Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri – A Stark Reminder of Power, Love and Sati

Rajasthan is all about royalty, masculine valour, Rajput war stories and a patriarchal presence.Though it also is known for its reverence to women in various divine forms, the infamous social practices of Child Marriages and Sati that once dominated the State cannot be ignored. Thankfully, these are becoming less prevalent ascribable to strict laws and wide-spread social awareness.

So, one can understand my surprise when I got to know about a chhatri/memorial named after a woman in the oldest Rajasthan territory of Alwar. And, it sounded so similar to the name of the river that once flowed through Hyderabad or Bhagyanagar in south-India.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri
The Sun emblem of the Suryavanshis

Alwar is located in the oldest region of Rajasthan. This region was known as Matsya pradesha aeons ago with its capital at Viratanagari (present-day Viratnagar or Bairat) ruled by the Suryavanshis. Lord Rama is a Suryavanshi!

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri
The red-stone arch of MoosiMaharani Ki Chattri against a backdrop of the Alwar fort (Bala Quila)

Tugged cosily and nestled amidst the hills of the world’s oldest mountain ranges of the Aravallis, Alwar is a blessed valley, endowed with greenery and lakes and is relatively sparsely populated.

Unlike other cities of Rajasthan, one may not find too many tourists here and that works perfectly for someone like me who abhors crowded monuments and places of interests.

If I have to recommend one place in Alwar for heritage and architecture lovers then it ought to be the Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri.

So, what are Chhatris?

In the Royal state of Rajasthan, Chhatris are built on the cremation sites of wealthy and distinguished individuals of the society. Chhatris may consist of a simple structure of just one dome raised by four pillars or can also be a building containing many domes and a basement with several rooms. Nowadays, one can find these chhatris being used in the construction of structures with a Rajasthani touch, too.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

In some places, the interiors of the chhatris are painted in the same manner as the Havelis (Mansions) of the region. Usually, they do not contain the remains as cremation is a common norm and the ashes are in turn immersed and strew in holy rivers.

The Tales of Moosi Maharani Ki Chatri

‘The Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri was built by Maharaja Vinay Singh (1815-1857) of Alwar, in memory of his predecessor Maharaja Bakhtawar Singh and the latter’s wife Maharani Moosi, who had committed sati (self-immolation)’- so say, the guidebooks.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri
First glimpse of Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

But what is usually not discussed is how Moosi became the Maharani while some books brand her as a concubine and others proclaim that she was a village girl by whom the King was enchanted! Historical records can be quite unreliable many times…So the debate is still open.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

If one tries to associate the happenings of those years and the societal norms prevalent especially in the royal circles, then we can understand why she was a favourite of the King. Moosi Rani was the only one who could produce a male heir to continue the legacy of Maharaja Bhaktawar Singh. Since none of the wives of Bhaktawar Singh could accomplish this once revered feat of producing a male heir, she was given the title of ‘Maharani’ post her act of Sati upon Bhaktawar Singh’s death and her foot-prints are revered along with that of Bhaktawar Singh inside the Chhatri.(I doubt if they are the original foot-prints as they look quite smaller in size).The local people offer their prayers every day to Moosi-Rani as she has achieved a higher-status after the immolation in her husband’s pyre.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

Moosi Rani supposedly gave birth to a boy-Balwant Singh and later a girl-child Chand Bai. The Alwar territory was divided between Balwant Singh and Bakthwar Singh’s nephew-Vinay Singh. And it is Vinay Singh who ordered the construction of the architecturally spectacular Moosi Maharani Ki Chatri and the beautiful Sagar Kund that has seen the passage of time.Some claim that the territory was divided into three parts and the last part went to the Islamic Khanzadas.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri Architecture

Interestingly, the Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri has been built with an Elephant shaped structure and has a combination of domes that also reflects the Islamic influenced Bengali Architecture, red-basement and intricate carvings and paintings. It is a double-storied red-stone and marble cenotaph. It forms an interesting imaginary triangle with Alwar City Palace and the Sagar Lake.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

The ground floor is made of red-stones with plain corridors and doors devoid of any elaborate carvings.

Alwar Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

This section is resemblant of the various Mughal monuments strewn across the country. It looks quite sombre and dark reflecting the region’s chaotic past!

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

While the interiors are gloomy, the exterior red-pillars and carvings shine brightly on a sunny day.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

The first floored marble structure of Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri is in contrast to the red-stoned ground floor.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

The marble structures have intricately carved figurines on its ceiling and a vibrantly painted dome with gold…

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

The beautifully chiselled pillars on which the blooming lotus adorns every side supports the delicately carved marble roof and the raised chhatri that encloses the foot-prints of both the late king and queen.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

The ceiling of the dome has finely painted frescoes with floral motifs in gold and vibrant colours that have not paled much over time. I observed that there was no harsh light present and maybe this is the reason why these delicate paintings have withstood the tests of time.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri
A closer look at the frescoes of the ceiling

One of the marble carvings on the ceiling, depicted the happenings of the court proceedings, entertainment of the King, hunting, war scenes and of course European figurines. This cenotaph was built in 1815 and by that time the Western influence and dominance were quite prominent. And this carving is a reflection of the same.

Of course, the place requires a better maintenance as one can find cob-webs hanging from the ceilings, pigeon poop was strewn all around like any other structure in the vicinity of Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri.

The other two carvings depict the Dasavathar(Ten Incarnations of Lord Vishnu) and scenes from the Indian epics. I found discrepancies in this, as the Kurma Avatar and Rama Avatar were missing and instead Krishna was depicted twice in the Govardhanagiri dhari form and as Aalinai Krishna( Baby Krishna on a leaf sucking his toe) – a major resemblance to Tanjore Paintings.

Of course, the place requires a better maintenance as one can find cob-webs hanging from the ceilings, pigeon poop was strewn all around like any other structure in the vicinity of Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri.

Interestingly, the Rama Avatar was carved on a different set along with the life events of the King.

Of course, the place requires a better maintenance as one can find cob-webs hanging from the ceilings, pigeon poop was strewn all around like any other structure in the vicinity of Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri.

The premises requires better maintenance as one can find cob-webs hanging from ceilings, pigeon poop strewed all around like in any other structure in the vicinity of Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri.

Of course, the place requires a better maintenance as one can find cob-webs hanging from the ceilings, pigeon poop was strewn all around like any other structure in the vicinity of Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri.

In spite of all the drawbacks, this place looks magnificent with its carvings and Indo-Islamic Architecture.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

The Sagar Kund beside the Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri offers a pleasant view with its green-algae filled pond water at least from afar. The scene is an eclectic mix of red, white, pastel shades and the green of the algae.

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri
The Sagar Kund

Even though the architecture of Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri is spectacular, one cannot deny the cloud of sadness that envelops as you get to know of the past and the practice of Sati. I still cannot fathom how a lady could immolate herself upon her husband’s death- Could it be due to escape from insecurity, the societal pressure or an involuntary feeling of anything and everything for the beloved  ???

And to realize that this was the practice for many years not just in India but in other civilizations like Greece, Egypt is quite disturbing. Oh yes! the Britishers brought in a law to abolish the practice but that does not mean that it was happening everywhere in India. As far as I know, this practice was mostly restricted to parts of Rajasthan and Bengal.

Probably, if I tell you that it was a custom among the Egyptians, Greeks, Scythians and others to bury a dead king with his mistresses or wives, servants and materialistic things, you would understand the intensity of this issue. This was purely done because they believed that the king may need all this and that they could continue to serve him in the next world!!

Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri

Of course, the place requires a better maintenance as one can find cob-webs hanging from the ceilings, pigeon poop was strewn all around like any other structure in the vicinity of Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri.

Sati translates to righteous in Sanskrit. Sati the consort of Shiva according to Hindu scriptures, of course, did not commit suicide on her dead husband’s pyre. She jumped into a pyre in a fit of rage against her father’s doing. Therefore, the custom of burning the widow on her dead husband’s pyre probably did not evolve due to religious reasons but from a crooked societal mindset!

These are my thoughts on this practice. Do share your thoughts too in the comments. Because I believe that a trip or visit to a heritage monument should be beyond sharing photos and information 🙂

Also, if you have visited the Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri in Alwar, share your thoughts on its architecture and this photo-tour of mine. And, if you still haven’t visited the monument then why not use one of the long weekends this year to visit this beautiful place in Rajasthan!

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  1. Rajasthan definitely has some rather interesting monuments and histories! I do wish everything was better maintained! It was very interesting to read the stories behind these monuments! Like always, well-researched and superb captures!

  2. I have travelled a little in Rajasthan but I’ve never been to Alwar and I have certainly never heard of Mossi Maharani ki Chhatri. The ‘chhatri’ is something I’ve seen at several other historical sites in India but I didn’t know it’s called that! Also, the legend behind why Moosi came to be known as a Maharani is interesting, as is the architecture of the lovely site.

  3. Aryane says:

    I’ve heard of sati before but I didn’t know it was also a somewhat common practice in other parts of the world. With everything that’s happened in India those last few years, it’s sad to see that there’s still a lot to be done for women’s rights. But I do believe that, through education, things are slowly but surely improving.
    And the architecture is absolutely beautiful. I have a friend who’s leaving for India this weekend, I will pass your article along!

  4. Wow! as usual, I am totally stunned by your photography. While I love the well-preserved historical structures and learning the history behind them, I can’t help getting depressed at the misogyny ingrained in the history. Thank you for bringing up the origin of the term Sati and how it was misused in the name of religion

  5. This is a really amazing article! You have made a perfect trip to this place, sharing it to the world! Knowing the history of this place, and and the light and dark side behind it, really gives a different point of view when we explore the beautiful architecture. If someone goes there with this knowledge, he can’t be just a happy tourist, but he can dive deeply into the reality of this place.

  6. Another beautiful article spiced up with some amazing photos! I visited the Moosi Rani ki Chatri during my last Rajasthan visit and it was an amazing experience, indeed. Even though I don’t fancy the Sati custom, I appreciate the place it holds in Indian history. Thank you for this informative article.

  7. My Indian friend is from this area. I have always wanted to see Rajashtran and I find it really interesting. The structures and buildings are so amazing! You had a great set of photos. Thanks for giving me a virtual tour. I’ll put it in my bucket list.

  8. blair villanueva says:

    What a gorgeous architecture that stands the time of time! I love the story and imagining the life back in the days here in this old city. I am happy that this still exist and hope many will visit it.

  9. I won’t attempt to misspell the name of this place, but it’s absolutely stunning! India’s one country I’d really like to visit to see this kind of architecture and of this magnitude. I can only imagine how long it took to make those intricate detailing in the marble, it’s a beautiful sight.

  10. I have never even heard of this place before, and thanks to you, feel like I have learned so much! I agree that it is quite alarming to hear of some of the customs like child marriages and self-immolation. The most interesting part of the architecture to me is that the base is very plain with no carvings or decoration, just red. Then you look at the floor above with such intricate designs and stories. Love that Moosi Rani came from nothing and became Maharani!

  11. You have encompassed the beauty and the tale of Musi Maharani Chatri in this post. I enjoyed reading it. If and when visit Alwar, this place is added to must visit list. Thanks

  12. Beautiful architecture. Your pictures are spectacular. Thanks for sharng. Sati was a horrifying practice and I’m glad its abolished. I’m pretty sure it was practised in other parts of India as well.

  13. Royal touch of grandeur is clouded by the tainted history, here.
    Sati was prevalent practise even in the state of Mharashtra. Tradition of Sati is an ugly spot in the Indian history. Though it might have been glorified in folk tales, I find it disgusting.

  14. There is so much to learn from visiting various places. You have very well described the place.

  15. This is such a detailed and authentically stunning post. I learnt about one more place I must visit.
    That marble plaque with those set of footprints tugged at my heart strangely.
    My Mum is from Rajasthan, and we pray to Rani Sati, who is considered to be a Goddess.

  16. This is such an in-depth narrative. Awesome. Me too thinks how females immolated or jumped into the pure following the husband! Must have been to save themselves from various other atrocities I guess.

  17. Rajasthan is one place which I would like to visit first when I make a tour of india. City, culture and of course food enthralles me. Pics look so good

  18. The place looks much cleaner and better maintained than when I visited it a few years ago. Sati was practiced in many parts of India not just Rajasthan – there are Sati stones I found in the museum of Goa.

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