Gwalior, 29 January 1893

At 2 o’clock in the morning, I was torn out of my sleep by music. An overeager raja had deemed it important to welcome me in this way at a rather unexpected hour and have me sent fruits.

At 6 o’clock, we arrived in Gwalior — half frozen, chattering with cold. Hard to believe and unfortunately still true! The oldest people in Gwalior could not remember a time of such a low temperature that has to be attributed to the large snowfalls which have recently occurred according to the news in the Himalaya.  Despite two overcoats that I had put on before leaving the carriage I was bitterly cold. Colonel Pitcher and two richly decorated members of the state government council of Gwalior received me in the name of the Maratha and the British resident and accompanied us to the carriage which would take us to the ruler’s palace.

The ruler, a youth of sixteen years, under the well-considered custody of and educated by an Englishman, was absent, as he was visiting the British resident in Calcutta. The sudden death of his predecessor, an obstinate hereditary ruler who had caused the English much pain and trouble had elevated the Maratha into the government.

The palace honor guard which we inspected first seemed to be surprised by our early arrival. Still deep in sleep, twenty men finally assembled with their rifles, some still wearing their kind of nightgown, others in large hooded coats. A very old officer tried in vain to get the bunch into formation.

Similar to that in Hyderabad, the residence of the Maratha in Gwalior consists of multiple palaces of which three are particularly noteworthy. They are in a park which covers many square kilometers and which contains ponds and is criss-crossed by streams. The largest and most important palace has been built in honor of the presence of the Prince of Wales in Gwalior (1873) and catches the eye by its mixture of Indian and Italian style. When I asked about this, the riddle was solved: The architect came from Florence. Large open stairs lead to a most beautiful ceremonial hall closely built after a Florentine pattern, all in white and gold with huge glass candelabra. To the side of this hall are reception and dining rooms which are partly filled with  tasteless European objects. The private rooms of the Maratha have a rather uncomfortable even unfriendly look. The room where he spends most of the time of the day kneeling on rug is a hall with pillars whose capitals are ornamented with scenes from Indian mythology, mostly colorful illustrations of the God Shiva. Everywhere there is an almost unbelievable neglect and much dirt: Rats, pigeons and sparrows, it seems, have turned many of the antechambers  into their own quarters and the servants did not seem to be convinced of the necessity of airing and cleaning the rooms of the palace.

The second palace too which had been built after 1876 in a pure Indian style is entered by a majestic reception hall whose main decorations are a well executed painting of Shiva and green gilded furniture. On both narrow sides of the hall are windows with bars behind which the women can unseen watch the festivities and audiences. Very original are the rooms of the harem which we could visit too as no women were currently present. The whole site and content dates back to the deceased Maratha and has not yet been changed by the current ruler who has recently chosen a ten-year-old as his future bride. The room of the favorite wife is without any decoration, only a few worthless European color prints hang on the walls. The only piece of furniture in this room is a low divan in the middle of the room.  Just next to this room is a richly decorated room of the strict ruler which is decorated with valuable rugs and cloths and sumptuously decorated with gold, silver and gemstones. On its walls hang mirrors and sparkle colorful vases. The bed made out of heavy gold rests on skilfully designed feet and is covered by silk blankets while a baldachin made out of heavy silk overhangs the luxurious place of rest.

Next to this bedroom which is a gaudy and descriptive contrast to the design of the other rooms are those used by the ruler’s beauties during the day. In order that nobody unbidden may observe these holy places and listen in on the mighty one’s  amorous activities, these rooms have no windows but only a skylight supplies light via a direct shaft to the outside — a construction detail that at first looks strange.

A special mention is merited for the sandstone portals of the palaces. The park which contains the palaces is well maintained and filled with rare plants and trees between which numerous peacocks are strutting around. In contrast, the condition of the stable and its maintenance and treatment of the horses within are not at all uplifting.

In a chapel, owned by the very small Roman Catholic community of Gwalior, we attended mass, as it was Sunday. As in the other Indian cities I have already visited the drive through the streets offer many exciting scenes: a colorful mix of a pushing and shoving crowd as well as vivid activity in the shops and bazaars. Characteristic for Gwalior are, besides the huts and small houses of the poorer classes of the population, buildings of huge dimensions and rich stone decorations. These decorations are applied partly on verandas above the windows and doors partly inlaid into the walls.

Our quarters were a newly built palace of the Maratha reserved for guests and located at the city’s periphery. The palpable cold in the numerous large rooms of this palace was so intense that I could not remove the coat even in the rooms and only felt a comfortable warmth in the room where we took our meals thanks to a flickering fire in the fireplace,

Towards noon, a delegation of the Maratha presented itself and offered on 66 large dishes a most diverse mix of local fruits as a tribute. The members of the delegation created an improvised exhibition of the local agricultural products on the palace’s veranda. They looked and were so tasty that I felt very sorry of being unable to take it home as a souvenir. After the departure of the delegation, the fruit thus was handed over to the always hungry Indian servants.

After the dinner, the Maratha’s equerry, a native, presented some horses from the stable — Indian thoroughbreds remarkable by their gentleness and beautiful form, noble animals in rich decoration and expensive saddles. Each of the four most valuable horses carried jewelry of a value of more than 100.000 guilders: each had one agraffe with gemstones on its head and a similar headband; five long strings hanged with golden rupees (Mohür); on the neck two gorge straps with square coins made out of pure gold; on both front legs bracelets and below the right knee a thick silver clasp. The saddle was covered with rectangular silk blankets and brocade shot through with gold, the tail belt studded with large, golden filigree ball buttons. Golden stirrups and belts completed the precious equipment, a testament to the Oriental love for lavish displays of pomposity. The equerry and some black grooms, dressed in their national costumes, rode the sharply tethered horses in circles in the manner of their country. While they tortured the animals badly, they also made them perform the smallest pirouettes and force one into a piaff despite the horse being hindered by clasps and bracelets. Thus the frothing and gnashing animals in their rich colorful attire made a incorrect from an equestrian point of view but  picturesquely highly effective impression.

The rest of the day was devoted to the visit of the fortress of Gwalior. Gwalior is located on a boulder filled hill limited in the North by the Tschambal and in the South of the Sindh river. What is called Gwalior, actually consists of three closely different parts: the fortress, the old town situated at the Northern foot and the new city or Lashkar in the South. The Prince of Gwalior and the total urban population used to live in the rayon of the fortress itself, which is witnessed by the presence of palaces and ruined temples. After the incursions of the great Mughals, the Muslim old town, now half ruined and deserted but still containing beautiful mosques and mausolea, was established in the Northern valley below the fortress

The new city Lash Kar („the tent city“), finally,with the old Barah palace and the „modern palace“ of Maratha Sindhia, with English buildings and the vibrant merchant quarter Sarafa emerged from the old camping ground which had been pitched at the beginning of the 19th century by Daulat Rao Sindhia in the South of the fortress. These parts of Gwalior tower over the fortress, which, about 2.5 km long, 0.3 km wide, stands isolated on a sandstone hill which drops steeply on all sides, proudly looks down on the built-up and inhabited land about 100 m below.

The main interest of fleeting visitors to Gwalior is concentrated in, of course, on what the ancient fortress offers, because the parts of city  in the plain only contain as important places the tomb of Mohammed Gaus, located across the river.

A fortified way leads up to the fortress with crenelated walls along the whole length. Borne by two elephants, we pass two defensive gates. Then it continues steeply uphill. At the first turn stands the oldest monument of the whole area, the Vishnu temple  carved out of the rock, Tschatr Bhodsch Mandir, whose creation has been backdated in one of the inscriptions to the year 876 AD. We marvel about the fact that  the history of Gwalior reports that this fortress has been assaulted countless times. During a period of almost a thousand years, the fortress has always been the bone of contention among India’s rulers. Thus the sight of a sanctuary which is preserved from that period, must fill us really with pious awe.

The rocky walls besides the road are often covered by chiseled statues of gods and votive images, often of a very realistic nature. At considerable height the rock has natural grottoes and caves in which fakirs are said to be living. Unfortunately I didn’t see any of these hermits and could thus not take note of their way of life which seems to be similar to that of the hermits in the rock caves at Mar Saba near Jericho.

After an ascent of a quarter of an hour one reaches the giant gate which is ornamented with colorful enamel tiles and split stone reliefs and enters through pillar galleries onto the plateau of the fortress and here the inner part of the rayon. This gate is flanked by two mighty round towers surrounded by pillar galleries and towers covered by domes. On the right of the entrance next to the gate and building part of the exterior wall of the fortress stands a palace built by Man Singh (1486 to 1516), the most important prince of Gwalior from the Tomara dynasty — a marvelous building. It constitutes a rectangle which includes two courts (100 m : 50 m), that is 33 m long and 20 m high; the North and West side above the ground floor as well as the two floors below are nearly completely destroyed. Only it seems that the building’s attraction consists in the contrast of the ruined parts to the conserved splendid fronts.

The long eastern side includes five towers which are, as the windowless exterior walls of the main building, at half their height split by a band. Otherwise they are without decoration, only to explode higher up in the most attractive and diverse architecture. Ornamented with truly oriental fantasy, inlaid or projecting,  decorated with bays, plinths and wall pillars, the towers constitute the cylindrical foundation on which stand open, high domes carried by pillars. The walls are interrupted at a height by pilasters and capstones and crenelated terminating in square balconies covered by domes. The eastern side of the palace contains a similar but less ornamented structure with fragile plinths. There only three towers are included in the wall.

To the charms of the lines, the profile and the masonry of the two fronts one has to add the magic of the colors that ornament the king’s building justly called Tschit Mandir, painted palace. The exterior areas of all walls, towers and ledges on both fronts are covered with enameled tiles, between them sprawl ornaments formed out of white plaster but now quite weather-beaten. Representing all kinds of decorations, tendrils, flowers and stylized animal figures, the glaze of the tiles is glittering in a light blue, green and gold, adding to the elegant play of forms of the towers, ledges, balconies by the splendor of their colors that pour over the building in a colorful rhythm in a subtly perceived shading and thus created an as artistic as sensual impression.

Glowing in the red light of the setting sun turns the view of Man Singh’s palace, one of the architectural jewels of India,  into an extraordinary unforgettable experience. One believes to live in old times where mighty kings lived here, surrounded by their glittering court entourage and thousands of slaves; where riders and colorful processions ascended the hill and royal feasts were filled with plenty of the sounds of war.

Like the exterior so too is the interior of the palace very artistically turned out in all its details. All interior walls are decorated with outstanding split stone inlays and colorful enamel glazing. Naturally, the palace is uninhabited and also in its current state uninhabitable.

I was very surprised to find somebody like the old Indian colonel Sita Ram who serves as our Cicerone, a white raven among his compatriots, and who was interested not in the destruction but on the contrary in the conservation of this historic art works. Everywhere one recognizes his caring hand: As here and there, is set a new stone, a crumbling wall stabilized and this and that relief restored.

Besides Man Singh’s palace, the castle hill of Gwalior carries five more partly very plain palaces. Only Gudschari palace deserves recognition, only it is a vast and impressive building made out of building stones, as well as Karan palace with its large hall covered by its original Hindu dome.

Our deepest interest, however, was attracted by the ancient temples still visited by Hindu pilgrims both in terms of their construction style as well as their sculptures. The fortress contains eleven of such Hindu temples among which two are especially noteworthy: Teli-ka Mandir and the two Säs Bahu temples.

Teli-ka Mandir, i.e. „the temple of the oil merchant“, was built over a thousand years ago and has lost its dome during the years. Today it has the form of a blunted sugar cone, a form that can be explained by its modern height of 25 m  according to its construction plans and whose niches in the facade are lived up by overhanging bays that converge at the top in a sharp angle.

Even more does the square tower-like temple become narrower and narrower by its upper part which once carried the dome and now has also lost much of its architectural decoration. The exterior temple walls are covered by very interesting sandstone reliefs. On the south side they are well conserved at considerable height, but in the East above the mighty entrance gate covered by trees there is mostly only debris even at half the height. Originally dedicated to Vishnu, Teli-ka Mandir was later converted to worship Shiva. Around the temple stand in a sort of small open air museum a number of the most beautiful reliefs, statues and images, all remains from the temple.

The different statues of the gods, among which are Ganesha, Hanuman and Shiva. With great effort the old colonel  had collected these pieces of former splendor at this place and assured us that one had only to dig in the fortress to find all kinds of things; because the whole space must have once been covered with temples and palaces. I was very pleased when he gave me three of the most beautiful reliefs as a present,  one of which was really artistically executed.

The Sahasra Bahu sanctuary is dedicated to the God Vishnu and dates from the 12th century, It consists of two temples built by Raja Mahipal. The large Sas Bahu temple is about 30 m long and 20 m wide. Once over 30 m tall, its current height is about 20 m as the dome has crashed down. The uppermost of its three floors is almost fully ruined, so that its current peak resembles a blunted irregular pyramid. In the interior are four large massive chiseled stone pillars. Those carry the pyramidal rising ceiling, a strange mixture of alternating round and square stone bands which end in a square at their highest point.  The base of the just mentioned stone pillars consists of massive stone blocks: Pillars and walls are once again decorated with sculptures of the gods. The whole looks like a giant had formed it out of decorative paper, but still does the temple, a tasteful product of ancient art and technology create no other feelings than admiration.

The small Sas Bahu temple, in the form of a cross and open to all four sides is not as much but still with much taste decorated.

Apart from these two outstanding temples there are nine smaller temples of which each is remarkable in its own way and still different from the others, even if the equalizing hand of the occupation is highly visible. Enumerating all those marvels would take up too much space.

In the vertically rising rocks of the hills that carry the fortress Gwalior are chiseled in the reliefs of Urwahi famous both in number and size. These high reliefs which show gods from the Indian sagas of the Jaina cult remind me about Egyptian reliefs and are here cut out of the space of the sandstone walls. Some groups of these sculptures stand in natural or artificial grottoes, caves and niches over whose upper end the rock cliff rises partly vertically and partly overhang. Some of these stone images represent gods in twenty-fold magnification compared to human scale. The provenience of these sculptures from the Jaina is not difficult to see for the expert as this sect shows its gods always without clothes and in much more raw completion than the gods of the other Hindu sects. The figures are framed by all kinds of ornaments and demi-reliefs which show animals and genre images from the Jainese lives of the gods. The Jainas are a sect that split from Hinduism at around the time of the creation of Buddhism. Regular hermit life removed from the world within the sanctuaries or stone caves, like here in Gwalior, is characteristic for the Jaina. This communal lifestyle combined with their deep religiosity of the Jainas turned building originally used only for housing purposes into sanctuaries of the gods, whose ornamentation y reliefs cut out of stone in hard work and the result of many years of tiring labor. These reliefs of Urwahi, however, have not been made like that but are the result of an order of two rulers from  Gwalior of the Tomara dynasty. Under Dimgar Singh (1425) these works started, under Kirti Singh (1454)  they were already completed. The majority of the reliefs were destroyed only a few decades later (1527) out of religious fanaticism of the Grand Mughal  Babur.

From the fortress‘ glacis one can enjoy a panorama view across the countryside as none of the surrounding hills is as high as Gwalior’s castle hill.  Barren and brown it lies there unless the rainy season awakens the hills and plains with fresh green. Basalt cones, raw sandstone blocks, endless mountain ranges rise before us and at our feet lies the bare old town, the colorful new city Laschkar as well as the plain which stretches towards the south up to the horizon. The city buildings, the glittering white palaces of the Rajas, the villages in the plains bring life into a view whose attraction is increased by the strange color effects of a setting sun.

The architectural physiognomy of the fortress is somewhat impacted by the long officer and soldier barracks built by the the English occupiers. Still these stones are talking too! Countless times have warlike storms raged around this rock fortress since Gwalior, more than one and a half thousand years old on this sandstone cliff, is thought to be holy by the believer and precious by the warrior. Finally in the year 1779,  the hotly contested fortress fell into the hands of the English. Reconquered by the Maharajas it was taken again in the year 1803 and reconquered again out of English hands. In the year 1844, after hard fights it came into British possession again.

In the great East-Indian rebellion of 1857 to 1859, Gwalior played an important role. In June1858 was the fortress of Gwalior stormed after a desperate fight with swords in their hands by Sir Hugh Rose and remained occupied by British forces until the year 1886. To see the British occupation tower over his own residence and in control of the key of the country was probably a cause that made  Maharaja Sindhia the most combative of all English vassal princes and in having strained relations with the representatives of the Empress of India. After Sindhia’s death in 1886, the fortress was handed back to its rightful owner, the English occupation forces were moved elsewhere an the empty barracks and batteries occupied by the Maharaja’s troops.

When we left the fortress very satisfied from the things we had seen and looked back from the foot of the hill, the moon stood high in the sky and sent its full light upon the audacious silhouette of the castle hill, on its towers and the battlements of Man Singh palace whose marvellous enamel walls reflected the light.

Links

  • Location: Gwalior, India
  • ANNO – on 29.01.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. The Neue Freie Presse informs about a revolution in Hawaii. The United States has sent marines to restore order, help in the overthrow of the monarchy and eventually annexed the island. In 1993, President Clinton  apologized on behalf of the United States for its involvement in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is performing in the afternoon Grillparzer’s tragedy „Die Jüdin von Toledo“ and in the evening the comedy „Der letzte Brief“ by Sardon, while the k.u.k Hof-Operntheater is playing Jules Massenet’s opera „Manon“.

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