The ochre yellow of the desert stretches out in all directions for as far my eye can see, dotted here and there with green vegetation. At first glance, the green appears random, but then one can trace lines and curves and clusters of green, marking places where there must be water channels and water bodies which fill up when it rains.
The fast-moving clouds in the sky cast large, moving and constantly shifting shadows on the desert floor and leave me mesmerised. I am torn between watching the shadow play on the ground and the hide-and-seek game that the clouds and blue sky are up to.
In the distance are some windmills and further still, some 70 odd kilometres away, lies the border with Pakistan. I know it’s silly, but I stand on tip toes almost expecting to see the border. A harsh caw breaks into my thoughts and I turn around to see a large raven regarding me with, what I think, is a mocking look at my action.
It is an hour to sunset when I arrive at Devi Kund Sagar in Bikaner that February evening. I have just arrived from Mumbai earlier that day and this is one of the first sites I am visiting in Bikaner. Never having seen cenotaphs for Hindus before, I am very curious and intrigued about this visit and am not sure what to expect when I walk into the complex. (I didn’t know then that Devi Kund Sagar is only the first of the many Hindu cenotaphs I will be seeing during the course of my Rajasthan trip).
Located about 8 km from Bikaner, Devi Kund Sagar has been the cremation ground for the royal family of Bikaner and generations of kings, queens, princes and princesses of Bikaner have a memorial to their names here. According to the information board at the entrance to the complex, the oldest cenotaph at the Devi Kund Sagar is that of Rao Kalyanmal Ji (1539-1571 AD).
Rows upon rows of pillared and open-sided domed cenotaphs are spread out before me when I enter the L-shaped enclosure after removing my footwear. The place is empty, save for the caretaker and a couple of children playing hide and seek between the various structures. The base of each of these domed and pillared structure is mostly square, and sometimes hexagonal or rectangular. Locally, the cenotaphs are called chhatris due to the domes, which look like umbrellas (chhatris).