Since childhood, I have loved visiting cultural and historical places. Be it museums, religious places, forts, of Gwalior, caves, the vitality is conspicuous. This is why my visits to places in MP are brimming with winsome energy. What’s better than sharing those positive emotions with the world.
Exploring MP is empirical in diverse ways. You get to relive the land through its stories; eyewitness the stuff you read in your history class and behold the awe-inspiring natural beauty. ‘Hindustan ka dil’ has unparalleled cultural, historical and architectural heritage. It’s also known for its natural beauty. The state is a mix of history, nature and modern planning. There are lots of beautiful natural and architectural marvels in Madhya Pradesh, which you would definitely want to explore after reading my series of posts about the second largest state in India!
In this post, I’ll try to unearth the historical and architectural secrets behind Man Mandir Palace; main palace at Gwalior fort.
Odyssey into Glorious History – Gwalior Fort (Man Mandir Palace)
I’d heard a lot during my childhood about the city of Gwalior from my mother and read about it in history classes. Honestly, my recollections were as dusty as the city of Gwalior in MP.
Unfolding the old city of Gwalior is like walking back in time. The influence of the divergent rules has spilled an apparent mark on its lanes.
Thrilled to be in the historical city of Gwalior, we started our expedition with Man Singh Palace at Gwalior Fort.
It is also called as Painted Palace or Chit Mandir. Our guide narrated many more wonderful tales that described the significance of each and every corner, motifs, and sculptures of the palace. I was captivated by the tales. It was like walking down the lanes of history, a leap into the past and reliving the stories.
In its lifetime, the fort has changed hands many times. The palace was ruled by varied monarchs viz. Kachwaha Rajputs, Qutubiddin Aibak, Thomas, Mughals, Marathas, Britishers, and Scindias.
Man Mandir Palace, inspired by Hindu and Medieval architecture, is unquestionably stunning made out of sandstone with lovely patterns on hued tiles. Its historical significance is quite striking.
Majestic Gwalior fort stands tall upon the Gopachala hill. Our guide told us that the explicit era of the fort’s conception is uncertain, but chroniclers claim that its inception time is around 8th Century. Folklore suggests that once Raja Suraj Sen who suffered from leprosy, was wandering in search of water to quench excessive thirst when Sage Gwalipa extended his help by offering him sacred water from a pond, which cured him of the disease. Out of gratitude, Suraj Sen guarded the hilltop to protect saints from forest animals and named the place Gwalior as a tribute to the saint. And that’s how the story of Gwalior Fort emerged. Having stood the test of time; it echoes the stories of its glorious battles and victories.
One such exclusive and an unforgettable battle which took place here around 1858 is a battle fought by a youthful, graceful and impassioned woman on horseback, a woman who ratified the soul and spirit of an Indian woman, Jhansi ki Rani, Laxmibai.
A menacing battle took place between the Maharaja of Gwalior who abandoned Indian rebels and Rani of Jhansi. She after defeating him occupied the fort at Gwalior which was crucial for her battle against the British. On the second day of battle, Rani Lakshmibai jumped with her horse from the Gwalior fort’s cliff and finished her life.The British captured Gwalior three days after her death.
She had herself chosen to end her life in triumph. She was certainly a warrior who fought till the end.
The fort came under Man Singh Tomar’s rule in around 15th century. He revolutionized the fort into a glorious architectural marvel that everyone would talk about it. This four floors edifice has two levels above and two below the ground. Gwalior fort was made in a way that it was almost unconquerable.
Mansingh Tomar was threatened by Ibrahim Lodi, who later on detonated his way in. Then the fort came under the rule of Babur. Witnessing the fort for the first time; Babur stood there in astonishment and named it as the “pearl amongst the fortresses of India”. After confiscation by Mughals, the fort was used as a jail. The ruined valued and precious stuff by the end of their rule.The fort was then ruled by Marathas, the Britishers, and finally the Scindias. The fort thrived again when conquered by Maharaja Scindia. Scindias are still considered God here by locals.
Man Singh was recognised as one of the most celebrated aficionado of art and music. He would see performances in the music hall with his queens and admire the artists. The palace echoed with soulful music. Man Singh is known for his unparalleled contribution to music. He is acknowledged for inventing Dhrupad form of Hindustani classical music and establishing Vidyapeeth in Gwalior.
Underground floors were used as prisons during the Mughal reign. Akbar’s cousin, Kamran is also believed to be poisoned and killed here. Tales from the past suggests that Aurangzeb’s two nephews Suleiman and Sepher, the sons of Dara Shikoh were also executed here. I felt overly cramped while moving up and down of the clandestine floors. It was quite dark. We had to use phone flashlight. The way to the secret underground floors is also referred as Bhool Bhulaiya. It certainly is one!
These beautiful intricate brackets in king’s bedroom were once adorned with stunning precious gems and stones but looted by Mughals. I was washed over by emotions thinking how masterpieces build by Hindu kings were destroyed by Mughals.
An agonizing atmosphere of morality and courage of those days still lingers in the hush-hush corners of this imperial palace. Though I found it really beautiful, the sadness that exuded from it didn’t get away the senses.
An impressive ventilation system was in place for the comfort of Queens. Top two floors are designed in a way to allow proper air and light, also means of communication with the outside world are in place.
Admiringly, many of the lavishly ornamented attributes still exist at Man Mandir Palace.
Now, the monument is a huge fortress embracing six palaces, three temples, and several water tanks. Man Singh Palace is the main palce. The other palaces are Jahangir Mahal, Karan Palace, Shah Jahan Mahal and Gujari Mahal, which was built for Mrignayani, his favorite wife. Gujari Mahal is now an archaeological museum with a remarkable assortment.
Teli-ka-Mandir built in the Dravidian style, Saas-Bahu Temple and Sun Temple are the three impressive temples in the fortress.
A gurdwara also exists within the fort as a memorial to the sixth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Hargobind who had been imprisoned by Mughals at Gwalior fort.
There was still time to catch the Light and Sound show at Man Mandir Palace. Our guide suggested us to see other monuments in the fortress and come back for Light and Sound show at 6 pm.
We were just on time for the Light and Sound show. It was a fab show! Cool winter breeze blowing, beneath the naked sky, the palace illuminated in wonderful shades of light, the history of the city and fort executed in Amitabh Bachchan’s profound voice! Beautifully done, History was never so interesting.
It was a hectic but remarkable day. We set off for our hotel to get some well-needed rest.
Man Mandir Palace is just one monument within the fort. Wait for my next post to find out other beautiful monuments!
Featured Image: Painting by Vikram Singh