Ghaziabad: Of Harappans, Nizams and Conquerors
Ghaziabad in Delhi’s NCR region was till recently known as a ‘crime capital’ but it has since undergone quite a transformation. But as Ghaziabad looks to the future, few realize that its past is equally exciting, with the region’s history going back almost 4,500 years. Why, it also has a very close connection to the Nizams of Hyderabad!
The ‘Ghazi’ after whom ‘Ghaziabad’ is named is Ghaziuddin Khan Feroze Jung II (1709-1752), eldest son of Mir Qamaruddin Khan Asaf Jah I, founder of the Asaf Jahi dynasty and the first Nizam of Hyderabad. Before he died, Asaf Jah I (r. 1724 – 1748) made sure he installed his son as a prominent member of the Mughal court and Ghaziuddin Khan rose to become a general under Emperor Ahmad Shah Bahadur. Although Ghaziuddin Khan was unable to succeed his father and take over his wealthy kingdom in the Deccan, his memory has been immortalised by this city, about 40 km from Delhi.
But the story of Ghaziabad goes back, much further, to antiquity. The Ghaziabad region is situated in the fertile plains of the Hindon River, a tributary of the Yamuna. Just outside Ghaziabad is Alamgirpur, a small village in Garhmukteshwar Block, was where the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) carried out excavations in 1958-59.
A settlement dating to the Harappan Civilisation (3300-1300 BCE) was found here, along with fragments of roof tiles, dishes, cups, vases, cubicle dice, beads, terracotta cakes, carts and figurines of a humped bull and a snake. What makes this site so significant is that it is the eastern-most site of the Indus Valley or Harappan Civilisation. Its discovery threw light on just how great the extent of the Harappan Civilisation was.
Not just Alamgirpur, but near Mohannagar in Ghaziabad, a mound known as ‘Kaseri Mound’ was excavated in the 1950s. It revealed fragments of Painted Grey Ware (PGW). What is known to historians as the Painted Grey Ware Culture thrived here after the fall of the Harappans, from 1500 BCE onwards. During the later Vedic period, the Kurus ruled the region, which included places like Delhi (Indraprastha), Hastinapur, Baghpat and Ghaziabad.
Since then, the region has passed to multiple Hindu dynasties, to the Mandas, then the Mauryas, Kushanas, Guptas, Mukharis and the Gurjar Pratiharas. In the 11th CE, during his ninth invasion of India, Mahmuda of Ghazni took over this area from a Rajput chieftain, Haridutta, who also established Harpur or Haripur, which is now known as Hapur, a small town located on the outskirts of Ghaziabad.
The fertile, open plains of the Hindon River, which encouraged human settlement and agricultural prosperity, were also a battleground for armies, much like the areas of Panipat and Plassey. No wonder several historic battles were fought here. During the declining years of the Delhi Sultanate in the late 14th CE, the region was plundered by armies of Central Asian invader Timur (1336 – 1405). In December 1398 CE, Timur attacked Loni Fort, 18 km from Ghaziabad, destroyed it and butchered its inhabitants. On 17th December 1398, he encountered and defeated the forces of Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah Tughlaq and entered Delhi, which he sacked.
As the throne of Delhi changed hands from the Delhi Sultanate to the Mughal Empire in the 16thCE, the Hindon River had new agricultural establishments on its banks, which brought prosperity to the region. These settlements came to light in the 17thCE, after the construction of Shahjahanabad by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It was then that transit and trade spots such as Patpargunj and Shahdara rose on the eastern side of the Yamuna River.
The Mughal Court had a powerful General named Ghaziuddin Feroze Jung I (1649-1710), who played a very important role in Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s conquest of Golconda in the Deccan. Ghaziuddin also built a madrasa, or an Islamic school for religious instruction, in Delhi, which later became the famous Delhi College, now known as Zakir Hussian College. His son was Mir Qamaruddin Khan, who also served as a Minister and a General in Aurangzeb’s court and would become the famous as Nizam-ul Mulk, Asaf Jah I.
But after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 CE, the Mughal Empire began to crumble and a series of weak Emperors began to rule. Disgusted with the intrigues in the Mughal court of Delhi, Nizam-ul-Mulk went down to the Deccan as Governor, leaving his eldest son Ghaziuddin Feroze Jung II in charge of affairs in Delhi.
Due to the horrific invasion of Persian invader Nadir Shah in 1738-40 CE, Ghaziuddin Feroze Jung II left the imperial city and began to stay in ‘Ghaziuddin Nagar’, or present-day Ghaziabad. Sadly, there is no trace of the 120-room caravanserai that Ghaziuddin built here. It is still not clear whether it was Ghazi-ud-din Feroze Jung II or Imad-Ul-Mulk who founded the city, yet the official records confirm about the founding of city in 1740.
Ghaziuddin’s father Nizam-ul-Mulk had created an independent kingdom in the Deccan. Following his father’s death in 1748 CE, Ghaziuddin left Delhi and attempted to claim his father’s throne in the south but lost out to his brothers. He died in Aurangabad in 1752 CE and was buried there.
Ghaziuddin’s son Imad-ul-Mulk (Ghaziuddin Feroze Jung III) continued to be a Minister in Delhi and played an important role in the Mughal court. He was even involved in the assassination of Mughal Emperor Alamgir II in 1759 CE because of the growing resentment within the people and the royals during the Emperor’s reign and even his lethargy in understanding the intentions of the growing powers who were ironically being honoured by him. Once the governor of Assam, Imad-ul-Mulk had teamed up with the Marathas for this act.
As a battleground, Ghaziabad saw the forces of the Rohilla warlord Najib-ud-Daulah clash with those of Jat ruler Raja Suraj Mal, on 25th December 1763 CE, near Shahdara, on the banks of the Hindon River. Suraj Mal was killed in that encounter.
The following year, in 1764 CE, after the Battle of Buxar, when the British East India Company defeated the combined forces of the Mughals, of Awadh and of Bengal, Delhi and its surrounding areas were abandoned by its Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II, who lived in Allahabad for 6 years. In 1771 CE, the Emperor returned to Delhi under the protection of Maratha chief MahadjiScindia, and the region came under Maratha control. Following the Second Anglo-Maratha War, the British took control of Delhi and its surrounding region, which included Ghaziabad, in 1803 CE.
Battleground during the Revolt
The British were slowly settling in and around Delhi. Ghaziabad was now on the British map as a small village, between Delhi and the Meerut Cantonment. But things took a brutal turn during the Revolt of 1857. As part of the Revolt, a battle was fought in Ghaziabad on the banks of the Hindon River, on 30-31st May 1857, between local revolutionary leaders and the British East India Company. The revolutionaries had brought along their own armies from nearby areas such as Dadri and Pilkhuwa and put up a united front against the British. The British suffered many casualties but emerged victorious. This battle has gone down his history as the ‘Battle of Ghazee-ood-din Nugger’.
Winds of Change
In the mid-19th century, Ghaziabad became part of Meerut District. In the 1860s, it became one of the centers where the famous Muslim reformer Sir Syed Ahmed Khan founded an educational society here, as part of the revivalist movement under which he tirelessly worked for the social upliftment of Muslims.
In the late 19th century, Ghaziabad got a railway station when Delhi was connected to Multan by rail. It was then that the name ‘Ghazee-ud-din Nagar’ was shortened to ‘Ghaziabad’.
In the 1940s, the town saw a smattering of factories and industrial units open, and this was to define its identity as an industrial hub. Post-Partition, with businessmen settling here from Pakistan, the number of factories increased, and there were as many as 30 units in 1951.
A couple of years before this, in 1949, Ghaziabad became home to a brewery that went on to manufacture some of India’s biggest alcohol brands. It was opened by Narinder Nath Mohan, who teamed up with the Dyer Meakin & Co Ltd. The latter had been in the alcohol business, with units in Kasauli and Solan since 1855. Incidentally, Dyer Meakin & Co Ltd had been founded by Edward Dyer, father of General Dyer of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. In 1967, the company was named Mohan Meakin Breweries Ltd and, as they say, the rest is history.
It wasn’t long before Ghaziabad’s fortunes as an industrial town grew exponentially. Owing to its proximity to Delhi, being on the agriculturally-rich Upper Ganga Doab area and the famous Grand Trunk Road too, Ghaziabad was a gateway to Eastern India. This gave businessmen an important advantage.
In 1960, the state administration formally carved out Ghaziabad into industrial zones and this further boosted the local economy. In 1976, the District of Ghaziabad was created and it included territories from the adjoining districts of Meerut and Bulandshahr. Ghaziabad is now the second-largest industrial city in Uttar Pradesh after Kanpur.
Abode of a Revolutionary
Ghaziabad was also home to Durga Vohra, famously known as ‘Durga Bhabhi, the revolutionary who famously disguised herself as the wife of Bhagat Singhso that they would look like any other young couple catching a train in Lahore. They were en route to Calcutta after Singh assassinated police officer John Saunders as a revolutionary act in December 1928. Durga Vohra was the wife of revolutionary Bhagwati Charan, and she spent her final days in Ghaziabad.
After losing her husband in 1930 while the revolutionaries were testing bombs in Lahore, Durga Vohra went to Madras for Montessori training and then moved to Lucknow, where she opened the Lucknow Montessori School in 1940, which she ran till 1975. After this, she moved to Ghaziabad and spent the last 24 years of her life here. She died in Ghaziabad in 1999, at the age of 92.
The Indian Air Force has played an important role in the history of Ghaziabad. The Hindan Air Force Station was inaugurated here in 1965 during the Indo-Pakistan War. After the conflict, some fighter squadrons stayed back to safeguard Delhi. That’s when MiG23s and MiG 27s started to rule Ghaziabad’s skies.
However, an increasing number of bird hits started to ring alarm bells, as fighter planes began to crash regularly in the mid-‘80s. Slaughter houses and dumping grounds on the outskirts of the city had begun to attract birds and they were now a threat to military planes and pilots.
The fighter base was thus abandoned in 1997 and replaced with a transport fleet of helicopters. In the recent past, the Hindan airbase has undergone several transformations, making it an important base of the Indian Air Force.
Commercial and Transportation Hub
With the Delhi-NCR region expanding, areas like Indirapuram and Raj Nagar Extension in Ghaziabad have become large residential zones. Then, in 2018, Ghaziabad became part of the 135-km-long Eastern Peripheral Expressway that connects Ghaziabad with Kundli and Faridabad in Haryana.
That same year, the 10.3-km-long Hindon Elevated Road was opened, connecting residents of Raj Nagar Extension to National Highway NH-24. The road is also used for traffic going from Delhi to Meerut, Moradabad, Dehradun and adjoining areas. It is the longest elevated road in India.
Thus, with a 4,500-year-old legacy, Ghaziabad is relieved to finally reinvent itself and embrace a modern future.
Cover Image: Hindon Bridge, near Ghaziabad, British Library