Friday, 29 May 2015

Love Boat of Mandu - Jahaz Mahal

First look at Jahaz Mahal and you are convinced that the steps you see on the eastern facade are a later addition on a preexisting ramp or cascade. The ramp probably was a medieval water slide from which Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji (different from the Khilji dynasty that ruled Delhi) along with his reported fifteen thousand harem inmates splashed down into the Kapur Talao below. Mandu was the laboratory where Sultans first devised their water sports. The Mughals probably usurped the water sports and brought them to their palaces in Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, and Delhi. 

When summers get scorching, we head to the nearest water park, while the Malwa Sultans headed to Mandu. The Jahaz Mahal complex was Mandu Sultan's Waterworld. Every conceivable water architectural feature can be found here - fountains, cisterns, baths, hammams, aqueducts, water channels and baolis (step wells). It seems the buildings here were just incidental.

Mandu - The Ship Like Jahaz Mahal
As you enter the ticketed complex, two big water tanks can be seen on either side. On the left is the Munj Talao and on the right is the Kapur Talao or Camphor Tank. Munj Talao is possibly named after the Parmar King Munj, a contemporary of Raja Bhoj. And, it is here that you see the most invigorating and refreshing building in a town that is dotted with largely sombre monuments. The two-storeyed Jahaz Mahal looks like a berthed luxury cruise ship about to sail into the seas. With pavilions on the top, three projecting balconies over the talao and open terraces, this truly was the Love Boat. Aboard, there were all kinds of amenities to make this pleasure ride a truly memorable one. 

A Terrace-top bath on Jahaj Mahal with Kapur Talao in the background
The complex is one big spa and the royalty was spoilt for choice. If not in mood to swim in Kapur Talao, the Sultan could just soak himself on the terrace-top bath on the Jahaz Mahal while a couple of consorts worked up an aromatic lather, and all this while the Sultan would take in the delightful expanse of water of the artificial tanks on both sides. Beautifully designed water channels brought water from the water-lift. Below on the lower level there is another larger cistern with landing creatively designed to resemble a mini baoli. 

A Cistern on the lower level of Jahaz Mahal

On the top, Jahaz Mahal has pavilions on all four sides. After his bath or swim, the Sultan would sit under one of the pavilions as the consorts dried him with silk towels and helped him into silk robes, while others sang and played music for him. Wine would flow, as cool breeze soothed the Sultan after a long hot day. It is believed that Ghiyas himself did not drink. Peace reigned during his long years at the helm. He had one thousand female guards - five hundred Turkish females in men’s clothes would stand on the right and five hundred Abyssinian females would stand on the left - all uniformed, armed and dangerous. As evening darkened, lighted lamps would be let adrift on the water. Floating lamps, wafting music and heady wine would all combine to create a magical evening.

The Dark and Cool Labyrinth of Champa Baoli
Don’t worry, there were cool options for the hot afternoons also. Next to the Hindola Mahal, among the ruins of the palaces is the Champa Baoli, probably named for its sweet water that smells like the flowers of Champak Tree. Here, there are underground passages and vaulted rooms. To you it seemed like a bhoolbhulaiya where you had a hard time getting out while trying to not hit your head on the low ceiling. A passage leads to the base of the baoli which you could not find and is perhaps restricted. The royalty would descend here into the tehkhana during the hot languorous afternoons.

The Star like Slits on the roof of Hammam Dome - Mandu
This is not all. The architects really knew how to please their masters. Walking further into the ruined palace area beyond the baoli brings you to the most fascinating and creative architectural feature of the complex. This is the Hammam or hot bath. The domed roof has slits and holes cut in the shape of stars. The hammam was probably made use of during cold monsoon evenings or when the Sultan was in a romantic mood. On a moonlit night, the star shaped patterns would fall below giving the notion of a celestial bath among the stars and moon. Now this is definitely creative and romantic!

Munj Talao with Jahaj Mahal in background - View from Jal Mahal
Beyond the Jahaz Mahal on the western fringe of Munj Talao is the Jal Mahal. On the lower level again there are cisterns built for leisure. Climbing up you are greeted by Munj Talao stretching into the east with the ship like Jahaz Mahal rising on the horizon.

Kapur Talao - View from the Pavilion on top of Jahaj Mahal
The construction of the Jahaz Mahal and other related bathing paraphernalia is accredited to Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji (1469-1500) and probably his son Nasir-ud-din Khilji (1500-1510). As per medieval tradition, the impatient son duly poisoned his aging father and ascended the throne. Some accounts say Nasir-ud-din once survived drowning in a reservoir while intoxicated but soon died unhappy while others say he did drown. It is apparent that the father-son duo loved their baths. Jahangir, later in his memoirs noted his abhorrence for Nasir’s actions in killing his father. Jahangir had his grave dug and bones thrown into Narmada. To probably pre-empt any such eventuality in his own case, Jahangir went medieval on his own son Khusrau and blinded him. The games Sultans and Emperors play!

While going through Yazdani’s book on Mandu, your assumption is proved right. Emperor Jahangir added the steps on top of a cascade in Jahaz Mahal. The water from top would cascade down through the channels into Kapur Talao. In the company of Nur Jahan, the sweetness of air and pleasantness of verdant surroundings drove Jahangir ecstatic. During monsoons when the two talaos are filled to the brim and misty rain descends in waves over the talao, the setting of Jahaz Mahal becomes joyously exhilarating. The Jahaz Palace is a cruise that you don’t want to miss. You know this time you will come back in the rains.


Getting There: The nearest railway station is Indore, at a distance of 65 kms from Mandu. Private buses ply between Indore and Mandu regularly but a private vehicle is the best option for sightseeing. Best time to visit is during the monsoons; when the water bodies get filled up, bringing Jahaz Mahal alive, like a ship about to set sail on calm waters. 

The post also appears in Youth for Heritage Foundation emagazine -http://issuu.com/delhiheritage/docs/yfhf-april2015

Related Mandu links on this Blog:
Malcum Kothi at Nalcha Mandu
Mandav - A Walk in Ancient Mandu

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