs. Its founding Mahant was Baba Nagraj belonging to one of the orders of the Udasi Sampradaya, whose members were predominantly celibates and ascetics. A building, perhaps built in the late eighteenth century, still stands at the spot and a mela (fair) is held every Basant Panchami and a jhanda (flag on mast) is raised on the occasion. In a portion of the courtyard overlooking the ravines to the east are several samadhis of the mahants of this Udasi dera. By its location in the proximity of Nawada, it seems to have enjoyed the patronage of the Garhwal Rajas who were ever mindful of supporting numerous religious orders that settled and flourished in their dominions and have consequently been rewarded by their land being called the Dev Bhumi.

{Pradeep Singh is an historian and the author of the “Suswa Saga: A Family Narrative of Eastern Dehradun”(2011) and “Sals of the Valley: A Memorial to Dehra Dun”(2017).}