Tuesday, March 31, 2020

8 Heritage Destinations you must visit in Madhya Pradesh

Sunrise shot of the Royal Chhatris of Orchha from the top of Jehangir Mahal

A holiday to Madhya Pradesh traditionally meant visiting one of its famous national parks and watching its tigers up close in the wild. After all, it is where ‘The Jungle Book’, Mowgli, Bhalu, Bagheera and Sher Khan were born. But, there is so much more to Madhya Pradesh than just its tigers and national parks. Owing to its unique location in the heart of the Indian subcontinent, it is home to a variety of cultural and heritage sites that can be considered as the pride of India. This central location has been allowing civilizations, kingdoms, dynasties, rulers, warriors, traders, armies and many more people to overlap for thousands of years and it is due to this exchange that you see some legendary heritage sites here. Some of them have been recognized by UNESCO as world heritage sites, while the others are sites of national importance.

Here are 8 such heritage destinations that you must visit on your next trip to Madhya Pradesh. Each of these heritage destinations have had a rich past and have given something unique and special to our country and to the world.

1) Sanchi Stupa

The intricately carved torana at Sanchi Stupa

Gave torana architecture to the world

Nearest airport: Bhopal

One of India’s key heritage monuments, Sanchi Stupa was originally commissioned by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE during the reign of the Mauryan dynasty and its beautiful toranas or gateways were added under the reign of the Satavahana empire in the 1st century BCE. Together, it encompasses most of the evolutions of Indian architecture and ancient Buddhist architecture in India.

The carvings of the stories of Buddha’s life on the toranas of Sanchi were the best in the world at that time. In fact, it was from here that torana architecture spread to the rest of the world.

Such is the specialty of Sanchi Stupa that it has inspired many buildings, including our very own Rashtrapati Bhavan. You can also see it on the back of our 200 rupee currency note.

2) Khajuraho

Gorgeous sculptures on Lakshmana temple as seen from Matangeswara temple viewing platform, Khajuraho

There is more to it than just erotica

Nearest airport: Khajuraho

When we think of Khajuraho, the first thing that comes to our mind is Kamasutra and the various erotic sculptures on the temple walls. But, did you know that the architects, artisans and sculptors had a much deeper meaning to convey? Built in the 10th century by the Chandela dynasty, the temples of Khajuraho talks about how everyone needs to fulfil their desires to find their liberation. It also tries to convey that the definition of god, universe, desire, karma, etc. is different for different people and to each one his own path. This deep symbolism can be found in all of Khajuraho’s temples along with its rich array of sculptures, intricate details and expressive ancient Indian art.

This UNESCO world heritage site with its Nagara style architecture and erotic sculptures talks about the deeper meanings of Hinduism, the learnings from the holy texts and teaches us about Vaastu Shastra, Shilp Shastra, mythological stories, the finer pleasures of life and more. It is a treasure trove of beauty and information and a must experience for all of mankind.

3) Bhimbetka Rock Shelters

The Zoo at Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh

The evolution of man’s cognitive capacity from 100,000 years back

Nearest airport: Bhopal

Today, we use our laptops and phones and machines and are super connected via the internet and all modern day technology. But, we weren’t always like this. There was a time when our cognitive capacity was as much as a chimpanzee. From the time the first man originated in the Rift valley of Africa to being hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, agriculturalists to building human settlements, the journey has been a phenomenal one. Madhya Pradesh’s Bhimbetka offers a rare glimpse into that journey.

An UNESCO World heritage site, the rock shelters of Bhimbetka house some of the oldest known rock art in the Indian subcontinent and is one of the largest prehistoric complexes in the world that house cave paintings. From the first impressions of man dating 100,000 years to cave paintings of animals, hunting, planning and dancing as recent as 5,000 years back, the rock shelters of Bhimbetka show the world how the cranial capacity of the man of early times evolved. A visit here is like a journey up your family tree, but this family is not just yours, but belongs to all of mankind. A truly extraordinary place indeed!

4) Orchha

A day out exploring the heritage of Orchha

Where nature, culture and heritage all live in a pristine environment

Nearest airport: Bhopal

Hidden between the above three world heritage sites lies a medieval kingdom completely untouched by modern day civilization. It is a place where nature, culture and heritage live seamlessly in a pristine environment. Founded in 1531 by the Bundela Rajput chief, Rudra Pratap Singh, Orchha, the erstwhile capital of the Bundelkhand kingdom, is a treat to the eyes. Set by the banks of the river Betwa, royal Chhatris, the Orchha fort, the Raja Mahal and Jehangir Mahal, the Chaturbhuj temple and the Ram Raja Temple make up the heritage landscape all within a 5 square kilometer area, thus offering you a diverse, yet rich cultural experience in an extremely small area.

Orchha is the kind of place where it doesn’t matter whether you are a birdwatcher, a nature lover, a spiritual person, an art and culture lover or just a simple tourist. It has something to appeal to all kinds of travelers.

5) Chanderi

A portrait of a Chanderi saree weaver

Gave the fine Chanderi silk saree to the world

Nearest airport: Bhopal

The famous horror-comedy Bollywood movie ‘Stree’ was shot here. So were a few key scenes of the Sui Dhaga movie. It is another one of those offbeat cultural destinations of Madhya Pradesh. I am referring to Chanderi, a town of historical importance that is located on the borders of Malwa and Bundelkhand. Ruled by the Bundela Rajputs and the Malwa Sultans, Chanderi was an important location in the trade route through Central India and it was this popularity that led to its many attacks and ruler changes. One such attack at the Battle of Chanderi, led by the Mughal Emperor Babur also led to the disturbing Jauhar ritual where the entire village died that night.

But, Chanderi is not all but its sad stories, but also about its rich heritage, monuments, Jain temples, trade markets, handicraft and more. The Badal Mahal, the Jama Masjid, the Chanderi Museum, the Kati Ghati, the Jauhar site and the fort are a few places to appreciate this rich heritage. And of course, there are the handloom centers where the traditional Chanderi sarees are made. Chanderi’s weaving culture began in the 2nd century, but its first saree came about in the 13th century when the Koshti weavers migrated here and reached its peak during the reign of the Mughals. Today, the traditional Chanderi sarees are a work of pure art with their traditional coin, floral art, peacocks and geometric designs woven into silk and cotton and one that you can take as a special souvenir back home.

6) Bhojpur

Offering prayers at the Bhojpur Shiva Temple, Madhya Pradesh

Home to the largest Shiva lingam in the world

Nearest airport: Bhopal

Another totally offbeat destination, Bhojpur, situated on the banks of the Betwa river, is home to many incomplete temples, quarries, rock drawings, cave of Parvati, a palace and more. The highlight of Bhojpur has to be its 11th century Bhojeswar temple, built by King Bhoja, the most celebrated ruler of the Paramara dynasty. This massive temple, though incomplete, is home to the largest Shiva Lingam in the world. Not only is the Shiva lingam massive, but it is unique as it is built in 3 tiers, symbolizing the trinity. The first level at the bottom refers to Lord Brahma, the middle tier refers to Lord Vishnu and the lingam refers to Lord Shiva. Together, they are about 27 feet tall and it is surrounded by extremely tall pillars and a beautiful dome. Most of the temple was in ruins and has been reconstructed by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Go to Bhojpur for a truly rustic experience and see a site whose size is close to the temples from the Greek times.

7) Taj-ul-Masajid

Taj-ul-Masajid - one of the largest mosques in the world

One of the largest mosques in Asia

Nearest airport: Bhopal

Bhopal is fondly referred to as the city of lakes, but it should be referred to as the city of Begums. It were the begums who called the shots here. They ruled Bhopal in the 19th century and are one of the interesting exceptions to the otherwise male Islam rulers and leaders elsewhere in the country at that time. One of the their key accomplishments was starting the construction of a mosque in the 19th century. Built using Indo-Sarcenic and Mughal architecture, the Taj-ul-Masajid is the largest mosque in India and one of the largest mosques of Asia.

As the name suggests, it is indeed the crown of all mosques. Bearing close resemblance to the Jama Masjid of Delhi and the Badshahi mosque of Lahore, the highlight of Taj-ul-Masajid has to be its main pink facade, its octagonal minarets, marble domes, recessed archways and the large congregation space in front of it. It is the heart of Bhopal and hence all visitors to Bhopal should start their trip from here.

8) Udayagiri Caves

Varaha avatar where Lord Vishnu rescues bhudevi from the clutches of demon king Hiranyakashyapa

Home to some of the oldest surviving Hindu temples and iconography in India

Nearest airport: Bhopal

A 4th to 5th century heritage gem of the Gupta empire, the Udayagiri caves are twenty rock-cut caves that contain iconography of Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Shaivism and one that is dedicated to Jainism. Considered a sacred land by the people between the 5th and the 12th centuries, the Udayagiri caves are as popular for their Jaina and other inscriptions as they are for their attractive sculptures. Other items of interest here are rock shelters, petroglyphs, water systems, fortifications and habitation mounds.

While the climb to the top of the hill criss-crossing through the different caves are amazing, the thing that most definitely catches your eye and captivates all attention is the colossal Varaha avatar in Cave number 5. In this cave is the massive sculpture of Lord Vishnu in his avatar as Varaha saving Bhudevi from the clutches of demon-king Hiranyakashyapa and restoring balance to mother earth. It is believed that a nearby water body used to touch the middle of this cave, which means that it actually looked like a giant Varaha was rescuing Bhudevi from the ocean. Today’ the water levels have receded, but it certainly allows you to relish the spectacular image in your head.

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