Sunday, December 6, 1998
By Arun Gaur
WE take a long circuitous route to Ajabgarh via Thana Gazi. When the blackish fortress of Thana Gazi, as bald as that of Deeg, appears at a distance, we pick up a diversion and move on a road that goes through many villages towards our destination.
Though chronologically Bhangarh preceded Ajabgarh, on this route it is the latter that comes first. "Where is the fort?" "Just after the last house on the road!" It is a dilapidated row of houses with little shops within them on both sides of the road.
A little bit ahead, there is the dammed up water of Saumsagar on the left, a kind of lake. To our immediate right, a temple, and then a furlong further a fortress on a higher elevation is visible squarish, bald, brownish and locked.
Its easy accessibility and dwarfish nature must have made it an easy prey to the assaulting forces. Then why was the capital of the kingdom shifted from Bhangarh to this place? Perhaps, one of the reasons was its commanding view of the lake water. In all likelihood, we would know more about it on reaching Bhangarh.
More picturesque than the fort is the temple. A lad of 15 wearing nothing above his waist, is a little curious about what I am doing there. Recently, the idol in the temple has been stolen. Climbing up the temple steps along with me, he provides this bit of information: "In the morning they came, those thieves. My father did hear the engine sound of the car. He rushed out and shouted! But nobody came to help. What could he do all alone? In seconds, they were gone and the idol too." Thieves seem to be burgeoning everywhere. At Alwar, the colonial statuettes have disappeared and now here the same story is repeated. It is happening in numerous isolated pockets. Either thieves help themselves with these images or the officials shift them to the dumping hovels in museums, where they lie lifeless like uprooted trees.
About 15 km from here is Bhangarh the so-called dreaded ghost city. Today, at least, neither is it deserted nor does there seem to be any dreadful thing about it. Plenty of people mostly from the nearby villages.
There is a legend relating how the city came to be destroyed. But it is not a pure fable. Right from the founding of the city to its end, history and legend have got mixed up, at places, it seems too badly, and one does not know what is what.
In the first half of the 17th century, Madho Singh of Amber built his capital here with the sanction of an ascetic Baba Balanath, who meditated there, but not without his dire prescription: "Look my dear chap! The moment the shadows of your palaces touch me, you are undone. The city shall be no more!" In ignorance, Ajab Singh, one of the later descendants in the dynasty, raised the palace to such a height that the shadow reached the forbidden place. Hence the devastation.
A second legend tells of a tantric battle waged between the lovely queen Ratnavali and that wicked sorcerer Singha Sevra, whose chhatri can be seen on the top of the hill. Desperately, he tried to trap her in his magical web, and failed every time, as the queen herself was a past-mistress in the tantric art.
The last battle took place on the day when the queen losing eventually her temper, transformed a glass bottle containing the massaging oil into a big rock and flung it towards the hill-top, where sat the devil. In vain he tried to stall this glass missile. It was too late. Sensing his imminent death, concentrating all his powers, he spat his dying curse: "I die! But thou too, thou Ratnavali shall not live here anymore. Neither thou, nor thine kin, nor these walls of the city. None shall see the morning sun!" I suspect, it was after all, the demon who had the last laugh! The night was spent in hastily trying to transfer the palace treasures to the new site of Ajabgarh. In the morning came the tempest levelling everything to the ground.
There must be many other ghost cities in India. Didnt Fatehpur Sikri turn into one after it was deserted? But they are the ghost cities in the metaphorical sense unlike the present one which is a ghost city in the more literal sense down to the earth ghostly!
There are indeed signs of destruction everywhere in the shopping centre with shops subdivided into distinct well-demarcated separate compartments, within them the steps leading upward. But it seems that the destructive force unleashed its fury in a systematic manner, amputating the lane roughly at the same level. There is nothing to suggest gradual or natural crumbling down.
Analysts have found a kind of spatial organisation of the city on the basis of hierarchy of castes Shudras on the periphery, the Vaishyas along the market lane, the Kshatriyas, and the Brahmins around the temples and the royal household in the palace at a higher elevation. All this enviable organisation has disappeared, too.
The main lane ends at the Shaiva temple with a water tank fed with a perennial stream of water that originates in the magical snake-infested sandal woods, that is what the country folk still affirm. The other temple has some fine segments. While on the outer surface, the figures of Mahishasuramardini and Varaha avatara of Vishnu are distinctly carved, the more unusual figures are on the door jambs and the lintel of the garbha-griha that include Shiva-Parvati on the camel-backa typical Rajasthani variant.
But it is in the demon
faces that run on the outer surface of this temple in a
band-formation that the mystery becomes lively and
concentrated. Nothing like them in Bhangarh! The most
vicious demons might have been staring there for more
than a thousand years, with bulging beady eyes. Cruel,
cold, hard stone-stare! The only dreadful remnant,
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