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The Jahaz Mahal, Mandu, India

The Ancient Indian City of Mandu: A Fort and Pleasure Palace


The city of Mandu is located in the present day  Dhar district situated in the Malwa region of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Perched atop a 20 square km plateau, the ruined city is not only endowed with beautiful natural scenery, but also occupies a strategically important location in the landscape.  Mandu was a key fort at least 1,500 years ago and is also the home of the famous Jahaz Mahal.

The Many Names of an Ancient Fort

The earliest known reference to this city can be found in a Sanskrit inscription on the pedestal of a Jain image. This inscription, dating to 555 AD, refers to the city as Mandapa-Durga. It has been claimed that the Prakrit, or vernacular version of this name is Mandava, a name that is still in use today. The name was  further corrupted to the commonly-used Mandu.

Firishta, a 16th century Persian historian, mentions that a fort was built at Mandu sometime around the end of the 6th century AD. When these two pieces of information are considered together, it may be inferred that a fort was already in existence 555 AD or even earlier.

Mandu Changes Rulers and Becomes the City of Joy

The next reference to Mandu comes from an inscription dating to 946 AD. This inscription, which was found in Rajasthan, referred to the fort at Mandu as a frontier outpost of the Guhara-Pratihara Empire. In the inscription, Mandu is referred to as Mandapika. By the end of the same century, Mandu was controlled by the Paramara Dynasty. An inscription on a ­­ sarpa-bandha (snake diagram) found at Mandu refers to an individual by the name of Sri-Bhattaraka-Devendra-deva, who may have been a vassal of the Paramara king, Udayaditya. This inscription has been dated to 1068 AD. It is believed that the Lohani Caves and Saiva temples, which form part of the ‘Group of Monuments at Mandu, Madhya Pradesh’ on the Tentative List of UNESCO’s World Heritage List, were built during the reign of the Paramaras.

The Lohani Caves, Mandu, India

The Lohani Caves, Mandu, India (Varun Shiv Kapur/Flickr)

In the early 13th century AD, Muslim forces successfully invaded the Malwa region, and sacked the cities of Bhilsa and Ujjain. A treaty concluded between the invading Muslims and the Paramara king, however, spared Mandu from the fate of those two cities. While the Paramara kings continued to rule from Mandu, their power was in decline. In 1305, the sultan of Delhi, Alauddin Khilji, invaded Mandu, and added the city to his territories. At this time, Mandu was renamed as Shadiabad, which means ‘City of Joy’.

When the Delhi Sultanate descended into chaos, the governor of Malwa, Dilawar Khan Gori, seized the opportunity declared his independence in 1401. Dilawar moved the capital of Malwar from Daur to Mandu. With this elevation of status, a number of architectural projects were undertaken in Mandu during Dilawar’s reign. One of the most notable structures is Dilawar Khan’s Mosque, which is the earliest Indo-Islamic building in Mandu. Additionally, Dilawar Khan strengthened the city’s fortifications. The building program at Mandu was continued by Dilawar’s successor, Hoshang Shah. Among the notable works constructed during Hoshang Shah’s reign are the Jami Mosque and the Mausoleum of Hoshang Shah.

The Mausoleum of Hoshang Shah, Mandu, India. Some have suggested that it served as a template for the construction of the Taj Mahal.

The Mausoleum of Hoshang Shah, Mandu, India. Some have suggested that it served as a template for the construction of the Taj Mahal. (Wikimedia Commons)

Hoshang Shah was succeeded by his son, who was poisoned about a year later. The murderer, Mahmud Khan became the first Khalji ruler of Malwa. After a rule of about three decades, he was succeeded by his son, Ghiyasuddin Iwaj Shah.

Jahaz Mahal: The Ship Pleasure Palace

One of the most famous buildings in Mandu, the Jahaz Mahal, was built by Ghiyasuddin Iwaj Shah. The Jahaz Mahal is known also as the ‘Ship Palace’, as it was built on a narrow strip of land between two water tanks.  According to the stories, Ghiyasuddin was a devout hedonist, and had built the Jahaz Mahal as his pleasure palace. Within the walls of this building he had a harem of 15,000 women, some coming from as far as Turkey and Abyssinia. It has been rumored that some of these women also served as his bodyguards.

Architectural plans of the Jahaz Mahal, Mandu, India

Architectural plans of the Jahaz Mahal, Mandu, India (Wikimedia Commons)

The Conquering of Manduby the Mughals

In 1561, Mandu was conquered by the Mughals, and the last ruler of Malwa, Baz Bahdur, fled from the city. As Mandu was no longer the capital of an independent kingdom, the city lost its former glory, and began to decline. Nevertheless, the Mughal emperors were fascinated by the city.

The Emperor Akbar, for instance, visited the city four times, his successor Jahangir, stayed at Mandu for about seven months, and even left many interesting descriptions of the city in his memoirs.

The Defeat of Baz Bahdur by the Mughal Troops (1590-1595) Jagan, Kabu

The Defeat of Baz Bahdur by the Mughal Troops (1590-1595) Jagan, Kabu (Wikimedia Commons)

Featured image: The Jahaz Mahal, Mandu, India (Axel Drainville/Flickr)

By Ḏḥwty

References, 2012. Mandu "The City of Joy". [Online]
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Lonely Planet, 2015. Introducing Mandu. [Online]
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Saurabh, 2010. Mandu – City of Joy. [Online]
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Sunder, K., 2014. Madhya Pradesh: tourism and temples in the heart of India. [Online]
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UNESCO, 2015. Group of Monuments at Mandu, Madhya Pradesh. [Online]
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Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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