When we visited Chanderi, little did we know that this place is going to leave such a striking impression on me. I have always loved ruins and old buildings. And we also love the stories of places and more so, the stories of faces. Chanderi provided all of these. A small historical town located in Ashoknagar district of Madhya Pradesh, Chanderi is full of surprises.
Table of Contents
- What is so special about Chanderi?
- Legends, folklores and History of Chanderi
- Chanderi and Baiju Bawra
- Where is Chanderi?
- Things to see in Chanderi
- Things to do in Chanderi
What is so special about Chanderi?
Chanderi is beautiful. Every nook and corner of the town has some stories. From the tales of the past to the recent accounts of the film shootings of spooky Stree and Sui Dhaga, a visit to Chanderi was quite enriching. So what is Chanderi known for?
Chanderi is known for its famous handloom sarees – Chanderi Sarees.
After having seen the dokra, mukha and masks of Majuli, we were intrigued to know about the hardships behind the making of these sheer fabrics. Chanderi is also full of historic monuments that fed my love for heritage.
We were humbled to see the Samadhi of Baiju Bawra. The Dhrupad Maestro has been quite overlooked in history. But Dhrupads composed by him are still sung by most Dhrupad singers. And then there are the Chanderi Fort, palaces and numerous old buildings. Chanderi is of interest to history lovers, musicians as well as those looking for an offbeat holiday.
Legends, folklores and History of Chanderi
A place becomes more lively when you know about the stories behind them. And in India, there is no dearth of legends and folklore. And history too is an account of the times, the stories told by a few people who have seen and experienced the place. Chanderi too has a lot of stories in its cobbled streets and within its fortified walls.
The earliest legends relate Chanderi to the times of Mahabharata. It is said that Chanderi was established by Lord Krishna’s cousin King Sishupal of Chedi. The most famous legend, however, is that of King Kirtipal of the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty who had shifted his capital from Boodhi Chanderi (old Chanderi) to the present town of Chanderi in 11th Century AD. The archaeological remains in Chanderi bear testimony of illustrious past that might have witnessed rise and fall of dynasties. But much of the history of the place is lost in the realms of time as there are very less written evidence about Chanderi and its past. Nevertheless, Chanderi finds mention in the writings of Al Beruni (973-1048AD) and Ibn Battuta (1304-1369 AD). Chanderi also finds a mention in Ain-e-Akbari, the autobiography of Emperor Akbar.
According to Ain-i-Akbari, Chanderi had 14,000 stone houses and 384 markets, 360 spacious caravan-sarais (resting places) and 12,000 mosques!
Later Chanderi was ruled over by Delhi Sultanate, Rajputs and the Bundela kings. Finally on December 12, 1860, following a treaty signed between the British and the Scindias, Chanderi was returned to the Gwalior estates. After the Indian independence, Chanderi became a part of Madhya Bharat that was later named Madhya Pradesh.
Hazrat Wajihuddin, one of the disciples of Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya has settled at Chanderi in 1305 AD. And he attracted thousands of visitors to Chanderi, even from as far as Bengal. It is believed that the practice of weaving in Chanderi had begun from the weavers from Bengal (from regions around Dhaka) who had settled at Chanderi. Dhaka (now in Bangladesh) was a major centre of weaving at that time.
Chanderi and Baiju Bawra
Any classical music aficionado must definitely have heard of Baiju Bawra. What we know about the Dhrupad maestro is mostly from the 1952 Bollywood movie that focuses mainly on his rivalry with musical maestro Tansen. He was the disciple of Swami Haridas along with Tansen. We all know about Tansen, but Baiju Bawra chose a life of oblivion singing only for himself. Some even believe him to be a better musician than Miyan Tansen.
Chanderi is the birthplace of the Dhrupad Maestro Baiju Bawra.
The ‘bawra’ (crazy) musician Baiju Nayak composed Dhrupads that are even sung today by most Dhrupad singers. Not much is known about the life of Baiju or Baijnath Mishra, as he was called. But he was a great musician and was called “bawra” because of his temperament of a fakir in search of music. Baiju was associated with the Gwalior court as a Dhrupad singer. Gwalior is considered one of the oldest gharanas of Hindustani music, but Chanderi does not feature when the major Dhrupad traditions are mentioned. It seems that the Chanderi has been omitted out of the scenario of Indian Classical Music.
Baiju Nayak breathed his last on the day of Basant Panchami in 1610. There is a Samadhi of Baiju Bawra near the Chanderi Fort. Several people visit Chanderi on this day in remembrance of the musician. Chanderi has now decided to bring the legendary musician to the forefront. The Achaleshwar Mahadev Mandir Foundation (SAMMF) took a welcome initiative to start an annual Dhrupad festival at Chanderi at the Raja Rani Mahal in Chanderi as a tribute to the almost forgotten musician.
Where is Chanderi?
Chanderi is a small town located on the southwestern side of the Betwa River on the edge of the Malwa Plateau in the heart of Madhya Pradesh. Located strategically on the borders of Malwa and Bundelkhand, Chanderi fell on the major trade route of Central India and on the route to Malwa. Because of its strategic position and abundance of natural resources, Chanderi has always been on the eyesight of the rulers starting from Pratihars to Khilji, Lodhi, Mughals, Bundelas and finally the British.
Things to see in Chanderi
Each of the buildings and alleys of Chanderi seems to tell stories of the past. And its people will tell you the tales of today. With such history behind it, Chanderi is a blend of history and nature and has a lot to offer to its visitors. Chanderi comprises of the inner town and the outer town. You will find forts, palaces, mosques, temples, lakes and mausoleums in the small area of the inner town. While in Chanderi, do not miss these places.
Chanderi Fort or Kirti Durg
The most impressive one is the huge Chanderi Fort standing on the highest point of the Chandragiri Hills. The Kirti Durg was constructed by Pratihara king Kirti Pal and is named after him. The fort has been rebuilt several times by subsequent rulers of Chanderi. The huge fort has several interesting monuments inside. On the end of the fort is the Khilji mosque whose arches and pillars have graceful floral carvings and verses from the Holy Quran. The other places of interest are Hawa Paur, Naukhanda Palace and the tomb of Hazrat Abdul Rahman Narnuli. But the best point according to me is the Baradari which is a vantage point giving a commanding view of the entire town as well as the ruins of Kati Ghati Gateway and Kirat Sagar. There are three ways to approach the fort, one of which is named as Khooni Darwaza. Local tradition mentions that prisoners were thrown down this gate during the rule of the Sultan of Malwa and their battered corpse was displayed at the gate, therefore, it came to be named as Khuni Darwaza, or the Blood-soaked Gate.
There is a Jauhar Smarak situated just outside the fort complex. It is said that many Rajput women committed Jauhar (an act of self-immolation) just after Medini Rai and his soldiers left the fort to fight the last and final battle with the forces of Babur. The battle was fought on 29th January 1528.
Koshak Mahal is another impressive structure located about 4 km from Chanderi town on Isagarh Road. It was built in 1445 as a victory monument by the Sultan of Malwa, Mehmood Shah Khilji, to commemorate his victory over Sultan Mehmood Sharki in the battle at Kalpi.
It was originally called the “Kushk-e-Haft Manzil” or the “edifice with seven storeys”. The Mahal was perhaps planned as a seven-storeyed building, but now only 3 storeys can be seen. There is a legend that says that the Sultan had ordered to build the monument in order to provide employment to the people of his kingdom, as Chanderi was facing severe unemployment at that time. Imagine building such a monument to provide employment! He must have been a good ruler.
Shehzadi ka Roza
Shehzadi ka Roza stands as a metaphor for unfulfilled love. It is actually a tomb built in 15th century by the Governor of Chanderi, Hakim in memory of his daughter Mehrunnisa. It is said that Mehrunnisa fell in love with the army chief. But Hakim was against the alliance. When the army went to war, Hakim asked a few soldiers to make sure that the chief does not return from the battlefield alive. The commander, however, survived, though injured. He managed to escape from the battlefield and ride towards Chanderi. But he fell from his horse and died at the very place where the monument is now built. When Mehrunnisa found out, he rushed to meet her lover, but on finding him dead, she ended her life as well. Hakim buried the star-crossed lovers together and built the memorial. He also dug a pond around so that no one can reach the tomb. The pond does not exist today, but Shehzadi ka Roza stands as a striking monument in the middle of green fields.
Badal Mahal Gate
This is a beautiful structure situated in the inner town of Chanderi. The Badal Mahal Darwaza was built in the 15th century during the reign of Sultan Mahmood Shah Khilji I. In all probability, the gate stood as the doorway to a palace that no longer exists. The beautiful gate with minarets and beautiful patterns must have seen the entourage of kings and their men. At present, a well-manicured garden surrounds the Badal Mahal gate. There is a Bawdi inside the garden as well.
The Badal Mahal Gate is quite iconic as it forms the part of the stamp which Madhya Pradesh Handloom Department puts on the hand-woven sarees which Chanderi is famous for. This gate is also seen in postage seals for the letters posted from Chanderi.
The Jama Masjid was built when Chanderi came under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate under Ghiasuddin Balban. This is the oldest and the largest mosque in Chanderi where almost 2000 persons can offer their prayers. The entrance gate to the mosque is beautifully carved with ornate designs. But this gateway is not the original part of the mosque but has been brought from the ruined fort of Tamarpura.
If you are on the north of this gate, then you are at Bundelkhand. And if you are on the south, you are at Malwa. The Kati Ghati Gateway carved out of an entire rock form the link between Malwa and Bundelkhand. The Gate is 80 feet high and its construction was commissioned in 1495 AD by Jiman Khan, the son of the then Governor of Chanderi, Sher Khan.
There is an interesting legend associated with the Gateway. It is said that the gateway was to be built to welcome the Sultan of Malwa who arrived on the next day. Jiman Khan was searching for someone who could build the gate in one day. Only one accepted the challenge. The next morning, Jiman Khan was pleased to find the gateway cut out of the rock. But he also found out that the gate lacked the provision for door hinges. Since it was at such an important position, a door was required for security purpose. Jiman Khan refused to pay the mason his wage for making this mistake and sent him away empty-handed. The mason was so dejected that he committed suicide. The Gateway still stands without a gate.
Raja Rani Mahal
The Raja Rani Mahal is situated in the inner town comprises two different palaces. The two palaces built in different styles and are perhaps built on different periods, probably in the 15th century. The structures are imposing and show the grandeur of Chanderi during those times.
The Ramnagar Palace was initially built as a hunting lodge by Maharaja Durjan Singh Bundela in AD 1698. The Palace is surrounded by greenery and there is a beautiful lake named Mehjatiya Pool on the other side. Currently, the Ramnagar Palace is maintained by the Department of Archaeology, Museums and Archives, Madhya Pradesh. You will find various artefacts from Hindu temples, idols and deities on display here. The lake is really beautiful and perfect place to take some beautiful clicks.
The temple is located on a hillside and can be approached by a flight of stairs. It is said that the temple is related to famous lore of the foundation of modern Chanderi. It is believed that Pratihara king Kirtipal had witnessed the “Miracle of Water” here. This temple is also considered among fifty-two Shaktipeeth and it is here where the mastak (head) of the goddess, Sati, believed to have fallen.
Parameshwar Taal and Lakshman Mandir
Parameshwar Taal was built by the Bundela Rajput Kings. The pond is now surrounded by temples and various cenotaphs. The Lakshman Mandir is also situated near the pond and is believed to be built by the Bundela King Anirudh Singh. The main shrine has an idol of Lakhsman and Sheshnag inside On the way to the Parameshwar Taal, you will also find the Royal Horses’ Memorial (two stone plaques dedicated to the favourite horses of the Bundela Kings), Maharaja Anirudh Singh’s Chhatri, Maharaja Bharat Shah Chhatri and Maharaja Devi Singh Bundela Chhatri.
This is a famous Jain pilgrimage site located on the Ramnagar Road. The first thing that you will notice here is the 45 feet giant statue of the first Jain Tirthankara Rishabhnath, also known as Adinath carved out on the surface of the hillock. There are a few caves that have the statues of Jain Tirthankars inside. While you are here, please beware of monkeys.
The Chanderi Museum was inaugurated in September 2008 and is maintained by ASI. The Museum has five galleries spread across two floors. The first gallery is named History of Chanderi and has a display of photographs of the rock paintings found at Nanuan and other cave shelters along with sculptures and tools of the early men. Other galleries have statues of Jain Tirthankaras and various stone statues.
Things to do in Chanderi
The forts and cenotaphs and mausoleums will provide perfect fodder for heritage and history lovers. But Chanderi is much more than that. While at Chanderi, how can you miss visiting the Bunkaar colony where the Chanderi sarees are weaved? Or not enjoy the delicious cuisine? What about walking along the streets and alleys and find out more about the shooting locations of the Bollywood movies? Also, enjoy the natural beauty of Chanderi.
Visit the Bunkaar Quarters
Chanderi is famous for the magnificent silken fabrics produced in the town. Since time immemorial, the weavers or Bunkaars of Chanderi has been weaving the nine yards wonder. The Chanderi Sarees are known for their unique texture, sheen, and semi-transparent qualities. The sarees are hand woven cotton, silk or silk mixed with cotton variety. You can visit the quarters of the weavers to witness how these sarees are made. Not only weaving, but you will also see the traditional architecture of the houses and the way of life of the weavers here. And what more, you can also buy Chanderi sarees and dress materials here as you listen to the stories of the Bunkaars.
Walk along the roads of Chanderi
We always believe that the best way to know a place is to walk around. Walking around the streets of Chanderi can be a great activity. Out of nowhere, you might see an old imposing structure. The small town is typical with alleyways and boulevards. And there might be a surprise at corners. As we walked along the narrow cobbled roads, we found a ruined or old building lurking at a corner. It was a different experience altogether. And also do not forget to explore the market place. Visit the Sadar Bazar, Chanderi’s main shopping area. The main entrance of the market is through the Delhi Darwaza, one of the main gateways in Chanderi’s fortification.
Enjoy the cuisine
We always love to taste the local cuisines of a place. In Madhya Pradesh, you must get a taste of the Poha and Jalebis. While we relished on the jalebis, we also had Dak Tikka and Churma Laddoo. These specialities of the town are sure to please your taste buds.
Enjoy the traditional music and Raai dance of Bundelkhand
You can listen to the traditional Bundelkhand music at Chanderi as well as enjoy the Raai Dance. Raai is a folk dance of the Bundelkhand region. Raai literally means mustard seeds. Just as mustard seeds swing around when thrown in a saucer, the Raai dancers swing to the lyrics of the songs and dances following the beats. The dance is quite interesting and is actually a duet between the drummer and the dancer. The dancer and the drummer both try to outdo each other using their dancing steps and beat of the drum.
Take a day trip to Bharka Waterfall and Nanaun Rock Painting
The rock paintings near the Nanaun village shows the earliest imprints of human existence in the region. The rock paintings are found in the caves and there is also a beautiful waterfall nearby named Bharka Waterfall.
How to reach Chanderi?
Access to Chanderi is limited and it increases the beauty of the place. The nearest airport is at Bhopal about 225 km away or Gwalior about 210 km away. The nearest Railway station is at Lalitpur, 37 km away.
There are direct State Transport as well as private bus services to Chanderi from Gwalior, Indore and Jhansi.
Places to stay at Chanderi
The best place to stay at Chanderi is the Kila Kothi situated just beside the Chanderi Fort. You will get a beautiful view of the town from Kila Kothi. Another place to stay is the Madhya Pradesh Tourism resort Taana Baana. There are a couple of budget hotels in the town as well.
A place also becomes more enjoyable because of the company you have. The trip to Chanderi was so enjoyable because of the great people we had on the trip. A special thanks to CMO, Chanderi Municipality who shared his knowledge with us, Kalley Bhai, our guide and Mr. Neeraj Vardhan for his help.
Disclaimer: We were invited by the Madhya Pradesh tourism for a trip to Chanderi as a part of #letspromotechanderi, but the views written in the post are my own.
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