Magical Bundi – Painted Palaces

THE rivalry between the twin cities of Bundi and Kota dates back
to ancient times. As one moves from Bundi to Kota, the feeling that
Bundi is suffering from a kind of inferiority complex becomes stronger.
Bundi is older and more picturesque than Kota, its offspring, but it seems
to have been overawed by the modern industrial glitter of the latter.
It tries to make the most of its greater historic ramifications,
but simultaneously nurses an ambition of emulating Kota’s modernity
and its fast-expanding industrial pace (that includes a nuclear plume).
Many placards that we came across on the roadside, loudly proclaimed:
“Historic city of Bundi striding to be the city of industries.”
The Chambal divides the two Hara kingdoms created by the
descendants of the Chauhans of Ajmer who bore the brunt of the
Islamic crusades of the late 7th century.

During the 14th century, the Meena tribals lived in Bando-nal, the present site of Bundi. Every full moon of the second month, a rider would come from across the Chambal and take the tribute back to his castle. One day, Hara Rao Deva came to the rescue of the tribe and the next time when the moon shone in its full glory, the rider crossed the Chambal but found no tribute hanging on the ruined wall. He was furious and shouted: “Who has dared to steal my things?” Then a ferocious encounter ensued between Rao Deva and Kheechi Rao Gango. Driven, the rider of the moon disappeared into the flooded Chambal and gained the other bank. Deva was amazed: “Valorous man. Let us be friends. From now onwards, Chambal will be our boundary.”

Soon afterwards, the tribals acknowledged Deva to be their king and he established his capital there. The narrow defile was crudely filled on the two opening sides with gates and sandbags, and wherein the tribals had erected their homes in disorder, was now properly fortified and given a certain order of township. Thus Bundi came into being. Owing to the occupation of Chittaur by Allauddin Khilji, this area had become practically independent of its original overlords of Mewar and so the Hara territory prospered independently.

As the Meena tribals outnumbered the Hara, Deva consolidated his authority by destroying the tribals with the assistance of his kinsmen of Bambaoda. There are many pretty romantic anecdotes in the history of Bundi. We know how the king of Mewar reasserted his authority in vain by conquering an artificial replica of the Bundi fort. Many of the kings are reported to have been opium-addicts, but remained chivalrous. One of them mauled, with his nails, his lady-love but expressed sorrow in the morning. He claimed it was the opium, not he, that had committed the deed. One story narrates how the brothers-in-law killed each other during a hunting expedition because of instigated suspicions. We also know how a Bundi prince, along with 500 warriors was blown off while defending a breach of the Chittaur fort against Bahadurshah of Gujarat. Though the Hara occasionally served the Mughal kings like Akbar, Jahangir and Aurangzeb (at the famous siege of Daulatabad), yet they protected their self-respect by picking up their arms when a Mughal king ordered them to shave off their moustaches to participate in the royal gloom.

We are also told of the saga of Rao Umed. How he grew up among the Bhil tribals and how his famous steed Hunja, with trans-Oxian blood, died. Umed gave vent to his vengeance by killing every member of the family of his enemy. This was followed by remorse, abdication of the throne and renunciation.

There are many monuments and places that keep alive these historic moments. Even now, the town snuggling within the cleft carries a medieval flavour. Now usually dry and odorous, Naval Sagar has the temple of Varun, where the apes have established their abodes. At one time, it must have reflected the 14th century Taragarh fort (fashioned after a star) that overlooks it.

Ki Baori (1700 A.D., built by Rani Nathawatiji) with elegant bracketed toran door-ways. Further ahead, one can devote much time discovering many quaint motifs on the walls of the 64-pillared chhatri, built by Dhaibhai Devji at the end of the 17th century. There are the amicable giant chained dogs well set to lick the face of the gently apprehensive chain-holder who tilts his body to escape the dog’s imminent affection. One can also find here the cows feeding their claves, the Persian merchants with pointed beard, an armed mermaid and a camel with Dhola-Maru (I seldom found camels depicted elsewhere in the region, though I had expected their over-abundance.)

A drive outside the town takes one to Sukh Niwas with Jait Sagar, with statues that had inspired Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, and then to Sar Bagh – the place of royal cenotaphs with cream-coloured marble friezes. One can also see the nearby Shikhar Burj, where Rao Umed Singh stayed after the abdication of his throne. Though the friezes still retain the mellow glow that emanates from the fine elephant-dominated work, the Burj does not strike as anything connected with an old royal hunting lodge.

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