A bustling small town, Chanderi is most famous for its eponymous saris and you will see huge shops around the town stocking them. The town’s tradition of weaving dates back to 18th century, and today, more than 3000 families – over half of the town’s population – make their living from the looms. But there is lot more to Chanderi than its famous saris. In fact it has such a rich history and boasts so many architectural gems, that one might well wonder why it has fallen off the tourist map. It wasn’t always so. In medieval times Chanderi was fiercely fought over by conquerors for its imposing fort, strategically situated on the trade routes that connect North India to South, and to the ports on the west coast.
Sitting atop a 200m hill, Chanderi fort has a commanding presense. It measures 2 kms in length and over a kilometer across. Originally built by Raja Kirti Pal in the 11th century, it is called Kirtidurg in his honour. All subsequent rulers who conqured Chanderi left their mark on it. The only structure that remain within the fort today are the ruins of a palace of Bundelas and a Khilji mosque with exquisitely carved mirhabs.
Chanderi’s most defining monument is the Badal Mahal Gate. IT is a tall, slim, elaborate arch built entirely of stone and set against the striking backdrop of the fort. Built by Sultan Mahmud Shah Khilji in 1450, it was meant to serve as a welcome gate for visiting dignitaries. The gateway rises to an impressive height of over 15m and is 7.5m in width most of which is occupied with massive tapering turrets flanking it.
A few minutes walk from Badal Mahal takes one to another monument, marked by the most beautiful jaali or perforated stone screens. This houses the tombs of the family or disciples of the great Sufi saint Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya.
The three-domed Jama Masjid built by Ghiyassuddin Balban of Delhi in 1251 is another example of exquisite carving and craftsmanship, and stands to this day as a reminder of this town’s unsurpassed architectural heritage. It is large enough to hold over 1,500 people, making it one of the largest mosques in the state. The foundation of this mosque was laid to commemorate the conquest of Chanderi after defeating Chanha Deva, the regaining Pratihara king.
On the outskirts of Chanderi is the impressive 15th century Koshak Mahal. It looks like a vast roofless cathedral. Set in landscaped gardens, the stunning edifice rises few floors high. Entirely built of the white local sandstone, Koshak Mahal is a remarkable feat of engineering of the 15th century.
Chanderi saris, woven in subtle, pleasant colours, with a rich gold border, are the most popular. The traditional bootis, or motifs, of the saris include lotuses and peacocks. It is said that when this incomparable cloth was first woven, the only color used was an extraction from the much-prized saffron herb. The delicacy of the weave and the ratio of silk to cotton are the factors that decide the worth of the sari. Nowadays, you can also find scarves, salwar kameez (ladies shirt and trouser) and mens’ jackets made with Chanderi cloth. You can watch weavers at work in Chanderi but you need a local contact to arrange a visit to weaver’s workshop.
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