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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Nilkanth Temple Palace of Mughal Emperor Akbar's Hindu Wife in Madhya Pradesh | With English Translation of Persian Inscriptions, Anecdote of Jahangir's BirthDay celebration with his mother in this palace & Pictures of Nilkanth Palace Temple and Shiv Linga

" The whole of life well spent we deem,
In building thus, if o'er us gleam
Some faintest hope that soul of grace
Shall find repose within this place. "  

-- English translation of the beautiful inscription on the Nilkanth Palace
Epigraphia Indo-Moslemica, 1909-10, Pg-25, 
Trans. Zafar Hasan
Published by the Superintendent, Govt. Printing, India, 1912

Nilkanth* is a charming spot named after an old shrine of Lord Shiva which once existed at Mandu in Madhya Pradesh. In this article we will read about the Nilkanth Palace and the temple which dates back to the period of Mughal Emperor Akbar. It is also related to his Hindu wifeLater, it became the favourite retreat for their son, the next Mughal Emperor Jahangir / Salim & he celebrated his birthdays in this palace in the presence of his mother.

* - For our foreign readers : Nilkanth is another name for Lord Shiva, given to Him, after He consumed the poison that arose during the churning of the milky ocean by the Gods and demons in search of nectar, to save the world from annihilation. Nilkanth literally means blue throat; Lord Shiva's throat turned blue after He drank the poison.

Nilkanth Mahal / Palace
Imarat-i-Dilkhusha (the heart-pleasing abode)

The Nilkanth palace was built by the Mughal Governor of Mandu - Shah Badgah, as recorded in an inscription on the site. The palace was constructed for Mughal Emperor Akbar's Hindu wife, remembered as Jodhabai in common memoryin the 16th century. This palace is very close to the ancient Nilkanth shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva & it derives its name from the shrine itself. Interestingly the wall of this palace has a very divine & humble inscription talking about "the futility of earthly pomp and glory " --

  Lo, the owl hath built her nest
In Shirwan Shah's high storey,
Warning nightly by her cry,
' Where now thy pomp and glory ? ' 

--- From The City of Joy - Mandu
By G. Yazdani,
Director of Archaeology in His Exalted Highness The Nizam's Dominions,
Epigraphist to the Government of India for Muslim Inscriptions
Printed for the State of Dhar, 
By John Johnson, 
Cover Page, Oxford University Press, 1929

The inscription on this palace, built of red stone and designated as the Imarat-i-Dilkhusha (the heart-pleasing abode), states that it was constructed on the orders of Jalal-ud-din Akbar Badshah in 1574 AD. The inscription was written by Faridun Husain, son of Hatim-al-Hirawi in Thuluth* calligraphy.

* - Thuluth was a large and elegant, cursive script, used in medieval times on decorations at religious places. Various calligraphic styles evolved from the Thuluth in due course. 

The main apartment in this palace is on the southern side, where a holy Shiva linga is housed. This is the most striking feature of this palace, which otherwise looks Islamic in its architecture. The palace contains an ancient Nilkanth temple dating back to the times of the Parmar Rajputs during the early 9th century. The temple suffered destruction at the hands of early invading forces. 

* - The location of the palace close to the temple precincts is explained later in the article. 

The Shiva Lingam in the Nilkanth Temple

Nilkanth Mahal / Palace was constructed on the orders of the Mughal Emperor Akbar for his Hindu wife Jodhabai, by his governor Shah Badgah. His name appears in the inscriptions on this palace, as we will see later in this article.
From The Indian Encyclopaedia, Set of 25 Volumes
Biographical, Historical, Religious, Administrative, Ethnological, Commercial & Scientific
Volume - 15, Page - 4596 , Cosmos Publications, New Delhi, 2002

From The City of Joy - Mandu
By G. Yazdani,
Director of Archaeology in His Exalted Highness The Nizam's Dominions and Epigraphist to the Government of India for Muslim Inscriptions
Printed for the State of Dhar, by John Johnson, Page- 34, Oxford University Press, 1929

The Nilkanth Palace was constructed in record time, between 23rd April,  1574 and 11th April, 1575, that is, in less than a year. See Inscription Number 250. 

From The Study Of Muslim Inscriptions with Special Reference To The Inscriptions Published In The Epigraphia Indo Moslemica

By V.S. Bendrey,
A Study of 600 Epigraphical Inscriptions, 1907-1938, Pg-129,
Printed by M.N. Kulkarni at the Karnataka Publishing House, Bombay, 1944

The architecture of the palace is a visual treat for history lovers. The palace offers a magnificent view of the valley below. The main portion of the palace is enclosed by rooms to its west, south and east, providing privacy to the inhabitants. However, the northern portion is open so that the beautiful view of the valley can be enjoyed.

The History of the Nilkantha Palace - Temple

The present structure was apparently built on the site of an ancient shrine of Lord Shiva. The original name of the building survived during the last three centuries in spite of the Muslim character of the building, as the 'palace - temple' complex was dedicated to Him. Now, this structure is used as a temple.

The palace is said to be located at the site of an ancient temple. After the 'destructive' waves of invasions of the 12th and 13th centuries, many ancient buildings suffered damage. This structure was outwardly made to appear like a Muslim building during the reign of Akbar, but actually contained both the palace and a temple. Now it is used as a temple only.
For more details, see Dhar and Mandu
By Major C.E. Luard, Page 29
Printed by Bishamber Nath Bhargava, Allahabad, 1912 

Here is a picture of the room used as a temple, with a Trishul in it.

Another Persian inscription says that after the conquest of Deccan and Khandesh, Emperor Akbar set out for Hind* (North India) in 1600 AD. This inscription was written by Masum Nami. 

* - Hind is a geographical term, not religious.

Still another Persian inscription says that His Exalted Majesty Akbar visited this place in his 44th regnal year, that is, 1600 AD, on his way to conquer Deccan. This inscription also contains a quatrain in Persian, composed and inscribed by Masum Nami. 

The inscriptions here are of great importance. One interesting verse refers in a plaintive note to the futility of earthly pomp and glory:

" At dawn I noticed an owl roosting
In the balcony of Shirwan Shah :
Plaintively it uttered this warning ,
Where all that Pomp and where all that Glory? "

The Beautiful View of the Valley from the Palace

The rooms on the eastern & western sides have semi-domical roofs & only one arched opening each towards the court; their floor being on a higher level than that of the court but on a lower level than that of the room on the southern side. In the inner room to the south is an octagonal cistern, which was fed with water from the dried-up tank on the plateau above, as can be judged from the traces of a water channel and a fine cascade on the back of the building. The outer room seems to have been an apartment of the palace, as it overlooks the court and the beautiful valley beyond it.

View of the beautiful valley from the apartment of Nilkanth Mahal

The temple is one of the most beautiful structures of Mandu and, quite naturally, one of the most popular tourist spots as well as an important pilgrimage centre of the place. It is considered to be one of the most sacred shrines in the area and devotees come here in huge numbers, even from far-off places, to perform various rituals and ceremonies. 

Spiral Water Channel at Nilkanth Palace. 
People can be seen taking water drops in their hands, considering it to be sacred. The water coming through this channel feeds the tank.

Close View of the Spiral Channel

Another Close View of the Spiral Water Channel

Architecture of the Nilkanth Palace

This building has no architectural pretensions, but its style is typical of Akbar's period. 

The palace is approached by a long flight of steps, sixty-one in all, leading down to the western projection of its court. The main portion of the court is enclosed by rooms to its west, south and east, the northern side being kept open so that the beautiful valley may be seen clearly. 

In the center of the court is a fine cistern to which water was supplied by a channel or cascade built along the plinth of the apartment on the southern side. Pictures of the channel can be seen above.

Side View of the Palace With the Tank in the Centre 
Mughal influence can be seen clearly in the construction.

Front View of the Palace. 
Construction can be seen on 3 sides - front, left and right. The 4th side from where this picture has been clicked is open and faces the valley. 
A picture showing the valley's view can be seen above.

The shrine has an ancient Shiva linga and is dedicated to Lord Shiva's Nilkanth incarnation. It is located on the edge of a steep gorge. The walls of the temple feature elegant designs. The temple is thickly surrounded by trees. The enclosure of the shrine faces a sacred pond that receives water from its nearest stream. The tree-shaded courtyards and the sacred pond fed by a stream are part of this ancient temple. 

Khirni Tree at Nilkanth Temple

An Account of the Palace by an Archaeologist

Here is a detailed description of the Nilkanth palace by an eminent archaeologist-cum-epigraphist of the Government of India, G. Yazdani, when he visited this palace in 1927, as a guest of the erstwhile royal state of Dhar.

I am simply posting the scanned pages. The pages also contain the English translation of some of the Persian inscriptions in this palace.

The information has been sourced from The City of Joy - Mandu, by G. Yazdani, Director of Archaeology in His Exalted Highness The Nizam's Dominions and Epigraphist to the Government of India for Muslim Inscriptions, Printed for the State of Dhar, by John Johnson, Page - 111 to 114, Oxford University Press, 1929.





There are more inscriptions in this palace. They can be read in the Epigraphia Indo-Moslemica, 1909-10, Inscriptions of Dhar and Mandu, Zafar Hasan, published by the Superintendent, Govt. Printing Press, India, 1912. Due to my inability to procure this source, the details of those inscriptions have not been included in this article. Readers may try to obtain this book for more information.

This is a photograph of Nilkanth Palace, used as a Hindu shrine, taken by an unknown photographer in 1902. 
This is a view of the arched entrance to the building, which was built outwardly an as Islamic structure, predominantly in the Mughal style. Mandu was the centre of an important provincial style of Islamic architecture characterised by an elegant and powerful simplicity, which is believed to have influenced later Mughal architecture at Agra and Delhi. 

Mandu was also an ancient stronghold, which first came to prominence under the Parmar Rajput dynasty, who ruled over the province of Malwa in central India with their seat at Dhar, during the 10th century.

From Curzon Collection: 'Photographs. Dhar and Mandu'.
Presented to His Excellency Lord Curzon by His Highness Udaji Rao Puar of Dhar, Nov 5th 1902
Photographs Album 430/32, Photo Number 46
Courtesy : British Library

Importance of this Palace  -
For Mughal Emperor Jahangir and His Mother Mariam-Uz-Zamani

It is on record that the Mughal Emperor Jahangir celebrated his birthday by going to the palace of his mother. Along with his memoirs, this custom has also been recorded by the foreign traveller William Hawkins who visited India during the period 1608-13. Thomas Roe (1615-19) and Edward Terry (1616-19) have also recorded the exceptional courtesies, which Jahangir reserved for his mother.

Jahangir's regard for his mother was exceptional and different from what he showed to others. He conducted almost all major ceremonies in her palace. The English traveller Edward Terry, who visited India between 1616 and 1619  records that the Mughal Emperor Jahangir used to carry the palanquin of his mother Mariam-Uz-Zamani on his own shoulders!

In 1617, Jahangir celebrated his birthday in Nilkanth Palace, which had become his favourite retreat. The English ambassador Thomas Roe was also present on this occasion, as mentioned in a scan posted earlier in this article. Jahangir's mother Mariam-Uz-Zamani was also among those present on the occasion along with some other ladies of his harem. 

As mentioned in a scan posted in the starting of this article - Jahangir went to the 'pleasant' Nilkanta Palace with his mother and other ladies of the harem in July 1617. He celebrated his birthday on 30th August - 1st September here only. This means that for approx. 3-4 months the royal entourage stayed in this palace.

Few days after the birthday celebrations, Jahangir notes in Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri, Volume-1, Ed. Beveridge, Pg-401, 1914, that he sent (his mother) Hazrat Mariam-Uz-Zamani back to Agra, as he was proceeding for a hunt. Hazrat is an honourable epithet reserved for saints mostly.


Details of this celebration can be obtained from - Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, XIX, Pg-194, 195. A separate detailed blog post dealing with the conduct of Jahangir with his mother will be posted soon, where these details will also be included.

Till then, here is another article, which is written from the same perspective. The article notes some of the incidents, which Jahangir records about his mother in his memoirs. Link : Excerpts from Jahangirnama - Jahangir and his Relatives

End Note:

Mandu, also known by the name of Mandavgarh, is located in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Mandu was earlier known by the name of Shadiabad- 'city of joy', by the Malwa Sultans. The ancient town of Mandu is popular because of its ancient history and rocky outcrop. The town was earlier the defence capital of the Rajput Parmara rulers, who ruled over the province of Malwa.  Mandu is a celebration in stone, of life and joy, a tribute to the love shared between the poet-prince Baz Bahadur and his beautiful consort, Rani Roopmati. The balladeers of Malwa still sing of their euphoric romance.

Perched along the Vindhya ranges at an altitude of 2,000 feet, Mandu exudes a spirit of gaiety; and its rulers built exquisite palaces like the Jahaz and Hindola Mahals, ornamental canals, baths and pavilions, as graceful and refined as those times of peace and plenty.

Here is a short history of Mandu for those who are interested. This place was ruled by the Rajputs from 800 to 1310 AD, and by the Pathan Sultans of Malwa from 1401 to 1531 AD, after which it came under Mughal rule and then under Marathas.

The reference for this information is :
Dhar and Mandu, by Major C.E. Luard
Printed by Bishamber Nath Bhargava, Allahabad, 1912
Pages 1 to 6


Thanks to Radhika for her valuable contribution.
Article Category : Mughals (Akbar)

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