Chanderi – A Complete Guide
First thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Chanderi is the exquisite Chanderi Sarees and Chanderi fabrics and the intricate motifs from this otherwise little known town of under 50,000 people. Chanderi was made a bit popular by Bollywood where it was featured in a couple of movies (Stree and Sui Dhaga). However, take it from us, Chanderi is much more beyond its silks. We bring you some of the top things to do in Chanderi, including , of course a visit to the factories.
Located just over 200 KM North of Bhopal, Chanderi, in Ashoknagar district, is on the border of the erstwhile Malwa and Bundelkhand kingdoms. Surrounded by the mountain ranges of Vindhyas, Chanderi is endowed with natural beauty and there are stories of gallantry and sacrifice and also a history that goes back to Mahabharata times.
Passing through the Kati Ghati, Chundeyrie burst into view like a picture from which a curtain has been drawn aside……Lt. Reginald Sterndale, British Army Officer, 1859
Brief history of Chanderi
There is evidence of prehistoric human inhabitation in the hills nearby by way of stone tools and rock paintings.
Traversing the timeline closer to vedic period, there are references in Mahabharata. Shishupala , also known as Chaid, was the king of Chaidnagar. This Chaidnagar is believed to be the same as Budhi (old ) Chanderi (बूढ़ी चंदेरी) which is 20KM away from the current Chanderi. It is in ruins now.
Coming even closer, Chanderi was the capital of King Kiriti Pal of the Pratihara Dynasty in the 11th century. It changed hands during successive waves of wars and eventually during Mughal period it was captured by Babur, only to lose it to Sher Shah Suri before it was captured by the Bundelas from Orchha , by the British and finally transferred back to the Scindias. During the reign of Akbar, the minister and chronicler Abul Fazl writes in Ain-i-Akbari that Chanderi is a flourishing city of 14,000 houses, 61 palaces, 384 markets, 1200 mosques and more than 300 caravanserais. (Inns for travellers. Nearest contemporary equivalent would be a motel 🙂 ).
Whew! Such a checkered and complicated history for such a small town! There are artifacts and constructions that are still extant to tell the tale and we will show you the must visit places of Chanderi, where you can find these.
Archaeological Museum Chanderi (चंदेरी पुरातत्व संग्रहालय)
Many of us (like me) may not be interested in museums as such, but this is one museum that’s not to be missed especially some of the rarest of artifacts and the stories that go with it. It was originally commissioned about 20 years ago in a palace and then moved to the current location , in the year 2007. It still looks as good as new and well maintained.
The museum is divided into 5 categories namely, history of Chanderi, Vaishnava, Shiva, Jainism, and Anandam gallery. It was interesting to know that many of the priceless artifacts were just strewn around villages or being used by villagers for their day-to-day work. Kalley Bhai, our guide , has also been instrumental in spending months together in the surrounding hills to excavate and bring them back to the museum.
There are sculptures dating back to as old as 10th century CE. One of my favorites is the big Varaha Avatar . Here it is in the animal form whereas in Udayagiri it was in man-boar form.
At the entrance there is a huge sculpture of Shiva as Pashupati (king of animals), some call it Shiva’s manifestation as Rudra. The interesting aspect of this sculpture is that every joint and every organ is made up of one or the other animal.
Kati Ghati (कटी घाटी) Gateway or Ganpati Gate (गणपति दरवाज़ा)
The Sultan of Malwa, Ghiyasuddin Shah, had once decided to visit Chanderi in the year 1490 CE. In order to make the passage easy, a path was excavated in the rocky hill. However there was a huge solid rock which could not be removed. It was then decided to cut the rock and create a gate which could be used in future too,
The then governor of Chanderi, Sher Khan, gave this work to his son Jiman Khan who in turn gave the job to an expert mason. On completion Jiman Khan inspected the arched gate and was quite happy initially but later asked the mason how the doors would be fitted as there was no provision made for the same.
The chief mason, apparently, committed suicide on hearing that he had made such a big blunder. His grave can also be seen near Kati Ghati gateway, which was named as Ganpati Darwaza. (Ganpati Gate).
Kati Ghati literally means “Cut valley” meaning valley cut through the rocks. This gate also formed an imaginary boundary between Malwa kingdom and Bundelkhand Kingdom. With Chanderi on the North of the gate which was the Bundelkhand region.
This monolith is about 25 metres high and 12 metres wide and has beautiful carvings. On the Northern side there is a narrow set of steps to reach the top of the gate for an aerial view of the region.
Badal Mahal Gate (Palace in the clouds) (बादल महल)
Just like Khajuraho is identified by its iconic temples, it would not be wrong to say that Badal Mahal gate is the symbol of Chanderi. This 15 metres tall and 7.5 metres wide iconic structure with its gardens were originally conceptualized to be a reception area to receive top ‘foreign’ dignitaries.
Built around 1450 CE by Malwa Sultan Mahmud Shah, this structure has two arches one above the other which in itself is quite unusual. The lattice work on the top part of the top arch is quite beautiful. The gate is inside the city walls and some say there was a palace called Badal Mahal others say it earned the name because it looks as if it is piercing the clouds.
This almost 600 years old structure and its well manicured lawn are very well maintained and certainly not to be missed. ASI has excavated a couple of underground structures. It is not very clear as to its purpose. Was it an underground getaway to escape the enemies? Or places to hide for a few days? Perhaps it is a step well?
Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque or Public Mosque)
Just a few metres from the main entrance of Badal Mahal complex lies Jama Masjid. It is said that the foundation of this Masjid was started in the middle of 13th century when Delhi Sultanate defeated the Pratihara king Chanha Deva. However the construction was carried out only 200 years later.
On entering I could see the usual courtyard with cloisters on 2 opposite sides with carved pillars. The main masjid had 3 discolored domes (I was told these domes were once white as it was made of marble), which is quite beautiful and made me marvel, considering it was built almost 600 years back.
What sets the Jama Masjid in Chanderi with all other mosques anywhere, is that this masjid does not have minars (minarets). I could not find any reason why. Do you know why?
Chanderi Fort called Kirti Durg (कीर्ति दुर्ग)
Kirtidurg in English means The Famous Fort. However in this case it may have been named after Raja Kirti Pal in the 11th century CE. This is located on top of the 200 metre high hill above Badal Mahal Gate. The fort is on the same hill as Kila Kothi and is prominently visible on the other side.
There is a circuitous road to reach the top of the hill. You may also go up the hill from Badal Mahal via a pathway that goes through a gate called Khooni Darwaza (bloody gate). It is said that some of the prisoners were thrown off the walls of the fort and then displayed on this gate, hence the name! Wow! No chance for appeal against the punishment. Well, those days were different.
Though not in excellent condition, there are bastions, palaces, tanks, step wells and other structures which offer nice photo opportunities.
Jauhar Memorial (Johar Smarak) (जौहर or जोहर स्मारक)
Chanderi fort was being held by Medini Rai or Medini Rao, who was once a minister in the court of Sultan of Malwa. He was also one of the staunchest allies of Rana Sanga of Mewar who together had won a few battles which helped both.
Babur, the first Mughal emperor, in a quest to expand his empire, came to annex Chanderi in 1528 CE (just 2 years after setting Mughal Empire in Delhi after defeating Ibrahim Lodi). He had just defeated Rana Sanga. Babur first offered a peace proposal to Medini Rai and offered Shamsabad in exchange of Chanderi. This was rejected by Medini Rai, who preferred to fight it out rather than accept this proposal.
However Medini was grossly outnumbered, and by evening Babur’s army had taken over control of outer walls and by morning of 28th January, 1528, the fort had fallen. To avoid Medini and his men and their family being taken prisoners and subjected to ignominy, he organized a jauhar, just outside the fort, in which over 600 women and children committed mass suicide by jumping into the fire. The soldiers then donned saffron clothes and applied ashes of the women folk on their forehead knowing fully well the result. The entire Chanderi army died fighting.
This was the Battle of Chanderi. Babur in his own words seemed to have commented that he did not expect Chanderi to fall in 24 hours and he couldn’t care less if the people had committed suicide. For Babur it was another victory to be celebrated with a tower of skulls.
I bet you all got goosebumps, just hearing this tragic story. I did. Especially when standing at the very place and imagining the story unfold in my mind’s eye!
A memorial was raised by Raja Jiwaji Rao Scindia, Maharaja of Gwalior and the grandfather of the Jyotiraditya Scindia, in 1932 for their sacrifice.
Sangeet Samrat Baiju Bawra Memorial (संगीत सम्राट बैजू बावरा स्मारक)
Another memorial which is quite important in its way which also belongs to the period of Akbar’s reign is that of Sangeet Samrat Baiju Bawra (Emperor of Music). He was the contemporary of Miya Tansen, one of the 9 gems in Akbar’s court. It is said Baiju Bawra spent his last days on this hill.
Baiju Nath Prasad was born in Champaner (Gujarat) and learnt music from Pandit Haridas in Vrindavan. He emerged as an exponent of Dhrupad genre of singing. After a failed love affair, he applied his heart totally to music and hence Bawra (crazy) was added to his name. There is another story which says that while in Vrindavan he had adopted a boy and when the boy grew up had a family of his own. Once when Baiju was away, his whole family went away to some far off place. Baiju would roam around the cities looking for them. So people thought he had lost his mind and called Bawra.
Whatever the story, he was so well versed in music that he once defeated Miya Tansen and legend says that he could make it rain by singing Raag Megh Malhar and light the lamps by singing raag Deepak. Remember the Hindi movie Baiju Bawra?
However, with all the fame during his time, he is hardly remembered much in history whereas Miyah Tansen has a top place as a musician. I guess knowing the people at top places help or alternately being close to people who write history helps.
Chanderi Handloom Park (Shopping time)! 🙂 (चंदेरी हथकरघा पार्क)
Chanderi Sarees need no introduction to Indians and people who love Indian weave. Chanderi fabric is made of Silk or cotton and is known for its weightlessness. It has a sheer luxurious feel to it. Although they use new looms, the technique used is age-old. It is said that Chanderi silk has been in existence since Lord Krishna’s times!
Even though weaving tradition has been in existence for several centuries, it was only in 13th Century CE the ‘brand’ Chanderi fabrics may have emerged. Since then has been the preferred fabric for the Royalty of this and surrounding Kingdoms. Chanderi silk is characterized by the unique way the motifs are hand-woven into the fabric and apart from being lightweight, having sheer transparency and gossamer like texture.
Mostly the weavers learn this skill at home itself from their fathers or grandfathers, and they from their fathers and so on! All of them used to have one or more looms in their homes itself. Since the time of Mughals weaving has been one of the foremost occupations of Chanderi people. As of now it is estimated that half of the families living in Chanderi are involved in weaving.
To improve the standards and provide better facilities for the weavers, Madhya Pradesh Government has set up a Handloom Park and hopes to move all the weavers of the town to this place.
There are several buildings at Chanderi handloom park, each with scores of workstations and weavers working their handloom to create textile magic! The idea is to provide the weavers a quality infrastructure to weave their products and also have retail shops in each of the buildings to sell their products. Currently, Chanderi Handloom Park has a capacity of 5000 looms. The handloom park was inaugurated in 2017.
The vision was to have a one-stop-shop for all the needs of the weavers, sellers, bulk buyers and retail buyers.
Other things to do in Chanderi
If you plan to stay a couple of more days then you may visit more places in Chanderi as follows.
- Koshak Mahal – A victory monument constructed by Sultan of Malwa.
- Shahzadi ka Roza – Tomb of an unknown princess built in 15th century.
- Raja Rani Mahal – Basically two palaces, one for the king and one for the queen.
- Jageshwari Mandir – The most revered temple of Chanderi.
- Parmeshwar Tal – Pratihara king had leprosy and was cured after taking bath in this pond.
- Lakshman Temple – The deity decides to stay here.
Useful Information and FAQ
Tidbits about Chanderi
- Other historical names of Chanderi are Chendaree, Chaidnagar, Chandragiri, Chaidgiri.
- King Kirtipal moved the capital to the current location because of an earthquake destroyed Budhi Chanderi (बूढ़ी चंदेरी).
Hindi terms explained
- Dhrupad – ध्रुपद – It is probably the oldest style of Hindustani classical singing and has enthralled audiences in king’s courts and temples. It is said to have similarities with the South Indian Carnatic Music.
- Budhi, Boodhi, Buddhi – बूढ़ी , बुड्ढी – Old woman
- Durg, Kila – दुर्ग , किला – Fort , Fortress
How to reach Chanderi?
By Air: There is no airport in Chanderi. The best options are Bhopal, Gwalior or Khajuraho. After reaching any of these airports, you can take a taxi to Chanderi or explore Train options. In terms of convenience and number of flights, Bhopal is the best.
By Train: Nearest Train Station is Lalitpur in UP, just 40 Km away, or Jhansi which is about 100 KM from Chanderi. Both Lalitpur and Jhansi are on main train routes with Jhansi being serviced by more trains.
By Road: Depending on the option you choose from above, the following are choices available to you.
- Lalitpur to Chanderi – 40 Km
- Jhansi to Chanderi – 104 Km
- Bhopal to Chanderi – 214 Km
- Gwalior to Chanderi – 215 Km
- Khajuraho to Chanderi – 230 Km
Would you like us to plan a multi-days customized itinerary in this region? We would be happy to do it for you.
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Best time to visit Chanderi
Chanderi is a 365 days destination. However Summers will feel hotter when you walk among rocks and stones. If you consider the weather then Winter and Spring is undeniably the best time to visit Chanderi.
Resorts and Hotels in Chanderi
There are not many hotels and resorts in Chanderi . The following are some of the better options.
Kila Kothi – MPTDC
Tana Bana – MPTDC
Hoterl Shri Kunj
Other Articles on Madhya Pradesh
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