Man Mandir in Gwalior Fort – A Shining Pearl in the Necklace among the Palaces of India

A folklore goes: More than one thousand and five hundred years ago a local ruler called Suraj Singh came on the top of a hill while chasing for a hunt, where Gwalior Fort is located now. He was thirsty. While searching for water he met a sage called Gwalipa performing penance. The sage took the arrow from the hunter king and shoot it against the ground. Sweet water came out. Suraj Singh was so pleased and when took bath in it he was cured out of a chronic disease. The grateful king wanted to know if he could do something in return. The sage advised to shift his capital to this sacred place and build a large tank so that others like him would be able to quench their thirst. The king did shift his capital and named it Gwalior after the name of the sage.

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From then on Gwalior had been ruled by Praitihar, Kachhawas, Tomar, Mughal, Maratha, and for a brief period, British.

The fort of Gwalior is one of the most grandeur and majestic forts in all of India. One does not know how many forts and palaces imitated its style and art, but for certainly one sees maximum influence in Fatehpur Sikri and Agra Fort.

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The most prominent landmark in Gwalior Fort is however Man Mandir, one of the finest Pre-Mughal Hindu Rajput palaces in the whole of India. Gwalior was strategically located on the trade and imperial routes in Northern India. Through Gwalior all trade and imperial expansion could be made possible into Malwa, Deccan and Gujarat. It was a great centre of cross-cultural flow of ideas, not only from the rest of India, but also from Persia and Central Asia.

When Man Singh Tomar took charge of Gwalior Fort in the 15th century CE, he successfully implemented all the artistic ideas that were prevalent in the region in his palace decoration. The first draw of the palace that shows Persian influence is its colourful tile work in its outer walls including a frieze of yellow ducks and mosaic of elephants, crocodiles and tigers in blue, yellow and green. The tiles that adorn the walls of both outside and inside of the palace had long been practiced in Persia before it was introduced in India through successive Muslim rulers. However, Man Singh gave a new meaning to the decoration of Persian tiles and his palace is the only one in India where Persian tile decoration had found an explicit Hindu character.

Man Singh Tomar was one of India’s most talented rulers and also artistically inclined. Man Mandir Palace is a blend of sculptures and music. At every nook and corner of this majestic palace you see sculptures beautifully crafted to soothe the mood of Dhrupad, which was invented here. Man Singh developed Dhrupad using Brajbhasa, the popular language for the lyrics of the composition.   In its beautiful courtyards the four court musicians, Baiju, Karam, Cherju and Bhanu would perform Dhrupad, one of the most difficult expressions in Hindustani music  for hours and the royal women would seat behind the beautifully crafted jaali screens both to learn and enjoy. Slowly it laid the foundation of Gwalior Gharana with a shift to Khayal gayaki.

 

Raja Man Singh Tomar also had composed three volumes of songs – 1. Vishnu Pada (songs in praise of Vishnu), 2. Dhruva Pada and 3. Hori and Dhamer songs associated with holi. He is also said to have caused the composition of comprehensive treatise on music in Hindi, Man-Kutuhal, which was later translated by Fakir Allah into Persian.

Today all that musical glory has gone, but the foundation laid by Man Singh Tomar later allowed Gwalior to establish it at the forefront of Hindustani music. Mian Tansen was also from Gwalior who was India’s most gifted singer and a navratna in Akbar’s court.

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