Mandu’s Water Heritage – An Epicurean Delight

Between the years 1469 and 1500 CE, Mandu was being ruled by Ghiyat Shah aka Ghiyasuddin Shah, son of Mohmmed Khalji, the founder of Khalji dynasty at Malwa. Ghiyat had spent his early years in fighting battles to augment his father’s struggle against rulers of Delhi Sultanate and Rana Kumbha of Mewar.

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According to Adil Shahi historian Ferishta, shortly after his accession, Ghiyat ‘gave a grand party, on which occasion, addressing his officers, he stated that he had during the last thirty-four years been employed constantly in the field, fighting under the banner of his illustrious father, he now has yielded the sword to his son, in order that he might himself enjoy ease the rest of his days.’ He accordingly established within his seraglio all the separate offices of a court and had at one time fifteen thousand women within his palace.’

These included teachers, musicians, dancers, embroiderers, women to read prayers, and persons of all professions and trade. 500 females Turks, dressed in men’s attire stood guard on his right, armed with bows and arrows, and on his left, similarly 500 Abyssinian women, also in uniform, stood guard armed with firearms. The book of pleasures, Nimat Nama, is attributed to Ghiyat and the recipes are still used as a standard for making samosas. The illustrated manuscript is a wonderful specimen of pre mughal miniature paintings in the country.

Jahaz Mahal, where Ghiyat indulged himself in hedonistic pleasures, is an icon of Mandu today. An elongated building measuring 110 m in length and 15 m in breadth, Jahaz Mahal is located in the royal enclosure on a narrow stretch of land between two water bodies, the Kapur Talav and Munj Talav. Appearing like a floating ship or a love boat, with pavilions on the top and three projecting balconies over the talav, Jahaz Mahal is a double storied structure rising to a height of 9.7 m. The Munj Talav, believed to have been built by Raja Munj of Parmar Dynasty is on the west and the Kapur Talav is on the east.

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The interior of Jahaz Mahal can be approached through a recessed arched marble gateway at the middle of the eastern wall. Inside the building there are three large halls connected by corridors. At the northern end of the ground floor, a couple of steps descend to a large tortoise shaped swimming pool. The pool is surrounded by a colonnade on three sides, leaving the eastern side open. The total capacity of this pool is approximately 30,000 litres of water.

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A flight of steps lead to the upper level from here leading to a lotus shaped water pool. On the southeast corner of the 7 feet deep pool is a spiral aqueduct, which controlled the flow of water while supplying to the pool. This ensured luxurious bathing for the sultan and his harem women similar to a modern jacuzzi.

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The water was collected from a baoli on the southern end of Jahaz Mahal, called Suraj Talav using the traditional water lifting system. Water was first lifted to terrace of Jahaz Mahal and then supplied through a series of aqueducts to the various pleasure pools.

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According to a report published in Down to Earth magazine, the Munj and Kapur talavs were once interconnected through an arched underground channel that exists even today. As the rainfall was not equally distributed and the terrain was undulating, the water level in the two tanks was not always equal despite the underground balancing system. So a causeway was laid down between the tanks at the water level ensuring equal distribution of water between the two talavs.

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Jahaz Mahal incorporates today’s concept of passive solar architecture (designing a building in conjunction with the earth processes around it so that heating and cooling occur naturally), besides the use of rain water harvesting and filtration system.  The complex, in fact was a big spa as it had all elements of luxurious water architecture – fountains, cisterns, baths, hammam, aqueducts, water channels and baolis.

Among the baolis, Champa Baoli draws immediate attention. It had been built as a pleasure pool for the women of zenana by Ghiyath’s architects. Located at the northeastern end of Munj Talav, as a part of a chain of subterranean aquifers, it was also used to supply water within the royal buildings, mainly to the hammam. It owes its name to the sweet water which smells like the fragrant champa flower. There are inner compartments in the lower storey of the well. A subterranean path goes down the well and connects itself with a labyrinth of vaulted rooms, known as Takhana, which are almost level with the water of Munj Talav. Even at the height of summer, the rooms of Takhana were cool and comfortable with gentle breeze flowing from the pavilion.

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Beside the Champa Baoli is a large royal hammam built in line with the Turkish baths. There are two separate water channels, one for hot and the other for cold water, which merge into one after some distance and flow into the bath. Today, pair of halls with vaulted ceilings is all that remains of the hammam. Its main façade was built of marble and adorned with panels and medallions of blue and yellow tiles, some of which bear inscriptions in Kufic script. The most impressive feature of this bath is its starry ceiling in which beautiful star like shapes are hewned for light to pass through. The star shaped light would fall on the waters making the hammam look dreamy.

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Source: India Water Portal

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Source: Wikipedia

To the north of Munj Talav and at the furthest end of the royal enclave is the Jal Mahal. Though most of tourists skip this, it is no doubt one of the most impressive parts of the royal complex where the sultan and his women celebrated the monsoon rains. A narrow passage connects the royal palace to the Jal Mahal. When the monsoons are copious, the Munj Talav is brimming with water presenting a wondrous sight. There is a large water tank in the middle of the courtyard, in which steps are provided to descend to the water level. Jal Mahal was a big favourite of Emperor Jehangir. Tuzuk I Jahangiri mentions: “I know of no other place that is as pleasant in climate and with such attractive scenery as Mandu in the rainy season”. Legends say that both Nur Jahan and Roopmati stayed here.

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Ujala Baoli, located on the main road to the northeast of Jahaz Mahal, is one of the finest baolis of the country. It is an open well and therefore called Ujala Baoli. It is a magnificent 3 tired structure, 265 feet deep and surrounded by arched niches. Inside the baoli, are a number of arcades and landing for the convenience of water carriers. At the northern tip is a water lift and opposite it on southern tip is a pavilion for royal guards to keep watch on the water.

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Andheri Baoli is a closed well and just a few feet away from Ujala Baoli. It is surrounded by a corridor with a dome in the center of its roof, just above the well. The dome has an aperture at its apex to admit light and air inside. Below, the corridors along the edge of the well is a fine arched gallery approached by a stepped passage from above, which further goes down up to the water level.

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The water heritage of Mandu is significant and beyond Ghiyath’s idea of fun and frolic. Mandu is perched upon a rocky spur of the Vindhyan range at an altitude of 634 m. It is separated from the main Malwa Plateau by a deep ravine KakraKoh, which runs on the eastern, northern and southern sides of the Mandu hills. The southern slope of Mandu has a 305 m incline and it merges into the Nimar Plain drained by the Narmada River.

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In spite of its picturesque setting that drew medieval powers to establish their capitals, the plateau often faced water crisis. Monsoon was the only source of water in Mandu and it was necessary to store the rain water for the rest of the year. According to a report published by India water portal, Mandu has 120 baolis and 18 lakes but only a few are functional.

While driving from Dhar to Mandu, I came across a small tank/baoli near a ravine. Rectangular in shape with stone alignments, it is one of the many such structures lying decadent on this vast stretch.

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Another water harvesting structure is at the Malcolm Kothi near Nalcha Village, an architectural delight that stands in the middle of a rich black soil field overlooking the Satpura Hills. Named after a British agent of Malwa who lived here in the 19th century, Malcolm Kothi,  was built much earlier in the 16th century by the Malwa Sultan, Nadirshah Khalji, outside the bustle of his capital Mandu as a pleasure retreat. It was later used as a rest house by Mughal Emperors Akbar and Jahangir during their Malwa campaigns.

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Built in east-west direction, the building is a fine example of Malwa architecture, a fusion of Rajput and Afghan styles. It has an attached tank and a baoli. The outer domes were once lavishly decorated with Persian blue tiles, of which only patches remain.

Most of the Mandu’s monuments are built alongside kunds (ponds), some bearing Hindu names. For example, Somvati Kund located within Darya Khan’s Tomb Complex on the main road to Rani Roopmati Palace. The tank is of rectangular shape with steps closely resembling a Hindu temple tank. Darya Khan was a minister in the court of Mahmud Khalji II.

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Near the Sagar Talav, the largest water body in Mandu, lies the massive domed structure of Adhar. It too faces a water body.

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While walking from the Hoshang Shah Tomb to Jahaz Mahal, there is another baoli on the road side. It seems to be part of the Jama Masjid – Hoshang Shah Tomb Complex.

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The last but not the least is the Rewa Kund at the southern end of Mandu plateau. The lake, which forms the main supply of water for Mandu revolves around the timeless romance between Rani Roopmati and Baz Bhadur. The Narmada flows in the valley below at a distance of 40 km. However, it is believed that the lake is connected to the river. The lake was built before the Sultanate rule and bears a Hindu name. Pilgrims on the Narmada Parikrama make a detour to this historic water body of Mandu.

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Source: India Water Portal

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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