Romance in Murals – Expression of Love at Chitrasala in Bundi

‘That slender one should send a letter

Couched in artistic language

Written on a Kettaki leaf, scratched by Kasturi and wrapped by a silken thread

Having a symbol of her breasts smeared with sandal paste

With her name inscribed on upper portion’

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‘Forgetful of worldly attachments

Lost in his thoughts

Suffering from fever caused by his memory

She heaves deep sighs, neglects her food, walks or rest

Without bothering to listen to her friends’

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‘High palaces and blossoming lotuses

Do not give the pleasure any more

She throws the ornaments being placed on her body by her friends

Nor is she delighted by acts of entertainment

Having achieved an objective she is restless

Is desirous of engaging in such pursuits

Which she could not in the presence of her lover’

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The 18th-century Chitrasala of Bundi palace in Southeastern Rajasthan is a chock-a-block of romantic depictions of Shringar Rasa in the form of large murals. Most of Chitrasala murals are inspired by Rasikapriya, a love poem written by Keshavdash of the 16th century.

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Bundi takes its name from a narrow valley Bandu – Ka – Nal (Bandu was a chieftain of the Meena Tribe and Nal means the narrow ways). Rao Deva conquered this terrain in 1342 CE and renamed as Hadoti. The Aravali Mountains surrounding Bundi present the most picturesque view with its flowing rivers and lush green forest, in the whole of Rajasthan.

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BUNDI PAINTINGS FROM AN ARTIST’S PERSPECTIVE

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Rasikapriya is portrayed as the vehicle of emotion. The description of the countryside, cities, forests, hermitages, rivers, gardens, tanks, sunrise, moonrise and the seasons are beautifully illustrated by the artists of Chitrasala. There are seven colours, namely, white, black, yellow, red, grey, blue and mixed tones that have been primarily used in Chitrasala murals.

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BUNDI FORT – A CONFLUENCE OF IDEAS

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Keshavadeva defines a nayaka or hero as a man who is young, expert in the art of love, emotional, proud, selfless, generous, handsome, rich and reframed in taste and culture. A nayika is a heroine whose very sight fills a male’s heart with shringar rasa. There are four categories of naikyas according to Rasikapriya.

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Padmini – Padmini is a beautiful nayika, soft as lotus, intelligent, cheerful, clean and soft-skinned, free from anger and has a golden complexion. She loves clean and beautiful cloths.

Travel Tips

Bundi is located in southeastern Rajasthan at a distance of 50 km from Kota, the largest city of the region. Bundi can be reached from Kota by regular bus services and shared vehicles. While at Bundi one can also explore the surrounding hill terrains rich in prehistoric rock art. There are many stay options in Bundi ranging from budget homestays to high end. Keep three days for your Bundi trip if you love a more relaxed slow trip.

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Chitrani – Chitrani is adorned with diverse beauties. She is fond of dancing and singing. She is fond of perfumes and her lover’s portraits.

Sankini – Sankini means short-tempered and clever. She is a luxuriant growth of hair, likes red garments and pinches hard when excited. She is shameless and unhesitant.

Hastini – She has a thick figure, a fat face and large feet. Her lower lip and eyebrows are thick and her voice is rough.

Another draw of Chitrasala is the Ragini murals. Ragas are primary sources of all musical renderings in India. Each Raga or Ragini has an emotional situation based on different facets of love, either in union or separation. Ragas are ascribed to Shiva and his consort Parvati and Raginis are ascribed to Brahma and his consort Saraswati.

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The important features of Ragini murals at Chitrasala are strong eyes, pointed chin, projected nose, round face, Jahangir style turban, narrow patka with geometrical designs, transparent chakadar jama, attractive black pompoms and shading under the armpits. Ragini Todi, Ragini Megha Mallar, and Ragini Asvari are important examples of this sect.

The depiction of zenana or women’s harem is yet the attraction of Chitrasala murals. Zenanas are large palaces built for women. These palaces are divided into different apartments allotted to the royal women or queens, less important ladies who hold various managerial positions and attendants. In these wings, only the kings and princes are allowed. Some common zenana scenes that appear in Chitarasala are princes playing chaupar, palace gardens, palace ponds, palace terraces, the celebration of Teez festival and women listening to music, feeding the fish and enjoying wine and smoking huqqua.

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The love murals of Chitrasala are a treat to eyes. They follow shringar at all its spell and intensity – when the passion strikes a woman after seeing her lover she sweats and is thrilled with romance and such is the intensity of her involvement she does not see even her friend standing nearby.  They integrate with the landscape of Bundi and the cycle of seasons. There are joy and delight everywhere.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Paralakhemundi – From Royal Grandeur to Splendours of Folk Art

Maharaja Krushnachandra Gajapati, the erstwhile ruler of Paralakhemundi State near Andhra – Odisha border was among of the greatest luminaries of Odisha throughout her history.   A visionary and passionate soul for art and heritage, Maharaja Krushnachandra Gajapati was one of the first Odias to initiate the movement for separate statehood for the Odia speaking people. The seeds for such a noble initiative were germinated in the Gajapati Palace of Paralakhemundi. Today, the palace though degraded with the ravage of time still stands as an architectural splendour of the colonial past.

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When we talk about palaces, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu amuse our mind. However, Odisha was no less splendid when compared to its counterparts. Lack of information and not given due importance, Odisha’s palace heritage is hardly divulged.

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DATIA PALACE – OF FRIENDSHIP, MYSTERY AND INSPIRATION

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The Gajapati Palace in Paralakhemundi is one such architectural wonder, however, sadly its story has not gone beyond its precincts. Designed by British architect Robert Fellows Chisholm, the palace and the fort are influenced by Indo-Sarcanic style combined with Byzantine and European architectural features. A three-storied structure, the palace includes an underground floor connecting it with the main palace of the Maharaja.

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DHENKANAL – WARS, WILDERNESS AND ROYAL HOSPITALITY

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The palace was built in the early part of the 19th century and can be compared with the best of the royal palaces built across India in the colonial setting. Its patron was Maharaja Jagannath Gajapati Narayan Dev III. An amount of 24 lakh and 20 thousand had been spent for its construction. Granite pillars, Burma teak beams, Belgian stained glass windows, artistic grills are the key attractions in the palace.

Travel Tips

Paralakhemundi is located on Odisha – Andhra border at a distance of 280 km from Bhubaneswar. The town is both connected by train and bus from all major cities of Odisha and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. If you are travelling from Bhubaneswar the best option is to travel by Rajyarani Express which leaves Bhubaneswar Station at 6.20 AM in the morning and arrive at 12.15 PM in Paralakhemundi.  Likewise, it leaves Paralakhemundi at 4.30 PM and arrives at Bhubaneswar by 10.30 PM. Paralakhemudi has a few budget hotels for accommodation.

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The palace was built in a silver background. All the stairs are provided with long and wide verandahs or corridors. Thick walls made of well-polished red bricks with white lime mortar reveal its marvellous construction skill. At the east-facing entrance of the main gate, two sleeping lions are placed on either side over two raised platform.

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Paralakhemundi was the cultural nerve centre of South Odisha. Being close to Andhra Pradesh here one notices heavy Telugu influence in language, dress-code and food habit. Plentiful festivals are celebrated in the daily life of Paralakhemundi throughout the year.

Patronized by the royal family, the Chitrakara Street in Paralakhemundi is celebrated as South Odisha’s finest folk art corridor. Experts in oil painting and woodcraft the maharana chitrakaras of Chitrakara Street make wooden idols of folk gods and goddesses apart from mainstream deities to be used in various festivals. Made in distinctive styles the woodcraft of Paralakhemundi is known for its vibrant colours and folk elements.

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The most significant among the paintings are the ganjapa dasavatara sara, the Odia version of round shaped ganjifa playing cards. On the backside of the cards, one finds the depiction of 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu.

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Chitrakaras also make attractive Janukhanda Parasurama Handi. According to the Purana, in Tretaya Yuga, Ramachandra and Parasurama had once met during the exile years. To test the ability of Ramachandra, Parasurama had asked him to hold and break his bow. Ramachandra could qualify easily the test which Parasurama had not expected. Ramachandra asked him to tie an illustrated pot with paintings of dasavatara in his leg and wander to beg. Parasurama had come wandering to the abode of Mahendragiri Mountain, not far from Paralakhemundi. From then on it has become a part of Paralakhemundi tradition to create such beautiful illustrated pots and sold to those desiring spiritual begging.

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The hornwork of Paralakhemundi is globally known which are made chiefly out of the horns of cattle and buffalo. The art was originally well-known to the tribal communities of the region. They used to make blowing instruments from the horns. In the later part of the 19th century, this craft was given a big boost by the Gajapati kings of Paralakhemundi. They had engaged skilled maharanas of village Pitala near Aska in Ganjam District. Gradually they started making combs, elephants, horses, prawn, idols of Lord Jagannath and son on.

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Paralakhemundi is truly South Odisha’s heritage capital and for me, it has got special attraction as it is my birthplace.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Dhenkanal – Wars, Wilderness and Royal Hospitality

Year 1781! While most of Western Europe was at the forefront of the industrial revolution, a part of Odisha was passing through a political turmoil.  Odisha would witness intense rivalry between princely states and with the Maratha Force.

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Dhenkanal, one of the flourishing princely states in Odisha located amidst the dense jungle of Gadajat Mountains was a key witness to the political unrest happening in the 18th century. An 18-day Maratha seize had been the highlight which is narrated distinctly in ‘Samar Tarang’, a war poem written by the contemporary writer Brajanath Badajena.

Travel Tips

Dhenkanal is a medium-sized city located at a distance of 80 km from Bhubaneswar. Both Dhenkanal (http://www.dhenkanalpalace.com/) and Gajalaxmi Palaces (http://gajlaxmipalace.com/) facilitate as heritage homestays and have become favourite destinations among overseas travellers. While there are 13 rooms available at Dhenkanal Palace, the Gajalaxmi Palace has six rooms for guests. While at Dhenkanal do visit the Dokra village at Sadeiberani and the seat of Mahima Cult at Joranda. Both the properties can arrange your exploration into the enchanting countryside.

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Today, the vast sprawl of Dhenkanal Fort is no more, but what attracts you is the splendid Dhenkanal Palace which came up a century after the Maratha seize.

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ATHMALLIK – IN THE HEARTLAND OF MAHANADI WILDERNESS

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The Maratha army under the leadership of young Chimanji had started an expedition towards Bengal to collect the payment of chauth from the British. The route they followed was through Odisha. Historical records reveal that a large number of princely states in Odisha had supplied the Marathas with men and material with hope to receive help to bring down the power of their political rivalries.

The Raja of Keonjhar was one such opportunistic who could not withstand the progress of Dhenkanal. He had supplied the largest contingent of 20,000 men to the Maratha Force.

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DASPALLA – A JOURNEY THROUGH ODISHA’S UNTAMED FRONTIERS

The Marathas had an unsuccessful attempt to seize Dhenkanal before a couple of years. This time well prepared, they started from Cuttack to Dhenkanal. However, it was the peak of summer. The intense heat and the lack of basic provision forced them to return to Cuttack. Soon after the monsoon, Chimanji assisted by Bhavani Pundit marched towards Dhenkanal with a huge army and provisions.

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The Raja of Dhenkanal at that time was Sri Trilochan Dev, a respectful self-esteemed man who had denied giving the peskash to the Marathas. The angry Marathas wanted to give a lesson to the raja of Dhenkanal with the monetary help received from Manju Chaudhary, a banker from Cuttack.

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MYSTIC NILAGIRI – THE ABORIGINAL HEARTLAND OF BALASORE WITH A ROYAL PAST

The Maratha army came as far as Motari, a place 8 miles before Dhenkanal. This was the gateway to the territory and was well guarded by several soldiers. Sri Trilochan Dev lost no time in preparing to deal with the situation. He had created a strong fort on one side by a hill range and deep moat full of water, the fort could successfully hold at by an invading army.

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The Marathas marched towards the fort from Motari even though they had received a warning to return from Sri Trilochan Dev. But the Maratha Governor refused to listen unless the pride of the king was crushed.

Thereafter Sri Trilochan Dev ordered his soldiers to chase the Marathas and the Odia Paikas furiously attacked the enemy. The Marathas were put to utter confusion and were forced to retreat to Cuttack with a good number of soldiers either killed or wounded.

But things did not move always in favour of Dhenkanal.

Around that time, again Chimanji had planned an invasion of Bengal for collection of chauths and hence was on his way from Nagpur. When he entered Cuttack, Manju Chaudhary went to remind him about the defeat of Martha army in the hands of the Raja of Dhenkanal. He also provoked that if this trend continues Marathas would not get their peskash even from other feudal states and that would paralyse their Odisha administration. Chimanji was convinced and immediately decided for the second attack against the Raja of Dhenkanal.

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It was the rainy season and the terrain to Dhenkanal had become inaccessible. As the winter arrived considering that Dhenkanal was situated in the middle of thick jungle and access to it was very difficult, the Marathas procured the services of two local persons, Kistenraja and Chaitan Das.

‘Samar Tarang’ vividly describes – the Raja of Dhenkanal, Sri Trilochan Dev was confident of defending himself and his people inside to the fort against any attack from the enemy. Understanding the march of the Maratha army towards the fort, he at once ordered the garrison to take adequate defence measures to protect the fort from the outside. The fort wall had a good number of hidden holes which were now filled with cannons, guns and even arrows. Some raised platforms close to the fort were erected to serve the purpose of watchtowers to observe the movement of the enemy from the distance.

But the army of Maratha was huge. Upon approaching them, the Odia Paikas were frightened. The Marathas could easily enter the fort and seized it.

But it was not a smooth affair for the Marathas. During the seize of Dhenkanal Fort, there were frequent raids by the hilly tribe called Charas. They plundered or seized the belongings of the Maratha soldiers and put them into trouble.

To overcome this, the Marathas sought help from neighbouring kingdoms. The king of Keonjhar came forward immediately with 20,000 soldiers.

After most heroically defending the fort for 18 days, Sri Trillochan Dev abandoned it to the possession of the Marathas. But Marathas lost interest in Dhenkanal as it was not a priority for them. After the departure of Chimanji, Sri Trilochan Dev raged a war against the king of Keonjhar. In this battle, the chief commander of soldiers was beheaded by the soldiers of Dhenkanal.

A large complex of apartments, courts and gardens nestled against the gradual slope of Gadajat Hills of the Eastern Ghats is today’s Dhenkanal Palace, built in the 19th century and converted into a heritage hotel. A fusion of Odia, Rajput and European architecture, Dhenkanal Palace shines like a pearl in the heart of Dhenkanal City. A legend goes: in the 16th century, there was a Savara Chief called Dhenka who ruled the present Dhenkanal region. However, he was defeated in a war by Sridhar Bhanja, a chieftain from the neighbouring kingdom Gada Besalia. The dying wish of Dhenka was to preserve the name of the clan. The victor king agreed to the wish, and thus he renamed the newly acquired kingdom as Dhenkanal, Nala here means hilly terrain slope.

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Dhenkanal is a major elephant corridor and even today there are reports of human-elephant conflicts from time to time. As you enter the lounge, you are invited by the display of a large stuffed elephant head. It is told that in 1835 the elephant had gone made destroying human settlements and even killing people. The king for the safety of his subjects had killed the elephant whose head now is displayed as a matter of pride.

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Dhenkanal is truly the capital of royal heritage in central-costal Odisha. Gajalaxmi Palace at Borpoda amidst the dense forest and the foothills of Megha is Odisha’s only homestay overlooking a jungle kingdom.

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Built-in the first half of the 20th century, the view from the palace is incredible. The forest surrounding it is infested with wild beasts of all kinds, such as elephants, leopards, wild boars, and civets.

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However, the key attraction here is the display of Naryanpatna (in Koraput District), man-eating tiger. Its piercing eyes and sharp rows of teeth was the stare of death to 83 people it had killed and eaten before being put down by Late Kumar Saheb in 1986.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Havelies and Jain Temples of Jaisalmer – Splendours to Devotion in a Fairytale Setting

Located in the heart of the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer, the golden city of Rajasthan was once a very prosperous city on the silk route that connected India and China with Arab, East Africa and the Mediterranean world. Once inhabited by Jain merchants, this frontier town has preserved a magnitude of palatial havelies and Jain Temples of majestic beauty. For an onlooker, they offer a mystical aura.

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The Jaisalmer Fort

It is said that the Jains of Jaisalmer financed over 50 kingdoms and had over 400 shares all over Asia, including Iran, Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan.

With the forming of Pakistan, the trade came to a standstill. With no other options of business, the Jains left Jaiselmer for elsewhere to explore business possibilities.

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From the Golden Fort as I strolled through the maze of lanes, I came across many havelies, some abandoned, others converted into middle-income group residential apartments and shops, but all showing beautiful jail works carved on golden stones.

Travel Tip

Jaisalmer is located in the western part of Rajasthan in the heart of Thar Desert. The distance between Jaisalmer and Jaipur is over 600 km (10 hours). Jaisalmer is however well-connected by rail and air beside road service. There are plenty of hotels ranging from basic to luxury properties. While at Jaisalmer also visit the Golden Fort, Kuldhara ghost village and the royal chhatris. The best time to visit Jaisalmer is winter.

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Nathmal Ji ka Haveli is a 19th-century structure built by two architect brothers. Built as two separate houses but with remarkable harmony, the palatial haveli has beautifully carved exteriors. Two yellow sandstone elephant figures guard the entrance to the haveli. It used to be the Prime Minister’s residence in the 19th and early 20th century.

Also, Read Here:

KULDHARA IN JAISELMER – A TRAVEL SHOT

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Nathmal Ji Ka Haveli

My next stop at Salim Singh Ka Haveli located at Ashani Road. Built by Salim Singh, the Prime Minister of Jaisalmer in the 19th century, what draws your immediate attention is its splendid arched roof with carved brackets shaped like peacocks. The haveli made of entirely in stone appearing narrow in the first floor, and then the top floor spreads out into a mass of carving with graceful 35 arched balconies surmounted by pale blue cupolas. The palace is also known as Jahaz Mahal.

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DUNDLOD IN SHEKAWATI – A TIMELESS HERITAGE

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Salim Singh Ka Haveli

Located in a narrow lane near Patwa Complex, the Patwaon Ji Ka Haveli is the most splendid among havelies at Jaiselmer. It is also the oldest built haveli in 1805 by Guman Chand Patwa, a well-known Jain merchant. It is not a single haveli but a cluster of 5 havelies, but for his five sons.

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BIKANER – TOWN OF A THOUSAND SPLENDID MANSIONS

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The complex is also known as the ‘mansion of brocade merchant’ as the family dealt in threads of gold and silver used in embroidering dresses. The family also made a huge profit through opium trade and money lending.

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Inside the haveli, there is a museum and shop for handicrafts and antique objects. The walls are adorned with exquisite mirror works and beautiful paintings. Undoubtedly, it is India’s one of the best splendid havelies.

Within the vicinity of Jaisalmer Fort stands 7 exquisite Jain Temples built Rajput architectural style. The temples are decorated with intricate murals and stone carvings. Built between 12th and 15th centuries CE, these are dedicated to various Jain Tirthankaras.

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Chandraprabhu Temple is the first one in the series when you descend from the palace in Jaisalmer Fort. Dedicated to 8th Tirthankara it was built 1509 CE and the main attraction of the temple are its intricately carved pillars and a series of toranas in the mandapa. To the right of Chandraprabhu Temple is the temple of Parswanath which can be entered through a beautifully carved torana. On its south is the temple of Shitalnath, the 10th Tirthankara in Jainism. The image of Shitalnath is composed of 8 precious metals. A door in the northern wall leads to the enchanting dim chamber of Sambhavnath. The temples are open all days for worshippers.

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The Jain Temples and havelies of Jaisalmer are timeless classics, each woven with stories of wealth and devotion. In a nutshell, they form a fairytale wonder.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Kuldhara in Jaiselmer – A Travel Shot

Today, a deserted land haunted by stories of akal, conflicts and migrations, Jaisalmer, India’s golden city and a major tourism hub was not always like what you hear. The region was located in the middle of flourishing trade routes connecting India with Persia and the Arabian Desert cities via land route as well as ports of Gujarat. Opulence wealth had made it a pearl in the Thar Desert. The region was largely inhabited by merchants and traders, especially by Paliwal Brahmins in mansions and houses that stand deserted today, appearing almost like freshly excavated cities of Indus Valley Civilization.

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We wanted a place of solace from the city’s hustle and bustle and what could have been a better place than Kuldhara, the erstwhile thoroughfare of Paliwal Brahmins, but now a haunted place. 20 km further drive takes you to yet another abandoned village and a fort called Khabba Fort, a sight appears as if straight from Arabian Night sets. Spend two days and hop around desert villages. You will discover many more such abandoned houses.

Travel Tips:

Kuldhara is only 20 km from Jaisalmer. Most tourists don’t prefer to stay here, however, we recommend to make Kuldhara your base at least for 2 days and 2 nights if you are a soul seeking traveller. You are at absolute peace in the rugged landscape with zero human interference, especially in starts studded nights. For a comfortable, yet budget accommodation check out Dreamline Cottages behind the heritage site. The rooms are clean, spacious with hot water facilities. Its owner is Mr Khan (+91 9929834687) who is a local man and knowledgeable. He also takes tourists on desert safari deep in Thar desert. Food is at extra cost and has to be told in advance.
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A Village near Kuldhara

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Kabba Fort and the Village

Paliwal Brahmins had established these villages in 13th century immediately after the Rajput Chieftain Jaisel Bhatti taking possession of Jaisalmer as the founder ruler. Trade was at its peak and the place had an advantage being far off from Agra-Delhi, the centre of political power in India. Gifted by its extreme landscape the locals had mastered the guerrilla warfare. The looted wealth gave rise to prosperity over time attracting merchants in large numbers to settle in the region.  Though nothing has remained as markers of their prosperity in the villages around Kuldhara, you see slices of their opulence at havelies of Jaisalmer.

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Havelies and Jain Temples at Jaiselmer

A popular story goes:

Some 200 years back the inhabitants of Jaisalmer were profusely rich and it was a seat of highly sophisticated culture.  In the desert trade caravan route, there were 84 villages of Paliwal Brahmins that came under Jaiselmer kingdom.

Everything was going peaceful. But the trouble started With Salim Singh becoming the new Diwan who introduced fresh taxes and started oppression against villagers. He crossed his limits when his lusty eyes were set on a beautiful 15-year-old girl in Kuldhara. He commanded the villagers to hand over her in 10 days time.

On the next day, 83 people from Kuldhara were sent in all directions to rest 83 Palliwal villages for hosting community meetings.  On 5th or 6th-day village representatives from all 84 villages assembled in Kuldhara and in a meeting it was decided that they had reached the limit of oppression. They also felt that the king of Jaisalmer had ditched them.  The only option was to pack up and move somewhere else.  On the 9th day, all 84 villages were deserted.  They fled in the dark night, leaving behind their homes and everything within them. Kuldhara was abandoned by its very own people. No one saw the thousand-odd members of the village leave. For generations now, no one knows where the Paliwals have resettled. All that is known is they cursed the town when they left that no one would ever be able to settle down in Kuldhara again.

Today the houses are almost in the same condition as they were left behind by their inhabitants. In the middle of the abandoned village is an abandoned Jain Temple. From the terrace of the temple, you can see the sprawling ruins of lanes and brick homes, equidistant from each other, are neatly laid out. There is also an abandoned boali, a traditional water harvesting structure built during the glorious days of Kuldhara.

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Kuldhara today is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India as a heritage site.

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Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Five forgotten forts of Telangana – A Travel Shot

Many travellers from the far-flung lands visit Telangana mostly for Hyderabad, a city full of historic sites like Golkonda Fort, Charminar, Qutb Sahi tombs etc. But if you are a history buff then Telangana has more to offer you and some places get hardly any mention in the guidebooks or history books.

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Badshahi Ashurkhana – A Qutb Shahi Salute to Imam Hussain

From Golkonda to Hyderabad – An Architectural Journey

Rachakonda is a huge fort, positioned in the magnificent hilly landscape near Nalgonda. Built by the Racherla royals around 14th century CE, this fort was later ruled under Qtub Shahi dynasty along with other forts like Golkonda and Koilkonda. One has to climb many steps through the jungle to reach the top. In between the arched boulders, there are still few stone gateways left with unique ancient designs. Its wilderness and the breathtaking views from every twist and turn will truly fascinate the visitors.

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The View of Ranchakonda Fort

Also, Read Here:

Chandragiri Fort Museum – A Photo Story

Koilkonda is another forgotten fort on a hilltop and was renowned as the outpost for the Qutb Sahis. Surrounded by jungles this fort has many intact structures to give it a castle-like formation. An easy 125 km drive from Hyderabad towards Madhuban Nagar can take you to this fort. Though not yet maintained you can hike till different levels and explore the essence of erstwhile Deccan Plateau.

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The majestic view of Kolikonda Fort

A three and half hours’ drive from Hyderabad will take you to thousand years old Khammam Fort which is situated in the middle of a city. It is believed that gold coins were used as the fund to make this fort.

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The view of Khammam Fort

Also, Read Here:

Kakatiya Dynasty – An Architectural Sojourn

Located in a very scenic hilltop of Karimnagar, Elgandal fort was controlled by five major dynasties – the Kakatiyas, Bahmanis, Qutub Shahis, Mughals and the Nizams. It still has huge walls, twisted steps and geometric gates but yet hardly known to broader communities of travellers. At the highest point, one can find “Dho Minar” or the two tall pillars. From a certain angle, they look almost like the ‘Charminar’ of Hyderabad. The 180 Km drive from Hyderabad to Karimnagar is simply incredible due to the well-maintained roads and picturesque countrysides.

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The view of Elgandal Fort

The last one is our favourite Bhongir, mostly known as ‘Bhuvanagiri fort’ to locals. Formed by a gigantic monolithic rock, this fort is an epitome of the Chalukyan rulers since the 10th century. However, later it was taken under the Bahmani kings and renovated in Islamic style. The 180-degree view from the top proves its strategic location as a defence base. We visited Bhongir a number of times but it still attracts us to explore some of the other corners. The serenity of Bhongir can be best enjoyed from the top, especially when the sun rolls down and the city lights pop up one by one.

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Bhongir Fort

Author – Mangalika Ghosh

MangalikaA travel photographer and a travel blogger by passion, Mangalika is currently working on various personal photography projects. You can always find her at Happyfeet
https://mangalika.com/happyfeet/

Water Heritage of Jodhpur – Then and Now

Ranisar, Padamsar Ote, Vyapari Gaya Tote

If Ranisar and Padamsar overflow, the market rates will fall as there will be good rainfall and bumper crop and the hoarders and money-lenders will be put to loss 

An old saying in Jodhpur

Jodhpur, Rajasthan’s second largest city and the cultural capital of Marwar is a jewel in the crown of the desert state. In spite of its hostile terrain and harsh climate, Jodhpur has produced some of the finest artistic expressions and music in the entire Indian Subcontinent. The erstwhile Maharajas were not just great patrons of art and architecture but also skillfully managed the water resources of the region.

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So durable was its water management system that it could quench the thirst of its inhabitants till 1950s through a complex network of lakes, step-wells, wells and jhalaras. Jodhpur has hills surrounding Mehrangarh Fort and is a catchment area for monsoon waters that flow down into small and large depressions. Its medieval inhabitants converted them into lakes from where water was drawn to over hundreds of step-wells and jhalaras built in different periods of time in the walled city area and beyond.

Also, Read Here: 

Burhanpur – A Medieval Water Oasis

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Every neighbourhood in the old city had its own baori and the maximum concentration of baoris is in the Chand Pol area. These baories not only provided water to its inhabitants but also refuge to birds and a variety of aquatic life. Teeming with the life they were a cool refuge from the heat of the desert to spend some time in.

Also, Read Here:

Travel Shot: Community Revival of Taj Baodi – A Success Story

Bijapur Water Heritage – An Oasis in Parched Deccan

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But with the construction of Indira Gandhi canal, the Himalayan water started flowing into every household of the desert town through pipes and taps. People started detaching themselves from their roots of harvesting and respecting the water. Slowly the places and related customs became obsolete and turned into a refuge for tons of trash. The most vulnerable were the underground baoris; hidden from plain sight these have become a safe haven for anti-social elements.

Also, Read Here:

Reviving Ballari’s Water Heritage – Hope for the Best

Rao Jodha decided to build his capital on the summit of Pachetia Hill in the 15th century CE because the area had immense potential for harvesting rainwater and perennial springs that were visibly flowing in-between the rocks.

Travel Tips:

Jodhpur is the second largest city and is located in the heart of the Marwar region in west-central Rajasthan. Founded by Roa Jodha in 1459 CE Jodhpur is a major tourist place for its palaces, temples, desert biodiversity and ethnic life. It is also a shoppers paradise. The main thoroughfare for tourists is around the iconic Ghantaghar, the lanes and by-lanes of the Blue City and the majestic Mehrangarh Fort. 

From Jodhpur, a tourist can also plan to nearby Mandore Fort, Gurjar Pratihar Temples of Osian and Khichan for demoiselle cranes. 

For a local delicacy try out rabdi and kulfi at street corners around Ghantaghar.  

The first water project undertaken was Ranisar for supplying water to the fort above. The southern embankment of Ranisar has masonry walls of red stone with symmetrical steps descending up to its depth, exhibiting the great architectural skill of Jodhpur’s formative period. Water was collected from by both the common people as well as the royal family. Women would come to fill water in their pots for their household needs. For the royal family, labourers would carry water in large vessels up to the palace. From the turret (burz) water was also drawn up to the fort by Persian wheels.

Also, Read Here:

Hill Forts of Jaipur – Jewels of Aravali

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Ranisar and Persian Wheel Structures 

The construction of Ranisar was patronized by Jasmade Haddi  Ji, the Maharani of Rao Joddha in 1460 CE, which was later expanded during the rule of Rao Maldeo.

Beside Ranisar is the Padamsar tank, yet another marvel constructed by Rani Uttamade Seesdini  Ji, who was the daughter of Rana Sangha of Mewar. Rani Uttamade’s other name was Padmavati. The project was also financed by Seth Padamsar Shah of Mewar at the behest of his mother to assist Rani Padmavati. Hence it came to be known as Padamasar after its patron.

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Padamsar

Both these water bodies were periodically expanded and maintained by the royal families.

Also, Read Here:

Mandu’s Water Heritage – An Epicurean Delight

A little away in the walled city near the Ghanta Ghar is Gulab Sagar along with two temples – Neni Bai ka Mandir and Ranchor Ji ka Mandir. All of these were constructed by queens. According to Late Komal Kothari, Rajasthan’s foremost folk historian, most of the water bodies of Jodhpur were commissioned when these queens became widows.

The following is an extract from his conversation with Rustom Bharucha that appeared in the book Rajasthan – An Oral History.

‘Here we have to understand the laws relating to primogeniture (pātvi) inheritance, where the property of father goes exclusively to the eldest son and does not divide among the brothers as in the bhai-bant inheritance system.

In the pātvi system, we find that as soon as the king dies, his widowed queens are removed from the royal premises along with their servants. It is assumed that they pose a potential threat to the new king with their manipulations and conspiracies.  Only the new king can sanction whether these ex-queens can hold on to their property; they may however, be denied access to it. Now so far as movable property (chal-sampati) is concerned, including ornaments and money, this could remain with the queens unless the king orders that it should be returned to the royal treasury. What we find is that when the queens became widows, they would often give their property to a Brahman – this form of donation is known as udakena. It works on the premise that anything given as dān (gift) to a Brahman cannot be reclaimed by the king. Till the queen lived she had rights over the property, but on her death, it became the Brahmin’s property. We find that the patronage of many water bodies has come from such sources.

The other prominent donors were female dancers and singers who were patronised by the king and given the status of pardayatpaswan and bhogtan. There were also prostitutes from musician groups like the patar. We find that these women financed the construction of quite a few temples and drinking water sources after the death of their respective masters.’

Unfortunately, the construction and development of water bodies came to an end around 1897-98, when a public water supply system was introduced for the first time. But Jodhpur’s inhabitants continued to value and maintain the sanctity of old water bodies till the 1950s, after which a collapse began.

Also, Read Here:

Water and Thar Desert – Stories from Indo-Pak Border

On a fine morning when I started walking around the old city admiring its water bodies, what drew my attention were the clean waters of the Toor Ji Ka Jhalra built in the 1740s by Rani Toor Ji. This step well, however, had become a dump yard until recently when it was taken for restoration by local hotels. Water was drawn from this stepwell using Persian wheels once. I was very impressed with the sight, but this happiness disappeared as soon as I arrived at Gulab Sagar, a critically polluted talav with residents having opened their sewage lines into it and also dumping the garbage. Here I met Caron Rawnsley, an Irish environmentalist who has made Jodhpur his home for the last many years.

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Toor Ji ki Jhalra and Gulab Sagar

We spent almost an hour at the spot to understand his ideas and concerns regarding Gulab Sagar and other water bodies of the city. Do watch the video below.

From Gulab Sagar, I next went to Mahila Bagh Jhalra, another restored stepwell, thanks to Caron who cleaned it single-handedly recently.

Also, Read Here:

Deeg Palace – A Synthesis of Persian and Indian Aesthetics

From Mahila Bagh, I strolled through the interiors of the Blue city and came across a number of small baories in different neighbourhoods. The most important being the Chand Baori but a great surprise was awaiting me on the following day when I and Caron walked through the Chand Pol area outside the walled city.

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Chand Baori

Our first stop was at Sukhdev Ji Trivedi ka Jhalra, a clean undisturbed water body teeming with aquatic life. There is no information available virtually on its construction or patron. As Caron said it was also not spared until recently by the neighbours and had become a dump yard like many other baories of Jodhpur. He put in a lot of effort in cleaning but vandalism of the structure and its sculptures have not ceased. Do watch the video below on Sukhdev Ji ka Jhalra.

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One interesting feature you see near every step-well in Marwar is a stone post with sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses engraved on it. You also see the inscription of the donor and sometimes his/her image.

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Panchmadi Baori

Our next stop was a hidden gem among all step-wells of Jodhpur – Panchmadi Baori. It is virtually unknown to the outside world and thanks to its almost secret location, it has escaped vandalism. You see pristine water as you descend the steps.

From Panchmadi Baori we moved on to yet another hidden gem, the Ram Baori. Though it is located in the heart of the city it offers unmatched peace and tranquillity.

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Ram Baori

Next, we went to the fairly well-known Suraj Kund, a large square tank with steps and pavilions spread over two floors. The structure is now under renovation by the Mehrangarh Fort authority. Built by Rao Suraj Singh in 1672 CE, the well is built in Mughal architectural style. It is located in the premises of the Rameshwar Siddha Peeth and was built to meet the water demand of the shrine.

Also, Read Here: 

Step – Wells of Gujarat – a Timeless Journey

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Suraj Kund

In close proximity to Suraj Kund is the Raghunath Ji ki Baori, the most well maintained of all the baories I saw. The kids there told me they use the place to learn and practice swimming.

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The last baori visited by us was the Panch Kua Baori located in an open space but close to being encroached from all sides.

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Jodhpur is truly a magical city. Its art, architecture, settlement pattern and more importantly water structures are unique in the Subcontinent but one feels disappointed to see this wonderful water heritage on the verge of extinction. We need a little bit of Caron Rawnsley in each of us to fulfill what Gandhiji meant by Swaraj. That said, the government too needs to wake up from their deep slumber and take urgent steps.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Mandu’s Water Heritage – An Epicurean Delight

Between the years 1469 and 1500 CE, Mandu was being ruled by Ghiyat Shah aka Ghiyasuddin Shah, son of Mohmmed Khalji, the founder of Khalji dynasty at Malwa. Ghiyat had spent his early years in fighting battles to augment his father’s struggle against rulers of Delhi Sultanate and Rana Kumbha of Mewar.

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According to Adil Shahi historian Ferishta, shortly after his accession, Ghiyat ‘gave a grand party, on which occasion, addressing his officers, he stated that he had during the last thirty-four years been employed constantly in the field, fighting under the banner of his illustrious father, he now has yielded the sword to his son, in order that he might himself enjoy easing the rest of his days.’ He accordingly established within his seraglio all the separate offices of a court and had at one time fifteen thousand women within his palace.’

These included teachers, musicians, dancers, embroiderers, women to read prayers, and persons of all professions and trade. 500 females Turks, dressed in men’s attire stood guard on his right, armed with bows and arrows, and on his left, similarly, 500 Abyssinian women, also in uniform, stood guard armed with firearms. The book of pleasures, Nimat Nama, is attributed to Ghiyat and the recipes are still used as a standard for making samosas. The illustrated manuscript is a wonderful specimen of Pre-Mughal miniature paintings in the country.

Jahaz Mahal, where Ghiyat indulged himself in hedonistic pleasures, is an icon of Mandu today. An elongated building measuring 110 m in length and 15 m in breadth, Jahaz Mahal is located in the royal enclosure on a narrow stretch of land between two water bodies, the Kapur Talav and Munj Talav. Appearing like a floating ship or a love boat, with pavilions on the top and three projecting balconies over the talav, Jahaz Mahal is a double storied structure rising to a height of 9.7 m. The Munj Talav, believed to have been built by Raja Munj of Parmar Dynasty is on the west and the Kapur Talav is on the east.

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The interior of Jahaz Mahal can be approached through a recessed arched marble gateway at the middle of the eastern wall. Inside the building, there are three large halls connected by corridors. At the northern end of the ground floor, a couple of steps descend to a large tortoise-shaped swimming pool. The pool is surrounded by a colonnade on three sides, leaving the eastern side open. The total capacity of this pool is approximately 30,000 litres of water.

Travel Tips: 

Mandu is located in Dhar District at a distance of 100 km from Indore, the nearest metropolitan city and the airport. Best time to visit Mandu is however monsoon, when the hills of the Malwa Plateau turn green and its water bodies are full.  A true lover of heritage can spend 2/3 days and explore its water heritage at one’s own pace. Mandu being a popular tourist place there are plenty of stay and food options developed by MP Tourism. From Mandu tourists can also visit Maheswar on Narmada and Dhar, the district headquarter, 30 km away. At your leisure also visit the tribal villages around Mandu to explore their life. 

Also, Read Here: 

Dhar – History in Layers

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A flight of steps lead to the upper level from here leading to a lotus shaped water pool. On the southeast corner of the 7 feet deep pool is a spiral aqueduct, which controlled the flow of water while supplying to the pool. This ensured luxurious bathing for the sultan and his harem women similar to a modern Jacuzzi.

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The water was collected from a baoli on the southern end of Jahaz Mahal, called Suraj Talav using the traditional water lifting system. Water was first lifted to terrace of Jahaz Mahal and then supplied through a series of aqueducts to the various pleasure pools.

Also, Read Here:

Burhanpur – A Medieval Water Oasis

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According to a report published in Down to Earth magazine, the Munj and Kapur Talavs were once interconnected through an arched underground channel that exists even today. As the rainfall was not equally distributed and the terrain was undulating, the water level in the two tanks was not always equal despite the underground balancing system. So a causeway was laid down between the tanks at the water level ensuring equal distribution of water between the two talavs.

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Jahaz Mahal incorporates today’s concept of passive solar architecture (designing a building in conjunction with the earth processes around it so that heating and cooling occur naturally), besides the use of rain water harvesting and filtration system.  The complex, in fact was a big spa as it had all elements of luxurious water architecture – fountains, cisterns, baths, hammam, aqueducts, water channels and baolis.

Among the baolis, Champa Baoli draws immediate attention. It had been built as a pleasure pool for the women of zenana by Ghiyath’s architects. Located at the northeastern end of Munj Talav, as a part of a chain of subterranean aquifers, it was also used to supply water within the royal buildings, mainly to the hammam. It owes its name to the sweet water which smells like the fragrant champa flower. There are inner compartments in the lower storey of the well. A subterranean path goes down the well and connects itself with a labyrinth of vaulted rooms, known as Takhana, which are almost level with the water of Munj Talav. Even at the height of summer, the rooms of Takhana were cool and comfortable with gentle breeze flowing from the pavilion.

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Beside the Champa Baoli is a large royal hammam built in line with the Turkish baths. There are two separate water channels, one for hot and the other for cold water, which merge into one after some distance and flow into the bath. Today, pair of halls with vaulted ceilings is all that remains of the hammam. Its main facade was built of marble and adorned with panels and medallions of blue and yellow tiles, some of which bear inscriptions in Kufic script. The most impressive feature of this bath is its starry ceiling in which beautiful star like shapes are hewned for light to pass through. The star shaped light would fall on the waters making the hammam look dreamy.

Also, Read Here:

Travel Shot : Community Revival of Taj Baodi – A Success Story

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Source: India Water Portal

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Source: Wikipedia

To the north of Munj Talav and at the furthest end of the royal enclave is the Jal Mahal. Though most of tourists skip this, it is no doubt one of the most impressive parts of the royal complex where the sultan and his women celebrated the monsoon rains. A narrow passage connects the royal palace to the Jal Mahal. When the monsoons are copious, the Munj Talav is brimming with water presenting a wondrous sight. There is a large water tank in the middle of the courtyard, in which steps are provided to descend to the water level. Jal Mahal was a big favorite of Emperor Jehangir. Tuzuk I Jahangiri mentions: “I know of no other place that is as pleasant in climate and with such attractive scenery as Mandu in the rainy season”. Legends say that both Nur Jahan and Roopmati stayed here.

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Ujala Baoli, located on the main road to the northeast of Jahaz Mahal, is one of the finest baolis of the country. It is an open well and therefore called Ujala Baoli. It is a magnificent 3 tired structure, 265 feet deep and surrounded by arched niches. Inside the baoli, are a number of arcades and landing for the convenience of water carriers. At the northern tip is a water lift and opposite it on southern tip is a pavilion for royal guards to keep watch on the water.

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Andheri Baoli is a closed well and just a few feet away from Ujala Baoli. It is surrounded by a corridor with a dome in the center of its roof, just above the well. The dome has an aperture at its apex to admit light and air inside. Below, the corridors along the edge of the well is a fine arched gallery approached by a stepped passage from above, which further goes down up to the water level.

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The water heritage of Mandu is significant and beyond Ghiyath’s idea of fun and frolic. Mandu is perched upon a rocky spur of the Vindhyan range at an altitude of 634 m. It is separated from the main Malwa Plateau by a deep ravine KakraKoh, which runs on the eastern, northern and southern sides of the Mandu hills. The southern slope of Mandu has a 305 m incline and it merges into the Nimar Plain drained by the Narmada River.

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In spite of its picturesque setting that drew medieval powers to establish their capitals, the plateau often faced water crisis. Monsoon was the only source of water in Mandu and it was necessary to store the rain water for the rest of the year. According to a report published by India water portal, Mandu has 120 baolis and 18 lakes but only a few are functional.

While driving from Dhar to Mandu, I came across a small tank/baoli near a ravine. Rectangular in shape with stone alignments, it is one of the many such structures lying decadent on this vast stretch.

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Another water harvesting structure is at the Malcolm Kothi near Nalcha Village, an architectural delight that stands in the middle of a rich black soil field overlooking the Satpura Hills. Named after a British agent of Malwa who lived here in the 19th century, Malcolm Kothi,  was built much earlier in the 16th century by the Malwa Sultan, Nadirshah Khalji, outside the bustle of his capital Mandu as a pleasure retreat. It was later used as a rest house by Mughal Emperors Akbar and Jahangir during their Malwa campaigns.

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Built in east-west direction, the building is a fine example of Malwa architecture, a fusion of Rajput and Afghan styles. It has an attached tank and a baoli. The outer domes were once lavishly decorated with Persian blue tiles, of which only patches remain.

Most of the Mandu’s monuments are built alongside kunds (ponds), some bearing Hindu names. For example, Somvati Kund located within Darya Khan’s Tomb Complex on the main road to Rani Roopmati Palace. The tank is of rectangular shape with steps closely resembling a Hindu temple tank. Darya Khan was a minister in the court of Mahmud Khalji II.

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Near the Sagar Talav, the largest water body in Mandu, lies the massive domed structure of Adhar. It too faces a water body.

While walking from the Hoshang Shah Tomb to Jahaz Mahal, there is another baoli on the road side. It seems to be part of the Jama Masjid – Hoshang Shah Tomb Complex.

The last but not the least is the Rewa Kund at the southern end of Mandu plateau. The lake, which forms the main supply of water for Mandu revolves around the timeless romance between Rani Roopmati and Baz Bhadur. The Narmada flows in the valley below at a distance of 40 km. However, it is believed that the lake is connected to the river. The lake was built before the Sultanate rule and bears a Hindu name. Pilgrims on the Narmada Parikrama make a detour to this historic water body of Mandu.

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Source: India Water Portal

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Dhar – History in Layers

Chandragupta Vikramaditya, the king of Ujjain, was well-known for his bravery, intelligence and his keen sense of judgement. One day, Indra, the king of Gods arranged a dance competition between two of his favourite apsaras, Urvashi and Rambha and invited Vikramaditya to judge the event.

Vikramaditya gave a bunch of flowers each to both Urvashi and Rambha to hold with the condition – the flowers must remain erect while dancing. He quietly slipped a scorpion in each of the flower bunches. When the apsaras started dancing, the scorpions stung them viciously. Rambha threw away the flowers and stopped dancing. However, Urvashi danced so well that the scorpion did not harm her and instead went into a deep slumber in the bouquet. Urvashi thus emerged as a winner of the competition.

Indra was impressed with Vikramaditya’s judgement prowess and as a token of appreciation gifted him a golden throne with 32 talking statues. These statues were none other than the cursed apsaras who got redemption on serving Vikramaditya.

Centuries later, a group of children while playing got into a dispute. They decided to select a judge among them to solve the dispute. One of the boys sat on a small mound and solved the dispute in a jiffy. In due course of time, the boy from Ujjain became famous for resolving disputes between various parties and his reputation grew until it reached the ears of Raja Bhoja.

Raja Bhoja’s interest was suitably piqued when he was told that the boy would sit on a particular mound before pronouncing his judgement. He promptly sent his men to dig up the suspected mound and discovered a throne; the same golden throne that Indra gifted Vikramaditya.

When King Bhoja sat on the throne, one of the apsaras came to life and told him that by simply sitting on the throne he will not become a great king. She then proceeded to tell him a story explaining about a quality that the king lacked and flew away. This continued, one after another, the apsaras told stories highlighting the importance of a particular quality that a king should possess and flew away. Bhoja at last realized that to be a great king he needs to practice certain qualities like selflessness, honesty and lack of favouritism among others.

Raja Bhoja ruled from Dhara Nagari, the present day Dhar in the Malwa Plateau of Madhya Pradesh. He was a Parmar King.  Parmars, also known as Ponwars or Puars were a Rajput clan who hailed from the Abu region on Rajasthan – Gujarat border. They entered Malwa in the 9th century CE and ruled till 1310 CE. Their former capital was Avanti, present day Ujjain.

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The region around Dhar in the Malwa Plateau, Central India

Vairasinha (914 – 941 CE), the Parmar king, shifted his capital from Avanti to Dhar after its conquest by the sharp edge of a sword (dhara). The next prominent Parmar ruler was Munja Raja who ruled from 973 CE. He was not only a mighty warrior, but also a great poet. According to Merutuga, the court writer, when all accomplished Munja died, Saraswati, the patron goddess of learning was left destitute. His successor was the legendary King Bhoja I (1010 -1055 CE), Munja’s nephew.

Raja Bhoja was a great patron of art and literature along with being a celebrated warrior. Historical evidences suggest that his kingdom extended from Chittor in the north to Upper Konkan in the south and Sabarmati River in the west to Vidisha in the east. During Bhoja’s rule, Dhar became a prime centre of intellectual learning in India. He paid great attention to education of his people and established Bhojashala, a centre for Sanskrit studies and a temple of Saraswati.

During his reign of 40 years he cultivated an art of maintaining peace in spite of constant turmoil going around him. According to a temple inscription at Udepur, near Vidisha ‘He accomplished, ordered, gave and knew what was not in the power of anybody else; whatever praise can be given to the illustrious Bhoja, the poet king’. After Bhoja’s death, misfortune fell on Parmars and led to the decline of the dynasty.

In 1235 CE, Delhi Sultan Iltutmish seized Ujjain and sacked Bhilsa, two prominent Parmar strongholds. In 1300 CE, Ala – Ud – Din Khilji is said to have subdued Dhar, while his minister Malik Kafur halted here in the same year. Dhar was again captured by Muhammad Tughluk in 1344 CE. In 1398-99 CE, the whole of North India was swept by Timur thus weakening central control. Taking advantage of the situation, Dilawar Khan Ghori, the then Governor of Malwa declared independence starting the Malwa Sultanate. Dilawar Khan died in 1405 CE and was succeeded by his son Hoshang Shah, who shifted the capital from Dhar to Mandu.  Baz Bahadur was the last sultan of Mandu. In the beginning of the 17th century, Malwa was captured by Akbar under whom Dhar was the chief town of a mahal in Mandu Sarkar of the subah of Malwa. Akbar stayed at Dhar for seven days, while directing the invasion of Deccan. Dhar was established as a Maratha bastion in 1729 CE under Uday Rao I Puar. Multhan was first capital of Puars and it was transferred to Dhar in 1732 CE. It continued to be a Puar strong hold till independence.

Parmar Monuments in Dhar

Munj Sagar, the largest water body in Dhar is attributed to Raja Munj. According to Wikipedia entry, there are traces of earthen ramparts on the bank of the talav built during the Parmar reign. The city was circular in plan and surrounded by tanks and moats. Its layout was similar to the fort of Warangal in Deccan. However, during my visit I did not see any remains of earthen ramparts.

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A Parmer Period Sculpture of Goddess Saraswati – Courtesy: British Museum

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Munj Sagar, the largest waterbody in Dhar

Bhoja Shala, the iconic monument of Dhar, was built by Raja Bhoja, which was later converted into a mosque by Dilawar Khan in 1392 CE, the founder of Malwa Sultanate. The columns used in the mosque are made out of recycled temple columns. In 1903, an inscription in Sanskrit was discovered by K. K. Lele, then Superintendent of Education of Princely State of Dhar. The text included part of a drama called Vijayasrinatika composed by Madana, the king’s preceptor who also bore the title Balasaraswati.

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Bhoj Shala – The Earliest Parmar Monument Picture Courtesy: Parag Bhonsle

Bhoja Shala was a great centre of learning and housed a temple of Goddess Saraswati. Beside Bhoja Shala is a spacious enclosure containing four tombs, the most notable being that of Shaikh Kamal Maulvi or Kamal – al – Din. He was a follower of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.

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Tombs of Shaikh Kamal Maulvi or Kamal – al – Din

The pillar mosque or the Lat Masjid is yet another monument built by Dilawar Khan using the recycled pillars of Hindu temples. The mosque is named after three fragments of an iron pillar, called Lat in Hindi.

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Lat or Pillar Mosque

A report published in the Journal of Asiatic Society in 1898 mentions: ‘close to the masjid is lying, in a sloping position against the terraces, a fragment of an iron column, or lat, a square of 10 inches on each side, and 24 feet long, with a Persian inscription of Akbar Shah, dated A.H. 1100, incised on its longer length; a second piece, similar and original belonging to it, is standing opposite the Jami Masjid at Mandugarh, being an octagon, 2 ft. 8 inch in circumference, with 10 inches of a circular end (showing another piece is missing), and 12 feet long. A third piece, a square 10 inches, with a bell capital, 6 feet high, is standing in the garden of the Maharaja’s guesthouse at Dhar. The total height of this remarkable column would be 42 ft. 8 inch less than the lat near the Qutub Masjid at Dhar… so far as can be judged from a description so deficient in details and unaccompanied by any illustration, the pillar at Dhar must, like the similar monument near Delhi, date from the Gupta Period’.

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The Iron Pillar of Dhar

The iron pillars of Dhar displays the height of metallurgical skill in Ancient India. The mosque otherwise shows a fusion of local and Afghan architecture. While its colonnades have pillars showing Hindu and Jain carvings, its mihrabs and minbar reflect Afghan influence.

Dhar Fort

Dhar Fort, now in ruins, stands on a low hill to the north of the town of Dhar. It was constructed by Muhammad Bin Tughluq in 1344 CE over an earlier fort built by the Parmars. It is made of red sandstone and surrounded by ramparts with 26 bastions.

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Dhar Fort

A major draw of this fort is a large baoli, partly rock-cut, partly structural. The baoli, 30 feet deep was hewn in the 15th century. The fort also has significant remains of buildings of Malwa Sultanate, Mughal, Puars and British.

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The Large Baoli inside Dhar Fort

Architecturally speaking, the most significant structure is the Kharbuja Mahal built in the Mughal Rajput style. It was here that Jahangir and Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan took shelter. The palace got its name due to its musk melon shaped dome. Puars captured it in 1732 CE. During the Maratha struggle, Anandi Bai took shelter in this palace and gave birth to Peshwa Bajirao II. Later, Dhar Fort played a prominent role during the 1857 revolt.

Royal Chhatris 

A little known aspect of Dhar heritage is its chhatris, cenotaphs of the erstwhile Puar rulers. Located in Chhatri Bagh, a walled garden enclosure, these structures show excellent fusion of Mughal-Rajput and Maratha architectural styles. Most of the structures stand on plinths and are crowned with elaborate domes.

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Royal Chhatris of Dhar

Water Structures

Dhar is a city of waterbodies. It has 12 and half talaos (reservoirs) and 35 baolis. Among the talaos, the largest and also the oldest is the Munj Talao. Covering an area of 50 acres, it was constructed by Raja Munja in the 10th century for the storage of drinking water. Devi Sagar is the second largest lake in Dhar. It was probably built during the time of Parmars. Kal Bhairav or Nat Nagara Lake is yet another large waterbody of Dhar.

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The Munjsagar Talao of Dhar

Among the baolis, the most impressive is the recently discovered Munim Ji ki Baoli located near the fort. Based on its architectural style, it is believed to have been built in the 17th-18th centuries CE. The baoli is 3 stories deep and contains beautiful Mughal-Rajput arches.

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Munimji ki Baoli – Dhar’s Most Impressive Stepwell

Jhirnia Baoli is located near the mandi. It is square in shape. One can reach almost up to the water table by descending a series of steps. The baoli was built in the late 19th century.

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Jhirnia Baoli

Malusia Baoli is not exactly a step-well but a small tank attached to a temple. It is square in shape. Besides, these, there are a number of other small baolies scattered throughout the city.

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Lesser Known Step-wells of Dhar

Though presently Dhar remains under the shadow of Mandu, where tourists throng throughout the year owing to its scenic location and larger number of monuments, Dhar is definitely more ancient and historically more diverse. For, in Dhar, one can witness the wonderful fusion of ideas from literature, music, art and architecture spanning at least a thousand years.  

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Mumbai – A Short History

Is this a fantasyland, a land where money grows on trees? Or maybe it is just a throbbing vein that attracts too many blood cells from all over. Be it the fish eating Konkanis, the carol singing Goan Christians or be it the Banias from the north, there is room for everybody. This is Mumbai. To an outsider it is a chaotic city full of dreams but for an insider it is a part of their life. As for me, it is where life truly moves on- be it the floods, be it a terror attack, I haven’t seen a bunch of people ever more disconnected and still in tandem. Mumbaikars pull together when in need and don’t mind shouting each other’s’ ears off in a railway train over a seat. Was Mumbai always like this; at odds with itself, wailing horns and constant traffic and not to mention the stinking gutters? Maybe we haven’t seen Mumbai in any other way but let’s not dismiss the fact that the roots of this city run deeper than we think.

Somewhere in the 3rd century BCE Ashoka found his way on an island in the Arabian Sea (Sopara). The existence of an Ashokan edict testifies the presence of Mauryan Empire in Sopara. They weren’t the only ones. These bunch of islands off the coast near the central region of India have welcomed not one or two but multiple visitors, whether guests or rulers; they’ve all left a stamp behind. The Gujaratis, the Marathas, the Mughals, the Portuguese and many others sport a link with Bombay.

After the Mauryans, the Shilahara Dynasty of Konkan came to the islands. These Hindu rulers have left a significant mark on these islands. Two very famous temples of Babulnath and Walkeshwar are from this era. The Walkeshwar Temple was constructed in the 10th Century and the Babulnath temple in 13th century. The Hindus ruled from around 810 CE to 1348 CE. In the mid-14th century, Gujarat Sultanate took over the reins of this area. Another two centuries and on 25 October 1535, the Portuguese came under the possession of Bombay. They weren’t to stay either.

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Map of Portuguese Mumbai

Signing over her royal dowry, Princess Catherine of Braganza married Charles II of Britain on 8 May 1661. The royal dowry included the 7 islands that would later form Bombay. After a little tussle with the Portuguese, the English acquired the Bombay island and later on also added Mahim, Sion and Wadala to their kitty. By the Royal Charter of 27th March 1668, Charles gave away these islands to the British East India Company at a mere rent of £10 per year.

The Portuguese had built a Bombay Castle. The British East India Company set to work. They built a fortification around the Bombay Castle. They also constructed a quay and warehouses. Till then small economy had grown in Bombay. But the British wanted more. The fort wasn’t just a city but a potential gateway. Anyone with half a head could see that wasn’t it obvious? Mumbai was a natural harbour, very safe from the ocean yet deep enough for most ships and it was on the west coast. It was the perfect entryway into the Indian subcontinent.

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Mumbai Harbour – 18th and 19th century paintings

By this time, Mumbai had had its first governor under the Company. They had also established the mint. Gerald Aungier, the second governor, formulated inviting business incentives. People began flocking to these 7 islands. They came here to settle and make livelihoods. Parsis from Iran, Marathis, Gujaratis, Christians, Muslims and Jews all gathered and lived in this city.

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1855 – View of the Fort from Colaba

Fast forward to 1838 and Bombay began looking like what it does today. In 1782 when William Hornby became the Governor, he decided to link these 7 islands of Colaba, Old Women’s Island, Mazagaon, Worli, Mahim, Parel and Bombay. He initiated the Hornby Vellard project. It changed the face of this city.

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Fort area as it looks today. Pictures courtesy : Jitu Mishra

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As Bombay became the place for British Troops to set camp, they needed their laundrymen. The laundrymen needed a clean water resource. To create lakes, trenches were dug and filled. Several lakes constituted a part of this area around where today a big junction exists. The hospital opposite to the cinema now stands on top of a lake! When the government became building a subway for pedestrians under this major junction, they were surprised to find fresh water springs underneath! These springs filled the lake with fresh water and the dhobis (laundrymen) washed clothes here.

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No lake anywhere in sight ! Dhobi Talao Junction. Picture Courtesy : Onkar Tendulkar

The first cotton textile mill was set up on 7th July, 1854. The shipbuilding industry followed in 1863.

Before Colaba became Colaba, there was a fort that covered the St. Thomas area called Church Gate. The extended Colaba area south of the fort was a village with green meadows. There were paths for leisurely strolling and thus the name Cotton Green.
As the docks were near, a cotton exchange was held to the east of Bombay Green. Over time, the cotton exchange got the name Cotton Green. As industrialisation gripped the city, the cotton exchange shifted north near the Sewri – Mazgaon area. A mint green colour building was built here and the cotton exchange started. Thus the new Cotton Green area was created.

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In 1862, Sir Battle Frere became the Governor of Bombay. He was ever the optimist and conceptualised the roots of Bombay. He decided to bring down the Bombay fort. It was too inconvenient and nascent, he had even bigger plans for this city.

The British troops housed overseas in India were undoubtedly homesick. They missed the revival gothic architecture and the upbeat vibes of urban London. Bombay was a quiet harbour and a clean canvas to draw upon. Sir Frere set off to build mini London.

The entire area of present day Churchgate and some parts of Colaba together formed the Fort area. The old fort had fortifications and three gates- the Apollo Gate, Church gate and the Bazaar gate. One of the gates stood right in the place of the famous Flora Fountain. Since this gate was close to the St. Thomas Cathedral locals referred to it as the Church gate. This name caught on and when the Colaba Station shut down, this new station was built near this gate and thus was christened Churchgate.

The fort and its gates were bought down to make way for a new Bombay.

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This is how the Churchgate area looked in 1860. Don’t miss the gate of the Fort at the fag end of the photograph
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And this is how Churchgate looks today ! Pictures courtesy : Onkar Tendulkar

The excess money in the city went in to the stock exchange. A business elite class consisting of Sir Jamshedjee Jeejebhoy, Jagannath Sunkersett, David Sasson and Sir Premchand Roychund amongst others where the chief employers in the city. They banded together and gave a boost to Sir Frere’s dreams. They provided the finances and built huge legacies that are still around today. Libraries, hospitals, educational institutions, the Bombay Stock Exchange and the famous Prince of Wales museum as it was formerly known are all a part of that legacy.

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Pictures courtesy : Jitu Mishra

Despite the rapid advancements, cattle were definitely a part of Bombay transport belonging to shepherds. In 1838 a new tax was imposed that made all herdsmen pay a tax for cattle grazing. In good faith Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy bought land near the Chowpatty till the Wilson College known as Thakurdwar. He let the herdsmen use this land for cattle grazing. Did you guess? What is the word in Hindi for grazing? Charna. This area thus came to be locally called as Charna. Soon it changed to Charni and we got Charni Road.

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Charni Road as it looks today making it a tad difficult to imagine this was a grazing area not too many years ago. Pictures courtesy : Onkar Tendulkar

Textile mills ran this city once. Bombay was where India came, to haggle their wares to the foreign merchants. Cotton exchanges were an intrinsic part to Bombay and took place at Colaba. Cotton was turned into textile and exported here.

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There was a time when these mills fed the city. They had 2 shifts, one for the day duty and one for the night duty. Such was the demand for textiles. A common gong rang around the city at 9 signaling the shift timings. And then as if a light was switched off, all this came to an abrupt halt when the strikes began. Workers went on major strikes, forcing all mills to shut down, not for a day or two but permanently. Today there isn’t a single functioning textile mill around. Huge mills in the Parel area have given way to an industrial area and a shopping mall. The old mills are being brought down and in their place sky high skyscrapers are blocking the light. Those skyscrapers that hardly anyone seems to afford.

Whether it is the swelling crowds that is bursting the maximum city at its seams or its resilience against all odds. Mumbai is what it is today courtesy the British and not just in the way it looks and feels but also in the way it has exponentially developed in this short span of time. So, has this city finished evolving? Absolutely not. After 1995, Bombay became Mumbai again. The name comes from the local goddess Mumba devi. Many local names changed from sounding British to very much Indian. True for many railway stations in the country but that is another story for another day.

It might be ‘Mumbai’ for the world yet it is ‘Bombay’ for the city’s lifelong dwellers. They still catch a train to the Victoria Terminus (VT) now known officially as CST and we all know- Mumbai is our jaan. The railway local is its throbbing vein and the buses are the BEST in this country. By the way, Bombay is the refined version of the Portuguese word ‘Bom Bhaiam’ meaning beautiful bay. It’s an irony, is it not?

The cover picture is an engraving of the Horniman Circle area.

Author -Shanaya Wagh. She runs a website on historical trivia www.giglee.in

She can be contacted at editor@giglee.in