When in Indore, you must visit nearby Mandu, or Mandavgarh. The historical site
will take your breath away,” says Gopal, my friend in Delhi, while planning an itinerary for exploring Madhya Pradesh. Mandavgarh lies in Madhya Pradesh’s Malwa region.
We enter Mandavgarh’s antiquated quarter through a couple of ornamented darwazas. A grand ensemble of shining red sandstone structures, dotting a landscape of green fields and waterways ushers me into a quaint and medieval world.
Perched along the Vindhya Mountains at an altitude of 600m, Mandavgarh was the fort capital of the Parmar rulers of Malwa. Towards the end of the 13th century, it came under the control of the Afghani Sultans of Malwa, who named it Shadiabad, or ‘City of Joy’. With immense prosperity blossoming, they studded the quarter in a span of 125 years with palaces, noble houses, mosques, mausoleums, baths and pavilions, all as polished as those times of amity and richness.
Each of Mandavgarh’s structures is an architectural gem, a memorial in stone of existence and art. They have nothing inside today, other than stories of conquest, bloodshed, bravery and romance hiding in their corridors, passages and corners. I begin my discovery with the double storeyed, 120m long Jahaz Mahal, or the Ship Palace. Often referred as Mandavgarh’s jewel in the crown, this massive architecturally astute palace is perched between two artificial lakes, with pavilions, terraces and balconies overhanging the water. This palace was built in the 15th century not for living but for entertainment.
The streaming water outside, when seen through multiple arches, widows and grills, generates a sense of floating even today. I visualise singers and dancers from Turkey and Persia performing in front of the elite guests, the combined sound of sarangi, tabla and the bells tied around the ankles of the dancers slowly dropping into my ears.
Hindola Mahal’s sloping columns create the illusion of swaying. Then there’s the massive Jami Masjid and the Hoshang Shah Tomb, India’s first marble edifice, which inspired Shah Jahan to build the Taj Mahal. Though these structures represent Islamic architectural foundations, the overall designs display adoption of fine elements from other cultures—Turkish, Persian and Hindu. Jami Masjid, built on the lines of a large mosque in Damascus, shows Hindu imprints in wall designs, while the mausoleum of Hoshang Shah reflects Persian flairs.
Mandavgarh’s air is filled with stories from the fabled love affair of Sultan Baz Bahadur—who was more interested in art and culture than filing royal duties—with his consort Rani Roopmati, a sensational singer and dancer of the time. Their palaces are perched atop two adjacent hills with no barrier in between, so that the two lovers never lost sight of each other.