Travelling is a window that opens realms to the unexplored territories. The novel and characteristically attractive advertisement of the Madhya Pradesh tourism was a good allurement to visit the state. For the long weekend of Dusshera vacation, we decided to visit Gwalior the cultural capital of central India and home turf of the Scindia Royal clan. The Scindia’s have been on high social pedestal due to their active political participation and allegiance towards the two largest political parties of the country Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party. Gwalior also reminds of the famous Scindia School, a seat of quality education and learning during the early independence movement and later. We reached Gwalior around 9:45am from Delhi by Bhopal bound Shatabdi Express. We had a spectacular view of the majestic fort atop a hillock from the train as we were nearing the Gwalior station.
Rock cut statues of the Jain digambaras
Gwalior a historical city and a tourist capital of Madhya Pradesh and acclaimed repute for its contribution in the first of Independence. Situated amidst of high rocky hills, it has humid subtropical climate with scorching summers and freezing winters. The city is replete of several monuments, statues and memorials a treat for tourists. But all the enthusiasm fizzled out for a while due to the scalding heat. After equipping ourselves with a protective head gear, glasses and water bottles we set out to explore the mighty Gwalior Fort. It is 8th hill fort and nearly impregnable. As we scaled the hillock, we encountered rock cut statues of the Jain digambaras all along the way till to the top. A motor able one way road led us to the fort that has two main complexes- Man Mandir built by Man Singh Tomar and the Gujari Mahal built for Queen Mrignayani , a Gujar Princess houses a museum. Gujari Mahal was built on demand by the queen who wanted a separate palace with regular water supply through an aqueduct from the river Swarna rai flowing by the fort. The first sight of the huge, imposing fort with indefensible giant wall bearing copper blue paintings would captivate any visitor. The facade of the palace is stunningly beautiful.
Facade of the Fort
Legend says that Suraj Sen Kachwaha came on a hunting trip and lost his way in a forest and found a sage on this secluded hill who directed him towards a pond to quench his thirst. The water subsequently cured him of leprosy too. Out of gratitude, the prince wanted to do something for the Sage Gwalipa. The sage asked him to build a wall which could protect his entourages from the wild animals. Accordingly the Prince built a palace and strengthened the fort and named it Gwalior. The fort was taken over and captured by several rulers like Kushanas, Guptas, Kacchwahas, Tomars, Mughals, Marathas and the British who finally handed it over to the Scindias. Throughout the course of its long history the place remained a cultural and religious centre for people of different faiths.
Man Mandir Palace
The old part of the fort was built in 8th century while the Man Mandir and Gujari Mahal were constructed in 15th century. The fort is 100 meters from sea level and spread in an area of 3 km. The most beautiful part of the fort is the Man Mandir palace built by Raja Man Singh Tomar, has marvellous exquisite carvings made in the sandstone walls. The remnants of the paintings in the inner corridors give us the glimpse of the stupendous craftsmanship of those days. After the palace fell into the lands of the Mughals, it was used as a political prison. The palace has several staircases which into lead to inner chambers and a dungeon where several of the rebel Mughal princes were incarcerated and killed. Unfortunately, these chambers now infested with bats and not ideal for inquisitive exploration. Next, we ventured into the ancient wing of the huge fort which housed several mahals and a temple.
Chhatri of Bhim Singh Rana
A list indicated that this part of the fort had a monument of Karn Mahal, the place built by second Tomar king Karn Singh, Vikram Mahal built by Vikramaditya Singh son of Man Singh Tomar, a devotee of Lord Shiva who constructed a temple too. The original temple was completely destroyed now a makeshift temple stands in the Mahal corridor. Other palaces in the wing include Shahjahan Mahal and Jahangir Mahal. All these places are now reduced to ruins and are heavily infested with bats. It is really infuriating that the rich and priceless Indian culture is now in rumbles courtesy the utter neglect of the Archaeology Department. Massive renovation work is under progress and hence some of the monuments are closed down for public viewing. Hope all these efforts would restore glory to the old monuments. Amidst these ruins, Chhatri of Bhim Singh Rana stands tall. The dome shaped pavilion was built in the memory of Bhim Singh Rana by his successor Chattra Singh. Bhim Singh captured the fort from the Mughal satraps in 1740. A lake, Bhim tal is built in front of the Chhatri. The small lake is still in use and we saw group of teenagers actively swimming and playing in the waters.
We next moved onto the Saas-Bahu temple east of the fort. These temples were built in 11th century by Kucchwahas were dedicated to Lord Vishnu. These magnificent temples carved in the red sandstone are testimony to the rich architectural expertise of Indian craftsmen. The temples are no longer in use but corroborate the brutality and plunder suffered at the hands of intolerant foreign invaders. A stone slab on the temple walls apprised that the temples were defaced and white washed by Muslim rulers. The present structure is restored to its original form by the British with the financial assistance from Maharaja of Gwalior. The names of the temples is mis-leading but are so named as the complex has two temples one of which is much bigger and taller than the other. The carvings of these temples remind the splendid Khajuraho temples and are certainly one of their kind.
Teli-ka- Mandir built in 8th century is an amalgamation of the North- South Indian style of the architecture was initially dedicated to Lord Vishnu but later converted to worship Lord Shiva. The temple owes the name from Teli meaning a oil dealer at whose expense it was built during the reign of King Mihira Bhoja of Pratihara dynasty. The roof of the temple is unique with a typical Dravidian style of rectangular edifice reinforced by the dome shaped structure. It is one of the oldest temples in the fort with mixed architecture depicting several styles. The outer facade of the masonry is very beautiful but again inner chambers are inapproachable and haven for nocturnal animals. The monument bespeaks of neglect and poor upkeep. Just few yards from the temple is the Suraj Kund, teeming with lotuses. A small temple constructed in the centre of the lake is now inaccessible as the connecting wooden bridge is dilapidated.
Gurudwara Data Bandi Chor Sahib
Our next stop was Gurudwara Data Bandi Chor Sahib built in memorial of the Sikh Guru HarGobind Singh who was held captive along with 52 other Sikh princes as per the orders of King Jahangir in the Man Mandir dungeon. After 40-60 days of detention, the Mughal ruler was coerced to release the Guru by a Muslim Saint. It is an elegant and huge structure built in marble. In sharp contrast to the poor maintenance of other structures on the hillock, the Gurudwara was extremely clean. Situated in calm environs the place is ideally suited for divine prayers. The premises offered relief from the fiercely harsh afternoon sun. We briefly rested and had token lunch from the langar. Since access to the Scindia School was denied we moved down hill to pay obeisance to the indomitable Jhansi Rani Laxmi Bai. The Samadhi of Jhansi Rani is located in the complex of the Phool Bagh where a majestic metal sculpture of the Jhansi Rani atop her horse wielding a sword with her son Damodar Rao tied to her back was installed in the garden. A mere glance of the poignant statue would ward off despondency and fear. Her mortal remains were cremated at this place where Laxmi Bai breathed her last fighting valiantly with the British in 1858.
Samadhi of Jhansi Rani Laxmi Bai
Jai Vilas palace
We then visited Jai Vilas palace which harbours the acclaimed Scindia museum. The founder of Scindia dynasty, Ranoji Scindia was personal aide of Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao. With his exemplary qualities he soon rose rapidly and was assigned the role of collecting taxes in the Malwa district. Thus he established himself as the Raja of this region with Ujjain as its capital. Jai Vilas palace was constructed by Jayaji Rao Scindia in 1874 at a cost of Rs. One crore. The sprawling white palace with 400 rooms is spread over a vast area was designed by an Italian architect Michael Filose. Presently 30 rooms of the palace have been converted into Jiwaji Rao Scindia museum that display historical artefacts, handpicked royal treasures from different countries, furniture, dinner accoutrements, paintings, weaponry, emblems, flags, carriages and eccentric collection of clothes. The museum gives a first -hand look of how royalty lived in the yester years.
Eye-catching attractions in the museum include a silver electric train with cut-glass wagons which served guests as it chugged around a miniature track on the dining table. The opulent Durbar Hall, used to host VIPs is 100 ft long. It has a huge handmade carpet (40 mts long) and two gigantic chandeliers each weighing 3.5 tonnes; measuring 12.5mts in height, the biggest in the World adorn the roof. Gilt and Gold furnishings were used to decorate Durbar Hall. The meticulously maintained museum is in sharp contrast to the delinquency of the officials in charge of the Gwalior Fort. Though the efforts of the M.P tourism department in organising Light and Sound Show at the Gwalior Fort are laudable they are grossly insufficient to attract tourists from far and wide.
Vivsvaan Mandir (Sun Temple)
We travelled to the outskirts of the Gwalior to visit the Vivsvaan Mandir (Sun Temple), a modern temple constructed by the Birlas. It is a facsimile of the Sun Temple of Konark, Odhisa drawing huge number of crowds. Located in a serene ambience and a well-maintained garden it is a highly popular among tourists. The gigantic temple is built in the red sandstone and is spacious. The idol of the main deity Sun God riding the chariot driven by seven horses is mesmerizingly beautiful. It is hard to avert eyes off the resplendent divinity. Paying heartiest appreciations to the builders of the temple we moved to the quaint part of the city towards the tomb of Tansen.
Tomb of Tansen
Born in Gwalior in 1606 Tansen, the legendary singer and father of the Hindustani classical music was one among the nine gems of Akbar’s court. The legendary Maihar Senia Gharana instrumentalists like Ustad Ravi Shankar, Maa Annapurna Devi, Ali Akbar Khan chiselled by Baba Allaudin Khan find their roots in the Senia Gharana of Tansen. The tomb was built in simple architecture and had a pristine aura to it. Being a student of Hindustani Classical music, a sense of veneration overpowered me. A stone slab sitting next to the tomb informed that eating tender leaves of Tamarind tree next to the tomb would make singing melodious. Although it is a myth, I couldn’t resist chewing a mouthful of tamarind leaves. In the beautiful gardens, where the tomb is built, annually as a mark of respect Tansen Sangeet Samaroh is held. The dappling gardens also laps Mausoleum of Ghaus Mohammad, the Afghan prince turned saint who helped Babar to annex the Gwalior Fort. Built in 16th century the tomb was housed in an exquisitely carved square shaped sand stone walled monument. The opulent monument with huge panels of lacy screen work is an exemplary piece of the architectural extravaganza. We relaxed in the lawns of the garden for a while contemplating the rich cultural and religious heritage of this holy land Bharat. With the vibrations of Hindustani Classical music pounding heart and mind, we looked forward to visit Sarod Ghar or the Sarod Museum an institute dedicated for the promotion of Indian classical music, heritage and culture. It houses various instruments and has impressive collection of documents and photographs that depict gradual evolution of Indian classical music. The museum is housed in the ancestral property of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, the Sarod maestro. Since it located in the old city, we had to meander through narrow lanes and by the time we reached the place, it was closed.
Mausoleum of Ghaus Mohammad
Photographs Courtesy: Dr. T. L. S. Bhaskar & Samanvit Teegela
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