Mandu, a ruined citadel in the heart of Incredible India
A ruined citadel in the heart of Incredible India
The citadel of Mandu is perched on upon a rocky outspur of the Vindhya Range, at an altitude of 634 m. It is separated from the main Malawa Plateau by a deep ravine Kakra Khoh, which runs on the eastern, northern and southern sides of the Mandu hill. To southern slopes of the Mandu hill has a 305 m incline and merges to the Nimar plain, which is fed by the mighty Narmada River.
Thus Mandu, with its natural fortification and amazing beauty have been the favorite citadel of many a ruler for over a period spanning over a thousand year.
For centuries Mandu has served as a frontier outpost for the north Indian rulers for their invasion into the Deccan or to ward of invasion from the south.
But most likely it is the enchanting rugged landscape of Mandu, that captured the imagination of many a king and emperor.
The famous history writer John Keay describes Mandu as one of the one of the most romantic sites anywhere in the world.
Over the centuries the kings of Malwa region of central India, along with the Delhi Sultans and the Great Mughal Emperors have made Mandu their abode.
They have constructed Mosques, pleasure palaces, hunting lodges, pavilions, tombs, gateways, inns and shops, all within the natural and man-made fortifications of Mandu. No wonder the Muslim rulers call Mandu Shadiabad, meaning the City of Joy.
Today Mandu is a leading tourist spot in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh (MP) and attracts tourist from far and wide throughout the year.
But come monsoon, hordes of tourist will make it to Mandu in the footsteps of Humayun and Jahangir or the legendary Baj Bahadur.
They will Royal Enclavethe romantic beauty of the scattered ruins of Mandu with the backdrop of the lush green hills and beneath the shadows of the dark monsoon clouds.
Today the ruins of Mandu can broadly be classified under six categories:
- Royal Enclave
- Central Group
- Darya Khan Mosque Group
- Sagar Talao Group
- Rewa Kund Group
- Other Monuments
A detailed post on Royal Enclave will be coming soon in my blog
The fortified royal enclave, on the northern edge of Mandu plateau, is the prime attraction of Mandu. Spread over a large area it covers a diversified assortment of ruins from stable to pleasure palaces and from step wells to hammam and even a mosque. This royal group of monuments was constructed by the Ghuri and Khalji dynasty spanning from 1320 to 1531. In these two centuries Mandu experienced a unique blend of architecture and came to be known as the city of joy.
Jahaz Mahal: Jahaz Mahal is not only the most prominent monument of the royal enclave but also serves as the icon of Mandu. The elongated building is 360 feet in length and only 50 feet in breadth stands on a narrow stretch of land sandwiched between the two water bodies of Kapur and Munj Talao. The Jafaz Mahal towers above the two water bodies and in monsoon the water reaches right up to the edge of the monument giving it a ship like appearance and hence the name Jahaz Mahal.
Jahaz Mahal was probably constructed during the reign of Ghiyathuddin Khalji (1469 – 1500) and happens to be one of the last major monuments of Mandu. The Jahaz Mahal is an ultimate place for fun, entertainment and pleasure.
Hindola Mahal: Hindola Mahal or the swing palace is located north of the Jahaz Mahal. The T-shaped building with its sloping buttressed wall was constructed during the later part of the reign of Ghiyathuddin Khalji (1469 – 1500). The roof of the Hindola Mahal has long collapsed exposing the massive pointed arches to the sky.
North of the Hindola Mahal are a series of scattered ruins leading to the Dilwara Khan Masjid, built in 1405 this is the oldest surviving Islamic architecture of Mandu and the only religious structure in the royal enclave complex.
Mandu Royal Palace: West of the Hindola Mahal and north of the Munj Talao is Mandu’s Royal Palace complex. Although in ruins the complex still provides the grandeur of the golden days of Mandu. At the entrance of the royal palace lies the step well of Champa Baodi (Baodi means step well), which is relatively in good condition, although the railing has been added by the ASI. A subterranean passage connects the base of the well to a labyrinth of vaulted rooms, thus keeping them cool through the blistering summer.
North of the Champa Baodi (Baodi means step well) is the Hammam complex. The star shaped opening adorning the dome of the hammam complex allowed natural light to filter into the hammams.
Jal Mahal: South – west of the Royal Palace and on the furthest end of the Royal Enclave is the Jal Mahal. Barely visited by the tourist it is one of the most enchanting parts of the entire Royal Enclave. During the height of the monsoon when the Munj Talao is full to its brim a narrow passage connects the Royal Palace to the Jal Mahal. The passage contains three pairs of stairs leading to the water on both sides.
A favorite of the Mughal Empire Jahangir, the Jal Mahal has its own share of architectural beauty complete with swimming pools, water passages and arched passageways.
Taveli Mahal: The simple looking, three storied, building on the right of the entrance of the Royal Enclave once served as a royal stable. The stable was housed at the ground floor while the men incharge of the horses lived in the two top floors. Today it houses the office of Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and a small museum.
Nahar Jharokha: Nahar Jharokha is a palace located north of the Hindola Mahal. Nahar Jharokha literally means the tiger window.
Today the place does have several windows but the one with the tiger head has long collapsed.
The roof also has long collapsed and the ruins of the palace reminds one of the royal days of Mandu.
Dilwara Khan’s Masjid: Located on the northern limits of the Royal enclave this is the oldest Islamic structure in the whole of Mandu and the only religious structure in the Royal Enclave. The 1405 built mosque has beautiful aisle lined with decorative colonnade.
Gadaa Shah’s House & Shop: Historians doubt about the identity of Gada Shah, but the ruins of his shop and house are a must visit in Mandu. Located on the north – eastern edge of the Royal Enclave and opposite the MPTDC Retreat the two storied structure is approached by a gigantic pointed arch gateway. The roof has long collapsed along with portions of the first floor.
There are grand views of the Jahaz Mahal and just opposite Gadaa’s Shop and House are two step wells Andheri Baodi and Ujala Baodi, the dark and illuminated step wells.
See also: Details of Central Group
The central group, as the name suggest is located at the centre of the fortified city of Mandu. Much smaller compared to the Royal Enclave the Central Group contains some of the most important and beautiful architectures of Mandu.
Jami Masjid: Jami Masjid the principle mosque of Mandu was conceived and executed on a magnificent scale covering an area of 88 sq. m. The entire construction stands on a plinth of 4.6 m above the ground and is approached by a grand flight of stairs.
The construction of the mosque began during the reign of Hoshang Shah and was subsequently completed by his successor Mahmud Khalji in 1454. On the western wall of the Masjid is a decorative miharb and next to it is a raise marbel pulpit, from where the Imam leads the prayer. The pillars and the arches along with the intricate lattice works create an interesting architectural mix.
Hoshang Shah’s Tomb: Behind or west of the Jami Masjid lies the Hoshang Shah’s Tomb, India’s first marble structure and probably the inspiration behind the legendary Taj Mahal. The mausoleum stands on a square marble platform and is crowned by a gigantic dome. At the four corners are domed turrets.
The interiors are beautiful with light filtering through the geometric and floral patterns of the intricate lattice work. At the centre lies the tomb of Hoshang Shah scattered on all sides are several other tombs.
Ashrafi Mahal: Ashrafi Mahal is located on the other side of the road and bang opposite the Jami Masjid. Exact purpose of the mahal is not known but historians opine that it served as a madrasa. Construn dates back to the reign of Mahmud Khalji (1436 – 69).
The north – west corner of the Ashrafi Mahal once housed the victory tower or the vijay stambh, which was constructed by constructed by Mahmud Khalji on the occasion of his victory over the Rana of Mewar. The tower has long collapsed and the existing base reminds one of the flourishing days of Ashrafi Mahal.
Behind the Ashrafi Mahal lies the tomb complex of Mahmud Khalji. The roof has long collapsed and only small sections of the wall still stands guarding the tomb of one of the greatest ruler of central India.
Darya Khan’s Group
See also: Details of Darya Khan’s Group
Darya Khan’s group is a cluster of few scattered monuments centred round the Dary Khan’s Tomb complex. It is located south of the Central Group and north of the Sagar Talao Group.
Darya Khan’s Tomb Complex: The Darya Khan’s Tomb complex, located on the main road, consists of the tomb of Darya Khan with its gigantic dome. The complex also houses another tomb, Darya Khan’s Mosque, Lal Sarai (Sarai means inn) and Somvati Kund (Kund means pond).
Darya Khan was a minister in the court of Mahmud Khalji II. His sand stone tomb is situated on a high plinth and crowned with a gigantic dome. It is enclosed by a high wall. The exterior was once decorated with colourfull mosaic, but only traces of it remain to this day.
Hathi Mahal: Hathi Mahal or Hathi Page Mahal, literally meaning Elephant Leg Palace, the monument gets its name from the massive elephantine pillars at the four corners of the monument. These massive pillars are said to represents the leg of elephant. It is located on the south eastern side of the Darya Khan Complex and is approached by a dirt road. It is crowned with a massive dome. It was probably built as a pleasure resort but later converted into a tomb. Next to the Hathi Paga Mahal is a small mosque.
Roja ki Makbar: This is located on the opposite side of the Dary Khan’s Tomb Complex and is apporached by a dirt road. Roja or Khadija Bibi, was a women sufi saint, probably the one of its kind in the whole of Mandu. She was cremated inside the tomb. The black stoned built domed structure has a arched entrance on the western side and there are several other graves inside the tomb.
Sagar Talao Group
See also: Details of Sagar Talao Group
This group is located on the eastern side of the huge lake Sagar Talao and south of the Darya Khan Group. A massive unknown tomb (some refer to it as the Adhra Gambud) great visitors to the complex. Just behind it are the scattered ruins of several tombs, gardens, mosque and inns.
Dai ka Mhahal and Dai ki Chhoti Behen ki Mahal: Although called a mahals, these are actually tombs of a royal wet nurse and her sister. Nothing is known about this celebrity nurse or date of construction of the tombs. Both the structures are crowned with gigantic domes. Both the tombs had extensive multicoloured mosaic work but traces can be seen to this day.
Caravan Sarai: Sarai means inn and since Mandu have been a trade centre for centuries it attracted traders from far and wide. The scattered ruins of Mandu contain the remains of several inns or sarai.
Out of these the largest and the most well known is the Caravan Sarai, located bang opposite the Malik Mughith’s Mosque. It is an open courtyard with rooms on all sides, these rooms provided accommodation to traders coming from far and wide.
Malik Mughith’s Mosque: This is most significant Monument of the Sagar Talao group. It was built by Mahmud Khalji’s father Malik Mughith in 1432. The mosque consists of a central court enclosed by colonnades. The courtyard is surrounded by carved pillars taken from the ruins of Hindu Temple.
Rewa Kund Group
See also: Details of Rewa Kund Group
The most enchanting and romantic of the Mandu groups is the Rewa Kund Group. It stills speaks of the legend of Baz Bahadur and his consort Roopmati. In 1561 Adam Khan led the Mughal army against the Sultan of Malwa, Baz Bahadur. The two forces locked horns at the battle of Sarangpur.
Baz Bhadur was no match for the mighty Mughal army and was soon defeated, inhumane plunder and tortured followed as women were raped and children massacred. Adam Khan was prompted to conquer Malwa because of the beauty of Roopmati, Baz Bahadur’s favorite wife and well known singer. Although Adam Khan took possession of Baz Bhadur’s harem but Roopmati committed suicide by consuming poison. (Also see: Adam Khan’s Tomb)
Rewa Kund is an ancient artificial lake widened and rebuilt by Baz Bahadur. On the banks of the lake stands the palace of Baz Bahadur and located on top of a nearby hill top is the Roopmati’s Pavilion.
Baz Bahadur’s Palace: Located on the banks of the Rewa Kund and at the foot of a hill lies the Baz Bahadur’s palace. It was originally built by Sultan Nasiruddin Shah in 1509 and subsequently enlarged by Baz Bahadur (154 – 61). The palace is approached by a flight of stairs and the main part consists of an open courtyard with a floral shaped fountain in the middle. To the north of the palace, beyond the colonnade, projects an octagonal pavilion with arches. The spacious terrace is crowned with two chatris or pavilions and offers a grand view extending all the way to Roopmati’s Pavilion.
Roopmati’s Pavilion: Located on a hill top the Roopmati’s Pavilion, crowned with two chatris, provide a grand view of the Nimar plains. It is said that on a clear day the views can extend all the way up to the Narmada in the south. Today the Baz Bahadur’s Palace and the Roopmati’s Pavilion stands as a mute witness to the eternal love story of Baz Bahadur and Roopmati.
Apart from the five groups Mandu also contains several other scattered monuments which cannot be brought under the above five groups. For example in between the Dary Khan’s Group and the Cebtral Group is a small Sarai (inn).
Most of the scattered monuments are located on the western side of Mandu. Lohani Caves is one of the most interesting of the these monuments. Mandu is known for its medieval ruins but the history of Mandu dates back far beyond the days of Delhi Sultanate and Lohani caves is the best place to experience it.
Nothing is much know about these caves, which are a combination of natural and man made caves. The place is also know for its grand views especially during sunset.
Nil Kanth Palace is another interesting monument. It was originally a shiva temple converted into a palace by Akbar. Today its an active temple with Persian inscriptions on its walls.
If one moves towards the central group from the Nil Kanth Palace there will be several ruins on the left including Chor Kot, Unknown Tomb & Mosque, Ek – Khamba and Chhappan Mahal.
The monuments of Mandu are never complete without its magnificent gateways. After every invasion and triumph the each emperor and sultan left his mark by adding an entry gateway to the the fortified citadel.
Delhi Gate lies just north of the Gadaa Khan’s House & Shop, and as one travel further north – east (not in map) one encounters more gates and monuments.
Getting in and out: Indore (95 km) is the nearest airport and railhead. Direct buses from Indore to Mandu are rare, so it is best to make a break journey at Dhar. However cars can be booked for the trip.
Places to stay: Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (MPTDC) operates two hotels in Mandu.
- Malwa Resort, Tel: (07292) 263235, Email: email@example.com
- Malwa Retreat, Tel: (07292) 263221, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
There are several other private hotels in Mandu to suit different budgets.
Getting Around: At least two days are required for exploring Mandu. The sites can be explored by car, the hotels can arrange for the cars. The more adventurous ones can opt for bicycles, but be prepared to paddle up steep slopes with hair-pin bends.
Places to Eat: All the hotels come with good restaurants and there are basic road side eateries too. Adventurous foodies can try out the Baobab Juice. Baobab (Adansonia digitata) tree is a native of Africa, gives the impression of having its roots upside down is found in abundance in the Mandu plateau. the juice of the Baobab fruit is very refreshing.
Best Time to visit: Apart from the scorching summer Mandu can be visited throughout the year but monsoon is the bet time to explore the enchanting ruins and natural landscapes of Mandu
- Mandu (Bengali) by Prasenjit Dasgupta (a special thanks to Prasenjit da for his help and cooperation)
- Mandu, Archeological Survey of India (ASI)
- Mnadu Travel Guide, Good Earth
Note: This trip was part of a FAM (Familiarization) trip of Hanuwantiya (Jal Mahotsav), Omkareshwar, Maheshwar and Mandu. Special Thanks to:
- Abhijit Dhar, Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (MPTDC), Kolkata
- My fellow FAM participants Uttara Gangopadhyay, Soumya Mukherjee amd Ishandev Chatterjee