Standing on a steep mass of sandstone, Gwalior Fort dominates the city and is its most magnificent monument.travel Updated: Feb 03, 2010 13:40 IST
Steeped in the splendour of its past, the ancient capital of Gwalior has yet made a successful transition into a modern Indian city, vibrant and bustling. A multitude of reigning dynasties, of the great Rajput clans of the Pratiharas, Kacchwahas and Tomars have left indelible etchings of their rule in this city of palaces, temples and monuments. Gwalior's tradition as a royal capital continued until the formation of present day India, with the Scindias having their dynastic seat here. The magnificent mementoes of a glorious past have been preserved with care, giving Gwalior an appeal unique and timeless.
This, then, is Gwalior : where a rich cultural tradition has been interwoven into the fabric of modern life. Where a princely past lives on in great palaces and their museums. Where a multitude of images merge and mix to present to the visitor a city of enduring greatness.
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Gwalior's history is traced back to a fascinating legend: in 8AD, a chieftain called Suraj Sen was stricken by a deadly disease. He was cured by a hermit saint, Gwalipa, and in gratitude, founded a city which he named after the saint who had given him the gift of a new life. The new city of Gwalior became, over the centuries, the cradle of great dynasties and with each, the city gained new dimensions from the warrior-kings, poets, musicians and saints who
contributed to making it a capital renowned throughout the country.
The entire city is a visual and aesthetic feast, for the builders of Gwalior were great architects.
Take a walk through the streets of the city and you will discover old havelis with exquisitely carved doorways and windows; at almost every street crossing you will find statues of the Scindia family. Museumes and art galleries are treasure houses and beautifully maintained palaces give the city its inimitable regal flavour. Sightseeing in Gwalior is a magical trip
into the centuries gone by.
Standing on a steep mass of sandstone, Gwalior Fort dominates the city and is its most magnificent monument. It has been a scene of momentous events : imprisonments, battles and jauhars. A steep road winds upwards to the Fort, flanked by statues of Jain tirthankaras, carved into the rock face. The magnificent outer walls of the Fort still stand, two miles in length and 35 feet high, bearing witness to its reputation for being one of the most invincible
forts of India. This imposing structure inspired Emperor Babar to describe it "the pearl amongst the fortresses of Hind."
Within the fort are some marvels of medieval architecture. The 15th century Gujari Mahal is a monument to the love of Raja Mansingh Tomar for his Gujar queen, Mrignayani. After he had wooed and won her, so the story goes, Mrignayani demanded that he build her a separate palace with a constant water supply from the River Rai, via an aqueduct. The outer structure of the Gujari Mahal has survived in an almost total state of preservation; the interior has been
converted into an Archaeological Museum.
Also built by Raja Mansingh is the Man Mandir Palace, built between 1486 and 1517. The tiles that once adorned its exterior have not survived, but at the entrance, traces of these still remain. There is a charming frieze here of ducks paddling in turquoise waters. Within, the palace rooms stand bare, stripped of their former glory, mute testimony to the passing of the centuries. Vast chambers with fine stone screens were once the music halls, and behind these screens, the royal ladies would learn music from the great masters of the day. Below, circular dungeons once housed the state prisoners of the Mughals. The Emperor Aurangzeb had his brother, Murad, imprisoned, and later executed, here. Close by is Jauhar Pond, where in the Rajput tradition, the 'ranis' committed mass 'sati' after their consorts had been defeated in battle. Though the major portions of the Fort were built in the 15th century, references to this gigantic complex can be traced back to 425 AD. Older than the city is the Suraj Kund within the Fort walls, the original pond where Suraj Sen, or Suraj Pal as he was later known, was cured by the Saint Gwalipa.
Teli ka Mandir
The Teli ka Mandir is a 9th century edifice, towering at 100 ft high. This is a Pratihara Vishnu temple of a unique blending of architectural styles. The shape of the roof is distinctively Dravidian, while the decorative embellishments have the typically Indo-Aryan characteristics of Northern India.
Also dedicated to Vishnu is the graceful little Sas-Bahu-ka-Mandir, built in 11th century. Another landmark is the historic Gurudwara Data Bandhi Chhod built in the memory of Guru Hargobind Sahib, the 6th Sikh Guru who was imprisoned here by Jehangir for over two years. At the time of his release, he wanted 52 Hindu kings who were his fellow prisoners, released with him. Jehangir was very impressed with the Guru and agreed to his condition. And, finally, within the Fort complex, housed in the erstwhile barracks of the British soldires, is Gwalior's unique gift to modern India : Scindia School. Acknowledged as one of the finest schools in India, it is only fitting that the country's young citizens receive the best educational grounding surrounded by monuments to a past which is a constant inspiration.
Jai Vilas Palace
A splendour of a different kind exists in the Jai Vilas Palace, current residence of the Scindia family. Some 35 rooms have been made into the Scindia Museum, and in these rooms, so evocative of a regal lifestyle, the past comes alive. Jai Vilas is an Italianate structure which combines the Tuscan and Corinthian architectural modes. The imposing Darbar Hall has two central chandeliers, weighing a couple of tonnes, and hung only after ten elephants had
tested the strength of the roof. Ceilings picked out in gilt, heavy draperies and tapestries, fine Persian carpets, and antique furniture from France and Italy are features of these spacious rooms.
Eyecatching treasures include : a silver train with cut-glass wagons which served guests as it chugged around on miniature rails on the tables; a glass cradle from Italy used for the baby Krishna each Janamashtami; silver dinner services and swords that were once worn by Aurangzeb and Shah Jehan.
There are, besides, personal momentoes of the past members of the Scindia family: the jewelled slippers that belonged to Chinkoo Rani, four-poster beds, gifts from practically every country in the world, hunting trophies and portraits. The Scindia Museum offers an unparalleled glimpse into the rich culture and lifestyle of princely India. Open everyday except Monday from 10 am to 5 pm. Entry fees are Rs. 20/- for Indian and Rs. 100/- for foreign visitors.
The father of Hindustani classical music, the great Tansen, one of the 'nine Jewels' of Akbar's court, lies buried in Gwalior. The memorial to this great musician has a pristine simplicity about it, and is built in the early Mughal architectural style. More than a monument, the Tansen's Tomb is part of Gwalior's living cultural heritage; it is the venue of a music festival on a national scale held annually in November-December. Leading musicians of the country gather here to give performances during the festival.
More opulent than Tansen's Tomb, is the sandstone mausoleum of the Afghan prince, Ghous Mohammed, also designed on early Mughal lines. Particularly, exquisite are the screens which use the pierced stone technique, as delicate as lace.
The earliest freedom fighters, Tatya Tope and the indomitable Rani of Jhansi, are commemorated in memorials in Gwalior. There are cenotaphs at major public crossings, memorials to Scindia kings and queens. Throughout the city, there are