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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The ground floor is made of red-stones with plain corridors and doors devoid of any elaborate carvings.
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!
While the interiors are gloomy, the exterior red-pillars and carvings shine brightly on a sunny day.
The first floored marble structure of Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri is in contrast to the red-stoned ground floor.
The marble structures have intricately carved figurines on its ceiling and a vibrantly painted dome with gold…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Interestingly, the Rama Avatar was carved on a different set along with the life events of the King.
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.
In spite of all the drawbacks, this place looks magnificent with its carvings and Indo-Islamic Architecture.
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.
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!!
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!