The modern history of Jhalrapatan town in the Hadoti region of Rajasthan is about 200 years old. It began in 1838, when the rulers of the newly formed princely state of Jhalawar chose Jhalrapatan as their base till a new capital city (present day Jhalawar) could be built. Before the arrival of the Jhalawar royals, Jhalrapatan was known as Patan; the word ‘Jhala’ was prefixed to it in recognition and in honour of its new rulers, who belonged to the community of Jhala Rajputs as in “Jhala ra Patan” or the Patan of the Jhalas. But even today, almost two centuries later, locals still refer to the town as Patan; it is the tourists who refer to the town as Jhalrapatan!
Jhalrapatan’s history extends back to centuries before the creation of Jhalawar state, when it was known as a temple town as well as a major trading centre. In its former avatar, the walled town was supposed to have been home to 108 temples. Imagine the sound of the bells of all 108 temples ringing at the same time — one legend says that this is how ‘Jhalrapatan got its name. As a trading centre, Jhalrapatan used was known for its opium and spices.
I spent one evening in Jhalrapatan exploring its various sights beginning with Madan Vilas, the erstwhile holiday home for the royal family, now owned by the Rajasthan state government, and then moved on to the temples of the town.
Madan Vilas: Built on the banks of the vast Gomti Sagar in the first decade of the 1900s, Madan Vilas or Patan Kothi, as it is also known, used to be surrounded by farmlands and fruit orchards. The location of Madan Vilas was strategic for another reason — it was located next to the Dwarkadhish temple, but more about that later on in the post. With electricity and good plumbing, it functioned as a retreat/holiday home for the Jhalawar royals. Part of Maharaj Rana Sir Bhawani Singh’s personal library was on the first floor of the Madan Vilas.
The terrace of Madan Vilas gives a good view of Jhalrapatan town on one side and the waters of the Gomti Sagar on the other side. The view today is, however, quite different from what the royals would have seen. The farmlands and fruit orchards are no longer there, having given way to concrete structures through which a temple spire or two can be seen. As for the Gomti Sagar lake, what should have been a view of a seemingly endless expanse of water is marred by the sight of the turbines of the Kalisindh Thermal Power Station in the distance.
Padmanabha Surya Mandir: Built in the 11th century, the Padmanabha/Surya Temple is a beautiful temple and in the light of the setting sun, the red sandstone it is built from seemed to take on a glow that was impossible to capture with my camera. Considering that this temple is supposed to be the landmark of Jhalrapatan, is also regarded as its main temple, and is till under worship, many things about it do not make sense.
One, though it is referred to as a Surya Mandir or a sun temple by the locals, the deity installed is not Surya, but a form of Vishnu known as Padmanabha. Maybe this was a Surya Temple that later became a Vishnu temple?
Two, though the sculptures on the external walls depict various avatars of Vishnu, the principal niches have sculptures of Surya or composite forms of Surya like Hari Hara Pitamaha Ark, indicating that this could have been a Surya temple. It is also possible that the main deity could have been a composite form of Surya, maybe a Suryanarayana?
And three, the temple displays two distinct architectural styles indicating that construction activity happened in at least two different phases — in this case separated by a few centuries. I feel that the newer portion of the temple was built when the Surya Mandir became a Vishnu Temple. Considering that the locals still refer to the temple as a Surya Mandir, I feel that the change in the deity happened only a century or so back.
Shantinath Temple: The entrance to this Jain temple complex is modest, modern construction and does not hint at the magnificent 11th century sandstone temple inside. My first view and I’m awestruck with the similarity between this temple and the Padmanabha Temple in construction material, architecture and sculptures. They could have been built by the same group of people. In fact, if not for the presence of sculptures of Jain tirthankars on the external temple wall, this could easily have passed off as a Hindu temple.
The interiors of the temple are brightly painted as are the walls and ceilings of the covered passageways running all around the temple. Scenes from the Ramayana, lives of the tirthankars as well as scenes from daily life are depicted. The paintings don’t appear to be very old — maybe early 20th century or so — and going by the freshness of the colours, they could have been ‘restored’/repainted quite recently.
The highlight of this temple visit is getting a darshan of the idol of Shantinath in the sanctum. A rich bronze colour, the idol looks like it is made of metal, but the priest informs me that it is actually made of stone with a special sheen that makes it look metallic. I have never seen anything quite like it and I doubt I ever will.
Chandrabhaga Temples: These temples are located outside the walled city of Jhalrapatan and are older than both the Padmanabha and Shantinatha Temples . The temples are believed to have been built by Chandrasen, a king from the Malwa region, in the year 689 CE. According to a local legend, the king, who was afflicted with leprosy, was cured miraculously after a dip in the Chandrabhaga river who then built a series of temples on the banks of the river dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Devi.
Today, the temples are still standing, but most portions are in ruins. Till a couple of decades ago, the place was littered with sculptures from the temples and covered with grass. But today, the area around the temple has been cleared up, the sculptures (including the Chamunda I wrote about in my previous post) sent to the Government Museum at Jhalawar about 10 km away, and the temple grounds landscaped and ‘prettified’ making it a perfect place for locals to relax. At least that is what I found when I visited the temples on that November evening. The last light of day and the temple ruins made for quite an atmospheric setting.
Ravan Darbar: Just outside the city gates of Jhalrapatan lies a vast open space on the banks of the river Chandrabhaga. This is the site of the annual Chandrabhaga animal fair and a quirky set of installations of the demon king Ravan and his family. Collectively known as Ravan Darbar, these are huge (about 25-30 ft tall), permanent installations that come to ‘life’ during the annual Ramlila as part of the Dussera celebrations. These are reportedly about 150 years old and are maintained by the locals with necessary repairs and a coat of fresh paint every year.
Aren’t they absolutely cute?
Today, not much of the town’s history remains — if opium is traded, I didn’t see it; the spices that I saw in the market didn’t seem special; and most of its 108 temples are gone. And yet, the few hours that I had in Jhalrapatan were woefully inadequate. While I hopped from sight to sight, the tantalising and tempting glimpses of the town — the narrow meandering streets, the interesting shops, local produce, and smaller shrines — all had to be given a miss, as I did not have the time.
I did, however, top to sample the most delicious a six-course/flavoured pani puri or pani patashe eating experience from a local stall, and picked up the most delicious gajak I have ever had Jhalrapatan.
My last stop in Jhalrapatan was the Dwarkadhish Temple, which was built in the early 1800s by Zalim Singh Jhala, the Diwan of Kota and the grandfather of the first King of Jhalawar, Maharaj Rana Madan Singh Jhala. When the royal family arrived in Jhalrapatan after the formation of Jhalawar state, with their family deity Navneetpriyaji (a form of Shrinathji of Nathdwara) it was to the Dwarkadhish temple that they first went to. The family deity was duly installed there where it remains.
When I arrived at the temple that evening, it was to find the priest locking the doors and walking away. Apparently, the temple closed at half-past six and I was late by a minute or two.
“You’ll just have to come back another day to get darshan,” said the priest, noticing my disappointment.
Yes, I’ll have to do that, won’t I? Any excuse to travel to that region will do. 🙂
Acknowledgements: A big thank you to Mahijit ji, my host in Jhalawar and a member of Jhalawar’s erstwhile royal family, for sharing information on Madan Vilas and Jhalrapatan.
The Hadoti Trip Series: Dear Hadoti | Discovering Jhalawar | The painted rooms of the Garh Mahal of Jhalawar | Bhawani Natyashala: The Opera House of Jhalawar | An evening in Jhalrapatan | The Buddhist Caves at Kolvi | The Gagron Fort at Jhalawar | An impact crater, a temple ruin and some discoveries | A fun evening in Kota | A safari on the River Chambal |