TRAVEL | Mandu: The town with a past

TRAVEL | Mandu: The town with a past

Once the capital of a powerful kingdom, Mandu mesmerises anyone with its many palaces, tombs, monuments and mosques

Roopmati’s Pavilion perched regally on the edge of a precipice

After a two-day temple trail, it was a welcome relief to visit Mandu, the town with a past, replete with stories of romance and battle, courage and betrayal. Each monument in Mandu seems to tell a story, adding to its grace. The beauty of its architecture lies in its minimalism. But it is the tales of the legendary Baz Bahadur, and his beloved Roopmati, which lend an aura of timelessness to the place. The monuments have been divided into three groups. The first is a group of buildings referred to as the Royal Enclave, then there is the Village Group, and the third is the Rewa Kund Group at the south of the fort.

Grand gateways

Our bus negotiated sudden sharp turns to pass through the ancient arches — gateways to what was once called the City of Joy. Right from the time we saw the fort cresting the hill and the massive gates leading to the fort, we were transported into another world. The erstwhile fort capital of the Parmar rulers of Malwa, Mandu was later taken over by the Sultans of Malwa, and finally by the Mughals.

We embarked on our monument-hopping spree with the Village Group where the Jami Masjid, modelled on the great Omayyed Mosque in Damascus, stands. Considered the largest and the finest example of Afghan architecture in India, it was begun by Hoshang Shah and completed in 1454. Its beautiful courtyard enclosed by huge colonnades with a variety of arches, pillars, bays and domes, all aesthetically laid out, evoke a sense of grandeur. The vast masjid can seat 5,000 people, and its variety of domes are sound-amplifying and echo-absorbing devices so that the frailest voice, speaking from the pulpit, would be heard afar.

Jami Masjid
Jami Masjid

Hoshang’s Tomb, located behind the mosque, is one of the first marble edifices of its kind constructed in India. The interior of the tomb, with a well-proportioned central dome, surrounded by four smaller domes, the beautiful lattice-work, and its porticos and towers, is overwhelming. It is no wonder Shah Jahan sent his architects on a recce to Mandu before they designed the Taj Mahal. But few know that it is said to have inspired none other than the Taj Mahal. Another monument in the same group is the Ashrafi Mahal, located right across the road from the mosque. Originally built as a religious college by Mahmud Shah, it was later extended to become his tomb.

From there we headed to the sprawling Royal Enclave which flaunts the Jahaz Mahal or Ship Palace, the most famous palace of Mandu. The palace was built by Ghias-ud-din, son of Mahmud Shah, for his harem of more than 10,000 beautiful women. A beautiful two-storied palace with arches, it is flanked on either side by two lakes, adding to its ship-like look. When viewed from afar, its open pavilions, balconies overhanging the water, and open terraces are unforgettable on a moonlit night.

Regal revelations

Next to this star attraction of the Royal Enclave is the Hindola Mahal. Known as the Swing Palace, it has a wide, sloping ramp enabling the ruler to be conveyed upstairs on elephant back. The Hindola Mahal, an audience hall, derives its name of ‘swinging palace’ from its perceptible sloping side walls, which give an illusion that it is always swinging. It is valued for its trellis-worked sandstone and elegant façade. To the west of this palace is the famous Champa Baoli (well) with underground chambers for hot and cold water.

The Rewa Kund Group is located about 3 km south of the Village Group. Baz Bahadur was the last independent ruler of Mandu, and his palace is located beside Rewa Kund with underground (tank), and a water lift which supplied water to the palace. The palace is a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal styles of architecture. While strolling through the long corridors, amidst the numerous pillars and the arched entrance, we could sense the echoes of a resplendent past through the palace.

Hoshang Shah's Marble Mausoleum
Hoshang Shah's Marble Mausoleum

Rupmati’s Pavilion, located high on the crest of a hill, overlooks his magnificent palace, and the balladeers of the region still sing about their love. It was originally conceived as an army observatory, became a look-out point for the lovely queen as Baz Bahadur’s palace was visible from here. Rupmati is said to have been a very beautiful Hindu singer, and Baz Bahadur persuaded her to move to the fort by building this pavilion far from where she could have sweeping views of the fertile Nimar plains with the silvery streak of the Narmada flowing across.

When Emperor Akbar marched to the fort, Baz Bahadur fled, leaving Rupmati to poison herself. Mandu’s ruins still narrate the tragic end between Akbar and Baz Bahadur, and the suicide of Rani Roopmati to save her chastity. We left with a heavy heart when we heard about the sad and tragic end of this romantic saga, but with a promise to return to capture the magic of the monsoon in Mandu.

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