Into the Center of Jain Culture and History of Chanderi | India

From where I sit on a balcony of a hilltop hotel, I can see the many monuments built during the era of the Bundelas— a Rajput clan of Central India who lorded over this part of Madhya Pradesh beginning in the 16th century. In that moment I savored the solemnity of finding myself some quiet time in-between our busy media tour. Trailing my eyes from the top of an opposite hill into the rows of houses below, I became perplexed at the sight of jam-packed edifices below.

As if sensing my confusion, our tour guide pointed to me "look at the center, and you will see Chaubisi Jain Temple. It has more than 20 shikharas (towers) and over there is the Chanderi Fort". Following the direction of his finger, I got the idea of how compressed the town of Chanderi was fashioned through centuries of blossoming trade, religion and culture.

Enveloped by the forested ridges of the Vindhya mountain range and dotted with glass-like lakes, it is easy to see why this town became the site of a flourishing economy dating back to the 11th century. The population of Chanderi peaked to hundreds of thousands when a branch of the Silk Route passed through it.

During the British rule in the 19th century, Chanderi was cut off from the Silk Road highway—consequently dwindling trade activities—and eventually, slashing its population to a half. Despite losing much of its past economic luster, Chanderi remains a 'major center of Jain culture' and one of the most historic towns in India.

Center of Jain Culture

In a nation teeming of birthplaces of a variety of spiritual disciplines, I embraced the opportunity of learning a new one: Jainism. Older than Buddhism and similar in a lot of ways with Hinduism—Jainism also conveys the principles of reincarnation, peace, non-attachment to material things and good karma.

Despite the many likenesses with Hinduism, Jainism practitioners only comprises less than 2% of India’s population. Beautiful remains of Jain temples can be found all over Chanderi; one of which is the 45-feet tall rock cut portrait of Rishabhanatha (who in Jainism belief—is the teacher of rebirth and death and propagator of the Dharma).

Apart from learning more about the religion of Jainism, we also visited a few landmarks around Chanderi to learn more about its captivating history.

Splendid Architecture Abounds

As we go about our exploration of Chanderi, we laid eyes on some of the town’s finest architectural marvel from centuries past; Koshak Mahal, Badal Mahal Gate, Jama Masjid and Chanderi Fort. Even in ruins, the Mandu-style architecture of Koshak Mahal remains a stunner. It's derelict condition only highlighted the beautiful arches more, as it leads your eyes to a maze of fascinating patterns.

unfinished but still remarkable Koshak Mahal
Originally envisioned as a victory monument to rise 7-storeys high by Mahmud Khilji—a 15th-century sultan of the Indian Kingdom of Malwa Sultanate (present day Madhya Pradesh state), but only two of the three-storeys were constructed during his lifetime. Despite its unfinished state, it remains as an architectural eye-candy to this day.

The Badal Mahal Gate is one of the most prominent monuments in Chanderi
The 13th century Jama Masjid is Chanderi's biggest mosque highlighted by an open court leading to the square hall that can sit 2,000 devotees. Exhibiting a hint of Mughal architecture, and a unique set of intricately designed pillars, the mosque stands in perfect cohort to the 15th century Badal Mahal Gate—a 100-foot historic gate built by Sultan Shah Khilji, standing across the street.

The Battle-Shaped Chanderi Fort

Built upon the orders of Pratihara, Kirti Pal in the 11th century, Chanderi Fort has since saw numerous renovations in the succeeding centuries, as it fell into the hands of one conqueror from one kingdom to another.

Chanderi Fort, where many bloody battles were fough
The walls that remain heavily fortified today was the result of buttresses reinforcement constructed by the men of Mughal Emperor Babur after conquering Chanderi in the early 16th century. One chilling spot inside the fort is called the 'Johar Smarak'. This was where dozens of Rajput women chose self-immolation over capture, after one of Rajput's most decorated warrior Medini Rai, died against the army of Mughal Emperor Babun.

After capturing Chanderi in 1586, the victorious Bundela Rajputs constructed the palace inside the fort. Because Chanderi was once an integral part of a trading route leading to the ancient port of Gujarat, it became a hotly-contested location between the Mughal and Hindu Rajput rulers.

The architecturally gifted  Jama Masjid
After hearing about these enthralling facts about Chanderi Fort, I hurriedly separated myself from our group to explore the rest of the place. Compared to the other forts I visited in India, Chanderi Fort appear a lot smaller. But what they said about how small things create a broader impact in history? —I saw this place as a fitting representation of that adage.

Living up to my belief that India is a nation swarming with locations full of engrossing tales, the little old-world town of Chanderi dishes a spectacular set of visual feasts, historic anecdotes and charming vibe that shall certainly add up to one’s wanderlust attraction to India.