It is believed that the word Mandu is a Prakrit corruption of Mandapa-Durgo. In the inscriptions of the Paramara kings starting from Jayavarman II, Mandapa-Durgo is mentioned as the fort city for royal residence. Founded as a fortress retreat by Raja Bhoj in the 10th century, Mandu was conquered by Alauddin Khilji, the then Muslim Sultan of Delhi in 1305. However, after a century, whenTimur captured Delhi in 1401, the Afghan Dilawar Khan, governor of Malwa, took the opportunity and established the Ghuri dynasty in the state. That was the beginning of Mandu’s golden age. Dilawar Khan’s son, Hoshang Shah, shifted his capital from Dhar to Mandu, which is a hilly area with a better defensive option. He raised Mandu to its greatest splendour. Later, Mohammed Khilji established the Khilji dynasty of Malwa (1436-1531) and went on to rule for the next 33 years. His son Ghiyas-ud-din succeeded him in 1469 and ruled for the next 31 years. He was devoted himself to music and women and built the Jahaz Mahal for housing the women of his harem. In 1534 Mandu came under Humayun’s rule. Ultimately Humayun lost it to Mallu Khan, an officer of the Khilji dynasty. Ten more years of feuds and invasions followed and in the end Baz Bahadur emerged on the top. Baz Bahadur was not at all interested about wars and army, he was passionately devoted to arts, music and women. Till today, he is well known for his romantic liaison with Rani Roopmati. Subsequently, he was defeated by Akbar’s army, led by Adham Khan and Pir Muhammad Khan in the battle of Sarangpur on 29 March 1561. It is said that, one of the main reasons for Adham Khan’s attack was his fiery desire for Rani Roopmati. But his desire was not fulfilled. On hearing the news of defeat, Rani Roopmati poisoned herself to death, while Baz Bahadur fled to Khandesh. It is interesting to note that, though Akbar added Mandu to the Mughal Empire, it kept a considerable degree of independent identity, until conquered by the Marathas in 1732 by Peshwa Baji Rao I.
Today, Mandu or Mandavgad is just a ruined fort city in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh in India, which proudly exhibits an excellent fusion of Hindu and Muslim architecture. The fort is spread over an area of 82 km and is considered to be one of the biggest forts in India. It was a walled city with battlements, punctuated by twelve massive gates or darwazas. The wall encloses a large number of palaces, mosques, Jain temples of the 14th century and other exquisite buildings, which are broadly categorized into three Groups – Central or Village, Royal Enclave and Rewa Kund group.
The Central or the Village group mainly includes Jama Masjid, Asrafi Mahal, Hoshang Shah’s Tomb and the Jain temples.
The huge structure of Jami Masjid of Mandu, probably built in the year 1454, is a great example of Afghani style of architecture. Its design is said to have been inspired from the original artworks of Omayyed Mosque of Damascus. The center of the mosque is dominated by a huge dome, while many other small domes graced the intervening side spaces. Asrafi Mahal, the palace of gold coins, was built by Mohammed Shah Khilji. Facing the Jami Masjid, it was primarily conceived as an academic institution, with a large central courtyard lined on four sides with cells. Subsequently it was converted to a palace. Constructed in 1435, Hoshang Shah’s Tomb is a marble edifice, which is a stark contrast with the other brown structures in the area. It is said that, Hoshang Shah’s Tomb is the first marble structure of the country and it inspired Emperor Shah Jehan while he was toying with the idea of constructing the Taj Mahal in Agra. There is also a huge complex of Jain temples in the Central group. The Jain temples have idols of Thirthankaras, made of gold, silver and marble. The eyes of some of the idols are adorned with shining jade eyes. Apart from that, there is a Jain museum, along with a Theme Park, at the rear of the complex.
The main structures of the Royal Enclave group are Jahaz Mahal, Hindola Mahal, Champa Baodi, and Taveli Mahal.
Jahaz Mahal or the Ship Palace, one of the most fantastic structures of Mandu, was built in the 15th Century by Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din-Khilj. As previously mentioned, it served as a harem for the sultan. This marvelous building was constructed between two lakes, Munj Talao and Kapur Talao, which gives the impression that the palace is floating like a ship. It is a two storeyed structure with entrance from the east, where the main entrance has a recessed arch and is flanked on each side by six arched openings. It is further protected by a continuous overhanging cornice having the support of stone brackets. There are three huge halls inside the palace, separated by corridors, having small rooms at the end. Northern end of the terrace leads to a bath with broad steps. Hindola Mahal or the Swing Palace with its sloping side walls was probably constructed during the latter part of the reign of Ghiyas al-Din. The palace has lost its roof long back and is almost ruined. Champa Baodi is an interesting structure at the entrance of the Mandu Royal Palace. The step well (Baodi) was used as a retreat during the scorching summer. Taveli Mahal is a simple three storeyed building, once served as a guard house, along with the stables of the Royal family. Today, it has become a gallery of Archaeological Survey of India, for exhibition of antiquities.
The Rewa Kund group of monuments, the most enchanting and romantic of the Mandu groups are associated with the legendary romance between Sultan Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati. Monuments of this group are located about 4 kms south of Mandu Village and include the Baz Bahadur Mahal, Rupmati’s Pavilion and the Rewa Kund.
Baz Bahadur, one of the most famous legendary kings known in the history of India, was the last independent sultan of Mandu, who ruled his kingdom from 1554-1561. His palace, Baz Bahadur Mahal, is a fantastic fusion of Mughal and Rajasthani style of architecture. Surprisingly, the palace was actually built far before Baz Bahadur came into power. As per the inscription at the entrance gate of the palace, it was constructed in AD 1508-09. The main gateway to the palace is approached by 40 broad steps with landings in intervals. The passage through the gateway, with vaulted ceiling, is equipped with rooms for the guards.
The Pavilion of Rani Roopmati is located at the edge of the fort, and built on the ridge of a cliff, from where Roopmati could see the flowing river down the valley. According to the legend and the local ballads, Baz Bahadur, a lover of music, was moved by the melodious tune of a shepherd girl. He fell deeply in love and married her according to Muslim and Hindu rites. This girl became famous as Rani Roopmati. It is said that, the music-loving Baz Bahadur built the palace to persuade the beautiful Hindu girl to move here from her home on the plains. From its terrace and the domed pavilions, Rupmati could gaze down at the distant glint of the sacred Narmada River. Even today, the place is simply gorgeous at sunset.
Apart from the above monuments, there are few other structures in the area, which are part of the Mandu Fort City. These structures include Neelkanth Palace, Darya Khan’s Tomb, Hathi Mahal, Dai ka Mahal, Dai ki Choti Bahan ka Mahal, Jal Mahal, Malik Mughit’s Mosque, Caravan Sarai, Nahar Jharokha, and others.
The ruined and abandoned city of Mandu is still adorned with the spellbinding remains of the Afghan architecture and guarded dedicatedly by a band of ageless majestic trees. The grand palaces are still alive with the royal romance of Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati, while the huge gateways (darwazas) speak of a history of imperial conquests.