About Chanderi

Nestled in the Vindhyachal range and situated in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, the town of Chanderi is composed of a labyrinth of lanes full of archaeological remains that bear testimony to its long and eventful past.

Due to the lack of written evidence, there is no actual consensus on when the town of Chanderi was founded. Its history is inextricably linked to myth and folklore. One legend claims that the town of Chanderi was established by Lord Krishna’s cousin, King Shishupal, in the early Vedic period. Another attributes its foundation to King Ched, who is said to have ruled over this region around 600 BC. The most illustrious of all legends, however, is ‘The Miracle of Water’, witnessed by King Kirtipal of the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty, spurring him on to shift his capital from old Chanderi (Boodhi Chanderi), around 1100 AD, to the present town of Chanderi. It is believed that Kirtipal had been cured of leprosy by the waters of a spring he had chanced upon during a hunting expedition. This led the king to move his capital to the place which he now considered sacred. The same spring is said to be the source of the Parmeshwar pond.

In the 8th century AD, the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty established its sovereignty over Boodhi Chanderi, making it a sizeable township complete with all the regalia befitting a town. Not much is known about the Gurjara-Pratihara kings of Chanderi, other than the information yielded by an inscription found at Chanderi. This stone inscription originally belonged to a medieval temple which is no longer extant, and is now preserved in the Gwalior museum. It mentions the names of 13 Gurjara-Pratihara kings who ruled over Chanderi, but only describes the life of King Kirtipal, the seventh king, in detail. According to this inscription, King Kirtipal constructed three entities bearing his name — Kirti Durg, Kirti Narayana and Kirti Sagar. Kirti Narayana referred to a Vaishnav temple built either inside the precincts of the fort or near the fort, which, unfortunately, no longer exists. Kirti Sagar alludes to the tank near the fort.

The paucity of written evidence has obscured the finer details of the Gurjara-Pratihara rule in Chanderi. However, it is said that the downfall of the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty began in the last decades of the 11th century AD, and most of their territory, including Chanderi, was seized by the Kachchawa Rajputs, who made Narwar their capital.

The town of Chanderi was lost to the Delhi Sultanate when Ghyasuddin Balban, a minister of Sultan Naseeruddin, attacked Chanderi in 1251-1252 AD. But with Balban’s return to Delhi, the authority of the local rulers returned.

When Allauddin Khilji became the Sultan of Delhi in 1296 AD, he unleashed a campaign of conquest, annexing Chanderi, Vidisha, Ujjain, Dhar Nagri, Mandu and Malwa. In the next decade, Chanderi was taken over by the Tughlaq dynasty under Sultan Mohammad Bin Tughlaq.

In 1342 AD, the famous traveller and chronicler, Ibn Batuta, passed through Chanderi and wrote about his experiences. He described Chanderi as one of the big cities in India with a sprawling bazaar full of people and goods.

Dilawar Khan Ghori, the governor of the Delhi Sultanate in Malwa, asserted his independence from the Delhi Sultanate in 1392 AD and founded the Malwa Sultanate. His son, Hoshang Shah, became the Sultan in 1404 AD with his capital in Mandu, while his younger brother Qadr Khan established a rival sultanate in Chanderi. However, in 1424 AD, Chanderi was incorporated into the domains of the Malwa Sultanate.

In 1520 AD, following a brief spell of domination by Sikander Lodi of Delhi, Chanderi fell to Rana Sangha, the King of Chittor. Rana Sangha bestowed the rulership of Chanderi upon Medini Rai, one of his most trusted allies. Medini Rai ruled over Chanderi till 1528 AD, when the Mughal onslaught led by Emperor Babur was victorious in capturing the fort at Chanderi.

After Babur’s death in 1530 AD, his son Humayun became the emperor. In 1538 AD, Humayun’s reign was halted by the onslaught of Sher Shah Suri, who usurped power and announced himself as the emperor of the Mughal Empire. Humayun was forced to flee to Persia. Sher Shah Suri installed the Raja of Raisen, Puranmal, as the governor of Chanderi and he was succeeded by Shujat Khan, who held office till 1546 AD.

Humayun returned to India after Sher Shah Suri’s death in 1546 AD. It was during this time that Mallu Khan, the then Malwa Sultan, captured Chanderi. In response, Humayun sent his brothers, Askari Bagh and Hindal Mirza, to recapture the town. After Humayan, his son Akbar succeeded him as emperor of the Mughal Empire in 1555 AD. He took over Chanderi in 1569 AD and made it a sarkar (important centre) of the Malwa suba. In 1605 AD, Jehangir, on behalf of the Mughal court, handed over the rule of Chanderi to the Bundela Rajputs.

Maharaja Rudrapratap Singh, a descendant of Hemakaran, founded the city of Orchha in 1531 AD and made it the capital of Bundelkhand. The glorious years of Bundela rule over Chanderi were preceded by a battle, a battle between two brothers of the Bundela dynasty — Ram Shah Bundela and Veer Singh Bundela. Ram Shah, the older brother, inherited Orchha and Veer Singh was given the smaller jaagir of Badoni. Veer Singh was dissatisfied with this arrangement and hatched a conspiracy to dethrone his brother. Veer Singh allied with Jehangir, the Mughal prince, and helped him in killing Abul Fazl in 1602 AD. Jehangir then awarded the capital of Bundelkhand — Orchha — to Veer Singh in 1605 AD and conversely demoted Ram Shah by transferring him to Chanderi, which marked the start of 253 years of Bundela rule in Chanderi.

When Ram Shah acquired Chanderi, it was in a deplorable state. The Kirti Durg fort and most of the city’s palaces were in a dilapidated condition. Extremely disturbed by the condition of Chanderi and his brother’s betrayal, he tried to recapture Orchha in 1606 AD but was defeated and was captured as a prisoner of war. In 1607, however, Jehangir issued orders for his release and returned the territory of Chanderi to him.

Ram Shah ruled over Chanderi and the outlying areas for the next 22 years. He built his residence at Lalitpur, 40 kilometres from Chanderi, and devoted a lot of his energy and resources to renovating many of Chanderi’s monuments and buildings. Ram Shah died in 1628, following which his older son, Sangram Shah, was made the ruler of Chanderi.

Maharaja Sangram Shah was known to be a brave and courageous man, besides being an able and efficient ruler. He developed good ties with the Mughal emperor, Shahjahan, and consolidated his power. He aided the Mughal emperor in his military campaigns and their partnership proved to be fruitful, resulting in numerous victories. One such was the victory at Lahore against Subedar Jamman Baig Mirza’s forces. Sangram Shah was shot in the arm during the battle but he fought relentlessly. He won accolades for his bravery and was given the royal title of Chandrawali. An inscription pertaining to this can be seen on the Iron Pillar at Mehrauli, New Delhi. Sangram Shah died in 1641 AD and was succeeded by Bharat Shah, his oldest son.

Bharat Shah inherited the kingdom of Chanderi in 1642 AD, and like his predecessor, allied with Shahjahan. He died in 1654 AD and was succeeded by his son Devi Singh Bundela.

Maharaja Devi Singh revolutionised the administrative apparatus and undertook building projects on a large scale out of which, Singhpur Village, Baba Ki Bawdi and Paithani Mohalla Mosque deserve special mention. During his reign, Chanderi grew to incorporate 17 parganas and the yearly income was estimated to be 22 lakhs. He assisted Emperor Aurangzeb in suppressing the civil war which had erupted in Orchha. Maharaja Devi Singh was also a great scholar and writer, and wrote some of the well-known granthas of his time. Out of those, the most celebrated was Ayurved Vilasand Devi Singh Nidaan. Characterised by unparalleled progress and communal harmony, his reign came to an end when he died in 1663 AD.

Durg Singh took forward the legacy of his father, Devi Singh, and Chanderi, as a result, continued to flourish. Like his father, Durg Singh also allied with Emperor Aurangzeb, and helped him in suppressing the Banjara rebellion and played an important role in Aurangzeb’s military campaign against the Marathas. In 1673, Shankar Rao, a Maratha ruler, attacked Chanderi but had to concede defeat at the hands of Durg Singh and his army. He ruled for 24 years until his death in 1687 AD and was succeeded by his son Durjan Singh.

Durjan Singh ascended to the throne at a time when the influence of the Mughal Empire had begun to wane. Aurangzeb’s Deccan campaign dealt a massive blow to the Empire and drained a lot out of the treasury. Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 AD left the Empire in a state of anarchy. Durjan Singh, therefore, decided to sever all ties with the Mughals. But when Chanderi was attacked by the Maratha prince, Pandit Govindraj, the Mughal rulers sent emissaries to woo Durjan Singh to support the Empire once again. The twin forces of the Mughals and Durjan Singh helped in keeping the Marathas at bay.

During Durjan Singh’s reign, a significant portion of the state’s income was utilised for the development of public works, and many religious and utilitarian structures were erected. Durjan Singh ruled over Chanderi for 14 years till his death in 1733 AD, after which his eldest son, Man Singh, took over.

Man Singh was known to be an efficient administrator and his oldest son, Anirudh Singh, succeeded him. Anirudh Singh managed to cut all ties with the Mughal Empire and ruled over Chanderi for 28 years. He was considered a very religious person and constructed the Lakshman temple on the banks of the Parmeshwar pond, near the cenotaphs of his ancestors. Anirudh Singh died in 1774 AD and his son, Ram Chandra, took over the reins.

Ram Chandra’s rule was marked by lawlessness and anarchy. He had his uncle Hate Singh killed, which led to a great rift within the royal family. This resulted in the virtual breakdown of administration, putting Chanderi on the path to decline. Ram Chandra moved to Ayodhya with his family. After being coaxed by royal officials, he appointed his son Prajapal as the ruler of Chanderi in 1791 AD.

Prajapal Singh, on analysing the situation in Chanderi, vowed to restore the city to its former glory. He made Lalitpur his centre and successfully combated the forces of revolutionaries who were trying to overthrow the Bundela Empire in Chanderi. He returned to Chanderi only after it became a thriving city once again. He managed to consolidate his power to a great extent but at the expense of picking up many enemies. In 1802 AD, he was assassinated while on a hunting trip.

Maud Prahlad, Prajapal’s younger brother, ascended to the throne in 1802 AD. Enamoured by luxury, he inclined towards indulging in excesses. As a result, the administration of the state dwindled. In 1811 AD, the Chanderi Fort was taken by Colonel John Baptise Filose for Daulat Rao Scindia and Chanderi was incorporated into the Scindia estates. Incapable of facing the onslaught of the army of Gwalior, Maud Prahlad fled to Jhansi and Daulat Rao Scindia appointed Colonel John Baptise as the governor of Chanderi the same year. Maud Prahlad was later granted a small jaagir of 31 villages in the area around Baanpur and Talbahat. In 1838 AD, Maud Prahlad was made the king of Baanpur. He died in 1842 AD and his memorial can be seen in the village of Baanpur.

Kunwar Mardan Singh, the last of the Bundela rulers, was born in 1802 AD. At the time of his birth, Chanderi was in a state of poverty and the administration was a shambles. His area of jurisdiction was reduced to a single jaagir near Talbahat and the village of Baanpur was his only in name. Mardan Singh possessed great administrative and military acumen and rose to the occasion by steadily gaining respect in political circles. He captured some of the most notorious dacoits of Chanderi and handed them over to Commissioner Hamilton in Lalitpur. As a result, Mardan Singh earned accolades, not only in Chanderi but also in Jhansi and Gwalior. He then raided Talbahat and gained control of the surrounding areas. In 1844 AD, due to the death of Jankouji Rao Scindia, a rift developed between the Scindia family and the British Raj. Mardan Singh took advantage of this situation and seized Chanderi. Emboldened by these successes, Mardan Singh expanded his personal army and sought the help of French officials in training his personnel. His army thus became superior, both in terms of strength and strategy, and plunged head-on into the uprising of 1857.

Mardan Singh proved to be an outstanding captain of his army during the uprising and allied with Rani Laxmibai, the queen of Jhansi. British forces captured Chanderi but Mardan Singh, along with his army, forced them to retreat. In 1858 AD, on St Patrick’s Day, the British sent Sir Hugh Rose along with his battalion – Royal Countydowns, with the prime aim of recapturing Chanderi. The onslaught began on March 17 and as a result of relentless firing, a large crack developed in the middle of the Fort’s security wall. On the morning of March 17 1858, the British forces entered the fort through this crack and a swift battle ensued between the two groups. Captain Keating was grievously injured and 28 soldiers, along with one officer, were killed. But the Royal Countydowns prevailed in the end and won the territory of Chanderi. Mardan Singh was incarcerated and later sent to Vrindavan for the remainder of his life. This marked the end of Bundela rule in Chanderi.

Chanderi suffered a lot during the 1857 uprising; it was plundered incessantly and partially burnt down. On December 12, 1860, following a treaty signed between the British and the Scindias, Chanderi was returned to the Gwalior estates. After 1947, the princely state of Gwalior, which included Chanderi, became a part of the newly formed state of Madhya Bharat, later reconstituted and named Madhya Pradesh.

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