It was an amazing sight- with Royal Cenotaphs of the Bada Bagh in the foreground and towering windmills in the background. A modern technology making a backdrop for a slice of history. Bada Bagh or Bara Bagh was the first wind power project in Rajasthan in private sector at the start of this century. Completing the view was a dense garden in the foreground, almost like an oasis in the desert. It actually was. Huge windmills, cenotaphs and a secluded garden all together gave a feeling of an eerie calmness.
It was astounding that there was no other tourist in the Bada Bagh cenotaph complex when we were there, and it was surprising also considering the fact, that whole complex looked too impressive to be missed by any tourist.
Located six kilometre to the north of Jaisalmer city—towards Ramgarh and right in between the earlier capital Lodruva and Jaisalmer—complex houses cenotaphs of Bhati kings of Jaisalmer. It is said that in early 16th century (Vikram Samvat 1585 or 1528 CE), Maharawal Jait Singh built a dam nearby in his attempts to solve the water scarcity problem of the residents. It actually did serve the purpose for the long time. A reservoir, a dam and a garden came up there in his time. Reservoir was named Jaitsar after him. Availability of water bought up a beautiful garden here, which was named Bada Bagh.
Whole structure of reservoir and dam was ideated between two hills so as to collect the water flowing down from the hills as well. Dam area was known as Jaitbandh. It was around 1200 feet in length, 300 feet in width and 100 to 150 feet in height. Uncut stones were fixed on both sides to stop the flow of water. Built almost 500 years ago, this dam said a lot about architectural as well as engineering marvels of those times. Top of dam was not just a wall but a whole broad pathway. Towards reservoir, there were ghats for people to take bath and use water. A shiva temple was constructed on the dam.
The dam also had proper channels for the outflow. In the centre, there were five underground channels. When the reservoir used to get fill, the gates to channels would be opened as per requirement. This water will move to an irrigation channel known as Ramnaal on the other side. Proper mechanism was made to take this water gently to Bada Bagh, Chota Bagh and adjoining areas. In case of water level increasing even further in Jaitsar, an overflow channel was created to take this water to salt Rann of Ramgarh. And, on this side when the main reservoir used to dry up, people will be sowing wheat crop in the reservoir land. Thus same land will be providing water for few months and then a good crop in rest.
Bada Bagh still has a variety of trees, and few of them are the ones which you will normally find in riverine deltas. Besides the reservoir, even this Bad Bagh garden was considered to be a miracle with all the species of fruit and vegetable plants grown here, what would have been normally alien to desert land like mango, date palms, jamun etc. This garden was specially created to survive the extreme weather. Land was dug deep more than 50 feet and then sowing of various plant species was done. A 20 feet high wall was erected surrounding the garden. Now while the depth of the garden helped it in retaining and providing needed moisture to the plants, it also saved it from hot winds and dust storms.
After death of Jaitsingh in 1530, his son and successor Lunkaran finished the work of the dam, and built a cenotaph in his memory here on the hill along the Jaitsar. That laid the foundation of tradition of building cenotaphs or chhatris of all further kings of Jaisalmer and their close family members here in the complex, a tradition followed as recently as early 20th century. Maharawal Jawahar Singh was the last one whose cenotaph was built here, but it remained unfinished. He died in 1949. His son Maharawal Girdhar Singh ascended the throne and was building the cenotaph of his father, when he too died within just 18 months of kingship in 1950. Considering this inauspicious, the tradition of constructing cenotaphs at Bada Bagh was said to have been discontinued. Although some people say that, Girdhar Singh as well as his son Raghunath Singh, father of the current royal Brijraj Singh were also cremated here. Testimony to this fact is the cenotaph of Maharawal Girdhar Singh.
Cenotaphs were reflection of society of those times. The size, the architecture and the inscription tablets, all have stories to say. Few of them are more decorated and carved than others. You will come to know that cenotaphs with pyramid style tops were built by muslim sculptors while cenotaphs with dome shaped tops were built by Hindu sculptors. Few memorials are small, few big and that would perhaps depend on status, then conditions, resources and a lot more. But, largely all cenotaphs are similar is design and generally have been built with same stone, giving this complex a homogenous look. That might be also because of availability of the stone, artisans in the region as being desert, it was difficult to access.
Most interesting are the inscription tablets inside the cenotaphs.There are stone tablets of three to four feet in height with a sculpted image of the king and description about him written below. There would be another stone tablets placed adjacent to the king’s tablet. These would be of his queens and concubines, designed and placed in that hierarchical order, with sculpted images and descriptions in same manner. King’s image was also depicting tales. King was always carved while riding a horse. And, on the tablet if the king’s image has been carved with both the front legs of horse in air, then it would denote that king had died in the battle. If only one leg of horse would be lifted, it would denote that king got injured in the battle but died later of his injuries. If horse’s all four legs are firmly footed on earth, then it would denote that king had a natural death.
There are also legends on other traditions regarding construction of cenotaphs, such as who builds in memory of whom. Old timers will tell you more about them. It is always interesting to listen to these stories.
A lot has changed in about half a millennium. Garden, the reservoir and the cenotaphs are now mere reflections of what would have been that golden era of the Thar. Yellow stones used in cenotaphs do give that golden glow at times.
Tips and Trivia
- If you are able to time your visit to his place with sunrise or sunset, then nothing can be like it. The beauty of this place is strikingly different at these times.
- Bada Bagh is not far from city, therefore you can take local public transport to reach here. Since it is on way to Lodruva, many tourists combine Bada Bagh with their trip to Jain temples.
- Depending upon your interest in history and historical architecture, you might spend your time here. An hour or two would be enough. Spare some time to see the garden as well as the dam area.
- Day time heat can be taxing, even in winter months of November-February, which are recommended to visit this area of Rajasthan. Be prepared accordingly.
- There is a small amount of fees to be paid for the entry as well as the camera. Guides are also available here and you can hire one to tell you some juicy stories with ‘mangled’ facts! (Now I emphasise on ‘mangled’ facts because there will be distorted facts, imaginative timelines on various pages and articles on web. Even Rajasthan Tourism website has wrong information on verifiable historical facts of this place.)
- A romantic song in a cremation ground! Bollywood can do it all. Couple of scenes of Salman Khan-Aishwarya Rai starrer ‘Hum Dil de Chuke Sanam’ were shot here in Bada Bagh. There have been many shootings before and after this film as well. Even Aamir Khan’s next ‘Lal Singh Chadha’ is being shot here with few scenes at Bada Bagh.
Have you been to Bada Bagh area of Jaisalmer? Have you heard any other interesting story about this place? Share with us in the comments section below.
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