For the queen of Malwa, with love

October 15, 2017 12:15 am | Updated October 14, 2017 09:15 pm IST

All that Baz Bahadur did to ensure that Rupmati could worship the Narmada

One day, Baz Bahadur (1551-1621), the ruler of Malwa, was out hunting in the forests of Mandu when he heard the most divine voice, a song in the wilderness. He followed the song and found a beautiful girl singing to the deer and birds sitting around her. She was the daughter of Dhan Singh, a Rathore Rajput chief, from the village of Dharmpuri. It was love at first sight and he immediately offered his heart and hand to her. The first she accepted; the second she refused as she could not live without a daily darshan of the Narmada river, which she worshipped. “Never,” she cried, pointing to the towering ramparts of Mandu. “Never will I marry thee until the waters of Rewa, the goddess of my worship, flow through thy royal city there on high.”

The story is narrated, amongst other books, in a book of Persian poetry that was found by L.M. Crump and translated by him in 1926. It is called

The Lady of the Lotus: Rupmati, Queen of Mandu: A Strange Tale of Faithfulness and was written by Āhmad-ul-Umri in 1599. A writer during Akbar’s rule, he knew Hindi. The book contains 26 poems attributed to Rupmati herself, who was not just skilled in music but verse too.

A sacred spring

Rupmati’s father forbade her to see the king and imprisoned her, but at night goddess Rewa visited her and told her of a sacred spring which was the goddess’ tributary and flowed next to Baz Bahadur’s palace. Meanwhile, the determined suitor assembled all the strong men in his kingdom. With axes in their hands, they proceeded to carve a path for the river. According to legend, the river rose in front of him and told him to desist. As no one can resist a lover, the mighty river, whose forehead was in the clouds, told him to go back to his palace and dig under the sacred tamarisk tree where he would find a spring, which was a tributary of the river itself. He could take his wife there and she could live with him while fulfilling her vow of a daily darshan of the sacred river. The father gave in when faced with the king’s determination and his daughter’s will.

The sacred Rewa Kund

Baz Bahadur brought his new wife to a palace built by his father, Nasiruddin Shah, near the sacred spring, now called Rewa Kund, which he extended. He also built an aqueduct through which the water flowed into the many reservoirs of the palace.

The sacred Rewa Kund is still full of water. Around the spring, Baz Bahadur built a masonry tank (235 ft by 73 ft), with a five-arched, double-row hall to the north-west.

The huge palace near it on the hill slope is now called the Baz Bahadur palace. It has many rooms, colonnaded arcades, reservoirs, and pavilions on the first floor. You can see remains of blue encaustic tiles — it must have been well decorated when Baz Bahadur and Rupmati lived there. Sounds of sweet melody and laughter must have wafted in the air as the lovers whispered sweet nothings to each other. The acoustics of the corridors were excellent, as a guide playing a sarangi inside them showed us.

A marble and red sandstone octagonal pavilion, which projects out in the front wall of the palace, looks out onto the hills. It has many seats, so that people can enjoy the spectacular view. I could only think of those who must have done the same before me.

Above it on the hill is another barrack, which was turned into a palace by the doting husband so that his beloved wife could see the Narmada in the distance from its arcaded roof pavilions. This is the Rupmati palace and has a sheer drop of 1,200 ft into the Nimar valley, beyond which the Narmada flows. As I stood there feeling drizzling rain on my face, the breeze blowing my dupatta away, I can only say though I couldn’t see the river in the mist, I did feel like a queen. If I had even a modicum of singing talent, I would have burst into song.

The heights of love are hard to climb,

As the palm tree’s branchless round

The lucky reach the luscious fruit,

The luckless crash to the ground.

(attributed to Rupmati)

They spent idyllic days there, but tragedy struck their nest. Akbar’s general, Adham Khan, attacked Mandu. Baz Bahadur, who had lost himself in love, was no match for him and was forced to flee. Rupmati gave up her life rather than falling into enemy hands.

The loved one gives the heart the peace it craves

But, lacking thee, Rupmati knows no peace

For thou art fled! and life holds naught for her

But swift surcease.

(Rupmati)

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