Mandu – The Forgotten Architectural Marvel Of Madhya Pradesh

Mandu – The Forgotten Architectural Marvel Of Madhya Pradesh

by Aashish Chandorkar - Sunday, November 1, 2020 01:20 PM IST
Mandu – The Forgotten Architectural Marvel Of Madhya PradeshJahaj Mahal, Mandu (Wikimedia Commons)
  • Mandu was once witness to, and centre of, many historic developments of central India.

    Today, the town is slowly climbing back to its position of eminence.

Madhya Pradesh, the heart of India, is home to a treasure trove of archaeology and architecture for centuries. A lot of the state’s tourism potential however remains untapped and unexplored. One such example is Mandu, situated 100 kilometres west of Indore.

Mandav, Mandavgad or simply Mandu – is a small town in the modern day Dhar district. Owing to its unique geographical location on the rocky Vindhya terrain, Mandu towers over the Narmada Valley and the Malwa plateau – a gateway to Malwa, as well as an excellent natural watch tower. Naturally, the town has bustled with political, trade and through-fare activity for several centuries.

The earliest known human activity in the region is from the seventh century, with inscriptions in the name of a merchant named Chandra Simha from a Jain temple of Parshvanath, the twenty third tirthankara of Jainism.

The Parmar dynasty ruled from Dhar or Dhara – its ancient name, now the district headquarter and then the capital of the illustrious Raja Bhoj. Raja Bhoj’s successors eventually moved the capital from Dhar to Mandu, faced with warfare from Kalachuri-Chalukyas, Hoysalas and Yadavas.

Meanwhile, Balban, the ninth Sultan of the Mamluk dynasty in Delhi had also been invading the Malwa region in the thirteenth century. The weakening of the Parmar rule and the attacks from Delhi intensified in the last years of the thirteenth century. In 1305, Alauddin Khalji captured Malwa after his trail of destruction in Ranthambore and Chittorgarh.

While the stories of Khalji’s brutalities in Rajasthan are more vividly documented, his plunder of Mandu was no less vicious. His capture of Mandu was the trigger for the Malwa region falling to Delhi sultans, their governors and later some who proclaimed independence, creating their own dynasties.

Dilawar Khan, a governor in the Malwa region, established the Ghuri dynasty and proclaimed himself independent in 1401, ruling from Mandu. He also renamed the capital as Shadiabad. His dynasty ruled till 1436, when it was deposed by Mahmud Shah, who founded the Khalji dynasty of Malwa, ruling the region for about a century.

Mahmud Shah was regularly challenged by Rana Kumbha for the supremacy of the Malwa region. The Vijay Stambh of Chittorgarh was erected to celebrate one such win of Rana Kumbha over Khalji. While these two rivals fought several battles and Rana Kumbha had the upper hand in the rivalry, he could not depose Mahmud Shah from Mandu. The Khalji dynasty ruled till 1531, when the Gujarat sultanate took control of Mandu.

When Sher Shah Suri captured large parts of India in 1540s, he appointed a governor, Shuja Khan, for Mandu too. His son Baz Bahadur is perhaps the best known ruler of the city, although he was on the throne only from 1555 to 1561, after which the Mughals took control of much of central India.

The architecture that stands today in Mandu thus has remnants from the seventh to the sixteenth century, a cycle of construction, destruction and rebuilding. The most visible parts of Mandu’s monuments are from the Ghuri and Khalji dynasty and later from the rule of Shuja Khan and Baz Bahadur. Two of the most recognised architectural marvels from the town are Jahaj Mahal, Hoshang Shah’s tomb and Rani Roopmati’s palace.

The Jahaj Mahal was built by Sultan Ghiyasuddin Khalji, which housed his harem of 15,000 women. It is believed that the palace is named such because at the top of the noon, its shadow looked like a ship. This palace is connected to Hindola Mahal, used by the king of the day, named thus because it’s sloping outer walls gave the impression that the palace is swaying.

Hoshang Shah’s tomb is a marble structure, built much before Taj Mahal was. The local folklore claims that Shahjahan was inspired by this tomb while constructing Taj Mahal. Hoshang Shah was the successor to Dilawar Khan of the Ghuri dynasty.

Rani Roopmati’s palace was built by Baz Bahadur. Roopmati was a poetess and a shepherdess who Baz Bahadur took as consort. The Baz Bahaur-Roopmati story is the Malwa equivalent of Baji Rao–Mastani and is narrated in great detail and pomp.

Her palace was built such that she could look at the Narmada river in the distance. The palace also holds the Rewa Kund, which was apparently made by Baz Bahadur to supply Narmada water to Roopmati’s palace.

Some of these ruins can be seen in the backdrop of the song Naam Gum Jayega from the movie Kinara.

By the time the Mughals were ousted in the region by the Pawars, Holkars and Scindias – satraps of the Pune Maratha kingdom, Mandu had lost its sheen. The Mughals themselves ruled the region from Ujjain. Between them the Pawars governed from Dhar and Scindias and the Holkars from Ujjain, Indore and later Maheshwar, with Mandu falling in disrepair and fading out of popular memory.

Shri Mandavgarh Teerth, one of 700 Jain temples which once dotted the region and a Ram Mandir near the Jami Masjid are the only remains abutting Mandu’s history under various sultanates. The former pre-dates the Parmar rule and the latter was constructed in 1769 by the Pawars.

Over the last few years, the town has seen better access, renovated facilities and better upkeep. But by and large, the fifteen centuries of history lies forgotten - out of sight, out of mind.

Aashish Chandorkar is Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He took up this role in September 2021. He writes on public policy in his personal capacity.
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