Known for its rich cultural heritage, the city of Gwalior has played an integral role in Indian history from ancient times, through the medieval era, and later during the Moghul and British colonial rule. Historically, the city has been the cradle of a number of dynasties that ruled it over the years. Their influence is clearly seen in the many regal structures that dominate the cityscape. In a sense, Gwalior continues to retain a medieval majesty.
The other attraction of visitor in Gwalior is Jai Vilas Palace, built for the Scindia royal family by Colonel Sir Michael Filose in late 19th century. Still the residence of the former Scindia rulers, part of the palace has been turned into a museum. The most significant room is Durbar Hall. Hanging from its ceiling are the two of the world’s largest chandeliers, 13m (43-ft) high and weighing 3 tonnes each.
North of the fort is the Gwalior’s old town, which has interesting Islamic monuments – the 16th century Tomb of Mohammed Ghuas, a mogul nobleman, which has outstanding stone latticework screens; and the Tom of Tansen, the most famous singer who was one of the ‘nine jewels’ of the Mughal emperor Akbar’s court.
Miracle behind the name
Once upon a time, a king named Suraj Sen went out hunting. Outpacing his entourage, he rode through a forest within a gorge and up onto the sun-hammered top of an enormous rock, which thrust 100 metres above the plain.
The hard ride had made the king very thirsty. He spotted a hermit sitting on a rock, and asked him for water. The sage Gwalipa struck a rock and a cool, clear spring gushed out! The king first quenched his thirst, and then bathed in the small pool that had collected below the miraculous fountain. To his great joy, he emerged cured of a long-standing skin disease! Out of gratitude, the king asked the sage how he could repay him. The sage told him to enlarge the spring and build a tank to impound the curative waters. The sage also asked the king to build a wall on the hill to protect the other sages from wild animals, which often disturbed their rituals. The king later built a palace inside the fort, which was named "Gwalior" after the sage, and eventually the city that grew around the fort took the same name.
The legend of Tansen
The great singer, Tansen, belonged to the Gwalior school of music. He was one of the nine jewels of the court of Mughal emperor Akbar. It’s said that Tansen’s voice was so magical that when his enemy wanted to kill him he convinced the emperor to ask Tansen to sing a raga that would cause all oil lamps to ignite spontaneously. On the emperor’s request Tansen sang that melodic sequence and the wicks burst into flame. But the power of the raga made his body burn with a terrible fever that no doctor could cure.
Tansen’s beloved then sang a raga that caused a cloud to burst, abating Tansen’s raging fever. Today, Tansen’s tomb is found within the Gwalior fort complex. It is a simple pavilion of white marble. On one side of the pavilion is a tamarind tree. Chewing its leaves is supposed to improve one’s voice!
If there is one thing you can’t escape in Gwalior, it’s the fort. Perched high on a rocky massif, the imposing fort with its blue tiled palace is visible from each and every corner of the city of Gwalior.
The fort is spread over 3 kms of 100m sandstone and basalt hill. Its bastioned walls enclose three temples, six palaces and a number of water tanks. Regarded as North and Central India’s most impregnable fortress, the Gwalior Fort was built between 1486 and 1516by Raja Man Singh of the Tomar dynasty. In the five hundred years since then, the Gwalior Fort has changed hands many times- it has been held by the Tomars, Mughals, Marathas and British, who finally handed it over to the Scindias. This double-storeyed palace is regarded as one of the finest examples of the Rajput secular architecture, embellished with the superb store carving and latticework.
Among the Gwalior Fort’s most prominent palaces is the amazingly ornate Man Singh Palace, built by Man Singh towards the end of the 15th century. This is an impressive structure that clings to the very edge of the fort, its façade embellished with blue ceramic tiles. The palace of Raja Man Singh forms the backdrop for an excellent ‘son-et-lumiere’ (sound and light) show held here every evening. It is amongst the best in the country and vividly recreates an era and brings to life the history of the Fort and the love story of Raja Man Singh and his Queen Mrignayani.
Within the fort also lies the Scindia School, a famous residential school for boys established by the erstwhile Maharaja of Gwalior over one hundred years ago.
The Gujri Mahal is a 15th century palace built by Raja Man Singh for his beloved Gujar (tribal) Queen, Mrignayani. It is now an archaeological museum with an impressive collection of exhibits some dating back to the 1st century AD.
Of the temples in the Gwalior Fort, the most famous are the Teli-ka-Mandir- a 9th century shrine towering to a height of over 100 ft. It is built in a unique blend of South Indian architecture with North Indian decorative motifs and is notable for its profusely sculpted exterior.
On the eastern side of the fort are the twin Saas-Bahu Temples, commonly believed to be dedicated to mother-in-law and daughter-in-law but, in fact, dedicated to ‘Sahasrabahu’, ‘the thousand-armed’ Lord Vishnu. Both these temples made for a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are richly embellished examples of 11th century temple architecture. The Chaturbhuj Mandir, a Vaishnavite shrine dating back to the 9th century also lies in the fort.
Other palaces within the Gwalior Fort which are worth seeing include the Karan Palace, the Jahangir Mahal, and the Shahjahan Mahal.
The Mughal emperor Babar referred to the Gwalior Fort as 'the pearl amongst fortresses in India' and although you may beg to differ, you will probably agree that this, the dominating feature of Gwalior’s skyline, is definitely a citadel worth seeing.
Jai Vilas Palace
The Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior is the current residence of the royal Maratha family, the Scindias. An Italian structure by design, the palace combines the Tuscan and Corinthian styles of architecture, and is surrounded by well laid out lawns. Of all the rooms, about 35 have been converted into the Scindia Museum. The palace was built in the year 1809 by Maharaja Jiyaji Rao Scindia, and was designed by Lt. Col. Sir Michael Filose. The interiors of the rooms are overflowing with royal splendour, with the main durbar hall being particularly impressive, invoking memories of the glorious past.
Of the many treasures housed in Jai Vilas Mahal, the ones of note include a glass cradle from Italy used for Lord Krishna on each Janmashtami, a silver train with glass wagons which serves guests as it moved around the table on miniature rails; silver dinner services and swords once worn by Emperors Aurangzeb and Shah Jahan. Also present are personal mementoes of past members of the Scindia family, such as the jewelled slippers that belonged to Chinkoo Rani, four-poster beds, gifts from various countries of the world, hunting trophies and portraits.
Itis the most visited place in Gwalior. Situated in the Jai Vilas Palace, the museum was established by a private trust in the year 1964 and 35 rooms of the palace were converted into the Museum.
Scindia Museum is well known for its rich collection of manuscripts, miniature paintings, weapons, sculptures, coins, bronze and many other things. The museum contains important documents which belong to the Scindia family of Gwalior. The Museum also boasts of variety of articles from across the world. A crystal staircase would further lead the visitors to the Darbar Hall of the palace. The arched ceiling of the wall carries two of the world’s largest and most significant chandeliers with gold leaf work. These chandeliers weigh over three tons and hold 248 candles each. The chandeliers are gilded with 56 kilograms of gold. Also spread in the Darbar Hall is the largest carpet of Asia made at Gwalior prison. The museum has Belgium cut glass and crystal furniture. One can also find Rolls Royce on rails and German Bubble Car on display at the Scindia Museum.
There is also a life sized statue of Lida playing with swan exhibited at the palace. The most enchanting thing at the museum is a famous model train that circulates brandy, dry fruit and cigar around the table after the dinner. Visit Scindia Museum and witness the best collections of the world.
Bateshwar temples are a group of about 200 temples spread over twenty five acres and built across sloping hills near the village of Padavali. The temples dedicated to Shiv and Vishnu were built in 8th to 10th century AD possibly during the dynasty of Kannauj based Gurjar-Pratihars (6th to 11th century AD). The Pratihars considered themselves Suryavanshis who were descendents of Lakshman.
At the gate a paved trail takes you to the complex. As you walk up the trail to the ruined Gopur Dwar you see the swarm of gleaming temples looking ethereal in the morning sun. Though you have seen the photos but the physical sight leaves you pleasantly surprised and buoyant.
The temples spread out from the western hill slope on the left to the right. You have not seen so many temples packed together. Aihole in Karnataka has about 125 temples but they are spread out geographically in groups. Here it is a veritable bumper to bumper traffic jam of temples. It is as if on-the spot temple making contest was conducted over a weekend and every artisan worth his chisel participated. Just like at Aihole there are the earlier period temples with flat roofs while the later temples have curvilinear shikhars. Most of the temples have sanctum sanctorums with shivlings. Outside walls have some relief.
Closer look reveal that the temples carvings have little defacement or disfigurement. It is a wonder how they remained unscathed when they lay almost bang in the middle of way taken by marching armies for centuries. It is possible that owing to the hill and the vegetation the temples just disappeared from common sight during the medieval period. Also, the temples are built in a seemingly bowl shaped valley surrounded by hills. Early photos do show trees emerging through the structures. And then an earthquake might have brought the whole complex down. So you see lot of breakage but largely no intentional vandalism or plunder which you have seen at other places.
Some temples look pristine while others lie in ruins. It is only when you detect numbers written on different architectural members of the temples that you realise they have been restored. The tell-tale signs are all around – thousands of temple stone members strewn around. There are pillars, friezes and amalakas, all awaiting their turn to transform back into temples.
About 100 temples have been restored so far. Work continues on some bigger temples. Tip toeing around the ruins gives a fair idea of what has been achieved and the degree of difficulty encountered.
Few km from Bateshwar, you see the outlines of towering bastions of a fortress. This is Garhi Padawali. The entrance is guarded by a pair of lion and lioness. On both sides bastions rise to intimidate you. A steep flight of steps take you to the entrance of a temple. You only see the mukhamandap but fail to see the mandap or the sanctum sanctorum. In their place you see broken stone members spread in the courtyard. Walls rise all around the temple. The temple probably dedicated to Lord Shiv is believed to be built during 8th to 10th century. During this time the nearby area was populated and came to be known as Padawali or ‘surrounded by hills’.
Apparently, this small structure built on a high platform is an extensive profusion of carvings. It is the most ornate structure you have ever seen in a Hindu temple. Every inch of stone is densely carved in eye popping 3D detail. Above the pillars, on the lintels and beams are carved scenes from Ramayan, Mahabharat and Purans. The trinity of Brahm, Vishnu and Shiv are depicted during their childhood, youth and old days. Even more carvings depict Krishna Leela, Samudra Manthan, wedding of Ganesh, Shiv dancing in Pret form, incarnations of Lord Vishnu and innumerable gods and goddesses. To top it all there are erotic images a-la Khajuraho.
Again the structure does not look vandalized so it is possible that the same earthquake that demolished the Bateshwar Temples, brought down this temple also. The eastern wall of the courtyard has two storied modern cells that have been screened off which house cannon balls and other possible military paraphernalia. On the southern corner there is deep well like baoli.
You can only imagine what the temple would have looked like if the remaining structures had survived. The irony is that most of the structural members are still present in the same premises. The hitch is that the Jat Ranas rulers of Gohad in 19th century had the superlative idea of building the fortress around the temple.
It an unusual temple standing on an isolated hill as being one of the striking historical monuments hidden away in the stony ravines of Morena. The temple is formed by a circular wall with 64 chambers and an open mandapa in the centre, separated by a courtyard, which is circular in shape, where Lord Shiva is deified. The temple is located on a hill which is about 100 feet (30 m) in height and there are 100 steps to climb leading to the entrance of the temple. It is among only a handful of such circular temples in India.
According to an inscription dated to 1323 AD (Vikram Samvat 1383), the temple was built by Maharaja Devapala in 8th century. It is said that the temple was the venue of providing education in astrology and mathematics based on the transit of the Sun.
The temple, better known as the ‘Ekateshwara Temple’ of Mitaoli village had a design described as being similar to that of the Indian Parliament and could possibly have served as inspiration to Herbert Baker who designed the latter building. Though it is well-known that Baker and Lutyens had traveled through India to understand Indian architecture while planning the new capital at Delhi. It is when you step inside that you realise that it could be true. Unlike the Parliament House that has pillars on the outer verandah, the Mitaoli Temple has pillars around the outer circumambulatory path that opens into the central courtyard. There are sixty four mini temples or niches each housing a shivling. The central courtyard is ringed with the main shrine again circular in shape and housing a large shivling.
Within the main central shrine there are slab coverings which have perforations in them to drain rainwater to a large underground storage. The pipe lines from the roof lead the rain water to the storage are also visible.
The temple is in the Seismic Zone III. The design of the temple has withstood earthquake shocks, without any damage to its circular structural features, in the past several centuries.
Some additional research has revealed that the temples of Bateshwar, Padawali and Mitawali were part of an extensive temple building exercise during the rule of Kachchhapaghatas. Kachchhapaghatas who ruled from Gwalior rose to prominence in central India during the last decade of tenth century and were believed to be vassals of Gurjar-Pratihars and later Chandellas. Along with these temples, they built temples at Kadwaha, Surawaya, Mahua, Terahi (all in Shivpuri district of MP). The pretty Saas-Bahu temple at Gwalior Fort is attributed to them too.
Best time to visit
July – March