The Jahaz Mahal
The medieval enchantment of the Mandu enclosure is best captured by this spectacular building. It is said that Sultan Ghiyathuddin Khalji had Jahaz Mahal constructed towards the end of the 1400s as the residence for his huge seraglio. Percy Brown, the famous art historian is of the opinion that it forms the pinnacle of the classical period in Mandu architecture. The structure has two stories and is 360 feet in length with a width of 50 feet. It lies between Kapur Talao and Munj Talao, two artificial lakes, on a slender piece of land which creates the impression of a barge floating on the water.
In his memoirs, titled Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri, Jahangir said, “They say that Sultan Ghiyathuddin had collected 15000 women in his harem. He had a whole city of them and had made it up of all castes, kinds, and descriptions – artificers, magistrates, gazis, kotwals, and whatever else is necessary for the administration of a town. Whenever he heard of a virgin possessed of beauty he would not desist until he possessed her. He taught the girls all kinds of arts and crafts, and was much given to hunting.”
Jahangir also records that this palace was used as a guest house for Noor Jahan, his queen, during his time in the citadel. He continues to describe the Shab-i-Barat feast held inside Jahaz Mahal, saying that it was truly wonderful. As dusk descended lamps and lanterns were lighted all over the buildings and tanks, unlike anything he had witnessed before. The reflections of the lamplight on the dark water of the tanks resembled plains of fire. The entertainment was splendid and guests indulged to excess.
The main entrance is on the east side of the palace. It has a niched arch with six more arched openings flanking each side. A long cornice resting on sturdy stone brackets protrudes over these openings.
On the bottom floor, at the far ends, are narrow rooms while corridors connect the three large galleries in the central part of the building. Behind a chamber at the northern end is a cistern with a beautiful colonnade surrounding it on 3 sides. Water is supplied to the cistern by means of a channel from a southern room.
Each hall has its own attached pavilion which overlooks the Munj Talao. In the days of the royal seraglio drapes between the open arches would shield the women from view when they spent time there. They probably used these areas for entertainment and accommodation. More pavilions can be seen on the large terrace, the central one embellished with rows of yellow and blue tiles with traces of painted floral motifs.
Two side pavilions, both rectangular in shape, are sitting at the ends of the vast terrace. Between them is a dome kiosk. This arrangement gives the building’s façade an elegant symmetry. Yazdani describes the scene from this expansive terrace, “In the crimson glow of an Indian sunset, the wild beauty of the natural scenery and the panorama of domes and turrets present a spectacle perhaps not less charming than that noticeable from the Propylaeum when the venerable piles of Greek architecture are bathed in a golden light, the various hills of Athens blaze forth with a variety of color, and the distant sea glistens like molten ore.”
The Hindola Mahal
The Swinging Palace or Hindola Mahal gets its title from the elegant sloping walls. It was supposedly built during the second half of the 1400s just before the conclusion of Ghiyathuddin’s rule to serve as a hall for audiences. The floor plan of this edifice is in a T-shape with the audience hall taking up the longer part and the top of the T a transverse projection. It is believed this shorter section was a later addition. It differs from all the other palace buildings in Mandu because of its simplicity, but no one will dispute its aesthetic appeal.
This unique palace has intrigued scholars and visitors alike and is considered by many as unparalleled amongst India’s many monuments.
The audience hall is 88.5 feet in length, 26 feet wide, and 36 feet in height. Each side wall has six doorways crowned by deep arches, which in turn are topped by beautiful pierced windows. The long walls are 8.8 feet thick and that does not even include the slanting buttresses! A second story, no longer present, on the transverse projection was used by the royal women. The top apartments were reached by ascending flights of sloping levels, allowing the royal females to be carried upon elephants or palanquins.
The interior of this palace is adorned with fine bay windows but the simplicity of the exterior contrasts profoundly and might even appear austere. The masonry is neatly chiseled; the corner joints precise and the only embellishments are occasional bands of sculpted moldings.
North of Munj Talao there is a scattering of ruined structures. Their arrangement appears haphazard; nevertheless, they make a grand sight. Once upon a time, they were luxurious retreats for the Malwa Sultans where they could relax and enjoy poetry, music, and other forms of art either in private or publicly. Someone described it as ‘the lighter side of court life’.
Tabeli Mahal is another ruined relic of this complex. Since ‘tabeli’ means stable the bottom floor was probably used as a stable while the apartments on the second floor accommodated the guards. Today these are managed by the ASI as a guest house. From the terrace, guests have an excellent view of most of the ruins as well as the surroundings.
Another interesting feature is the Tiger Balcony or Nahar Jharokha. It derives its name from the tiger figure which supported it in earlier times. Typical of Agra forts, and referred to as darshan jharokhas, they were used as a stage by the kings to appear before their subjects. This one was probably constructed during one of Jahangir’s lengthy visits to Mandu. Historians on Shah Jahan believe that Akbar was the first ruler to originate this practice.
A well, commonly known as Champa Baoli can be found in the enclosure. Apparently, its water had the fragrance of champak flowers. The well’s base is connected to the tahkhana, a maze of arched room. These in turn, are linked to the pavilion on Munj Talao’s western bank. The water-cooled the tahkhana rooms during the summer’s scorching heat. A Hamman or bath is set nearby. Ceiling openings shaped like stars admit light.
The entrance to the Royal Enclave is through the Hathi Pol, a gate with the ruined statue of an elephant on each side. Bastions on both sides on which guns were mounted suggest that the gateway was constructed during the time of Jahangir since guns were not known to the earlier Mandu Sultans.
Two more step wells or baolis can be seen inside the complex. Ujala Baoli is open, letting in light, whereas Andheri Baoli has a cover and is dark. Andheri is domed and both deeper and larger. Two sets of steps lead to the water.
Gada Shah, also known as the ‘beggar master’ was a figure of important social standing and occupied two imposing buildings, although now in ruins. It is speculated that he was actually the Rajput chief Medini Ray who wielded considerable power, although he served under Sultan Mahmud ll. One structure served as a residence and the other as a ‘shop’. The latter was probably used as a public audience hall while the palace of Hindola received more distinct personages. The residence has two stories with two rooms and a hall on the upper level and apartments beside an arched hall on the bottom floor.
The Dilwar Khan Mosque
As far as Indo-Islamic monuments are concerned, Dilwar Khan’s is the oldest in Mandu. An inscription dated 1405 inside the mosque refers to the first Malwa Muslim ruler. The mosque was exclusively used by the royals. The central courtyard is surrounded by arcades with an exceptionally beautiful niche or mihrab on the western side. The prayer hall’s ceiling and pillars show distinct influences of the Hindu architectural style.
Scholars agree that this mosque represents the initial period of Islam architecture in Mandu; temples were dismantled and the material used to construct mosques but all efforts were employed to hide this fact. The main so-called improvement builders made was to add arbitrated pointed aches between pillars. Of special interest are the west wall niches and the main door, both elaborately ornamented.