Department of Public Relation:Government of Madhya Pradesh

Fact File - Monuments



The monuments in Madhya Pradesh are not mute structures of stone. They testify eloquently to a majestic past. The imposing fort at Gwalior towering 100 metres above the town in splendid isolation on a solid rock of sandstone is reckoned the most imposing citadel in India. The author of Tajul Masir has described it as, "The pearl in the necklace of castles of Hind". Other forts like the one at jodhpur (Mehrangarh) have been flatteringly cast in its image.

The Qila, as the fort is popularly known, is indeed massive - measuring about 2.5 kilometres in length and about 850 metres at its broadest section. It is easy to see why Tavernier accords it the pride of place among all Indian forts.

Babar visited this site less then twenty years after the construction of these buildings and has left a graphic account. He was constrained to admit grudgingly, "The palaces are singularly beautiful although built without a regular plan."  The main entrance on the eastern side affords a breathtaking view of the ever extending plains of the Indian heartland. Six gates lead the way up to the summit.  Each of these gates is built in a distinct Hindu or Muslim style providing a tough, daunting obstacle for the invader.

There are six palaces encircled by the massive ramparts of this fort - these again show a beautiful blending of the Hindu and Muslim styles and testify to the catholic taste and tolerance of the ruling dynasty. Mansingh Palace is easily the most attractive of the palaces. The facade was originally covered with white plaster and the domes plated with copper. The courtyard and the rooms are ornamented with intricate carvings. One of the most attractive features of the fort is the wall of the Mansingh Palace as one passes between the Lakshman and the elephant gates. A wall of hewn sandstone about 100 metres long and 30 metres high crowned by ornamental frieze of brilliant tiles, the ornamentation is further embellished by beautiful domes connected together by a balustrade of delicately wrought stone carvings.

The other palace worth mentioning is the Gujari Mahal, a palace, we are told, commissioned by Mansingh to satisfy a whim of his beloved queen Mrignayani. This epithet refers to the lady's fawn like eyes. She is the heroine of many a folk ballads and the subject of a popular historical novel Mrignayani by Vrindavanlal Varma.

There are many water tanks in the fort. Excavated to be of use during a siege these reservoirs also relieve the harshness of the massive stone edifice with the splash of sparkling, emerald. The most prominent are the Johar Kund, where the Rajput women immolated themselves to save their honour when defeat and disgrace were imminent, and the Suraj Kund, where the family deity of the Scindias, the Sun god, was worshipped. It is an impressive mustachioed Surya that blazons forth from the royal emblem of Gwalior. The fort houses many other beautiful buildings. Teli ka Mandir, Sas Bahu ka Mandir and the mausoleum of the sufi saint Gaus Mohammad are among the most well known.

Teli ka Mandir dates back to the eighth or the ninth centuries. It is perhaps the loftiest building in the fort soaring 35 metres high and presents a curious blending of the North Indian and the Southern styles of temple architecture. 

Sculptures decorating it indicate that it started as a temple dedicated to Vishnu but was later converted for the worship of the other major Hindu god Shiva. The Sas Bahu ka Mandir was originally called the Sahastrabahu temple and is the most ancient structure in the fort. It is believed that it was built by Mahipala the Kachchwah king in the early 11 th century.The tomb of the renowned Indian musician Tansen is also situated in Gwalior. Then there are the huge rock cut icons of Bahubali, a Jain Master which remind the visitor of the giant Buddhas found in Bamiyan in Afghanistan. Executed in the 15th century the tallest figure is almost 17 metres high. Besides the towering fort there are many fabulous palaces in Gwalior. Jaivilas, unmatched in scale and splendour, is perhaps the most remarkable - India's answer to the Medicis. The durbar hall for formal audience measures 15 metres by 85 metres with the roof over 12 metres high.

The ceiling is painted in pale green and gold and the floor is covered with perhaps the largest one piece carpet woven in situ by the carpet makers in the world. This is the room about which  Lady Dufferin the then Vicereine exclaimed in 1884, "The magnificent room in which we lost ourselves last night." 

The two crystal chandeliers are reputed to be the largest in the world with the possible exception of the one on display in the Tsar's winter palace outside Moscow. When the huge chandeliers were about to be installed, doubts were expressed whether the ceiling would bear the combined weight of about six tons. The European Sardar Mokel Sahib in charge of the construction and decoration of this palace was left with no option but to carry out a practical demonstration. A wooden ramp was constructed from the ground level to the roof top and a dozen elephants were prodded up and made to stomp on the roof top. If the roof could sustain this ordeal it could easily support the weight of the chandeliers! The larger of the chandeliers holds 248 lamps and when all the lamps in the hall are lit the effect is dramatic . As one writer has observed , it can be compared to " stepping into a petrified waterfall ."

Jaivilas  despite its opulence did not become the Maharaja's favorite. It was more suited for a European prince than an oriental potentate. Another palace was commissioned Thus was Moti Mahal born, a modest mansion with nine hundred rooms. It draws inspiration from the medieval buildings in Gwalior and has an unmistakable oriental ambience with curving colonnaded terraces flanked by square towers. In the rear is the grand fort and in front an artificial lake sets it off as a showpiece. 

The ruler of Gwalior could indulge in such expensive fancies because he was one of the richest men of his time. Griffith , a British author, has provided a glimpse of the treasure he had amassed. "In addition to coins, there was an inestimable quantity of jewels which rivalled Alladin's store. This collection ... was the largest in the world. He (Jayajirao Scindia) had in his vaults, silver coins that could be counted in millions, magnificent pearls and diamonds by the ten thousands, rubies, emeralds and other gems by the thousands and wrought and melted gold by the maund." (A maund, it is useful to recall, is Indian measure of weight used for wholesale purchase of grains and equals 35 kilos approximately.) 

Gwalior was the favourite haunt of the big game hunters of the Raj. It was almost mandatory for the Prince of Wales and the Viceroy to invite themselves for an exotic tiger shoot at Gwalior. There was a childish competition of sorts as to who had shot the largest tiger. Naturally the largest tiger could only be claimed by the one highest in the hierarchy. To ensure that majesty was not offended an elaborate ritual of measurement was devised. The record stands in the name of Lord Hardinge who is immortalized in a stone slab between the 101 and 102 kilometre on the Bombay Gwalior road. The inscription reads simply, "Near this spot on 11 April, 1914, A tiger measuring 11 feet 6 3/4 inches was shot by His Excellency, the Right Honorable Charles Baron Hardinge of Penshurst." A decade later the Prince of Wales failed by a whisker to break this record. The tiger bagged by the future King Edward VIII was measured 11 feet 5 1/2 inches. On an earlier occasion the hunting expedition of the Prince of Wales had inspired imperialist poets to ecstatic rhyming- 

Beautifully he will shoot,
Many a royal tiger brute, 
Laying on their backs they die,
Shot in the apple of the eye!

In summer the princes of Gwalior used to retire to cooler Shivpuri nestling amidst verdant forest and blessed with natural and man made lakes. Befitting the dignified status of the visitors, palaces and hunting lodges came to be constructed here. Some of these are quite beautiful as are the Chataris - the cenotaphs for the deceased ruler or his close relatives.

Another place famous for cenotaphs and temples is Orchcha. Orchcha is today a sleepy town but once it was the capital city. Founded in the 16th century by a chieftain named Rudra Pratap, it was never a large or very rich state, but this did not deter the fiercely proud Bundelas from undertaking ambitious building projects. It has a collection of exquisite temples and an interesting palace which merit an exclusive and extended sojourn. 

It has been rightly remarked that the grandeur of past has been frozen in stone at Orchcha. The noble proportions of the exteriors of the buildings here compete with the opulence of the interiors - rich repositories of the Bundela paintings. The pristine perfection of the palace and the temples and cenotaphs is reflected in the gently flowing Betwa.

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