When we arrived at the Rao Madho Singh Trust Museum in Kota on that November morning last year, I was taken aback to see the freshly whitewashed exteriors of the Museum building. I mean, why would a red sandstone structure be whitewashed over? The white is so blinding in the mid-morning sunlight that I had to shade my eyes to even look at it.
The Museum is located within the historic Kota City Palace or Kota Garh complex, which consists of many buildings, but none of the other buildings in the palace complex were whitewashed. In fact, the building next to the Museum has been spared the whitewash (except for the domes) and I was able to admire the intricate stone jaalis or lattice-work that covered the entire structure.
The building with the jaalis, however, was not open to the public, making me wonder if the whitewash was for the benefit of the visitors to the Museum, who (according to the website) visit it see its
rich collections of arms and armour, royal regalia and ritual paraphernalia, textiles and objets d’art, and world-famous miniature paintings and wall frescos.
As our group was entering the Museum, there was a moment of panic where I wondered if the interiors of the Museum have been whitewashed over as well, obliterating the wall paintings that I was most keen to see. But then just past the Elephant Gate (see header), I looked up and saw a gloriously painted ceiling (see photograph below) and I knew that all was well.
It was supposed to be just a visit to the ruins of the Bhand Devra or Bhand Deora Temple, a 10th century CE temple enroute to Kota from Jhalawar. My friend Shubhra aka Historywali had told me that this was a place I should not miss, especially since I would be in the area. Little did I know it would turn out to be much more than just a visit to a temple ruin.
The day had begun with us (my friend Niti and I) bidding goodbye to Jhalawar and our fabulous host, Mahijit ji, before setting off on a 2.5-hour journey by road to the temple. Though Manoj, our car driver, wasn’t sure of the temple’s exact location, he knew the area and assured us that he would get us to the temple. All we had to do was to sit back and enjoy the drive that initially passed though a hilly and forested section, before the landscape flattened out.
About 2 hours into the journey, we saw a strange, flat-topped elevation rising in the distance. On asking Manoj if he knew anything about it, he just shrugged and said that it was a hill and the Bhand Devra Temple was close to it. I was intrigued for the hill didn’t look like any that I had seen before and I decided to check Google Maps to see if it could tell me what it was.
What came up had me rubbing my eyes in disbelief; Niti’s reaction was no different. We were looking at (see the screenshot I took below) what appeared to be a hollow hill or a a crater. An impact crater.
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.
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 Vedas — Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva — in (zoo) anthropomorphic forms.
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.
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 MandiStation 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.