My Trip to Western Madhya Pradesh (4-7 March, 2011)

I returned from New York on March 1 after nearly a four month stay there. My friend Rahul was to get married on the 5th of March. Generally I am not very keen on attending weddings, but because the wedding was in Indore, it would give me an opportunity to travel around the area, I booked my tickets to Indore from the US itself.

I departed for Indore from Pune on March 4. On the way, I got a call from another classmate friend of mine, and we realized that we were travelling in the same train. The journey was uneventful and we reached Indore on the morning of the 5th, which was the marriage day. Rahul had sent a car to receive us at the station, which took us to the hotel, Amar Villas. We were welcomed by Rahul and his family. The atmosphere was that of joy, and we rested for a little while in our room. My stomach was a little upset, probably due to something I must have uncharacteristically eaten in the train.

The ceremonies commenced in the afternoon, and all of us were in the hall. Technically, the bride and groom would be get engaged through this ceremony, and get married at night. Amongst the hundreds of other guests (the marriage party had arrived from a smaller town in eastern Madhya Pradesh), a few of us (classmates) were present. After taking a few pictures, I gave the ceremony a slip and made my way to the Rajwada of Indore.

Rajwada is the historical palace of the Holkars, erstwhile rulers of Indore. It was built about two centuries ago and is located near the ‘Chhatris’ in the main square. It is a seven storied structure, which serves as a living example of the grandeur of the Holkars. The Rajwada stands in the centre of the city. The new palace is on the northern side, while the old palace stands in the old part of the town. The old palace is a multi-storied building which also serves as a gateway of the Rajwada. It stands amongst the crowded streets of the Kajuri Bazar and faces the main square of the city.

The palace was once the centre of all the trading activities in the city. It is a blend of Maratha, Mughal and French style of architecture. The entrance of the palace has a lofty archway with a giant wooden door which is covered with iron studs. The gopura-like monument is made up of wood and stone. It has a number of balconies windows and corridors. The entrance leads to a huge courtyard, which is surrounded by galleried rooms and the arcaded Ganesha hall, which was once the venue of all state and religious functions. This hall is now used for art exhibitions and classical music concerts.

The Rajwada has been burnt three times in history. The last fire broke out in 1984 and caused the maximum destruction. The lower three floors are made up of stone, while the top floors are made of wood. This made it very vulnerable to destruction by fire. Now, only the front part of the original structure remains. The palace has recently been renovated, which has managed to bring back the old glory to some extent. In the rear part of the palace, a beautiful garden has been created. It contains fountains, an artificial waterfall and some magnificent pieces of 11th century sculpture.

There was a temple within the precints of the Rajwada. It also held the beautiful Coat of Arms of the Holkars. The Holkar dynasty whose earliest known clan-man was Malhar Rao, joined the service of the Peshwa in 1721, and quickly rose to the ranks of Subedaar. He and his descendants ruled as Rajas and later Maharajas of Indaur (Indore) in Central India as an independent member of the Maratha Confederacy until 1818, and afterwards as a princely state -under protectorate- of British India with a 19-guns salute (21 guns locally; a rare high rank) until India’s independence, when the state acceded to the Indian government.
They are one of the prestigious dynasties whose name became associated with the very title of the ruler, which was generally known as Maharaja Holkar or Holkar Maharaja, while the official full title was Maharajadhiraj Raj Rajeshwar Sawai Shri (personal name) Holkar Bahadur, Maharaja of Indore, with the colonial style of His Highness. But the most famous Holkar was Queen Ahliya.

Ahilyabai Holkar (1725-1795) was a great ruler and the Queen of the Kingdom of Malwa. Popularly known as Rajmata Ahilyadevi Holkar and she was born in 1725 in the village of Chondi in Maharashtra, India. She was the daughter of Mankoji Shinde who belonged to the Dhangar community, serving as Patil of the village. Her father educated her himself and she grew up living a humble pious life, when one day, her destiny changed forever to eventually see her become the ruler of Malwa in the 18th century.

Young Ahilyadevi’s character and simplicity impressed Malhar Rao Holkar, who then served under Peshwa Bajirao’s army as a commander. So great was his liking for the girl, that she was married to his son, Khande Rao, thus becoming a bride in the esteemed Maratha community of the Holkars. After her husband’s death in the battle of Kumbher in 1754, Ahilyabai was introduced to the administrative and military affairs of the state by her father-in-law, which saw her perform brilliantly under his guidance.

After Malhar Rao’s death, she requested the Peshwa to grant her the power to lead the administration of the region. His approval saw Rani Ahilyadevi take hold of the reins of the state in 1766, to become ruler of Malwa, with Tukoji Holkar appointed as her new military head. Receiving the full support of her loyal army, Ahilyadevi led them into several wars, whilst, she being a brave warrior and skilled archer herself, fought with valor atop elephant-back, even protecting her kingdom from the plundering Bhils and Gonds.

Rani Ahilyabai moved her capital to Maheshwar, constructing the splendid 18th century Maratha-architecture based, Ahilya Fort, on the banks of the sacred Narmada River. Besides her capital being an industrial enterprise for textile, it was also a thriving destination for literary, sculpture, music and arts, which saw Moropant, the famous Marathi poet, the Shahir Anantaphandi and Sanskrit scholar, Khushali Ram, being patronized during her era.

A wise, just, and enlightened ruler who cared for her people, she was available to the aid of everyone holding a daily public audience in her court. During her glorious reign (1767-1795), Rani Ahilyadevi’s innumerable contributions made her a beloved and respected queen amongst her people in a prospering kingdom. She wisely spent the governmental money building several forts, rest houses, wells and roads, celebrating festivals and donations to Hindu temples.

Her feminine side saw her aid widows in retaining their husband’s wealth and in adoption of a son. Besides her transformation of Indore from an erstwhile village into a prosperous and enchanting city, she was also instrumental in restoring and rebuilding several ancient Hindu temples which were sacked by Muslim kings such as Aurangzeb. Her most memorable activities include the construction of numerous temples and pilgrimage centers across an area extending from the Himalayas to South India, at sacred sites like Kashi, Gaya, Somnath, Ayodhya, Mathura, Hardwar, Dwarka, Badrinarayan, Rameshwar, and Jaganathpuri.

Ahilyabai Holkar’s magnificent and glorious rule ended when she passed away in 1795. In memory and honour of her greatness, the Republic of India issued a commemorative stamp on 25 August 1996. The citizens of Indore also instituted an award in her name in 1996, to be bestowed annually on an outstanding public figure, the first recipient of it being Nanaji Deshmukh.

After roaming around the Rajwada and the temple, I moved on to see the famous ‘Chattris’ of Indore. For my non-Indian readers, Chattri means umbrella in Hindi. Located near the Khan River, the Chattri Bagh is another important place to visit. The place is characterised by a number of Chhatris or memorial canopies dedicated to the Holkar rulers and their family members. The Chattris or the canopies are quite attractive especially the Chattri of Malhar Rao Holkar I, the founder of the Holkar dynasty. The gardens bordering the place enhance the beauty of Chhatri Bagh. I did some photography and went back to the hotel, pretending to have not missed any minute of the ceremony!

In the evening, as friends of the groom, we helped him dress up for the reception and the actual marriage ceremony. By 7 30 pm, we were at the venue, after a brief ‘baraat’ ceremony. The venue was splendid and the spread of food was also wonderful. Unfortunately my stomach was not too well, and I had to make do with just looking at it. I was dressed in a traditional Pathan attire, and was subject of a lot of attention as people from this part of the country haven’t seen too many people dressed like this. The ceremony proceeded smoothly. There was some dancing and celebrations post which people queued up to greet the couple on the stage. I stuck around for some time and then made my way back to the hotel, as I feel extremely bored in such ceremonies beyond a point. The next morning, the marriage party was supposed to head back to their hometown in western Madhya Pradesh where as I was to head to three other historical places viz. Dhar, Mandu and Maheshwar.

In the morning, since I had hired a car to take me around, one of my friends Vicky joined me as well. Vicky is from the nearby city of Ujjain. Our first destination was Dhar. Dhār is located in the Malwa region of western Madhya Pradesh state in central India. It is the administrative headquarters of Dhar District. The town is located 33 miles (53 km) west of Mhow, 908 ft (277 m) above sea level. It is picturesquely situated among lakes and trees surrounded by barren hills, and possesses, besides its old ramparts, many interesting buildings, both Hindu and Muslim, some of them containing records of cultural and historical importance. We left for Dhar after having some really tasty street breakfast at Indore. The road to Dhar was pathetic, and I believe was being four laned for the last five years! Typical govenment apathy. The weather was hot and we were forced to close our windows because of the amount of dust that the passing vehicles were generating. We reached Dhar at around 10: 30 am and headed straight to the famous Dhar fort.

The fort dominates the histroic area of the town. It is thought to have been built by Muhammad bin Tughluq, the Sultan of Delhi. One of the gateways, added at a later time, dates to 1684-85 in the time of ‘Ālamgīr. Inside the fort is a deep rock-cut cistern, of great age, and a later palace of the Mahārāja of Dhār incorporating an elegant pillared porch of the Mughal period that probably belongs to the mid-seventeenth century. In the palace area is an outdoor museum with a small collection of temple fragments and images dating to medieval times.

Although Dhār is mentioned in inscriptions as early as the sixth century CE, it rose to prominence only when it was made the seat of the Paramara chiefs of Malwa by Vairisiṃha (920-45 CE). He appears to have transferred his headquarters here from Ujjain. During the rule of the Paramāras, Dhār became famous throughout India as a centre of culture and learning, especially under king Bhoja (1000-1055). The wealth and splendor of Dhār drew the attention of competing dynasties during the 11th century. The Cāḷukyas of Kalyāṇa under Someśvara I (CE 1042-68) captured and burnt the city, occupying also Māṇḍū (ancient Māṇḍava). Slightly later Dhār was sacked by the Cāḷukyas of Gujarāt under Siddharāja. The devastation and political fragmentation caused by these wars meant that no significant opposition was offered when Sultān of Delhi, Ala ud din Khilji dispatched an army to Mālwa in the early 14th century. The region was annexed to Delhi and Dhār made the capital of the province under ‘Ain al-Mulk Mūltānī. He served as governor until 1313. Events during the following seventy years are unclear, but some time in A.H. 793/C.E. 1390-91 Dilawar Khan was appointed muqta’ of Dhār (and so governor of Mālwa) by Sultān Muḥammad Shāh. Dilāwar Khān took the title Amīd Shāh Dā’ūd and caused the khutba to be read in his name in A.H. 804/C.E. 1401-02, thereby establishing himself as an independent sultān. On his death in 1406, his son Hoshang Shah became king with his capital at Māṇḍū. Subsequently, in the time of Akbar, Dhār fell under the dominion of the Mughals, in whose hands it remained till 1730, when it was conquered by the Marathas.

In late 1723, Bajirao at the head of a large army and accompanied by his trusted lieutenants, Malharrao Holkar, Ranoji Shinde (Scindia) and Udaji Rao Pawar, swept through Malwa. A few years earlier the Mughal Emperor had been forced to give the Marathas the right to collect chauth taxes in Malwa and Gujarat. This levy added much value to the Marathas, as both the king Shahu and his Peshwa, Bajirao, were ear-deep in debt. The revenues they collected from their own lands were not sufficient to run the administration of the state and finance their large military expenditure. The Marathas lived by the sword and trade was alien to them. Agriculture in the Deccan depended heavily on the timeliness and sufficiency of the monsoons. The most important source of money were therefore the chauth (a 25% tax on produce) and sardeshmukhi (a ten percent surcharge) collected by the Marathas. The Maratha armies defeated the Mughal governor and attacked the capital Ujjain. Bajirao established military outposts in the country as far north as Bundelkhand.
Towards the close of the 18th and in the early part of the 19th century, the state was subject to a series of spoliations by Scindia of Gwalior and Holkar of Indore, (descendants of Ranoji Scindia and Malharao Holkar). It was only preserved from annihilation by the talents and courage of the adoptive mother of the fifth raja.

After the third Anglo-Maratha war, of 1818, Dhar passed under British rule. Dhar became a princely state of British India, in the Bhopawar agency of the Central India Agency. It included many Rajput and Bhil feudatories, and had an area of 1,775 square miles (4,600 km2). The state was confiscated by the British in the Revolt of 1857, but in 1860 was restored to Raja Anand Rao III Pawar, then a minor, with the exception of the detached district of Bairusia, which was granted to the Begum of Bhopal. Anand Rao, who received the personal title Maharaja and the KCSI in 1877, died in 1898; he was succeeded by Udaji Rao II Pawar.

The Punwars/Parmars of 12 villages in modern day Haryana claim proudly their descent from the king Bhoj.

We continued our journey to the place which I was most eagerly awaiting, Mandu. Mandu, or Mandavgarh, is a ruined city in the Dhar district in the Malwa region of western Madhya Pradesh state, central India. The distance between Dhar and Mandu is about 35 km. In the 11th century, Mandu was the sub division of the Tarangagadh or Taranga kingdom . This fortress town on a rocky outcrop about 100 km (60 miles) from Indore is celebrated for its fine architecture.

Mandu’s was earlier known by the name of “Shadiabad” meaning the city of happiness (Anand Nagari), the name was given by then ruler Allauddin Khilji. Mandu city is situated at an elevation of 633 metres (2079 feet) and extends for 13 km (8 miles) along the crest of the Vindhya Range, overlooking the plateau of Malwa to the north and the valley of the Narmada River to the south. These acted as natural defences and Mandu was originally the fort-capital of Rajput Parmara rulers of Malwa. Towards the end of the 11th century, it came under the sway of the Taranga kingdom.

In the 10th century Mandu was founded as a fortress retreat by Raja Bhoj. It was conquered by the Muslim rulers of Delhi in 1304. When, in 1401, the Mughals captured Delhi, the Afghan Dilawar Khan, governor of Malwa, set up his own little kingdom and the Ghuri dynasty was established. And thus began Mandu’s golden age.

His son, Hoshang Shah, shifted the capital from Dhar to Mandu and raised it to its greatest splendour. Hoshang’s son, Mohammed, the third and last ruler of Ghuri dynasty ruled for just one year He was poisoned by the militaristic Mohammed Khalji, who established the Khilji dynasty and went on to rule for the next 33 years. He was succeeded by his son, Ghiyas-ud-din in 1469 and ruled for the next 31 years. Ghiyas-ud-din was a pleasure seeker and devoted himself to women and song. He had a large harem and built the Jahaz Mahal for housing the women, numbering thousands, of his harem. Ghiyas-ud-din was poisoned, aged 80, by Nasir-ud-din, his own son.

In 1526, Mahmud II the sixth Khalji ruler made no resistance against the invading Bahadur Shah of Gujarat who conquered Mandu March 28, 1531. In 1530 Humayun, the second Mughal Emperor, succeeded Babur. Babur had established the Mughal dynasty. Humayun had two major rivals Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and Sher Shah Suri. Humayun was engaged in a war with Sher Shah Suri when he learned of an imminent attack by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat who was being aided by the Portuguese. With an unusual swiftness Humayun attacked and defeated Bahadur Shah. Thus in 1534 Mandu came under Humayun’s rule. Humayun lost the kingdom to Mallu Khan, an officer of the Khalji dynasty. Ten more years of feuds and invasions followed and in the end Baz Bahadur emerge in the top spot. By this time Humayun had been defeated by Sher Shah Suri and had fled India. Sher Shah Suri died in 1545 and his son Islam Shah died in 1553. Islam Shah’s 12 year old son Feroz Khan became the king but was killed by Adil Shah Suri within 3 days. Adil Shah appointed Hemu, also known as ‘Hemu Vikramaditya’ as his Chief of Army and Prime Minister. Hemu had a rapid rise during Sur regime. A grain supplier to Sher Shah Suri’s army and then Chief of Intelligence or Daroga-i-Chowki (Superintendent of Post) under Islam Shah, he became the Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Afghan Army (Sher Shah Suri’s army) under the reign of Adil Shah Suri. Adil Shah Suri was an incompetent ruler and many rebellions occurred against his rule. Hemu was sent to quell these rebellions. During this period Hemu attacked Mandu also and Baz Bahadur ran away from Mandu. Hemu appointed his own Governor here.

Hemu was in Bengal at the time and sensing an opportunity attacked Mughals. Soon Agra, Bihar, Eastern UP, Madhya Pradesh were all won and on 6 October 1556 he won Delhi, defeating Akbar’s forces, and had his coronation at Purana Quila, the next day. Akbar defeated and killed Hemu in the second Battle of Panipat on November 7, 1556. In 1561, Akbar’s army led by Adham Khan and Pir Muhammad Khan attacked Malwa and defeated Bāz Bahadur in the battle of Sarangpur on 29 March 1561. One of the reasons for Adham Khan’s attack seems to be his love for Rani Roopmati. Rani Roopmati poisoned herself to death on hearing the news of fall of Mandu. Bāz Bahadur fled to Khandesh (present day north central Maharashtra). Akbar, soon recalled Adham Khan and made over command to Pir Muhammad. Pir Muhammad attacked Khandesh and proceeded up to Burhanpur but he was defeated by a coalition of three powers: Miran Mubarak Shah II of Khandesh, Tufal Khan of Berar and Bāz Bahadur. Pir Muhammad died while retreating. The confederate army pursued the Mughals and drove them out of Malwa. Baz Bahadur regained his kingdom for a short period. In 1562, Akbar sent another army led by Abdullah Khan, the Uzbeg, which finally defeated Bāz Bahadur. He fled to Chittor. Baz Bahadur remained a fugutive at a number of courts till he surrenedered in November, 1570 to Akbar at Nagaur. He joined Akbar’s service.

After Akbar added Mandu to the Mughal empire, it kept a considerable degree of independence, until taken by the Marathas in 1732. The capital of Malwa was then shifted back to Dhar, and the slide in Mandu’s fortunes that had begun with the absconding of Bāz Bahadur became a plummet. We headed first to Roopmati Mahal, and then to Bāz Bahadur’s palace which are situated close to each other. It is said that Roopmati could see Bāz Bahadur and the river Naramada from her palace, both of whom she loved. The river has subsequently changed course and is not visible anymore. The other important places we visted in Mandu were Hoshang Shah’s tomb, Jami Masjid, and Jahaz Mahal. Jahaz Mahal was an absolutely stunning pience of Mughal architecture and is humoungous. Situated between two artificial lakes, this two storied architectural marvel is so named as it appears as a ship floating in water. As mentioned earlier, it was supposedly built by Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din-Khilji, and served as a harem for the sultan and his concubines.

The afternoon was very hot and we were quite exhausted after exploring Mandu. If one could spare a second and try and imagine what Mandu must have been like in its heyday, it fills one’s mind with amazement. Originally, we were supposed return to Indore this evening and I was to visit my final destination Maheshwar tomorrow. But I decided that we had enough time to cover Maheshwar today itself. We went to a small restaurant for lunch, and had a very fulfilling meal. We reached Maheshwar after an hours drive, at around 4 30 pm.

Maheshwar town is built on the site of the ancient city of Somvanshya Shastrarjun Kshatriya, and was the capital of king Kartavirya Arjuna, who is mentioned in the Sanskrit epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. Maheshwar was known as Mahissati (Mahishamati in Sanskrit) in ancient times and was the capital of Southern Avanti.

Maheshwar on the banks of the Narmada was capital of King Sahasrarjun. It is fabled that the King and his 500 wives went to the river for a picnic. When the wives wanted a vast play area, the King stopped the mighty river Narmada with his 1000 arms. While they were all enjoying themselves, Ravana flew by in his Pushpak Vimana. Downstream, when he saw the dry river bed, he thought it was an ideal place to pray to Lord Shiva. He made a shivalinga out of sand and began to pray. When Sahasrajuna’s wives were done and they stepped out of the river bed, he let the waters flow. The voluminous river flowed down sweeping Ravana’s shivalinga along, messing up his prayers. Furious, Ravana tracked Sahasrajuna and challenged him. Armed to the hilt the mighty Ravana was in for a huge surprise. The mighty Sahasrarjuna with the 1000 arms pinned Ravana to the ground. Then he placed 10 lamps on his heads and one on his hand. After tying up Ravana, Sahasrarjuna dragged him home and tied him up to the cradle pole of his son. A humiliated Ravana stayed prisoner until his release was secured.

Even today, the Sahasrarjun temple at Maheshwar lights 11 lamps in memory of the event. In Mahabharata, there is description of an unusual custom of non-prevalence of marriages in Mahishmati. As per the legend, there was a king named Nila who ruled over Mahishmati. King Nila had a daughter who was exceedingly beautiful. So much so that god Agni (fire) fell in love with her. She always used to stay near the sacred fire of her father, causing it to blaze up with vigour. And it so happened that king Nila’s fire, even if fanned, would not blaze up till agitated by the gentle breath of that girl’s fair lips. And it was said in King Nila’s palace and in the house of all his subjects that the god Agni desired that beautiful girl for his bride. And it so happened that Agni was accepted by the girl herself. A secret love affair began between god Agni, who assumed the form of a Brahman, and the beautiful princess. But, one day the couple was discovered by the king, who became furious. Nila thereupon ordered the Brahmana to be punished according to law. At this the illustrious deity flamed up in wrath and beholding the terrible flame, the king felt terrified and bent his head low on the ground.

The legend abruptly comes to a conclusion (perhaps due to narration changes it underwent in later centuries before being written) and from that time, the girls of the city of Mahishmati became rather unacceptable to others as wives. God Agni by his boon granted them sexual liberty, so that the women of that town always roam about at will, each unbound to a particular husband.

In the late eighteenth century, Maheshwar served as the capital of Rajmata Ahilya Devi Holkar, ruler of the state of Indore. She embellished the city with many buildings and public works, and it is home to her palace, as well as numerous temples, a fort, and riverfront ghats (broad stone steps which step down to the river).

We roamed around the beautiful temples by the banks of the Narmada. The sun was about half our away from setting upon us. The hue of this typical hour was wonderul. There were people all around, many of whom were taking a dip in the sacred river. I spent some time capturing the beauty of the grand structures and the fort all around, after which we walked back to the Rajwada of Maheshwar. This wasn’t really a palace like the one in Indore, but essentially was Rani Ahliyabai’s house in Maheshwar. The house (wada) reminded me of my maternal house in Panvel. A typical feature of India was repeated in the house. There was a board forbidding visitors from clicking pictures. I can never understand what joy do Indian authorities get by preventing tourists from clicking pictures, that too of a house which could be compared to my maternal house! On a lighter note, there was some important cricket match in progress and I overheard a few people discussing the score.

We moved back to the vehicle and drove back to Indore after a long day during which we covered Dhar, Mandu, and Maheshwar. After returning to Indore, Vicky and I departed for Ujjain at around 9 pm. We were welcome by his mother and grand mother and had some light dinner. We were so tired that we dozed off within an hour of reaching there. There next morning, I was to explore this famous religious city, which is one of the four places where the Hindu Kumbh Mela is held.

Ujjain is an ancient city of Malwa region in central India, on the eastern bank of the Shipra river, today part of the state of Madhya Pradesh. In ancient times the city was called Ujjayini. As mentioned in the Mahabharata epic, Ujjayini was the capital of the Avanti Kingdom, and has been the Prime Meridian for Hindu geographers since the 4th century BCE. Ujjain is one of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) of the Hindus, and the Kumbh Mela religious festival is held there every 12 years. It is also home to Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga, one of the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines to the god Shiva and is also the place where Lord Krishna got education with Balarama and Sudama from Maharshi Sandipani.

The earliest references to the city, as Ujjaini, are from the time of the Buddha, when it was the capital of the Avanti Kingdom. Since the 4th century B.C. the city has marked the first meridian of longitude in Hindu geography. It is also reputed to have been the residence of Ashoka (who subsequently became the emperor), when he was the viceroy of the western provinces of the Mauryan empire.

In the post-Mauryan period, the city was ruled by the Sungas and the Satavahanas consecutively. It was contested for a period between the Satavahanas and the Ror Sakas (devotees of Shakumbari), known as Western Satraps; however, following the end of the Satavahana dynasty, the city was retained by the Rors from the 2nd to the 4th century CE. Ujjain is mentioned as the city of Ozene in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, an antique Greek description of sea ports and trade centers in the western Indian Ocean. Following the enthroning of the Gupta dynasty, the city soon became an important seat in the annals of that empire. Ujjain is considered to be the traditional capital of King Chandragupta II, also known as Vikramaditya, at whose court the nine poets known as the navaratna (nine jewels) of Sanskrit literature are said to have flourished.

In the 6th and 7th centuries, Ujjain was a major centre of mathematical and astronomical research. The famous mathematicians who worked there included: Brahmagupta, whose book Brahmasphutasiddhanta was responsible for spreading the use of zero, negative numbers and the positional number system to Arabia and Cambodia; Varahamihira, who was the first to discover many trigonometric identities; and Bhaskaracharya, or Bhaskara II, whose book Lilavati broke new ground in many areas of mathematics.

Ujjain was invaded by the forces of the Delhi Sultanate led by Iltutmish in 1235, suffering widespread destruction and systematic desecration of temples. Under the Mughal emperor Akbar it became the capital of Malwa. During the last half of the 18th century Ujjain was the headquarters of the Maratha leader Scindia. The Scindias later established themselves at Gwalior, and Ujjain remained part of Gwalior state until Indian Independence in 1947. Gwalior state became a princely state of the British Raj after the Maratha defeat in the Third Anglo-Maratha War, and Gwalior, Ujjain, and the neighboring princely states were made a part of the Central India Agency. After Indian independence, the Scindia ruler of Gwalior acceded to the Indian Union, and Ujjain became part of the Madhya Bharat state. In 1956 Madhya Bharat was merged into the Madhya Pradesh state.

The next morning Vicky and I started off by first visiting two old palaces belonging to the Scindias on the outskirts of Ujjain. Both of them are in shambles, and reignite the debate whether historic places should be given to private entreprenurs for restoration and subsequent usage. After spending some time there and gaining some information about its history, we proceeded to the city and visited a few of the famous temples, which had long queues of devotees outside them. Most of the temples of Ujjain and other prominent Hindu sites have been destroyed by Muslim invaders and rulers in the past. Due to this reason, all of Ujjain’s temples are newish structures and not remniscent of a 1500 year old legacy. In the afternoon I boarded a bus which took me back to Indore. I spent the evening roaming around Indore and watched a movie at a cinema hall at night. The next morning, I boarded a flight for Bombay and was home by noon time. The trip was over, however I must mention a few other things here.

Most of the historical structures that I visited are in shambles, either due to no maintaince or due to encroachment. The one’s which still look fine are so because they are relatively new, and will probably have the same fate as the older ones. Some of them (like the Scindia palace in Ujjain) are completely abandoned, and I strongly believe that such places should be handed over to interested private parties so that at least they are restored, even if for a business purpose. The other most disturbing feature was the amount of filth in these places. Ujjain (Shipra river) and Maheshwar were the worst. I don’t know which God would reside in the temples of Ujjain, for I think God must have migrated to Canada long ago! It amazes me to see the extent of people’s faith, standing in serpentine queues for a meeting with God, who is supposed to be living in this cesspool! The other major scourge is that of plastic. All over India, there is hardly any mechanism to dispose plastic properly and there was tonnes of plastic waste choking every possible place. The only reasonably maintained place was Jahaz Mahal in Mandu. The public and goverment must do much more to preserve our history and culture. Some praise must be given to ASI who has at least published a good informational booklet on Mandu, but otherwise, very little accurate information is available either.

Hope you enjoyed reading this travelogue…you can view the accompanying picture album here.

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2 thoughts on “My Trip to Western Madhya Pradesh (4-7 March, 2011)

  1. WOW Aviram! Well written piece, as expected. If you are ever looking to switch careers, consider becoming a history teacher, you would be a great success. 🙂 The only thing that I felt was missing was your thoughts and opinions…they are always just as interesting as the history dictate in your blogs. 🙂 Oh, and visuals…where are the photo’s? Enjoyed this blog tremendously. 🙂

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