Post 52 – Day 29 ‘The Tomb of the Wet-Nurse, and other stories’

Post 52d (2) Post 52d (3) Post 52d (4) Post 52d (5)

Before breakfast I make a closer inspection of the adjacent eco-park. It proves a lonely and sad vision of neglect and public disinterest, the lake’s waters half empty, the visitor infrastructure in dire need of upkeep, and items of refuse a distraction from what was a good idea. Both park and lake needed a kindly guardian.

After breakfast I check out of my overnight lodgings and revisit the complex of 15th and 16th Century ruins that had drawn me the previous evening. This time my driver-guide accompanies. He is ever-watchful and obviously concerned with matters of my security. A small sign informs that the ruins include Darya Khan’s Tomb, the Lal Sarai and Hathi Mahal, Malik Mughithi’s mosque, the Dar Ki Chhoti Bahen Ka Mahal, and the Dai Ka Mahal; the word ‘mahal’ indicating a mansion but in reality a mausoleum. I’m evidently in the quiet end of town for the ruins are otherwise totally without visitors, the site’s abandoned parklands and gardens reduced to a barren yet comforting treed openness, the once grand streets and stately concourses now just dusty tracks of mostly naked earth; yet the whole complex cleverly situated so as to give outlook onto a woodland and shallow valley vista beyond. It is not at all like home, but it is too much like being home.

The few village dwellings at hand are silent, and only a single person greets me, a man who has troubled himself at this early hour to rise from his everyday labours so as to unlock the gate that gives entry to the vast caravan-sarai located opposite Malik Mughith’s mosque. I offer him payment in thanks for his consideration, for he had voluntarily facilitated my investigation of the building without expectation of reward. A sign says the caravan-sarai was built in 1437 CE. This 15th Century structure encloses a large open courtyard surrounded by halls, and rooms in which merchants could rest and their animals quartered and fed. The mosque was built during the same period. Malik Mughil was appointed minister by Sultan Hushang Shah Ghuri (1406-1435 CE) in recognition of his meritorious service. The splendour of the building suggested the sultan’s minister did not waste his position or privilege. The main entrance retains beautiful examples of Islamic calligraphy and vestiges of bright turquoise coloured tiles on its stonework. Entry inside is made via a raised and projecting platform that provides passage to an internal courtyard bounded by colonnades, the western colonnade being surmounted by three small domes; these being approached by a single stone-paved walkway. Like other buildings in the first phase of Muslim construction in Malwa, the architects of the mosque utilised material taken from earlier Hindu structures. But no sense of the vibrancy of prior occupancy remained for me, the sounds of the pacing of feet, and the spoken words of intimacy and command that echoed here long ago, gone. Images of home were starting to tug at my mind, and I was becoming a little weary through its absence. It was the trap set between the exoticism of travel and the tyranny of ordinary hours.

The emptiness about played on my sentiment. People cried here, in this now hollow place of vanished lives and lost dreams. Crying, it is said, is like cleaning your eyes, like windows, from the inside; the passing thought of which brings me by a short walk to the Hathi Mahal, the ‘Elephant Palace’. This was originally a pleasure resort, gaining its common name because of the massive pillars that support its dome. Later it became a tomb. Not too far away is the Dai Ki Chhoti Bahen Ka Mahal, literally ‘the-mansion-of-the-younger-sister-of-the-wet-nurse’, traces of blue tiles still in evidence on the mansion’s large dome. But it also came to serve as a tomb, for the younger sister, of whoever the particular wet nurse was, is buried there. And close to this mausoleum is the Dai Ka Mahal, another mansion of death, but this may have once also served as a house for servants. Built on the east bank of Sagar Talao Lake the Dai Ka Mahal also dates from the 15-16th Centuries, the ‘Golden Age’ of the sultans of Malwa. It has a vaulted ceiling that carries the echo of my voice rather well, and traces of towers at its south-east and north-east corners are to be seen. There are also strong Hindu elements in its architecture, particularly the balustrades and elephant tusk brackets that support them, as well as the long neck of the central dome.

Who were all these people, and if the younger sister of the wet nurse could be afforded such a grand sepulchre in what silent tomb rests the wet nurse herself?


I have managed to leave my driver by the car, and though he is far off his stance visibly projects impatience. I am hostage to a timetable, and my meandering exploration of these sleeping places of dead women detracts from its proper keeping. I return at a pace, and pass by a boab tree growing alongside a small field and a solitary dwelling. Someone has placed a great quantity of what looks like dry sorghum or corn stubble high in its branches, there out of reach of livestock.

A short drive distant I later find myself gazing out onto fields and lightly treed hills. I stand within the Rupmati Pavilion, another building dating to the golden years of Malwa. It is a high vantage point built as a military post, a small functional component of a larger compound that I take to be part fort, part palace and part mosque. It is also the setting of a tragic love story.

Rupmati, also called Rani Roopmati, was a Hindu singer of Malwa. The Sultan of Malwa, Baz Bahadur fell in love with her, their story having shades of that of Krishna and Radha but without the happy ending of Jayadeva’s tale of divine romance. Baz Bahadur was the last independent ruler of Mandu, and was fond of music. When out hunting he encountered Rupmati, a shepherdess, dancing and singing with her friends. Her voice and beauty enchanted him, and Baz Bahadur asked Rupmati to accompany him to his capital. I have no reason to believe that Baz Bahadur’s intensions were anything but honourable. Rupmati agreed to the proposition on the condition that she would be able to live in sight of her beloved Narmada River; thus the utility of the pavilion, for from its commanding heights Rupmati could look towards the distant river.

In 1561 Adham Khan, enticed by word of Rupmati’s beauty, invaded Malwa. He was a general of the Mughal Empire and in the ensuing battle of Sarangpur the army of Baz Bahadur, much inferior in strength, was defeated. Adham Khan captured all the wealth, elephants, and the harem of the defeated ruler, massacring the prisoners as well as their families. To avoid capture Rupmati killed herself by consuming poison. It was the year in which Mary Queen of Scots returned to assume the throne of Scotland after spending 13 years in France, a year just 3 years into the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth the First.

Rupmati is the subject of many love poems. In 1599 twenty six of these were collected in a larger work compiled by Ahmad-ul-Umri Turkoman. His original manuscript was copied and this passed through the hands of many owners. In 1926 an English translation by L. M. Crump was published under the title ‘The Lady of the Lotus: Rupmati, Queen of Mandu. A Strange Tale of Faithfulness’. In 1959 the Bollywood black and white film classic ‘Rani Rupmati’, an homage starring Bharat Bhushan and Nirupa Roy, was screened.

Other matters beckon and in the market place at Mandu I engage in street trade. I purchase a good many fine bananas from a lady who has no English but has a friend that does. He translates the price and the lady counts out the bananas. I say “good enough will do”, but she is exacting in her precision of the count and her meticulous choice of only fruit of the best quality. Elsewhere I find a seller of bright mandarins, and a merchant who is a vendor of bottled water and potato crisps. Though directed towards a place where dried sultanas can be purchased, my exploration in search of them is a failure. Resting under the shade of a tree I watch several young men strip a broken metal leaf from the rear suspension spring of a car, weld it together, and replace it back into position. The car’s rear is jacked upon old house bricks, the tools are of the most meagre collection, the welding apparatus a bit battered about its edges, the job fast and efficient, the work joyous between friends. I take hurried photographs of a small train of camels that pass, each one tethered in line to the next. A young woman, dressed in clothes of orange, cycles by, inclining her head in subtle recognition. She is the first Westerner, if I recall correctly, that I have seen in days.

We begin the descent down from Mandu, on route towards the city of Ujjain. I realise I will never see this place again. It will be a memory. My last thoughts of Mandu are of Rupmati and Baz Bahadur entwined in Time to a Bollywood dance routine atop the walls of the mahal of the younger sister of the wet nurse, their roles played by Kareena Kapoor and Shahrakh Khan, the music a contemporary piece of Mumbai street beat.

It is worth a tear, and for the first hour of the day’s new journey, I am lost in the thought of it.


Post 52d (1)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s