The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 23, 2001

Marvel in marble
Usha Bande

EXOTIC names like Kalchuri, Bunder Kudi, Bhedaghat whet your curiosity, the mighty Narmada conjures up the glittering splendour of the Marble Rocks and the misty waterfalls at Dhuandhar, and you are irresistibly drawn to Jabalpur, one of the major cities of Madhya Pradesh. It is a historic city at one time ruled by the Kalchuri dynasty, the Gond kings, the Mauryas, and the Guptas. It is a city where you feel the power of the Narmada, the "daughter of Shiva", "The Delightful One," of whom the ancient poets sang, the one they extolled as a river "born out of Shiva’s love and named after laughter." You realise that the river is a symbol of our culture and its intrinsic unity.

The Narmada flowing between the Marble Rocks
The Narmada flowing between the Marble Rocks

The rich Narmada valley, the green dwarf hills, the Hiran river and the black cotton soil bound Jabalpur and enrich it. It is called the ‘granary of Madhya Pradesh’. The rock-edict of Rupnath belonging to the reign of Ashoka takes the history of Jabalpur back to about 272 B.C. when it formed the southern part of Ashoka’s empire. A pillar found in Allahabad of the period of Samudragupta (320 A.D.) speaks of his conquest of some of the tribes of the area. For a long time it was ruled over by the Kalchuri dynasty. Numerous inscriptions belonging to the Kalchuri kings establish the genealogy of these kings from Kokalla I (875 AD) to Kokalla 15 (1180 AD), the last Kalchuri king. The Gonds assumed power in the 15th century with Samgramshah as the first Gond ruler who built fortresses, temples and dams.

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The Chausat Yogini Temple
The Chausat Yogini Temple

The wonder of Jabalpur, however, lies in its Marble Rocks and the torrential waterfall called Dhuandhar. Soaring in their glittering splendour, the rocks at Bhedaghat rise to a hundred feet on either side of the Narmada. The water looks still, green and foreboding as you stand on the embankment waiting for your turn to board a boat. The small and old canoe-type ferryboats are not by any means an enticing sight, though. Some of them look too dilapidated to weather the mighty, unfathomable waters; and the four local boatmen appear too frail to carry you across. But, these are men of grit; their thin arms and the weather-beaten brows are determined. As you sit with other tourists they entertain you with their typical rhetoric on the rocks, the significance of the river, its depth and the stories and legends associated with it; and you land back safely without realising how those 20 minutes of your trip flew past.

The Dahuandhar waterfall at Jabalpur
The Dahuandhar waterfall at Jabalpur

The rocks are a marvel of nature. Jagged at places, inhospitable, awe-inspiring, yet serene and lovely, they lend a cool charm to the entire scene. In sunlight, they present myriad hues, on moonlit nights they sparkle with the tranquil beauty of the Taj in water. Captain J. Forsyth describes the enchanting beauty of the expanse of water enclosed within the rocks thus: "The eye never wearies of the effect produced by the broken and reflected sunlight, now glancing from a pinnacle of snow-white marble reared against the deep blue of the sky as from a point of silver; touching here and there with bright lights the prominences of the middle heights; and again losing itself in the soft bluish gray of their recesses." As the boatmen row you towards the highest rocks, so narrow at the top that the spot is known as Bunder Kudi (a place from where monkeys could jump from top to top), you feel the impact of the still water, more than 450 ft deep. On either side of the rocks high above you, there are huge honeycombs dangling from the jagged surfaces. Smoking is not allowed here and the locals never tire of recounting how during the British Raj a white sahib flaunted the warning of the local boatman dismissing it as "one of those native stuffs," lit a cigarette and was attacked by swarms of angry bees, overturning the boat.

On your way back, you enjoy passing through the colourful rocks — pinkish-white, gray-blue, deep gray and off-white. The guide shows you some imaginary figures, which with childlike credibility, you tend to believe in. One of their favourites is the figure of two children fighting and another, of a sadhu sitting high up on the peak in meditation. As if to enjoy the tourists’ plight, the guides exercise their uncanny knack of evoking fear by pointing out to some dreary, mossy and unfathomable spot as the ‘headquarters’ of crocodiles. And then, they take you back to the glittering world of films, telling how a certain hero fought on the rocks with the villain and saved the heroine — believe him if you wish, but the rocks look too slippery and unapproachable for humans to reach. The Narmada yields rich treasures of soft soapstone and before leaving Bhedaghat one is tempted to buy delicately carved artifacts as souvenirs.

The next spot is the Dhuandhar. Here, the river making its way through the marble rocks, narrows down and then plunges in a waterfall. So great is the force of the mass of torrential water that the fall produces smoke-like spray and hence the name ‘Dhuandhar’ — the smoke cascade. The roar of the waterfall can be heard from a distance but it is rewarding to go near the falls, witness the spectacle of nature’s power, feel the spray on you and marvel at the scenic grandeur when the rays of the sun produce a rainbow. It is our very own Niagara Falls, indeed.

Driving back from Dhuandhar, stop at the Chausat Yogini temple. Situated atop a hill, this temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga and her 64 forms. It was built in the 10th century and it has beautifully carved stone figures of deities. There are two interesting and rare things about the temple: first, the outer boundary is circular in shape and second, the main sanctum has a unique idol of Shiva and Parvati riding the Nandi. According to a local legend this ancient temple was connected to the Gond Queen Durgavati’s palace. It is also said that Shiva decided to reside here, granting a boon to an ascetic, pleased by his devotion. From the hillock you get a panoramic view of the vast rocky terrain, the river flowing through the jagged Marble Rocks and the sprawling city spread before you.

The Madan Mahal Fort atop a rocky hill, the Sangramsagar and Bajnath Math, The Rani Durgavati Memorial and Museum and the Tilwara Ghat where Mahatama Gandhi’s ashes were immersed in Narmada are some of the spots that speak of history. Kanha sanctuary and Bandhavgarh National Parks, too, are conveniently approachable.