Do monuments tell stories? Or is it simply that people who have stories buried deep down their souls can hear them like a symphony when they are in the presence of these monuments?
Whatever be the case, one must agree that not all the monuments echo the same story.
If Mandu has one, it is of sanguine love that had enough time and space to find a life of its own. Love that was realized. Love that could mature and find its manifestation.
And it has all the necessary ingredients: heights of mountains, mirrors of lakes, glory of vast structures, beauty of architecture, eternity of love story, common thread of music, and the historical lineage running several centuries back.
They say that Baz Bahadur was an ardent hunter. Once when he was on his hunting trip, he heard captivating music sung by a woman in the middle of vast wilderness – and that is how he found Roopmati, singing the praise of her revered river Narmada.
It took me right back into the times of Kadambari, the first Sanskrit novel by Banabhatt. In the novel, beautiful Mahashweta was found just like that by Chandrapeed who was out hunting. Kadambari spans three life-times of its characters.
I decide to contemplate before- and after-life later and begin to savor the symbols of love in one life of Roopmati-Baz Bahadur. For those short of time, the trip doesn’t permit leisurely roaming the town and randomly picking the sites. the first one to see is Reva Kund, made at the orders of Baz Bahadur, get water from Narmada. Roopmati was a great devotee of Narmada and she didn’t eat until she had first offered her prayers and done the Darshan of the river each day. She agreed to come to Mandu at the condition that her ritual continue unbroken, and Baz Bahadur delivered it.
Gentle slope takes one up the hill at the foot of which stands the palace of Baz Bahadur. For a moment you might lead yourself to believe that you were on your walk in Rome, because of the broad line-up of steps, the arches and the sharp angles of the walls that still stand. What will bring you back to Mandu are the Mughal shapes of Spade-like upper points of the arches. And you join Baz Bahadur once again.
Why does one seek out the era bygone? Why does one allow the charm of music to work like witchcraft? Why would a glance at ruins actually convey to one’s mind the image ‘as-if’ the ruin was in its prime time? I have no idea.
One oddity of Mandu is its multitude of Baobab trees. I didn’t see any once I left Mandu, and our guide attributed it to one of the rulers of Mandu who introduced the tree there. According to him, Baobab is known as ‘Khorasani Imli” [lit. Tamarind from Khorasan].
But the trees look young compared to some of their African cousins. So I am not sure. I get distracted by its fruit, and chew on the powdery white, tangy flesh around the seeds.
One more element that Mandu is in love with is water. Palaces have numerous ponds and pools inside. These green gardens, enchanting Chhatris, and the water inside the palaces… this must have been the Mughals’ inspiration as they shaped Delhi.
… and then, here is the place where the mid-wives lived, with a hospital nearby. Messengers of high-placed people came on horses and shouted from this point. The call would be echoed, and there was no way the Dai could miss it. The story has it that the messenger would shout the address and the Dai would reach there – to deliver the bundle of joy.
The place has enchanting arches lined up in a constantly unfolding arches. One would lose the count of such series..
And there is sombre Nageshwar temple. You have to climb down the slope to come to the shrine. The Shiv-ling is located at a basement-level depth and a small spring sprinkles water all around it. I had no heart to take pictures there. You just feel at peace and chant whatever shlokas you remember. A tiny blade of tulsi comes up in a bed lined by stone.
Before I realise it, it is late afternoon, and there is so much to savor. I forget photography and just drink all of it in. I promise myself one more visit – may be two days net.. and hurry back.