Have you ever wondered why people talk so much about the heritage of ? Yes, right? Read on to find out why.
Tracing time back to the third century B.C., the Mauryan Empire under the Buddhist emperor Ashoka in Malwa, set up some of the finest specimens of buildings — stupas and monasteries. Ashoka’s humbled brick and mortar stupa in Sanchi, was later expanded by successive Buddhist dynasties until their eclipse by Brahmanism. Following the Mauryan augmentation of its grandeurs were successions of Guptas and Shungas flourishing architecture in central India. By 10th century CE, the region was divided into several kingdoms. During this time, Bhopal was founded by Raja Bhoj heading the Paramaras of Malwa, and in the north, Chandelas, the great patrons of art and sculpture contributed Khajuraho, playing out the pageant of life’s pleasures on its sandstone walls. Around the twelfth century, Mughals, after their triumphs over north India, assaulted Malwa’s capital Mandu, and the later history of this central region came to be dogged by repeated invasions consigning Mandu to a ruined medieval relic. From the earliest inhabitations as far back as the Paleolithic era, from the prehistoric rock art of Bhimbetka to the seventeenth century scuffles of the Scindias of Gwalior, this land-locked state sums up the peppering of its diversity. With ongoing explorations, this vast spread could reveal more monuments yet undiscovered.
Bhopal’s skyline of minarets, ancient mosques and bazaars endure a rich Muslim legacy well worthy of a visit. The Chowk, a dense grid of streets within the old fortified city, is a bustling motley of colourful merchandise and intricate Islamic carvings on its overhung balconies. At its very hub is the Jama Masjid with its red sandstone minarets lending ancientness to the capital city of Madhya Pradesh. To know more about the city, why don’t you check out ixigo’s travel guide page.
Apart from two more mosques, Moti Masjid and Taj-ul-Masjid, Bhopal is no more than a fast growing metropolitan centre with lakes and quiet parks. But a couple of hours away is Bhimbetka, the world’s largest collection of prehistoric rock art dating back to Stone Age. These canvases on carved sandstones depict prehistoric practices of burials and hunting scenes prevalent then.
Sanchi, to the north-east of Bhopal, is a hillock rediscovered in 1818 as a complex of ruined temples and monasteries presided over by the tope of the Great Stupa. Apart from being the finest surviving Buddhist monument, the sculptures adorning its gateways, the torans, are hard to miss; the craftsmen having relieved all conceivable space of the high posts and cross beams with mythical figurines and narratives of Gautama Buddha.
Further about an hour is Udayagiri , a compelling collection of rock cut caves meriting a closer look. Scattered around a long outcrop of sandstone, the caves illustrate reliefs of Gods and Prakrit inscriptions dating to Guptas, but what holds interest is the Varaha, a four-metre high carved stone representing an avatar of Vishnu. Gwalior’s unmissable hill fort is a walk up the stepped ramp, encompassing immaculately-restored palaces and temples worth a day’s visit. At its entrance, Gujari Mahal hosts an archaeological museum lauding Gwalior’s princely days of the durbars, tiger hunts and tongas. Of its exhibits, the carved and sensuous figurine of Salabhanjika is often dubbed as India’s Mona Lisa. Up on the hill, the not-to be- missed are the Man Mandir Palace, Jauhar Kund, Sas-Bahu temple and Teli-ka-Mandir, the fort’s oldest surviving monument. The son-et-lumiere show tracing the fort’s history is a must for history buffs. Down in the old town cupolas and arches of the tomb of Mohammed Ghaus reminisce of Fatehpur Sikri, whereas at another, of Tansen, one of the ‘nine jewels’ of Akbar’s court, people flock for the annual musical festival.
Art deco was once big in Gwalior. Madhav Jivaji Rao Scindia’s blueprint of borrowed the opulent inspiration not only into its furniture and rugs but also a toy train made out of silver and the world’s biggest chandelier suspended onto its roof — its strength legendarily tested by mounting eight elephants. , between Gwalior and Jhansi, had a princely past being Scindia’s summer capital. The chattris, is what remains of the glorious days. These cenotaphs are an interesting fusion of the mughal domes and pavilions with Hindu shikharas. , a strategic old Malwan outpost, with the Betwa river forming a natural moat for this almond-shaped island, is a medieval epiphany with its derelict palaces and havelis. It was founded by the Bundelas in their heydays when its illustrious King Bir Singh Deo sided with the Mughals, and aided a hive of palace and fort building. A later coup and a spate of attacks by Aurangzeb and the Marathas compelled the Bundelas to flee Orchha, leaving it languishing. Crossing an old bridge, the palaces are within walking distance — Raj Mahal with its mirrors inlaid into its walls and ceilings, and Rai Praveen Mahal set amidst manicured lawns. Jehangir Mahal, Orchha’s most admired monument, is a three-storied cluster of overhanging balconies and quarters around a central courtyard. Bir Singh Deo built it as a welcome gift to Emperor Jehangir.
Khajuraho was perhaps Madhya Pradesh’s best-known secret, even forgotten by its builders, the Chandelas, until its rediscovery. Today, these restored Hindu temples are not only amongst the must-see list of Madhya Pradesh, but of the Indian heritage. The western group of temples, among them the Kandariya Mahadeva and Vishwanatha are the most ornate in their high relief carvings; the provocative sculptures adorning its façade always drawing crowds to the beauty that is Khajuraho.
Mandu admired for the Islamic monuments that flourished here during the reign of the Malwas, is a group of medievalist ruins on a remote hill, divided in three picturesque groups. Jahaz Mahal of the royal enclave is Mandu’s most photographed monument bearing an uncanny resemblance to a ship on a narrow strip of land between two lakes; at the plateau’s southern fringe is the Roopmati Pavilion soaked in a fabled reverie. Between these two are Mandu’s celebrated galore of ruins — Hoshang Shah’s tomb, believed to have inspired the builders of Taj Mahal; the Jami Masjid; the Ashrafi Mahal, a madarasa and the palace of Baz Bahadur — their walls encrusted with airy legends.
Indore a metaphor of contemporary India, is the second largest city of Madhya Pradesh dominated by the Holkars. Apart from the Raj Wada built as a western mansion in the heart of Indore, it is a convenient stopover for pilgrimages to Ujjain and Omkareshwar. Jabalpur itself harbours little of ancient legacy but at Bhedaghat, the Chaunsath Yogini temple, a circular wall enclosing sculptures of 64 tantric female mystics, recalls the days of occultist ‘thugs’ and Bandavgarh’s hilltop fort, through the famous tiger reserve, claims to date back to Ramayana.
Phew! Did you know even half of it?
About the author
Kshitiz loves to travel, read and write. And yes, second love: theatre.