( Kushak Mahal Chanderi )

Kushak Mahal ChanderiFor most Indians, Bundelkhand is synonymous with the events of 1857 as well as heroic figures such as the Rani of Jhansi. But Bundelkhand also has a rich and colourful history, which goes back by a thousand years or more before the 1857 Mutiny. It is this history that comes alive on the pages of this book, as the authors take the readers on a magical journey through Bundelkhand and the many forts that dot the place.

Rita and Vijai Sharma’s narrative— based on both history and folklore — explores the myths and legends that lie hidden in the ramparts of these ancient forts. The authors have covered 15 forts of Bundelkhand — from Jhansi to Kalinjar — bringing to light the rugged, but haunting, beauty of an ancient landscape and its structures. Significantly, Bundelkhand’s forts have not really attracted the attention of historians, whether in India or abroad. How else can one explain the authors’ claim that their work is the first comprehensive account of the forts in Bundelkhand? Apart from tourists and the occasional visitor, it seems that not many have shown an interest in Bundelkhand’s treasures.

When Hiuen Tsang visited India in the seventh century, the Bundelkhand region was known as Chi-Chi-to. Four hundred years later, Alberuni, who came to India along with Mahmud of Ghazni, referred to it as Jajhauti. Ibn Batuta was also a visitor here in the 14th century. There were others who came after him; notably Father Monserrate and William Finch.

Bundelkhand also played an important role in shaping medieval Indian history. It was at the fort of Kalinjar that Sher Shah Suri breathed his last in 1545. Had Sher Shah lived for a few more years, the Mughals would have found it difficult to return to India. Then, there are the famed temples, some of which are styled in the Deogarh and Bundela school of architecture, such as the ones in Orchha and Datia. These have gone on to inspire Lutyens’s Delhi.

Bundelkhand has also left its imprint on the realm of India’s culture and arts. There are the bardic tales of Alha and Udal, along with the stories of Praveen Rai who, according to legend, is said to have spurned Emperor Jahangir. Vrindavan Lal Varma, writing about the lost Khangar dynasty, captures Bundelkhands enchanting spirit in Garh Kundar. Those interested in the days of the raj could also go through the works of Sleeman and Hugh Rose. The atmosphere in Bundelkhand’s forts has shades of the supernatural as well. Some claim that the sound of anklets can still be heard, after darkness has settled in amidst these old walls.

The Forts of Bundelkhand is an “intermediate” kind of book. It is not quite a historical tome, that delves, waist-deep, into the details about dynasties and dates. It cannot be considered a coffee-table book either. The authors’ lucid prose succeeds in capturing the essence of history and culture that is etched on these buildings made of stone.

There is also a touch of poetry in the text, evident from the use of beautiful phrases such as “hillocks round-shouldered with age”. But the real strength of the book lies in its photographs. These images have preserved the splendor and solitude of these magnificent monuments for posterity.

Courtesy : The Telegraph