Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The origins of Gurgaon

The origin of the name ‘Gurgaon’ is from Hindu mythology. Legend has it that Gurgaon is the ancestral village of Guru Dronacharya, the teacher of the Pandavas and Kauravas in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. In Sanskrit, Guru means teacher, which in this case refers to Dronacharya and both Gram and Gaon mean village. According to Hindu mythology, the village was gifted by the Pandavas and Kauravas to Dronacharya, the son of Rishi Bhardwaj, and was therefore known as Guru-Gram. Over time the colloquial term Gaon (which also means village in the ancient Prakrit language) was substituted for Gram and the name Gurgaon emerged.

This is said to be the land that, according to the Mahabharata, was handed over to Guru Dronacharya to teach warfare and the use of arms to the five Pandavas and their Kaurava cousins when they were young. One legend says that the settlement of Gurgaon was set up by Guru Dronacharya on land given to him by Dhritarashtra, the king of Hastinapur and father of the Kauravas, in recognition of his teachings of martial arts to the princes. Another legend has it that the Pandavas gifted the village here to their teacher Dronacharya as Guru-dakshina. Today the 'Dronacharya Tank', still exists within Gurgaon city, along with a village called Gurgaon that marks the original settlement.

Dronacharya Tank, Gurgaon
image source: author

At present the Dronacharya tank is an unused reservoir lying to the west of the Railway road in Gurgaon village. According to oral tradition, the young Pandavas, while playing with a ball, had dropped it in this tank and Dronacharya helped them retrieve it. About a kilometre away is the Sheetala Mata Mandir (temple) which is supposedly named after Dronacharya’s wife Sheetala Devi. The temple and tank may have once been connected by a ritual processional route for pilgrims. Some locals claim that there are ancient subterranean connections between the two structures.

Dronacharya Tank, Gurgaon
image source: author

According to legends from the Mahabharata, Sheetala was the daughter of the Rishi Sharadwan. She was adopted by the King Shantanu (who was also the father of the Pandava and Kaurava family patriarch Bhishma). Having been brought up with great Krupa (kindness) by the king, she came to be known as Krupi. Krupi was married to Guru Dronacharya and is supposed to have lived by the pond at Gurgaon, though it is not known if this is the same man-made reservoir that is the Dronacharya tank. Krupi became a mother-figure to the Guru’s pupils and due to her great piety, her legend gradually evolved and she came to be known as the Devi or goddess of Gurgaon. The temple itself is associated with several miracles dating from the Vedic era and into Mughal times. 

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On January 29th 2010, when the Delhi Metro first entered Gurgaon, its very first stop within the city was at the Guru Dronacharya station. In naming the first metro station in Gurgaon (when arriving from Delhi) after the  mythical warrior-teacher, the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) decided to reference local folklore. It was a fortunate decision - the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) originally gave it the rather banal name of Garden Estate after a nearby residential development.

Gurgaon today is popularly thought of as a rather dull and modern suburb of Delhi but as the discussion above proves, the city does have associated historical myths and legends that may actually pre-date the very first capital city at Delhi which was supposed to have been Indraprastha, the capital of the Pandavas after they won the great battle at Kurukshetra.
image source: Wikimedia Commons

Several other places in the larger district of Gurgaon are also associated with Guru Dronacharya. Dhankot on the Gurgaon-Farruknagar road is said to be the place that supplied milk to the Guru and his Pandava pupils at Guru-gram. For Buddhists, Dhankot is also identified as Thullkottiha which was visited by Gautama Buddha according to Buddhist literature. Another place associated with Dronacharya is Saiyad, 3 kilometres west of Gurgaon on the Gurgaon-Dharmapur road. According to local tradition, Saiyad is believed to be where Guru Dronacharya and his pupils had their residence. This site has yielded Painted Grey Ware pottery during archaeological excavations.

 Painted Grey Ware pottery
image source: Tokyo Metropolitan Museum 

The Painted Grey Ware culture is an Iron Age culture of the Gangetic plain in India, lasting from roughly 1200 BC to 600 BC. It is believed to correspond to the later Vedic period and has been associated (by historians like B.B.Lall) with sites mentioned in the Mahabharata including Hastinapura, Mathura, Ahichatra, Kampilya, Barnawa and Kurukshetra – and, by some, with the period of the Mahabharata itself. In fact, a number of Painted Grey Ware pottery specimens have been found at archaeological sites spread over the Gurgaon district including Saiyad, Sanghel and Ujina. 

Author:  Shahana Dastidar

Note: This blog post relates to a project titled - Revitalisation of the Dronacharya Tank, Gurgaon. For more details, please write to the author at urbanruralfabric(at)

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