History of Bundelkhand
FORTS OF BUNDELKHAND
Bundelkhand is one of the oldest inhabited regions of India. There are numerous references to our ancestors of antiquity and mythology having lived in here. Lord Rama lived in Chitrakoot during his exile. Like where Pandavas of Mahabharat also lived here. There are lots of cave paintings (scratching in many places). There are any number of ancient temples castles – very very old (thousand years plus) statues of all Deities. Its also been centre of Buddhism & Jainism for over 2500 hundred years and Matter of fact Deogarh was a town near (Rajghat Dam) settled by sculptors of only Deity idols. The world famous Khajuraho temples date back to 10-11 centuries made by Kings of Chandel Dynasty which reuled Bundelkhand AD 831 to 1311. There were Bundela Dynasty branches ruling Orchha, Panna – Jaitpur, Datia etc. They made magnificent places, Lakes, Temples, Forts & castles.
Bundelkhand, in central India, is demarcated in the north by the river Yamuna, and extends southward towards the Narmada; the Sindh defines the western limits, and the river Tons, the eastern. A regional melting pot with a distinctive historical and cultural identity, Bundelkhand spreads over southern Uttar Pradesh and northern Madhya Pradesh. The rugged tract of country provided ideal sites for forts, with rocky outcrops and isolated hills rising abruptly from the plains.
The region was called Jajhauti – Chi-Chi – to for the Chinese – when Hiuen Tsang came to India in the seventh century. Some 400 years later, Alberuni, accompanying Mahmud of Ghazni, referred to Jajhauti and Khajuraho. Ibn Batutah, the fourteenth century traeller from Tangier in Morocco, also visited the region, including Khajuraho and Chanderi. According to Alexander Cunningham, the first head of the Indian Archaeological Survey, Jajhauti corresponded with Bundelkhand, as the region later came to be known.
THE EARLY RULERS
In pre-historical times, indigenous tribes inhabited the wooded tracts in Budelkhand. The earliest Aryans in these parts were the Chedis. Their kingdom Chedirashtra was among the principal domains in the sixth century BC. It appears that Chedibhukti – bbukti is the equivalent of province – became Jejakabhukti, or in its shorter version, Jajhauti. The region saw the rule of the Nandas, Mauryans, Sungas, Kushanas, Nagas and the Guptas.
Samudragupta was the dominant power in the fourth century AD. The Hun invasions towards the close of the fifth century hastened the Gupta decline. A relic of the late Gupta period in Bundelkhand is the Vishnu temple at Deogarh. Harshvardhana held part of the region in the first half of the seventh century, co-existing with other rulers at various levels of dependency. In the forest-clad low hills, the Gonds held sway. The Pratihara Rajputs were ascendant in the eighth century. They ruled from Kkannauj.
An influential dynasty, the Chandellas were once tributaries of the Pratiharas. During the ninth century, the Chandellas eclipsed their overlords in Bundelkhand: a mutually sapping struggle with the Deccan Rashtrakutas weakened the Pratiharas, enabling the Chandellas to break away and dominate the region for 300 years. The Chandella fall was precipitous, accelerated by a debilitating rivalry with Prithviraj Chauhan of Delhi. The final blow was the ransacking of the Chandella administrative capital Mahoba by Qutub-ud-din Aibak, founder of the Delhi Sultanate.
The Chandellas became a shadow of their former self, withdrawing into their strongholds at Kalinjar and Ajaigarh. Centuries later, a Chandella star appeared: Durgavati of Gondwana. Married into the Gonds, she was the daughter of the Chandella chief of Kalinjar, Kirat Singh. He was executed when the fort fell – even as the victor, sher shah sur, succumbed to his battle wounds. Some years after, Durgavati perished defending Gondwana against Akbar.
The Chandellas, it is surmised, were indigenous people. Legend links the Chandellas to the lunar race, the Chandravanshis. The first in line was Chandraverman, born of Hemavati, daughter of the Brahmin priest of the Raja of Kashi. According to legend, a smitten moon-god, Chandrama, embraced the beautiful Hemavati. She conceived and thus was born the Chandella dynasty.
Chandella ingenuity was strikingly demonostrated in the temples at Khajuraho and the irrigation systems built by the dynasty that helped to sustain large semi-arid areas. A millennium later, the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, borrowed a leaf from the Chandellas when he decided to dam the streams in the region to irrigate the poor soil.
The Bundelas Rajputs were Suryavanshis. Legend has it that a local Gaharwar Rajput chief did tireless penance to appease the goddess Vindhyavasini Devi at her abode on the Vindhyan range. The chief cut off his own head as an offering. A satisfied devi accorded the blessing that the drop or boond of blood – suggestive of ‘Boondela’ or ‘Bundela’ – falling on the sacrificial altar would yield great rulers. It is said also that ‘Vindhyela’ was the name given to the lineage, which over time was altered to ‘Bundela’.
There are accounts that the Bundelas branched off from the kannauj Pratihara dynasty. This offshoot had come in control of Kashi. The Bundela chief had three sons. The eldest, Hemkaran, was the ablest, but the other two brothers conspired to get him expelled from Kashi. Hemkaran propitiated the devi and settled near present-day Banda. His successors ruled from Mahoni for two centuries.
In the thirteenth century, the Bundelas had to contend with the Khangars, who ruled from Kundar. Vrindavan Lal Verma’s Garb Kundar is an account of the ebb and tide of this dynasty’s fortunes. The Khangars – former vassals of the Chandellas – were outwitted and wiped out by the Bundelas in what became a bloody culmination of a wedding ceremony. Kundar became the Bundela capital. The aftermath of Timur’s invasion, towards the end of the fourteenth century, allowed the Bundelas a freer run in the region.
Jhansi fort rises above the rock-ctrewn plains, a monument to the indomitable spirit of Rani Lakshmi Bai. Dead leaves rustle on the mottled stone, grey or glowing according to the time of the day. The wind sighs softly. The silent graves on the fort’s desrted terraces yield themselves to the elements, oblivious to the bustle of the town below.
The Raja of Jhansi was Gangadhar Rao. His wife had died and he was childless. In 1842, the Raja married Manikarnika, the daughter of Moropant Tambe, a retainer of Chimanji Appa, the exiled Peshwa Baji Rao II’s brother. The girl was given a new name, Lakshmi Bai. Her father, also a widower, was persuaded to settle down in Jhansi. The Raja got Moropant married again to a woman called Chimnabai.
When Lakshmi Bai’s newborn son died in 1851, the need arose to identify a successor to Gangadhar Rao. The British, as the paramount power, were ratifying successions and pertinent family adoptions under Governor-General Lord Dalhousie’s (1848-56)Doctrine of Lapse – essentially, an instrument of annexation. Gangadhar Rao, before his death in 1853, adopted a son named Damodar Rao, to circumvent the British from taking over Jhansi for want of a successor. But, it was to no avail.
Dalhousie’s view was that the Jhansi chief had not been a ruler; he was only the Peshwa’s subehdar, or administrative head of a province. With the Peshwa extinguished, his possessions in Bundelkhand, including Jhansi, would have to lapse into British India. Soon, the tumult of 1857 would bring the fort at Jhansi to the centre stage.
Across the sparkling Betwa and the sun-drenched green of the dhak forests, the lofty Orchha fortress-palaces and temples silhouette the skyline. Every curve and contour of the magnificent edifices at Orchha displays the headlines of its rulers who combined the best of Rajpur and Mughal tyles.
Orchha was a picturesque spot. When Bundela ruler Rudra Pratap (1501-31) changed upon is during a hunt, he decided to shift his capital from Kundar to Orchha. The new location for the capital was also safer. Rudra Pratap had held well against the Lodi Sultans, but with the Mughals having gained entry, Bundelkhand was vulnerable. However, before he could actually make the move, Rudra Pratap died in an attempt to save a cow from a tiger. It was left to Rudra Pratap’s sons, Bharati Chand (1531-54) and Mudhukar Shah (1554-92), to fulfil their father’s vision for Orchha.
Soon after their shift, the Mughal emperor Akbar (1556-1605), after annexing Gwalior, turned to Bundelkhand. The Orchha forces proved to be too strong initially. The terrain was difficult, thick with jungle and without open pathways. The Mughals had to fortify their campaign and put into battle a coalition including the Kachhwahas of Narwar. Madhukar Shah lost a son, Haural Dev, and the Bundelas were finally forced to capitulate to the Mughal general, Sadiq Khan. However, a stubborn Madhukar Shah refused to bow down before his conqueror.
Madhukar’s obduracy manifested when he wore a huge vermilion foot-shaped tilak in the form of God’s charan in Akbar’s presence, disregarding the code on headmarks such as these prevalent in the Mughal court. However, the emperor could not bring himself to chastise the Orchha king for what came to be known as the ‘Madhukar Shahi Tilak’. The Bundela chief also ignored Akbar’s call to accompany the Mughal campaign in the Deccan, and did not make the customary courtesy visit when the emperor’s son Murad was appointed Malwa’s governor. Undeviating till his last days, Madhukar Shah died aged eighty in the Narwar forests, while retreating from an engagement with the imperial troops.
Orchha went into a decline after Madhukar’s son Ram Shah (1592-1605) succeeded. The ruler was unable to cope with the ambitions of collaterals and open rebellious activity by a number of brothers, including Bir Singh. A son, Sangram Shah, was killed in Erich trying to capture Bir Singh, then a fugitive from Akbar. When Jehangir succeeded (1605-27), he deposed Ram Shah and gave the throne of Orchha to Bir Singh.
Atiara of cupolas and chhatries rowns the gigantic fortress-palace of Datia. Rising from the bedrock, the citadel towers over a lake, embodying in its resplendence, the freewheeling spirit of the builder, Bir Singh.
The uniformity and symmetry of Mughal-style architecture is combined with Hindu form, ornamental designs and motifs. Captain Sleeman, during a visit in 1835, was enraptured by the beauty of Datia.
‘The noble works in palaces and temples, which you see around you, Sir, maundering in ruins, were built by princes who had beaten emperors in battle, and whose spirits still hover over and protect the place…., when hostile forces …. Threatened .. spirits of men like Bir Singh Deo and Hardaul Lala .. had come to our aid.’
The Datia fortress-palace is believed to have been financed largely from the treasure that Bir Singh looted from Abul Fazl after killing him on the request of Jehangir when he was a prince. Bir Singh’s loyalty towards his patron Jeehangir never wavered. In 1625, when the emperor was seized by Mahabat Khan on his way to Kabul, prompt aid was forthcoming from Bir Singh. He sent Bhagwan Rao, one of his twelve sons, to the emperor’s aid.
Bir Singh carved out a Jagir, Palera, for Bhagwan Rao. However,family strife saw Bhagwan Rao shut out of Palera by the sons of his younger wife when he returned fro an expedition. Bir Singh intervened. He bestowed Datia on Bhagwan Rao to nip any escalation of bad blood.
Bhagwan Rao further cemented his relationship with the Mughals when the Pathan nobleman Khan Jehan Lodi, Governor of the Deccan, rebelled against the recently ascended Shahjehan. Lodi supported Dawar Baksh – son of the new emperor’s late half-brother Prince Khusro – a rival contender to the imperial throne. Bhagwan Rao joined the Mughal army to fight the rebel. The Bundela chief lost a brother, Nahar Singh, in battle. After the rebels were subdued, Bhagwan Rao became part of the Mughal campaign in Bijapur
James Todd, the British political agent in Rajputana wrote:
‘ From the period of Akbar the Boondelas bore a distinguished part in all the grand conflicts, to the very close of the monarchy: not among all the brave chiefs of Rajasthan, did any perform more gallant or faithful service than the Boondela chieftains of Orcha and Duttea. Bhagwan commanded the advanced guard of the army of Shahjehan. His son, soopkurna, was Aurangzebe’s most distinguished leader in the Dekhan.’
The fort of Talbehat is on an elevation commanding a lake. Tal means ‘lake’ and bihat, ‘village’ in the language of the Gonds, earlier chieftains of this tract. The Gonds were hardy agriculturists: their water-embankments are still in use.
In the eighth century, power shifted from the Gonds to the Pratihara Rajputs and then, during the ninth century, to the Chandellas. Talbehat became a prominent settlement, a fact testified by the three Chandella temple in the fort’s vicinity, one dedicated to Mahadeva and two to Vishnu. With the decline of the Chandellas, the Gonds reinstated their hold in the area.
Later, talbehat became a Bundela stronghold. Jehangir’s asent in Delhi marked the replacement of Ram Shah at Orchha by his brother and the emperor’s favourite, Bir Singh. Ram Shah was assigned a prosperous Jagir (1608-12), where he laid the foundation of Talbehat fort.
The site of the fort was Narsinghpuri, referred to as such because of the temple of Narsingh, which came to be included within the fort precincts. Ram Shah’s grandson Bharat Shah (1612-30) completed the fort in 1618. He helped the Mughals crush a revolt by Godarai, the kiledar of Chanderi fort. In turn, the emperor attached Chanderi to Bharat Shah’s possessions.
Devi Singh (1630-63), son of Bharat Shah, was resolute in strengthening ties with the Mughals and was able to acquire substantial revenue-yielding lands. His interests were helped by the rebellion of Orchha’s Jujhar Singh against the Mughals. Shahjehan needed and ally to restore his writ in the additional responsibility (1634-36) of administering Orchha.
Simultaneously, Devi Singh refurbished Talbehat fort. He strengthened the roughly hewn stone wall with earthwork and scarps. The main fortifications, from north to south, quite intact till today, comprise a mile-long thick wall on a low hill overlooking the town. Some frescoes survive close to the Narshigh temple.
The principal defence on the north was provided by a large lake of about 500 acres, which continues to irrigate the cultivation nearby. According to legend, a serve drought had occurred in the area. Brahmins fasted and did penance, followed by a human sacrifice. This culminated in water sprouting from the earth, resulting in this lake. Alongside, towards the south of the fort, is a Chandella embankment of large stone blocks and a dense wooded area.
The khangars were ferocious warriors. Merciless in their treatment of the vanquished, they accumulated cultivable lands and wealth. Khub Singh built a chain of small forresses. His successor was Hurmat Singh, who furthered the dominance of the Khangars by playing off the Rajput Jagirdars against each other.
It was a slight to the Bundela chief, Sohanpal, which caused Hurmat Singh’s downfall. The Bundela governed his fief at Mahoni under the overlordship of the Khangars. Sohanpal sought help from Hurmat Singh against some kinsmen who had usurped Mahoni. The Khangar laughed off the Bundela’s request. Sohanpal used all manner of entreaties, but to no avail.
Bundela servitude to the Khangars had always irked, but the final blow came when, having ignored his entreaties for assistance, Hurmat Singh sought the hand of Sohanpal’s daughter for his son Nagadeva. Hurmat was keen to advance his standing in the social hierarchy by marrying into the Bundelas. The proposal enraged Sohanpal, but prudence prevailed. The Bundela accepted the proposal and agree to the Khangar ceremonies, including the festivities at the groom’s place. The celebrations grew raucous with wine flowing freely in Dundar fort. The Khangars did not recognize Sohanpal’s soldiers, disguised as retainers, creeping in from the shaows under the colourful festoons. What followed has been immortalized in Vrindavan Lal Verma’s Garb Kundar. At night, as the revelers, inebriated with drugged wine, groped around iin the fort, Sohanpal’s men, sword in hand, struck. The Khangars and their chief fell where they stood.