My Adventures in the Living Heritage of Heroism-Gwalior Fort
Gwalior is heralded as a living heritage of heroism. A place that enables a story to be told in every nook and corner – so when deciding where to spend time- Gwalior was chosen as the ideal city to visit. Gwalior has unique and timeless appeal that is seeped in the splendor of its past. The multitude of its reigning dynasties – Rajput clans: Pratiharas, Kachwahas, and Tomars – all left an indelible mark of their rule in the city’s palaces, temples and monuments. Gwalior Fort stands tall on an isolate rock, which overlooks the whole Gwalior Town. Gwalior Fort has witnessed severe turbulence and has been an integral part of Indian History. Gwalior Fort also has been selected to be an Indian Postage Stamp, for being one of the biggest and strongest forts in India. Gwalior Fort is also named as the Gibraltar of India and Gwalior Fort is referred as ‘The Pearl in the Necklace of the Forts of Hind’. The Gwalior Fort relates itself to two main parts, one is the Main Fort and the second part accommodates the Gujari Mahal and the Man Mandir Palace.
The most magnificent monument that dominates the city is its fort that has witnessed imprisonments, battles and jauhars (mass sati). No wonder then that Emperor Babur described it as ‘the pearl amongst the fortresses of Hind’. Mansingh Tomar built the beautiful fort and based the architecture upon the Hindu religion. Our guide, Samar Singh showed us the 82-pillared structure called a Shiva temple, which doubled up as an audience hall for the public. The Mughal rulers threw the Shivling below and Jehangir used this building as a jail. While living in Agra, he collected taxes from nearby kingdoms and the rulers who didn’t pay on time were imprisoned in the jail. Fifty-two kings were imprisoned, including the sixth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Har Gobind Ji.
Another legend talks of how Har Gobind Ji’s prayers influenced Noor Jahan, Jahangir’s wife who requested her husband to let the Guru walk within the fort premises, but not venture outside it. The Gurus meditation for two years and three months made Jehangir happy and he agreed to free the Guru. Har Gobind Ji refused to leave without the other imprisoned kings. We listened in rapt attention as to how Jehangir agreed to set free only those kings who would catch the end of the Gurus robe. Har Gobind Ji not to be outdone wore a fifty-two kali robe, which enabled all the imprisoned kings to leave the fort. In their memory, the Gurdwara called ‘Data Bandi Chod’ was constructed. ‘Data’ means Guru Har Gobind Singh, ‘Bandi’ means prisoner and ‘Chod’ means to leave. There are very few forts in India that have a Gurdwara on their premises and this one is of special significance since the Gurdwara is built on the same spot where the Guru meditated.
Inside the Man Mandir Palace, we felt as if we had been transported to an era of splendor as our group’s females imagined themselves as one of the nine queens of Mansingh, eight of whom were Rajputs and belonged to royal families. His ninth marriage was a love marriage to a woman of a lower caste for whom he made a separate palace. Mansingh called her ‘Mrignaini’ meaning doe-eyed. Hence, the palace is also called ‘Mrignaini Mahal’. While the woman contemplated on their regality, the men in our group debated about who could be Mansingh, but gave up after we gently pointed out that in modern times to support nine wives would be an ordeal for their pocketbooks and minds.
Man Mandir Palace was built between 1486 and 1517 and the open courtyards and various rooms be it the Jhulaghar or Kesar Kund, all supported by decorated pillars and brackets made us starry eyed. The palace is decorated with beautiful paintings, glazed tiles of varied colours, different figures, elephants, ducks, peacocks, lions, plantain trees and attractive pillared domes. The king and his queens were fond of Sangeet (music) and the Sangeet Kaksh (room) was where the musicians would play their instruments.
The queens would be seated on a storey above the ground floor where the musicians played, behind the grids eight in number, a separate one for each of the eight queens. The purdah system was prevalent and the queens could see and hear the musicians who in turn could not even glance above, lest they be beheaded on the spot.
The Kesar Kund is a room that has the queens’ swimming tank where Kesar would be mixed in their bathing water. “At that time there was no soap or shampoo. In general Indian skin is wheatish in colour and bathing with Kesar would make their skin fair and scented” explained Samar Singh. As our group’s beauty expert, Koyel nodded knowingly. In battle when the Rajput kings were killed, the Mughals attacked the palace and the Rajput queens removed the water, set the room on fire and jumped into it as sati. Hence, this room is also known as Jauhar Kund.
Our next stop was the Saas Bahu temples. These two temples are a thousand years old and built by Raja Mahipal, the successor of Suraj Singh, who had laid the foundation of the fort. The Raja’s mother worshipped Lord Vishnu, who is also known as Sahashtrabhau (sahastra means 1000 and Bhau means arms). As Vishnu had 1000 arms, the Saas Mandir is known as Sahashtrabhau Mandir. After the king was married, his wife was a Lord Shiva devotee, and hence the smaller Bahu Temple was constructed and dedicated to Lord Shiva. Though both worshipped different Gods, had different temples, their relation was one of Saas and Bahu (mother-in-law and daughter-in-law) hence the temples are referred to as Saas Bahu Mandirs.
Another interesting note is the Jain Statues’ carved in sand stone on the Rock in Gwalior are believed to be carved during 7th-14th century. It is really an attraction in the Gwalior city other than Saas-Bahu temple and Gwalior Fort. The statues carved on the natural hill are of remarkable sizes. The biggest statue seems to be 55-60 feet tall and is really massive. Representing 24 Tirthankars, they can be noticed while ascending the hill for the Gwalior Fort. The place is worth a visit and only one of its kind. Among the Jain statues, a set of Lord Siva and Parvati statues can also be seen.
The Teli Ka Mandir is another temple that is located inside the fort. The temple owes its name from Teli meaning oil dealer at whose expense it was built during the reign of King Mihira Bhoja of the Pratihara dynasty. It is the loftiest temple among all the buildings in the Gwalior Fort with a probable height of 30 metres. The specialty of Gwalior is Gajak, which is a crunchy sweet made of sugar, jaggery, whole-wheat flour, and sesame seeds (til). A trip to Gwalior cannot be completed without having Gajak or Papads. Papads are made of maida and sabudana are well known, while Khajula is made by kneading maida (flour), then frying it in ghee. This multi-layered preparation is then simmered in a chasni (sugary syrup) and khoya till each of the layers are properly coated and absorb the chasni.
The Gwalior Fort is a magnificent edifice. The blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture that is seen at the fort is what makes the fort so unique and beautiful. There are a huge number of points of interest. There are priceless valuables housed in the palace. The history of Gwalior speaks of turbulent times, wars, revenge and great courage. One of the must visit places in India, Gwalior definitely stands tall to narrate its tale. Gwalior for us will remain the city that had it all- chivalry, heroism, romance, warrior kings and musicians.