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The location at the confluence of Ganges and Yamuna rivers has been known in ancient times as Prayāga, which means “place of a sacrifice” in Sanskrit (pra-, “fore-” + yāj-, “to sacrifice”).[26] It was believed that god Brahma performed the very first sacrifice (yāga, yajna) in this place.[27][28]

The word prayāga has been traditionally used to mean “a confluence of rivers”. For Allahabad, it denoted the physical meeting point of the rivers Ganges and Yamuna in the city. An ancient tradition has it that a third river, invisible Sarasvati, also meets there with the two. Today, Triveni Sangam (or simply Sangam) is a more frequently used name for the confluence.

Prayagraj (SanskritPrayāgarāja), meaning “the king among the five prayāgas“, is used as a term of respect to indicate that this confluence is the most splendid one of the five sacred confluencies in India.[29]

The earliest mention of Prayāga and the associated pilgrimage is found in Rigveda Pariśiṣṭa (supplement to the Rigveda, c. 1200–1000 BCE).[33] It is also mentioned in the Pali canons of Buddhism, such as in section 1.7 of Majjhima Nikaya (c. 500 BCE), wherein the Buddha states that bathing in Payaga (Skt: Prayaga) cannot wash away cruel and evil deeds, rather the virtuous one should be pure in heart and fair in action.[34] The Mahabharata (c. 400 BCE–300 CE) mentions a bathing pilgrimage at Prayag as a means of prāyaścitta (atonement, penance) for past mistakes and guilt.[35] In Tirthayatra Parva, before the great war, the epic states “the one who observes firm [ethical] vows, having bathed at Prayaga during Magha, O best of the Bharatas, becomes spotless and reaches heaven.”[36] In Anushasana parva, after the war, the epic elaborates this bathing pilgrimage as “geographical tirtha” that must be combined with manasa-tirtha (tirtha of the heart) whereby one lives by values such as truth, charity, self-control, patience and others.[37]

Prayāga is mentioned in the Agni Purana and other Puranas with various legends, including being one of the places where Brahma attended a yajna (homa), and the confluence of river Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati site as the king of pilgrimage sites (Tirtha Raj).[38] Other early accounts of the significance of Prayag to Hinduism is found in the various versions of the Prayaga Mahatmya, dated to the late 1st-millennium CE. These Purana-genre Sanskrit texts describe Prayag as a place “bustling with pilgrims, priests, vendors, beggars, guides” and local citizens busy along the confluence of the rivers (sangam).[39][40] Prayaga is also mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana, a place with the legendary Ashram of sage Bharadwaj.[41]