Captivating Kanha – A Journey through Two Worlds

It was the peak of summer and the peak of the day around 12 noon. During my epic drive from Ahmedabad to Bhubaneswar for about 2400 km (including several detours), I arrived at Seoni, a dusty small town at the middle of Nagpur and Jabalpur Highway in south-eastern Madhya Pradesh. This was where the Jungle Book of the 19th century by Rudyard Kipling had been set.


Landscape around Seoni

I and my companion, His Highness Sri Somraj Singh Jhala, were in a fix, whether to drive south from here to Pench National Park or northeast to Kanha National Park.  Both were alluring. After much deliberation, we decided to head northeast, to Kanha National Park.






Delicious Breakfast and Sweet Meats in a Road Site Eatery Enroute Kanha

The terrain of Seoni is undulating with most of the area is covered by small hill ranges of eastern Satpura mountains, steeply sloping on the sides.  Once covered with dense forest today the landscape from Seoni to Kanha (120 km) looks mostly barren and deserted. But throughout the drive of nearly 4 hours what had captivated me were the scenic Gond houses in villages that dotted on both sides of the road. Neat and clean, the houses made of mud bricks and plastered with wattle and daub, are amongst the finest vernacular houses I had seen anywhere in Central India.

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Jawai – Where Leopards are Locals










Enchanting Gond Houses and Villages around Kanha in Mandla District

Madhya Pradesh is predominantly a tribal state with Gonds forming one of the prominent tribes.  There are over 50 sub-tribes within Gond Tribe, which are also concentrated in the neighbouring states of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. In Madhya Pradesh alone they are spread in Betul, Hoshangabad, Chhindwara, Seoni, Balaghat, Mandla, Dindori, Sagar, Damoh, Rewa, Satna, Shahdol, Raisen, Burhanpur and Narsighpur Districts.

Travel Tips

Kanha National Park is spread over a vast stretch of forest over Mandla and Balaghat districts in Eastern Madhya Pradesh. The nearest town is Mandla and city is Jabalpur. The park is well-known for evergreen forest and animals like tiger, leopard, sloth bear, barasingha, gaur and Indian wild dog. It is also home to over 1000 species of flowering plants. While the lowland forest is a mixture of sal and other mixed-forest trees, interspersed with meadows, its highland forests are tropical moist and dry deciduous.

Kanha Tiger Reserve abounds in meadows or maidans which are basically open grasslands. 

The best season to visit Kanha is between Mid-October and March. The safari timings are between 6.30 to 11 AM in the morning and 3 to 6 PM in the afternoon. The park is closed between 1st July to 15th October.  The buffer zone of the park near Mukki and Khisli Gates are a number of jungle resorts and lodges for accommodation, which can be booked through online. For a Gond tribal experience visit Khatia and Narna villages on the fringe of Kanha. 



Gond People in a Village near Muki Gate in Kanha

The Gonds are known for building their houses using locally available resources which I could see during my drive to Kanha. Unlike us, the city breeds, the Gonds do not harm their environment while constructing their shelters. No external agency is involved in construction. Their houses become one with the landscape where they live. Their womenfolk take charge of decorating the walls and floors of their mud houses using clay and organic colours, mostly blue, earthen red and white. The main entrance of the house is mostly east facing and on the left side is kept the cowshed, which is supposed to be the sacred place in the house where auspicious occasions are celebrated and important rituals are performed.

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Kaziranga – Hydra of Conservation






A Gond House near Kanha

When you enter to a Gond house, you are welcomed in a large drawing room (palta bangle), and then an open verandah (parchhi), which is adjacent to the courtyard, where implements related to cattle are kept. The kitchen (muhrat ghar) having enough space for storing grains, pulses and oilseeds, is located in the backyard. Remaining rooms are called Kuria. The family god is enshrined in a small platform in the front of the wall where the chulah or the earthen hearth is built. Though there is no image or idol or god, it is represented by food grains and coins that are placed in a pit.

Gonds are beautiful souls known for warm hospitality and gesture. When we entered Mandla District, I was simply drawn to one of their shrines dedicated to Shri Shambhu Mahadeo under a huge Banyan Tree made out of the earth. According to their folklore, when Gods were born, their mother abandoned them. The goddess Parvati rescued them, but her concert Shri Sambhu Mahadeo kept them captive in a cave. Pahandi Kapar Lingal, a Gond hero, who received help from the Goddess Jangu Bai, rescued them from the cave. They came out of the cave in four groups, thus laying the foundations of basic fourfold divisions of Gond society. Lingal is also responsible for creating a Gond kingship system and establishing a group of great Gond gods.



Shrine of Sri Sambhu Mahadeo

Sacrificing a life before a new event is a common aspect of Gond life. Certain Many of Gond Goddesses demand chickens, goats, and sometimes male buffaloes during major festivals. Every nine or twelve years, Gonds sacrifice a pig to the god Narayan Deo in an important ceremony known as the Laru Kaj (Pig’s Wedding).

Gonds believe that evil spirits and the gods’ displeasure cause most diseases and misfortunes. Their shamans intertwine when there are such crises. They fall into a trance and give voice to the demands of an offended God or spirit.

By the time we had reached Mukki Gate of Kanha National Park, we had travelled through a dozen of Gond villages in Mandla District. It was dusk. Sun was going down against the western horizon over the Kanha sky. Soon pitch dark night shrouded all around us. We retired for the day at MP Tourism Jungle Resort close to Mukki Gate.


The Buffer Zone of Kanha

Next day morning! It was 5 AM, the outside was still hazy. The noise of the forest and the chirping of birds helped us waking up from the deep slumber of tiredness of the previous day’s long travel from Panchmari to Kanha. Over a cup of hot chai, we chalked out the day’s plan. The first job was to get ready at the gate for the safari before 6 AM. We hurried and booked our tickets. At 6.15 AM we entered to the core of Kanha.

Kanha National Park is one of India’s finest wildlife parks and is geographically blessed with meadows and valleys apart from the dense evergreen forest. Spread over a thousand square kilometres. Here wildlife sighting is almost guaranteed.










Enchanting Kanha National Park

As our safari jeep started navigating through the forest the drama of nature started unfolding at every short interval. A huge meadow at the magical dawn set against evergreen Satpura Hill was the first where we sighted a large colony of antelopes gazing in the mist hours. Soon a wild boar crossed running behind our vehicle. I was disappointed. My mobile camera was inadequate to capture its force.






Soon we sighted a herd of bison, the pride of Kanha before us. Also, called gaur the Indian bison is the largest extant bovine and the tallest wild cattle service. They are active mostly in the nights and disappear before 8 in the morning.






Our guide Girani Maravi, a man from Baiga tribe was constantly alert for a tiger sighting. It was close to 8 he succeeded in his morning’s mission. It was an expert like him who could judge the commotion of the forest against the backdrop of a tiger’s roam as the king of the forest. Monkeys are the best indicators before a tiger’s arrival. With his guidance, the driver turned the vehicle and entered to yet another trek road. It was less than 2 min, I arrived at one of the finest wildlife moments of my life. Before us, less than 100 m, a full-grown Royal Bengal Tiger was walking majestically on the dusty trek. He saw us. We saw him. There was an exchange of anxiousness between us. He sat almost for 10 min without doing anything. We were the only safari jeep. My mobile camera went on clicking pictures and shooting small clips. There was deep silence all around, not a single other creature, except birds could be seen nearby. After giving a 10 min pose he finally got up and started walking into the jungle. At this moment another vehicle arrived but alas, for them the show had pulled its curtain.














Once you have the best tiger sighting your enthusiasm is largely over. Now it was the time to return back to the gate and proceed to your next destination on this epic drive from the west coast to the east of India.

It was truly a magic moment in my entire drive from India’s west coast to the east coast in the land of Kipling’s Jungle Book. It is the land of countless stories of human-tiger conflicts and love. The Gonds and Baigas have a deep association with the forest of Kanha and their traditional knowledge system and spectrum of ethnic life are not be missed by any serious traveller to Kanha.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

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.


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.











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





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.







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.

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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.


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.



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.

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Source: India Water Portal


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.













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.






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.





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.





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.



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.



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.




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.


Source: India Water Portal

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Travel Shot – Benazir Palace

Bhopal, the burgeoning cosmopolitan capital city of Madhya Pradesh is also referred to as the City of Nawabs. Among her erstwhile rulers was Shahjehan Begum, a prolific builder who is credited with the construction of the imposing Taj – Ul – Masjid, the largest mosque in India.


She named her capital, Shahjehanabad which was counted one amongst the most beautiful and well planned cities of the 19th century. Some of the other structures built by her are Ali Manzil, Benazir Palace and the Taj Mahal Palace.

Her daughter Sultanjehan Begum writes: ‘Her Highness’s love for erecting large buildings and palaces was in no way less than that her great namesake, the Emperor Shahjehan of Delhi. She had three palaces constructed in the Mughal style for her personal use’.

Among these buildings, Benazir Palace built in 1875 was a pleasure garden and a palace to accommodate state dignitaries.  Lord and Lady Minto stayed here in 1909 during their visit to India. The palace was built around three waterbodies and overlooks one, the Motia Talab. The other two water bodies are the Noor Mahal Talab and the Munshi Hussain Talab.


Benazir Palace is built in H shape encloses stepped terraces and water fountains. A series of steps and plinths descend down to Motia Talab. The building is a perfect blend of Mughal, Rajput and European architecture. Steel columns, carved wooden partition, stain glass windows, extensive carvings on walls and in the royal hamam are some of the attractions of this palace.


The grounds attached to the palace were used for ceremonial processions, parades and were also used as congregation grounds by the subjects. Steps on both the sides of the ground create an arena like setting that can be used by people for sitting during sports. Mahatma Gandhi addressed a rally here in 1929.



Today, the Benazir Palace is crumbling and has been encroached upon by locals. The neglected palace stands as a testimony to the dying heritage of the city of Nawabs.


Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at


Travel Shot : Dargah E Hakimi

“Bharde jholi meri Ya Mohammad, laut kar main na jaunga khaali”

Who can forget the hesitant Bajrangi Bhaijaan going to a dargah as a last resort with a lament that is voiced soulfully by Adnan Sami in the form of the above qawwali. His request is heeded and things fall into place. This is the stirring power that faith has and faith, as I have known and believe, does not see religion.


It is faith, that brings people in hordes to Dargah E Hakimi in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh. Faith in the powers of the 17th-century Bohra saint Syedi Abdul Qader Hakimuddin who was known for his piety, humility and scholarship. A sanskrit scholar and a Hafiz-e-Koran (he could recite the entire Koran from memory), his recitation of the Koran could mesmerise any living being. It is faith, that a tiger on hearing the saint reciting the Koran obediently sits down in front of him and later walks away silently.

When Syedi Hakimudin died in 1730 CE, his detractors exhumed his body after 22 days and found a fresh and fragrant body much to their utter disbelief. Over the years, people’s faith in Syedi Hakimuddin’s miraculous powers have grown manifold. The word Hakim denotes a healer and thousands of Bohras flock to his shrine, taking a mannat (vow) for shifa (cure) from disease and seeking restoration of the health of both the body and the soul only to return back again and again.


The Dargah that looks more like a resort than a mausoleum has lush environs with water fountains, well laid gardens and lawns along with living facilities that can be compared to a starred hotel and for those who cannot be accommodated in the rooms there is a dormitory too replete with all the facilities. All of this at a pittance for the maximum you pay for a room is Rs. 1000/- only ! Food is not charged and the first thing you hear as soon as you enter the Dargah is “jamvanu nu izzan che” (you are invited for food).


Hosting an average of upto 1000 pilgrims everyday, this Dargah is impeccably clean and very well managed. The food is always there despite the fact that there is no prior registration and people just walk in at any time. None of the staff is trained in hospitality or management but the systematic way in which this huge property spread over 125 acres runs reminds you that here, faith is at work. If one day someone sponsors the dessert, than another day a group pays for the entire feast, someone takes care of the appetizer than another day someone sponsors the piping hot tea and breakfast. The grains that reach the Dargah (125 kgs of rice, 80 kgs of flour and pulses daily) are many a times sent by ‘Hakimuddin’, anonymous donors who give in the name of the saint.

Last year approximately 121,356 people came seeking the serenity that this dargah offers making the Madhya Pradesh government honour it with the ‘Most Tourist Friendly Pilgrimage Centre’ award. The accolades and initiatives don’t stop there, the Dargah has now taken up organic farming producing wheat on the surplus land. It is utilized by the kitchen of the Dargah. All the bio waste is collected and composted that enriches the soil making it a green haven. Bee keeping is also practiced and the honey is given to the pilgrims during breakfast. Plans are afoot to expand these initiatives further.

IMG_7260 Astounded, puzzled or just in awe ? At Dargah E Hakimi, the standard answer to every puzzled question is a smile and a finger that points towards the dome of the tomb of Syedi Hakimuddin.


It befits our brethren, may Allah give them strength, to not despise any field of knowledge, or shun a particular book, or bear prejudice towards a certain faith. Indeed our philosophy and our faith encompass all faiths and all knowledge.

Rasaa’il Ikhwan al-Safaa

Author – Zehra Chhapiwala

She can be contacted at

All the pictures used in the post are courtesy Jitu Mishra

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.


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.


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


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.


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.

IMG_5952 copy

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.


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’.


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.

Dhar Fort1


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Travel Shot : Mandu – On A Road Less Traveled

Once upon a time there was a king named Baz Bahadur. He was the last independent Sultan of Malwa.  During one of his hunting trips, Baz Bahadur chanced upon Roopmati, a divinely beautiful shepherdess, frolicking and singing with her friends. Being a great lover of music, he was bowled by Roopmati’s melodious voice. It was love at first sight and Baz Bahadur asked for Roopmati’s hand in marriage to which she agreed on the condition that she would live in a palace from where her Maa Narmada, which flows beneath the Malwa spurs in Nimad Plain, a few kilometers away, was visible.

Isn’t this how fairy tales begin? And it was a fairy tale romance where Baz Bahadur went all out to please his lady love and built the Rewa Kund where the waters of Narmada turned into a placid lake by a palace. But destiny had a different plan. Mughal Emperor Akbar on hearing of Baz Bahadur’s immersive marital life decided to capture Malwa and sent Adam Khan to invade Malwa. Baz Bahadur met the mighty Mughal army with his small force and was defeated. He escaped leaving behind his kingdom and Roopmati to fend for themselves. Sensing her fate at the hands of Adam Khan, Roopmati killed herself, thus ending the fairytale romance that still attracts thousands of tourists to Mandu every year.

But there is more to Mandu than this epic romance and its vestiges found in spectacular palaces, pavilions and lakes. Mandu’s landscape is dotted with hundreds of monuments against the picturesque spur of Malwa plateau, the most talked about being the Jahaz Mahal, Jama Masjid, Roopmatis’ pavilion, Hindola Mahal, Baz Bahadur’s Palace and Hoshang Shah’s Tomb.

On a recent drive through Mandu’s historic terrain, I came across three spectacular monuments that are yet to figure on the itineraries of the tourists. They are located close to each other, off the road that leads to Roopmati’s Pavilion on the eastern bank of the sprawling Sagar Talav. 

The first one of the series is Malik Mughith’s Mosque. Built in 1452 CE by Malik Mughith, father of Mahmud Khilji, the third Sultan of Malwa, is one of the earliest Islamic monuments to be built in Malwa. One of the key attractions of the mosque is its projecting porch which can be reached by ascending a flight of steps. The entrance porch consists of beautiful arched doors and windows, once profusely covered with floral decorations and blue tiles, traces of which can still be seen.


Malik Mughith’s Mosque

The second in the series is Dai Ki Chhoti Behan Ka Mahal. This is the tomb of a woman, called Malik Magi. The tomb is octagonal in shape and crowned by a beautiful dome, once covered profusely with blue tiles. The tomb has four arched openings in four cardinal directions and stands on a raised plinth. The other attraction of the monument is its attached Char Bagh garden built over the slope.


Dai Ki Chhoti Behan Ka Mahal

A few meters away is Dai Ka Mahal, a tomb complex standing on a plinth with arched openings, a domed roof and traces of pavilion topped towers at corners. It is the tomb of a wet nurse having rooms with arched openings. The mosque, situated within the tomb complex, is adorned with brackets and jharokas showing distinct Hindu architectural influence. Mandu was a prominent seat of the Parmar dynasty till the end of 10th century CE. So the Hindu influence found here can be traced to the architectural legacy of the Parmars in Malwa.


Dai Ka Mahal

Both the above monuments (Dai Ki Chhoti Behan Ka Mahal and Dai Ka Mahal) were probably used as residence quarters of Sultan’s favourite wet nurses or mid-wives. When they died their mahals were converted into tombs. These buildings together with other splendid structures of Mandu give an important insight into the provincial style of Indo-Islamic architecture. Marked by elegance and simplicity, this style, later influenced the more majestic Mughal style of architecture as seen in Agra and Delhi. 

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at



Burhanpur – A Medieval Water Oasis

How did India manage its water resources in the medieval times is a question that has haunted me for quite some time now.  The quest to answer this question began a couple of years ago when I went to Bidar, the Bahamani capital in northeast Karnataka where thanks to Mr. Valliyil Govindakutty, an expert on medieval water management, I got a chance to explore the Karez system, a subterranean water channel that works using the gravitational force. Karez system was first introduced to Bidar from Iran but was mastered in Burhanpur during the Mughal Era. So, obviously the next destination in my quest was Burhanpur.

Burhanpur, located in the heart of India in Madhya Pradesh was widely known as the cultural capital of the Mughals. Established by the Farouqis in 1388 CE, the city reached its zenith in the 16th and 17th centuries CE. Burhanpur’s strategic location in the pass of Satpura Hills and on the bank of Tapi River established it as the ‘Gateway to Deccan’ or ‘Baab E Dakkhan’ in the Mughal Era. The city was named by Malik Nasir Khan of Farouqi Dynasty as Burhanpur after the Sufi Saint Burhan – Ud – Din Gharib (a disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia).

Also, Read Here:

Karez System of Bidar – A Persian Oasis in Deccan


Burhanpur City in-between Satpura Mountains and Tapi River


Ghats at The River Tapi built by Ahaliya Bai Holkar


River Tapi flowing beside the Burhanpur Fort

In 1601 CE, Akbar conquered Khandesh and made Burhanpur the capital of Khandesh Suba. After capturing Asirgarh Fort, the key to Burhanpur, he appointed his son Daniyal as the Governor of Khandesh. Later, during the time of Jahangir, Prince Khurram (known as Shah Jahan) took the charge of Burhanpur in 1617 CE. A stone inscription at the summit of Asirgarh Fort records the revolt of Khurram against his father Jahangir in 1622 CE. After a tough fight against the Mughal army, Shah Jahan had to surrender and sign a peace treaty with his father. After the death of Jahangir in 1627 CE, the political condition became favourable for Shah Jahan and he was crowned the next Mughal Emperor. But trouble was brewing in Deccan so Shah Jahan made Burhanpur his base for two years (1630 – 1632 CE), conducting operations against Bijapur, Ahmednagar, and Golkonda.

With the conquest of Burhanpur, the Baab – E – Dakkhan became an established garrison town with an approximate population of around 200,000 army personnel and 50,000 civilians. Though Burhanpur was situated on the banks of River Tapi and Utavali, there was a constant fear of poisoning by enemy forces. The constant supply of safe drinking water became a matter of serious concern for Abdul Rahim Khana – E – Khanan, the governor of Burhanpur. Add to this, Burhanpur is situated in a geological fault zone (Bajada Fault), parallel to River Tapi and adjoining the valley of Satpura Hills.

Khana – E – Khanan decided that developing the qanat system (a labyrinth of underground water tunnels) was the best solution to the problem he faced. For this, he invited Tubkutul Arj, a Persian geologist in 1615 CE. Arj tapped water flowing in streams from Satpura Hills to Tapi, through a network of 103 circular inter-connected wells, known as bhandaras with an underground brick and stone tunnel that was 3.9 kms long. He galvanized the unique geological opportunity presented by the fault that sloped towards east to River Tapi and developed the Qanat System.

Khuni Bhandara3

Khuni Bhandara1

Khuni Bhandara














Thanks to the permission given by Mr Dipak Singh, Burhanpur District Collector with the coordination of Mr Malviya, my guide and local expert, I could get down the 25 m deep tunnel and walked inside for almost 50 m. The tunnel is however closed for tourists otherwise. Walking inside the Kundi Bhandara, or Khooni Bhandara (named so because of the reddish water) was a dream come true for me. The water was clean and cool. Its PH value is 7.2, much higher than that of water purified using modern technology. The walls had bricks, covered with calcium deposits.

Also, Read Here:

Bijapur Water Heritage – An Oasis in Parched Deccan

Kundi Bhandara works on the law of gravitational force. At the source, the water is at 30 m deep which gradually heightens to 2 m in the last bhandara. This means the water flows upwards following the laws of gravitation. The diameter of the kundis varies between 0.75 m to 1.75 m.

Kundi Bhandara is just one part of a broader network of water management, others being the Sook Bhandara, Trikuti Bhandara, Mool Bhandara, and Chinaharana Bhandara. The water channelized through these networks of bhandaras is collected in sump wells, known as Karanj. From Karanj, the water was distributed through earthen pipes to sarais, hamams, gardens, mosques and residential areas of the city.

Travel Tips:

Burhanpur is a medium-sized city located in Khandesh Region of Madhya Pradesh, close to Maharashtra border. The city is surrounded by Tapi River and its fertile valleys, besides the hills of Satpura Range. The city and its surroundings have been under human occupations from the time Prehistory.  However, it was during Rashrakutas (8th-10th centuries CE), Burhanpur became an established centre of trade and commerce. In 1388 CE, Malik Nasir Khan, the Faruqi Sultan of Khandesh, established it as his capital and renamed it after a well-known medieval Sufi saint, Burhan-ud-Din. In 1601 CE, Akbar annexed the Khandesh sultanate and Burhanpur became the capital of Khandesh subah of Mughal Empire.  While at Burhanpur, also visit Asirgarh Fort. This fort during its prime time was difficult to win because of being built at a great height, with strong outer walls which are still standing intact.

Burhanpur is well connected by road and rail services with all major cities of India. The nearest airport is Devi Ahayala Holkar International Airport at Indore, 3 hours drive. 

Jahangir Hamam, a public bath system located in the heart of the walled city of Burhanpur, built during the time of Jahangir received water from Kundi Bhandara. The hamam has three rooms and an octagonal platform in the center of the biggest room.  Special provision in the form of open roof tops was made for ventilation and light.







On the other side of Tapi lies Zainabad, the pleasure retreat of the Mughals. It is believed that the Farouqis first settled at Zainabad as remains of some of the earliest mosques testify. However, its affair with the Mughals began with Akbar’s son Daniyal who was the Subedar of the new province. Daniyal loved going for hunts often. He built the Ahukhana or deer park at Zainabad, where besides him Noor Jahan and other Mughal royalty practised their hunting skills. A palace was constructed here during the time of Jahangir, which is said to have been designed by Noor Jahan’s brother.

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Mandu’s Water Heritage – An Epicurean Delight


Ahukhana2 copy

Mumtaz, Shah Jahan’s beloved wife was so fascinated with this palace that she transformed it from hunting ground to a rose garden. Its design had no parallel in Central India and had the distinction of being the second most beautiful garden in the country after the Nishat Garden in Kashmir.











The water fountains and channels at Ahukhana were fed by the water received from the dam near the Gul Ara Mahal, another pleasure palace built by Shah Jahan on river Utavali. Gul Ara Mahal is deeply linked with the love story of Shah Jahan and Gul Ara. Gul was an extremely talented and divinely beautiful singer – danseuse. During his youth, Prince Khurram visited Burhanpur often with his father Jahangir. On one such trip, while on a leisurely long walk, he was drawn to a melodious voice. He spotted a young woman singing and dancing by the river Utavali.  It was love at first sight and both of them romanced on the banks of Utavali. Shah Jahan built a dam and two identical mahals opposite each other across the dam and named it Gul Aara Mahal in her honour.







The rooftop presents a panoramic view of the waterworks and the charming countryside around. Though now in ruins, one can imagine Shah Jahan and Gul Ara gazing at the waterfall and losing themselves in its melody. The untimely death of Gul Ara marked the ending of their love story. But the palace and the rhythmic sound of water still echo tales of their romance. The palace is about 21 km from Burhanpur.

Today, the Kundi Bhandara has been partly restored by the Burhanpur Municipal Corporation and the district administration  to supply clean and adequate drinking water to the city throughout the year. It has been made possible due to the vision of Mr. Praveen Garg, the former district collector of Khandwa District (Burhanpur was part of Khandwa District at that time) in early 2000. Today the medieval water wonder of Burhanpur quench thirst of nearly 50,000 people (one fourth of Burhanpur’s population).




However, it is a pity that the once opulent and richly decorated water pavilion at Ahukhana and Gul Ara Mahal are now sad crumbling ruins. These structures are in a state of utter neglect. But there is hope as I discovered during my hour long discussion with Mr. Hoshang Havaldar, an hotelier and local convener of INTACH, who is very keen and optimistic about the revival of Burhanpur’s water heritage. We, at Virasat E Hind Foundation, are eager to see it happening. Till then fingers crossed.



Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Datia Palace – Of Friendship, Mystery and Inspiration

The Delhi Durbar of 1911 was a major turning point in Indian urban history as it was during this event that the decision to shift the capital of Imperial India was taken. With Delhi now being crowned the capital, it was decided that a ‘New’ Delhi would be developed with sprawling avenues and majestic buildings.

Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, a reputed architect was chosen for the job. The 43-year-old immediately set out on an inspirational train journey through the heartland of the country carrying along with the baggage of scepticism and little appreciation for Indian symmetry and aesthetics. He was heavily influenced by classical European composition which the focal point of his layout plans for New Delhi. He maintained that the design was meant to demonstrate the superiority of western art, science and culture in India. Little did he realize that one palace was going to change all this.


While travelling from Jhansi to Gwalior, Luytens saw two great palaces of Datia and was so impressed that he got off the train to visit them and returned for another visit. He was so impressed with Datia Palace’s blend of Hindu and Islamic styles that the fusion made its way in the design of New Delhi’s North and South blocks along with the palatial Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Travel Tips

Datia is a small town located on Jhansi – Gwalior Highway at a distance of 69 km from Gwalior and 325 km from New Delhi. The town is also an important Hindu and Jain pilgrimage centre. There are many temples, including the Sidhapeeth of Peetambhara Devi, Buglamukhi Devi Temple, and Gopeshwar Temple. Peetambra Peeth is a famous Shakti Peeth located at the entrance of Datia. The nearby Songiri has scores of Jain temples dated from the 19th century onwards.

While one can stay at Datia but we recommend nearby Orcha or Gwalior as better options for staying and food. MP Tourism runs a restaurant on the highway in Datia.







Datia Palace, also known as Vir Singh Deo Mahal or Govind Palace is one of India’s most impressive palaces from the 17th century. Built essentially as a solid square fortress with very few openings to the outside the palace was hardly inhabited. The inside presents a marvellous geometric organization of space on several levels. Apartments inside have been built in such a way that there are proper cross ventilation and sufficient light without affecting privacy.

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Hill Forts of Jaipur – Jewels of Aravali









Within the solid square, there are four quartered squares with corner towers and a large courtyard at its core. The five-storied central tower (115 feet high) houses the royal apartments connected to the four corners with narrow bridges.


The five-storied central tower of Datia Palace is one of the most innovative architectural statements among the palace buildings in India. According to experts, it is an expression of power and the authority of Vir Singh Deo, an exceptionally wealthy ruler of his time. According to Giles Tillostan, ‘the Govind Mahal’s tower, on the central plot, could, therefore, be regarded as a secular version of a temple shikhara. And just as in the temple ritual all action is focused towards the central point, so the dynamics of the Govind Mahal is focussed on the tower – it is the hub of the palace, visually a dominant feature, and the resident not of a God or the image of a God but of a King, and a king with a pretension to divinity’.

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Betwa – Flowing in the Heart of India

Vir Singh built the Datia Palace for his friend, Jehangir who could not come and stay. In 1627, he decided to gift it to his son who was the first ruler of Datia. Bhagwan Rao however never lived in this great palace. He lived nearby in a smaller palace, which is ruined now. Bhagwan Rao’s son Subha Kiran built his own palace at Datia on another outcrop. Subha Kiran’s son Dalpat Rao (1683 – 1707) established a fort/palace in the middle of the present Datia town. So, mysteriously this palace was never lived in!

The domed towers of Datia Mahal were once covered lavishly with Cuerda Seca glazed tile decoration. Compared to other architectural masterpieces of the time, here the glazed Cueda Seca tiles have a greater range of colours and floral designs.


Cuerda Seca is a technique used when applying coloured glaze to ceramic surfaces. In this technique, waxy resist lines are used to prevent glazes of different shades from merging into each other during firing. The technique has its origin in Central Asia from the second half of the 14th century CE. From Safavids to Timurids to the Ottoman Empire, the technique was used profusely for tile decoration. The introduction of different coloured glazing is seen in the buildings of Samarkand from this period.

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Splendours of Orchha – Myths and Realities

Vir Singh Deo while accompanying Jehangir in different battle expeditions had received wide exposure to various art and architectural techniques in Samarkand and Persia. While building the Datia palace, he introduced many of these ideas creating one of the best examples of Indo-Islamic architecture. Call it a symbol of his friendship or a display of his status and power, Vir Singh in Datia Palace, has left us with a wonderful palace that is a treat to our senses.













Two large water bodies were constructed to the west and south of the palace. The western talav, which is called the Lalaka Talav has water, while the southern talav has turned into an open field. The talavs not just cooled down the palace in summer but also supplied water. These talavs also provided lovely views and cool place to serenade.



Datia Mahal

The southern talav was once a wide expanse of water with a little pleasure palace, Badal Mahal attached to it. A photograph by Lala Deen Dayal (1870 – 90) shows Govind Mahal and Badal Mahal besides the talav.


Courtesy – The British Museum 

Vir Singh Deo was a man of great taste. His taste for visual aesthetics is evident right from the entrance to the private apartments inside the palace. The murals painted on the spandrels of the main entrance depict human faced sun images on both corners above winged dragons. Both the winged dragons bear noble riders chasing gazelles through the foliage. The panel is undoubtedly one of the best in South Asia for its display of fevered energy and force. Above the scene is the painting of a seated Ganesha flanked by two horse riders.




There is extensive use of Mughal motifs stylistically reconfiguring in Bundela guise. The 17th-century Bundela murals marked a transition phase, blending local style with Mughal cosmopolitan style, imagery and aesthetics. Inside the palace, there are richly layered expressions of local and cosmopolitan themes resembling closely the murals at Orchha Palace, Vir Singh Deo’s capital.

The net and star vaulted ceiling of Maharaja’s bedroom, Maharani’s dressing room and adjoining balconies are lavishly painted with Ragamala series replete with floral imagery in natural colours.  With the graceful appearance, sinuous shapes and lilting movements the murals of Datia exhibit a sophisticated approach to natural form.





Vases (guldan) in particular draw special attention. Illustrated in Araash technique, the vases taper from a wide curved base towards a narrow flaring rim. Long stems and leaves splay out from the vases’ lips in a vivid fan-like pattern.

The rasa-mandala ceiling located in the tripartite chamber on one of the palace’s lower ceremonial floors is one of the earliest extant depictions of this theme among Rajput palaces. The scene painted in relief was recently renovated by the ASI maintaining the original colour scheme – carmine, ochre, white and black. The circular composition is laid out around large flowering lotus resembling the moon that bathed the ecstatic dancing Krishna and his gopis in its light.




The palace was visited in 1835 by Colonel Sleeman, a British soldier and administrator. A report published in Datia State Gazetteer states that when the Colonel asked the local maharaja’s servants why the Govind Mahal was abandoned they replied that no present-day ruler was worthy of such grand palace nor would one be comfortable living in a palace that had been built to house such a great king.

This suggests that Datia was already weakened around this time as a political power. Today, the Datia palace is in a desolate state with very few tourists visiting it. Though imposing in its structure, it takes an effort to imagine that only a century back it was a source of inspiration for New Delhi’s colonial architectural identity.



Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at


Betwa – Flowing in the Heart of India

In the annals of Indian history, rivers occupy a special place. Revered as deities by Hindus, rivers mobilized resources, ideas and agricultural wealth. If there is something that strongly characterizes the idea of India, it is her endless river system. The very name ‘India’ or ‘Hind’ has been derived from the river Indus, first cited by Arab geographers. At the dawn of the Christian era, Ptolemy divided India as the lands of Ganges and beyond Ganges.


River Betwa in Orchha

Although most of India’s rivers played a prolific role in shaping her civilization, only a few are celebrated as Pan-Indian tirthas, such as Ganga, Godavari, Narmada and Cauvery. Betwa or Vetrawati is a historically vibrant river that flows through the heart of Central India in the modern states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Cutting through the Vindhya ridges, its banks are not fertile valleys and the population density is low. It has still retained its medieval charm as not too many industries and large cities dot its banks.

Betwa silently crafted a story that we identify as the story of India. In her catchment we find the earliest imprints of humankind in India, the earliest of Hindu temples and India’s most splendid Buddhist monasteries. On its banks ran the grand highway of Ancient India, the Dakshina Path, connecting the cities of Gangetic plain and Deccan. Both Jains and Buddhists lived and prosper in the region. They together with Hindus have left beautifully sculptured edifices along the Betwa.

The story of Betwa begins approximately 30,000 years when the rock shelters of Bhimbetka and its surrounding hills were transformed into one of the earliest habitats of modern humans in the Sub-continent. The unique position of hills with gradual slopes and surrounding valleys not only provided shelters to live but also supplied a wealth of food resources. Our Stone Age ancestors took the advantage of this nature’s gift and silently laid the foundation of the story of India. They painted on the walls of the caves scenes from their daily life and created the first visual language. Today the rock-shelters of Bhimbetka are a world heritage site and a repository of knowledge of an ancient way of life and living.


Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka

The Stone Age way of life continued for thousands of years until the process of earliest urbanization began in the middle of 1st millennium BCE. Vidisha became an important trade centre around this time and continued till the Gupta Empire took over in the 2nd-3rd centuries CE. Emperor Ashoka was the governor of Vidisha and his Buddhist wife Vidisha Devi was a native of this city. Today, among Vidisha’s oldest remains is the stone pillar that was erected in the 1st century BCE by Heliodorus, a Greek ambassador of Indo-Greek King Antialcidas. The pillar is surmounted by a sculpture of Garuda and dedicated to Vasudeva.


Heliodorus Pillar at Vidisha

Sanchi, another world heritage site is a jewel in the crown of Buddhism. Originally commissioned by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE, the great stupa at Sanchi is an architectural landmark. It was here that Ashoka married Vidisha Devi, the daughter of a merchant from Vidisha. In the 1st century BCE, four elaborately carved toranas with beautiful sculptures depicting daily life in Ancient India, the Dhamma wheels, Jataka tales and the worshipping of the Buddha in symbolic form were added.

Sanchi Stupas

During the course of time a number of stupas, temples and monasteries were built in Sanchi, among which the Temple 17 is worth mentioning. It is one of the earliest temples of India built in the form of a small square sanctum and a portico with flat roofs. The portico has four pillars bearing four lions on top. This temple is a wonderful example of the fact that the concept of Shikhara did not exist earlier.

Sanchi 17 Temple, one of the earliest temples in India


A later Temple at Sanchi

Similar to Sanchi, a number of other hills around Betwa and its tributary Bes became established centres of Buddhism. One such centre is Satdhara. The main stupa at Satdhara is even bigger than the Sanchi Mahastupa and was built during the time of Ashoka. Overlooking Bes River, the strikingly simpler Satdhara stupas are spread over a sprawling plateau.

Satdhara Buddhist Complex

When the Guptas took over, they created a parallel centre of worship at Udayagiri Hill near Vidisha and introduced the idea of rock-cut Hindu monasteries in the region. It was perhaps to counteract the popularity of Buddhism in the region and spread Brahmanical faith. The gigantic rock-cut statues of Varaha and Anantaseshayi Vishnu at Udayagiri will leave any visitor spellbound. This was the beginning of Hindu iconography that later evolved into more complex forms profusely adorning the medieval temples of India and Southeast Asia.

The Udayagiri Cave Complex

Situated on the right bank of Betwa in Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh, Deogarh has one of the best known Gupta period temples, Dashavatara Vishnu Temple. It is also identified as the earliest known Panchayatana Temple in North India.

Nar Naryana Sculptures at Dashavatar Temple in Deogarh and Jain Sculptures at Parshavanath Temple in Deogarh (Source: Wikipedia)

Deogarh was also a major centre of Jainism. There are about 31 Jain Temples with 2000 sculptures built between 7th and 17th Centuries CE in Deogarh. According to UP Tourism website, Deograh has the largest collection of Jain sculptures found in one place. Most of these temples were built by Jain merchants who carried on trade both inland and overseas from Deogarh.

Calm flows the Betwa towards Budhi Chanderi, or the Old Chanderi, which is 20 km North of modern Chanderi and yet another major centre of Jainism.


A Jain Temple in Chanderi

The early seeds of architectural grandeur sown by the Guptas flowered during the period of Rashtrakutas and the best examples are found at the unfinished Shiva Temple at Bhojpur and ruins of the nearby Bhootnath Temple complex. The temple at Bhojpur was massive and the Shiva linga is the tallest in the medieval world.

Temple Ruins of Bhojpur and Bhootnath

The temple building activity continued in Vidisha and the sheer size of the unfinished temple of Bijamandal speaks eloquently of the skills and ambition of its builders.

Temple Ruins of Bijamandal at Vidisha

The next phase in Betwa story begins with the introduction of Islam. The political ambition of Sultanate rulers led their march to South and Betwa became the key passage. Victories of invaders pulled down the wealth of temples throwing life that revolved around sanatan belief into disarray. But this was not to last long. The faith in humanism saw new light through Sufi mysticism. Chanderi became a magnet of Sufi ideas with the preaching of the followers of Nizamuddin Auliya.

Chishtiyya is one of the four main streams of Sufi Islam. Though Chishtiyya had originated in Afghanistan in the 10th century CE, it was Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, a revered Sufi Saint who had his abode at Ajmer in Rajasthan in the 12th century AD, who established the Chishti order in the Indian Subcontinent. The Chishti order of Sufism made a profound impact on the spread of Islam in India and stressed on values such as independence from rulers and states, rejection of money and land grants, generosity to others through sharing of food and wealth, and tolerance and respect to religious differences.

One of the eminent disciples of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti was Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. According to primary historical sources, in 13th and 14th centuries CE, Auliya’s influence on Muslims of Delhi was so much that a paradigm shift was effected in their outlook towards worldly matters. People began to incline towards mysticism and prayers and remained aloof from the world.

During the time of Nizamuddin Auliya, the Chishti Silsila spread all over the country owing to the moving out of a large number of his followers to different cities and provinces. According to Abdullah Shatteri, a noted historian of that time, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya had sent seven hundred well-trained disciples to various important cities in the country. These Khalifas, as theye were called, went on to become central figures in their respective regions. One such Khalifa was Hazrat Wajihuddin. During the reign of Allauddin Khilji, he was ordered by Hazrat Nizamuddin to go and settle in Chanderi and work for the people.

Sufi Shrines and Indo-Islamic Structures at Chanderi

Chanderi lies at the meeting point of Malwa Plateau and Bundelkhand. It is strategically located on the major trade routes of Central India towards Malwa, Mewar, coast of Gujarat and Deccan. Throughout history, Chanderi has attracted all major powers from Pratihars to Khilji, Lodhi, Mughals, Bundelas and finally the British.


A rock-cut Jain Sculpture at Chanderi

Hazrat Wajihuddin reached Chanderi in 1305 AD and established his Khanaqah. Soon he attracted thousands of visitors to Chanderi. These devotees not only came from Chanderi and surrounding areas but also from places as far as Bengal. Meer Khurd in his book Siyar-Ul-Auliya mentions many devotees especially from Lakhanuti, which is near Dhaka, who not only visited Hazrat Wajihuddin but decided to settle down in Chanderi. It was, most probably, this group of people that began the practice of weaving in Chanderi as Dhaka was a major centre of weaving in those times. Chanderi today is well-known for its silk and its patrons are from all religions, classes and faiths but most of us are unaware of its deep connection with Sufism, especially the Chisthiyya order of Sufism.


A Chanderi Weaver at Work

Mazar Khandan – e – Nizamuddin is a grave complex that was built in 1425 AD for the followers of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya during the rule of Hoshang Shah, the Sultan of Malwa. The complex has some of India’s most beautiful jali work on its walls and carving of motifs on black stone graves. According to KK Muhammad, a noted archaeologist and an expert on the subject, the jali work of these tombs are earliest, which eventually would develop into more intricate refined jali work at the Mausoleum of Muhammad Ghaus in Gwalior and the Dargah of Salim Chishti at Fatehpur Sikri. Many of these jalis and motifs have found their way into the design of Chanderi Sarees and fabrics.

Chanderi has also a deep connection with Hindustani music. Baiju Bawra, a contemporary of Tansen sang many of his dhrupads in the court of Chanderi in the 16th century CE.

In the final leg of Betwa story, we encounter the fusion of two great ideas, the Mughals and the Bundela Rajputs. Orchha, the capital of Bundelas is one of the most celebrated centres of art, architecture, music and dance. The imposing chhatris of Bundela Rajputs, the majestic Chaturbhuj Temple and Jehangir Mahal were amongst the last link of Betwa story that began at the remote corner of time in Bhimbetka, some 30,000 years back.

In the 13th Century CE, Bundelkhand region was embroiled in battles between Sultanate and the Rajput kings to acquire power and wealth and the region became important as it connected the Ganga – Yamuna doab in the North to the Malwa Plateau and Deccan in the South. Betwa’s fortune changed with the arrival of Akbar and Bundela Rajputs. Their peaceful coexistence turned Orchha into a magnet of creativity. The region witnessed cultural renaissance with several innovations in Hindustani music, dance, paintings and architecture.


The Bundela Cenotaphs across Betwa

The name Orchha has an interesting story. Once when, Raja Rudra Pratap was out on a hunting expedition, he came across a small Rama Temple in the middle of the forest. Being a devout follower of Rama, he sat in front of the temple to meditate unaware of a wolf that was hiding nearby. The smell of human sweat pulled him closer to the king. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a voice boomed ‘Orchha’, the chasing command given to dogs. The hunting dogs thus awakened chased the wolf finally killing it. According to the story the command was given by Lord Rama himself. The King immediately decided to establish his capital at this holy spot and named it Orchha.

Though Rudra Pratap founded Orchha, he did not survive to build his dream city. He died the same year saving a cow. His successor Madhukar Shah however took Orchha to new heights of prosperity. Orchha became a vassal kingdom under the Mughals during the reign of Emperor Akbar.

Vir Singh Deo was the next important ruler of Orchha. He was a vassal of Jahangir, the next Mughal Emperor after Akbar. It was during his rule that Orchha reached its zenith in terms of artistic and architectural proliferation. Vir Singh Deo built Jahangir Mahal, a jewel among the medieval palaces in India and the Laxmi Narayan Temple, where we see the best of Orchha murals. He had a dashing personality but his name was tainted as the murderer of Abul Fazal, the court historian and one of the nine jewels of Akbar’s court.

Splendours of Orchha

Jahangir Mahal was expressly built for a warm reception of Jahangir, the Mughal Emperor. A fusion of Rajput and Mughal architecture, Jahangir Mahal is a three storied building in square shape. The entrance is flanked by two impressive stone elephants that look as if they have been standing guard forever. Another remarkable feature of this mansion is the stone lattice work on the windows.

Another major attraction of Orchha are its 14 massive cenotaphs of Bundela rulers that stand imposingly along the banks of the tranquil Betwa River. Most of the cenotaphs are three storied and the architecture of these cenotaphs is a synthesis of traditional Rajput, Indo-Saracenic and ornate Mughal architectural styles. Most of the cenotaphs are in a very good condition.


Chhatris of Bundela Rajputs at Orchha

Today, Bundelkhand through which the Betwa flows is a thirsty region.  In a recent clearance to one of the most controversial projects of river linking, Betwa with Ken, has posed a series of questions on Betwa’s tranquility that has remained untouched for centuries. The Ken region harbors tiger habitats and the river linking will submerge a part of it.


Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at



Tale of Three Baolis

Baolis, or baoris, or vavs, or step-wells, are underground water sources that have been popular in India for a long time, especially in the dry areas of this subcontinent. These step-wells generally consisted of two parts, a rectangular tank or kund, and a circular well that extended down to reach the water table. The well provided potable water for drinking, while the tank or kund was primarily used for bathing, washing, and watering crops. During summers the baolis with attached rooms also served as cool resting places for the pilgrims, passing caravans, and other travellers. These architectural marvels were generally commissioned by members of the royal families or by wealthy patrons, for the benefit of the common people.

While varying in style, where the baolis could vary from a L-shaped structure, to a rectangular one, to a circular form, they showed some common features too, such as a flight of stairs that led from the ground level to the water below. Many baolis built under Hindu patronage also served as temples that had figures of gods, goddesses, and animals; shaded pavilions with trabeate columns; corbelled domes; and elaborate carvings. Baolis under Islamic patronage had less ornamentation, no human or animal forms, and had the true domes and arches. In the later periods, often both styles were fused. Both types had circular wells for potable water, where a pulley system was sometimes used for drawing water.

The earliest step-wells in India were first seen in the 3rd century CE. These were basic in architecture, and were designed more out of necessity to store monsoon rain waters for use during the arid summer months. It was necessary to have a year-round water supply, especially in the dry north-western parts of India. Over the centuries, the basic baoli forms gave way to complex architectural structures. According to the historians, by early 19th century there were several thousand step-wells, built on various scales, thriving in India.  However, by the early 2oth century, only few baolis remained in functional condition, as the British viewed these structures as unhygienic. So they were often filled in, or simply destroyed. Besides this, modern technology brought in plumbing lines and the tap water system that made baolis redundant. Currently the government has started with the preservation and conservation of baolis that still remain, marking them as heritage/ancient monuments.


Abhaneri or Chand baoli built in 8th -9 th CE in Rajasthan beside the Harshad Mata temple. The arches seen here in the upper parts are clearly a later addition, as true arches were not in use in India when the baoli was built. Indian architects, before the Islamic invaders came in, used trabeates (lintel and beam) for making arches. Lower parts show the trabeate form of columns and niches that were a part of the orginal structure of the baoli.

Dholpur baoli (Rajasthan)

Hidden behind the Ghazra ka tomb, is this pretty red sandstone 19th centory baoli. The structure, though unknown to most that visit this little town, is unique for its beautiful double pillars and delicate arches that surround its long rectangular tank and a circular well at the back. Hemmed in by buildings on all sides, the structure looks better conserved  than the neighbouring Ghazra ka tomb, though in terms of cleanliness much needs to be done. The tank water, as usual, remains dirty, though the well water appeared clean.


the Dholpur baoli- surrounding residences and unclean waters of the tank fail to dim its unique beauty


unique double pillars and delicate arches are the main attractions of the Dholpur baoli


the well at the back, which is double-storied


the circular pattern of the well (the arches show distinct Mughal influence)


the circular well water looks relatively clean

Gwalior fort step-well (Madhya Pradesh)

Inside the Gwalior fort is a step-well, situated on the left side as one enters the palace complex gates. It is a single, circular, deep well, situated beside a many-pillared hall, which earlier held a shiva-lingum that was thrown down the fort walls by Emperor Jahangir, later to be discovered by a peasant tilling his grounds, and is now placed inside a temple outside the fort gates.


entrance gate to the baoli (note the arches) within the Gwalior fort


The circular baoli with its mossy green waters. There is a pillared passage that runs round the well. The entrance to the well is closed, with the steps plastered off to stop people from reaching the waters down below.


The circular baoli with pillared hall at top

Raniji ki baoli at Bundi (Rajasthan)

Raniji ki baoli is a beautiful step-well, situated in Bundi. According to the signboard outside the baoli complex, the story goes that in late 16th century the king of Bundi married Rani Nathavati, as his previous queen failed to produce an heir. Rani Nathavati in due course gave birth to a son, which led to the previous queen turning envious. After placing her son under custody of the elder queen, Rani Nathavati devoted her entire life in caring for her subjects, wherein she built this step-well in 1699. The baoli has beautiful carvings mainly of elephants and is 46 meters deep. It has high-arched gates with niches for various deities.  At the entrance is a gate comprising of four tall pillars, joined beautifully at the top by elephant figures on beams and S –shaped (ogee) slender arches (brackets).


The gate as one enters the Raniji ki baoli. Beautiful elephants and S-shaped arches adorn it


the intricately carved arch above the tank water, with two elephants serving as brackets at two corners. The arches are distinctly Mughal influenced


the well wall at the back, with an imposing arch and a small passage in the foreground separating the well from the tank in front


deities carved in niches on the well wall at the back


figures of elephants carved on the passage (balcony) wall that separates tank from well


intricately carved elephant (with a mahout on its back) serving as a bracket in Raniji ki baoli


delicate carvings on the four pillared gate at the entrance

By Monidipa Bose

The author can be contacted at or Moni Gatha