An evening in Jhalrapatan

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.

Jhalrapatan, Jhalawar, Travel, Rajastha, Hadoti, Madan Vilas

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Jhalawar, Gadh Mahal, Gadh Palace, Government Museum, Sculpture Gallery, Chamunda

Stories in Stone: The Chamunda of Chandrabhaga

Stories in Stone is all about sculptures — either standalone or entire narrative panels. Each post in this series showcase one such sculpture, look beyond its iconography and deconstruct the details in an attempt to understand the idea and/or the story it conveys.


Jhalawar, Gadh Mahal, Gadh Palace, Government Museum, Sculpture Gallery, ChamundaThe Government Museum at Jhalawar has a stunning collection of sculptures on display. With a few exceptions, most sculptures are in good condition and easily recognisable for what/who they represent.

One large room/gallery is crammed with sculptures found from the nearby areas of Chandrabhaga, Jhalrapatan, Kakuni, etc.; more sculptures are exhibited in the corridor outside. Knowing how museums function, I’m pretty sure that only a fraction of the Museum’s collection is actually exhibited; there would be many more sculptures in storage.

There are dikpalas (or guardians of the directions), various forms of Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi, and some very interesting composite sculptures. But the sculpture which stood out for me, and is the topic of today’s post, was a poorly preserved, but recognisable sculpture of Chamunda (see photo on the left) placed in the corridor.

Before we get into the details of this sculpture, let us place Chamunda in context through her creation myth, associated stories and standard iconography.

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Museum Treasure: The painted Vedas

When I stepped into the paintings gallery of the Government Museum at the Gadh Mahal in Jhalawar, a depressing sight greeted me — flickering fluorescent lights, dusty glass-fronted cabinets, and a general air of neglect. All this combined to ensure that the visibility of the exhibits was poor. The saving grace was the pops of colour on the walls from where the paintings were mounted.

I must admit that I was tempted to turn back without seeing the paintings, but then decided to do a quick round of the gallery — there was always the chance that there would something interesting lurking in the room somewhere. The first set of paintings I saw was a Baramasa, or a set of 12 paintings that depicted a mood and emotion for each month of the year. They were nice, but not particularly exceptional, and I moved on to the next display, a set of four paintings.

And realised immediately that I was seeing something extraordinary and unusual. So much so that I read and re-read the labels accompanying the paintings to reassure myself that the paintings were indeed a pictorial representation of the VedasRig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva — in (zoo) anthropomorphic forms.

Painted Vedas, Government Museum, Jhalawar, Travel, Museum Treasure, Rajasthan
RIG VEDA: The information card accompanying this painting says “Donkey faced God seated in padmasana, he holds veda and rosary in a hand and shown in meaningful posture”. [sic]
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Bhawani Natyashala, Jhalawar, Opera House, Theatre, Rajasthan, Travel, Architecture

Bhawani Natyashala: The opera house at Jhalawar

One of the two things that repeatedly came up during background research on Jhalawar, before my Hadoti trip in November 2016, was the nearly 100-year old Bhawani Natyashala (the other was the Government Museum at the Gadh Mahal or Palace). The brief descriptions of the Natyashala was varied — it was a theatre, dance hall, performance hall, royal audience hall, etc. Even though the descriptions didn’t agree on what the Natyashala was, they all agreed upon one thing — that it was beautiful, one of its kind, and worth a visit.

But once in Jhalawar, I found out that the Bhawani Natyashala was closed and out-of-bounds to the public — something that none of the websites that touted it as a must-see bothered to mention ! Mahijit ji, my host in Jhalawar, told me that I could still see it from the outside and that’s what I decided to do. But luck had other plans for me.

The Bhawani Natyashala is located in the premises of the Gadh Mahal, and after my friend and I finished the tour of the museum and the painted rooms, we asked the museum attendant who was taking us around, for directions to the theatre. He offered to not only take us there, but also open it up and show it to us since he had the keys with him. A short walk later, we were in front of the Bhawani Natyashala.

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The painted rooms of the Garh Mahal of Jhalawar

In 1916 or maybe 1917, the ruler of Jhalawar State of Rajasthan, Maharaj Rana Bhawani Singh visited the temple town of Nathdwara. There was nothing unusual about his visit; the rulers of Jhalawar followed the Pushtimarg tradition, and Nathdwara was the most important religious site for followers of that tradition.

After the Maharaj Rana had his darshan of Shrinathji, the main deity at Nathdwara, he met with the Tilakayit or the head of the Nathdwara Temple and the foremost Pushtimarg leader. Once the usual pleasantries were over, Bhawani Singh asked the Tilakayit for the loan of some artists from Nathdwara to paint the Garh Mahal or Palace, the royal residence in Jhalawar. Bhawani Singh also wanted one artist in particular, Ghasiram Hardev Sharma, the mukhiya or head of Nathdwara’s painting department.

While a royal request for artists to decorate palaces was not unusual, asking for a specific artist definitely was, especially when he happened to be Ghasiram (more about him later on in this post!). The Tilakayit was not keen on sending Ghasiram and Bhawani Singh was not ready to take no for an answer. Eventually, Bhawani Singh managed to lure Ghasiram away from Nathdwara by offering him a monthly salary Rs.150/-, which was double of what he was earning at Nathdwara.

Ghasiram moved to Jhalawar as the Court Painter and therein began an association that lasted about 10-12  years and produced some extraordinary mural paintings, portraits and entire painted rooms at the Garh Mahal. Something I was not aware of when I arrived in Jhalawar in November 2016.

A painted room at the Garh Mahal. This one has life-sized portraits, hunting scenes, floral ceilings and more.

It was Mahijit ji, my host in Jhalawar, who told me about the painted rooms at the Garh Mahal and also that they were not open to the public. That bit of information was disappointing, but my friend and I decided to try our luck when we visited the Garh Mahal

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Discovering Jhalawar

When I started planning for the Hadoti Trip last year, I wasn’t aware of Jhalawar’s existence at all. I feel rather sheepish admitting this, but its the truth. Located about 80 km from Kota, Jhalawar cropped up as a suggestion for a pit stop to explore Gagron Fort, Jhalarapatan and the Kolvi Caves.

The information available on Jhalawar, which was sketchy to say the least with the same information being circulated on various sites — it was a former princely state, it had a palace, a theatre, a Fort (Gagron), had the highest amount of rainfall in the state, etc. But then I read about bad road conditions between the Kota and Jhalawar, I decided to shift my base from the former city to the latter since these sites were closer to Jhalawar than Kota.

Once that was decided, all I had to do was to find a hotel to stay and wait for the trip to get underway. Here, Jayanti of One Life To Travel connected me with Mahijit ji of Virendra Bhawan, and that too got finalised, and the trip countdown began. 🙂

When I got off the train at Bhawani Mandi Station on that cold November morning in 2016, I had no idea that this was the beginning of an epic trip. I had no idea that I was going to fall in love with Jhalawar, so much so that it was going to be the highlight of my Hadoti Trip.

Travel, Jhalawar, Princely State, Hadoti Trip, Royal Trip, Rajasthan, Heritage and History

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