Approximately ten miles from the village of Mandu, due south lies the group of monuments called Rewa Kund. As far as fortifications are concerned, this enclosure rates the second-best of all the enclosures of Mandu. It shielded both Baz Bahadur’s Palace and the Rani Roopmati from enemy assaults. Repeated attacks on the southern side of the hill necessitated stronger defense and therefore the enormous Bhagwanpur Gate was erected to protect and enclose this area.
Maybe not the most majestic of monuments, this group is nevertheless the most important. Steeped in the legend of the undying love between Roopmati and Baz Bahadur, this group of monuments has a timelessness and magic that is unsurpassed. Most tourists choose to start their visit to Mandu at this point.
Baz Bahadur and Roopmati
Baz Bahadur was a good-looking young prince when he sat on the throne in Malwa between 1554 and 1562. But his life changed dramatically when he was defeated by Rani Durgawati, queen of Gond. He decided to renounce warfare and conflict, and instead to devote his life to poetry and music. Thus he spent his days quite contently in his diminished hilltop kingdom.
One day, as he was returning from a hunting expedition, he noticed Roopmati, a gorgeous shepherdess, happily singing while she watched the sheep. The prince was smitten by this beauty with the sweet voice and it was love at first sight. The young Muslim ruler so caught up with the new love that he neglected the humdrum business of ruling his kingdom; he chose to spend all his time wooing his shepherdess with love ballads.
Eventually, Roopmati had to relent, but under two conditions; her palace had to have a view of the beautiful Narmada River, and she wanted to be able to see Baz Bahadur in his palace.
The king built his beloved a vast pavilion right on the cliff edge, adjacent to his personal mahal. From her pavilion, Roopmati could gaze down to the river meandering through the valley. According to the legend, she did not touch a morsel of food in the mornings until she had looked down on the sacred river.
Unfortunately, this idyllic life could not last and was bound to end sometime. While the couple enjoyed endless days of music and poetry, dark clouds were gathering. Akbar, the Mughal Emporer of Agra was hatching a plan to invade Malwa. Abul Fazl, the court historian justified Akbar’s decision, saying, “From innate insouciance, Baz Bahadur did not concern himself with public affairs. Music and melody… were regarded by this scoundrel as a serious business, and he spent upon them all his precious hours –for which no exchange is possible. In the arrogance of infatuation, he wrought works of inauspiciousness, and regarded not what has been said.” (Abul Fazl, Akbarnama, 1561, trans-H Beveridge, vol 2, 1902-39).
The emperor sent his half-brother Adham Khan to lead the invasion, and Baz Bahadur was utterly defeated in the ensuing battle. His only option was to flee and Adham Khan took possession of his kingdom. When Adham Khan caught sight of the lovely Roopmati, he approached her, but rather than submit to her beloved king’s enemy, she swallowed poison and succumbed.
This story of eternal love between a king and his queen is inextricably bound to the history of Mandu. To this say the legend of love is told in ballads and poems. Bollywood immortalized their love story in the 1957 film titled ‘Rani Roopmati’ and the very famous ballad ‘Aa laut ke aaia mere meet Tujhe mere geet bulatein hain’ describes the pain and agony the brutal separation inflicted on them. (O come back my friend My songs call you…).
Even in modern times, troubadours celebrate the romance and love between the royal couple in their songs, while on the hilltop Roopmati’s pavilion still offers a sweeping view of the river and plains and the palace of her erstwhile king Baz Bahadur.
It is widely believed that this body of water, extended and restored by king Baz Bahadur was once a lake dating back to ancient times. Nestling behind a surge in the hill, the lake retained its Hindu name because of its link to Roopmati and her king. Rewa Kund has its own endearing legend.
Roopmati had a great love for the Narmada River and felt that she had to see and worship it every single day. It is said that she would not consume even a morsel of food on cloudy days until she could lay her eyes on the waters of the river.
The legend says that one night, in a dream, the river deity instructed her to build a water tank near her palace. She immediately complied and soon after the sacred waters of the river filled the artificial lake. It was named Rewa Kund and from her pavilion Roopmati looked down on it each day.
The lake is lined in stonework and steps lead down to the level of the water. Of the former pleasure resort that faced the crystal clear water from the bank, only halls and arched doorways remain. Additions were made during various periods since the arches and pillars vary in style.
Baz Bahadur had two aqueducts constructed; one for his own palace’s water needs, as well as for Roopmati’s residence. Rewa Kund is still considered a holy site and is the destination for people who undertake the strenuous Narmada River circumambulation or parikrama.
Parikramavasis often complete the ritual circumambulating trip of the River Narmada in its entirety. This pilgrimage was initiated by Sage Markandaya and it takes the participant 3 years, 3 months, and 13 days to finish. Today’s busy life forces many pilgrims to complete it by jeep or bus. Traditionalists, however, usually start off at Rewa Kund where, it is said, the holy Narmada’s waters bubble up from the lake. Devoted parikramavasis will even carry a fruit of the famous baobab tree brought to this region during the 1400s as proof of their visit to Rewa Kund. It is also believed that the waters of this stone-lined lake have curative powers.
Baz Bahadur’s Palace
Baz Bahadur Mahal is set in panoramic surroundings on the hill slope. The style is an intriguing fusion of Mughal and Rajput architecture. In fact, this monument was constructed well before he ascended the throne; a Persian inscription above the main gateway names Sultan Nasiruddin Shah as the one who built the palace during his reign between 1508 and 1509 (AH 914).
Forty wide steps with intermittent landings lead up to the principal gateway of the palace. The gateway passage has rooms on each side to accommodate guards, and a domed ceiling covers the structure. Through this passage the visitor ends up in an outer courtyard, having passed through the main entranceway.
The palace consists mainly of a large courtyard with its beautiful central fountain, surrounded on all sides by rooms and halls. In the halls, court officials and the public could gather to conduct their business.
An arched octagonal pavilion extends to the northern side, behind the colonnade. From here evidence can still be seen of the once splendid garden which must have delighted the king. The east side mirrors the western side of the courtyard; both have square chambers in the corners.
To the southern side of the courtyard another hall, flanked by 2 rooms on each side can be found. Through a back opening lies another much smaller courtyard, similarly surrounded by halls and small rooms. These were most probably accommodation for the court attendants.
A set of steps affords access to a spacious terrace on the upper level where two impressive baradaris offer breathtaking views of Roopmati’s pavilion close by, framed by beautiful blue skies and lush green fields.
From Baz Bahadur’s Palace, the visitor must walk uphill to the cliff to reach this famous pavilion from where Rani Roopmati could observe her beloved’s palace, as well as the River Narmada making its way through the plains of Nimar.
On closer inspection, it is clear that the building has been constructed in three stages during different periods of time. The initial building was made up of a colossal main hall with a low ceiling, 2 rooms at the ends, and a parapet on the walls. It appears to have been constructed as an observation post from where soldiers could stand to watch to watch for any hostile movement.
The second stage involved the extension westwards along the plinth. At the same time, two square domed pavilions were erected for Roopmati’s pleasure. From this site, on a sunny, clear day she could make out the Narmada disappearing towards the horizon. Tour guides usually regale visitors on the legend that the Rani did not eat anything ere she had paid homage to Narmada every morning, thus Baz Bahadur had no choice but to construct this vantage point for his queen.
From the bottom of the valley almost a thousand feet down Roopmati’s Pavilion looks like an other-worldly vision, perched close to the edge. The well-known Indian archaeologist Yazdani says that ‘to watch the sunset from the pavilions will be a novel experience in the life of the visitor; but if the nights are moonlit, he should not miss paying an after-dinner visit to this romantic site, as in the solitude the enchantment of the silvery rays may perhaps roll up the curtain of Time and in Fancy he may see the crumbling piles blaze forth in all their pristine glamour, gorgeous embassies waiting on the kings, justice administered in old-world fashion; nay, he may even hear the whisperings of young damsels; or again, along the parapets, he may witness fierce struggles proceeding between the besiegers and the garrison and subsequently watch troops triumphantly marching thought the streets and installing a new line of kings on the throne’.