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Chanderi The Fabric of History

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The road to Chanderi snakes through quintessential India: chequered farmlands punctuated by sleepy little hamlets. At Surwaya, a short detour off the main road, a major excavation project of rebuilding temples and monuments that were once a pile of rubble is in progress. Surwaya is a reminder that the now obscure road to Chanderi was once an important trade route; a fact reinforced by an imposing fortress that proudly crowns a strategically located hill further down the road.

Closer to Chanderi, the road plunges through a dense forest where, according to folklore, a not so honourable king abandoned his queen as she did not take kindly to his philandering ways. The frightened maiden stumbled through the thicket that once harboured predatory animals till she reached the safety of a little riverside hamlet that would later be known as Chanderi.

Another legend traces the origins of the settlement back to Raja Kurmadeva, the ruler of a neighbouring citadel 9 km away, who had contracted leprosy. One day while he was brooding near the banks of a river, goddess Devi Jageshwari appeared before him and cured him of the cursed disease. To commemorate his miraculous cure and his brief encounter with the goddess, the ruler built Kurmeshwar Tal (known today as Parmeshwar Talab) at the very spot and later moved his capital to the new city – Chanderi – that he built along its banks. He also decreed that each year a special festival be held here to honour Devi Jageshwari, a tradition that is celebrated with much gusto to this day.

Legends aside, the recorded history of Chanderi goes back to the 11th century when the Pratihara king, Kirtipal first fortified the city which served as an important stopover and trading outpost for tradering caravans. Ever since, the fort and the town has fallen into the hand of different rulers including the Rajputs, Mughals, the Scindias of Gwalior and eventually the British. Somewhere along the line Chanderi slipped off the political map and into quiet obscurity.

Outside the main gate of Chanderi fort is a small memorial that commemorates the heroism of a forgotten general and his soldiers who held off Mughal Emperor Babur’s advancing army. It serves as a grim reminder of the time when Chanderi was a prize over which kings and emperors were willing to spill blood. Today the crumbling remains of once proud turrets thrust apologetically at a cloudless blue sky and battered ramparts trace the contours of a rocky cliff that has a commanding view of the town which is studded with ancient monuments. These include the row of white cone like roofs of a Jain temple; the imposing domes of the Jama Masjid; the ornate yet forlorn Badal Mahal Gate to a palace that was never built; two little shrines perched on the summit of two hillocks facing each other and other relics of the past scattered randomly across the landscape.

Today Chanderi is famous for the saris that bear the town’s name and the narrow streets that curve through the heart of the town are alive with the incessant clickity-clack of looms. The weavers are more than happy to invite visitors into their homes cum factories where the entire family, wives and young kids included, work on creations that take shape strand by strand.

The main characteristic of Chanderi saris which are made of cotton and or silk is the subtle use of earthy colours, a gold border and two bands of gold on the pallav. The more exclusive ones are embellished with gold motives known as butis. A sari can take anywhere from one day to one month to complete and cost from Rs. 275 for a plain cotton one to over Rs. 30,000 for a fine silk creation. Price aside, these saris are the living heritage of what was once a proud Kingdome.

File Facts Gwalior (250 km) is the closest airport to Chanderi.

Lalitpur (36 km) and Jhansi (124 km) on the Delhi-Chennai and Delhi-Mumbai main line are the closest and most convenient railway stations.

Chanderi may be included as an extension of the tourist triangle of Gwalior, Shivpuri and Orchha of north Madhya Pradesh.

By way of accommodation, the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (MPTDC) runs a hotel – with an attached restaurant – on the outskirts of the town.


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