The word Mandu is believed to be a Prakrit corruption of Mandapa-Durgo. According to the inscriptions of the Paramara kings, beginning from Jayavarman II, Mandapa-Durgo was founded as the fort city for a royal retreat by Raja Bhoj in the 10th century and in 1305, Mandu was conquered by Alauddin Khilji, the then Muslim Sultan of Delhi. However, nearly after a century, when Timur with his huge army of 90.000 comprehensively defeated the army of Sultan Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq on 17th December 1398 and razed Delhi to a mass of ruins, the Afghan Dilawar Khan, governor of Malwa, took the opportunity of the unstable political situation and established the Ghuri dynasty in the state.
That was the beginning of the thriving period of Mandu. After Dilawar Khan, his son Hoshang Shah shifted his capital from Dhar to Mandu, as it was a hilly area with a better defensive option and he raised it to the zenith of its grandeur. In 1435, Mahmud Khalji, also known as Mahmud Khilji crowned himself sultan after assassinating Mohammad, the son of the previous ruler, Hoshang Shah and established the Khilji dynasty of Malwa (1436-1531). After his rule for 33 years, his son Ghiyas-ud-din succeeded him in 1469 and ruled for the next 31 years. Ghiyas-ud-din was a man of different nature. He was deeply devoted to music and women and built the Jahaz Mahal for housing the women of his harem. In 1534 Mandu came under the rule of Humayun, who ultimately lost it to Mallu Khan, an officer of the Khilji dynasty. It followed a long period of feuds and invasions for ten more years, at the end of which Baz Bahadur came up on the top.
Baz Bahadur was not at all interested in his kingdom or about the wars and the army. He was a man of poetic attitude, a worshipper of beauty. Instead of ruling people, he was passionately devoted to art, music and women and till today, he is well known for his romantic liaison with Rani Roopmati. However, he had to pay dearly for neglecting his duty as the ruler. On 29 March 1561, Baz Bahadur was defeated by Akbar’s army, led by Adham Khan and Pir Muhammad Khan in the battle of Sarangpur. It is maintained by some that, one of the main reasons for Adham Khan's attack was his fiery desire for Rani Roopmati. However, his desire was not fulfilled, as Rani Roopmati poisoned herself to death on hearing the news of defeat, while Baz Bahadur fled to Khandesh. Interestingly, though Akbar added Mandu to the Mughal Empire, it was allowed to maintain a considerable degree of independent identity, until it was conquered by the Marathas in 1732 by Peshwa Baji Rao I. The capital of Malwa was shifted back to Dhar by the Marathas.
Today, Mandu or Mandavgad is located in the Malwa region of western Madhya Pradesh, about 35 km from the city of Dhar. The small city is home to a large ruins site more than 10 km long and 15 km wide, adorned with the spellbinding fusion of the Hindu and Muslim architecture surrounded by baobab trees, native to Africa. The grand palaces of the distant past are still alive with the tale of the royal romance while the gateways (darwazas) speak of a history of imperial conquests. The massive fort itself is spread over an area of 82 km and is said to be one of the biggest forts in India. It was a walled city with parapets, interrupted by twelve massive gates, locally called darwazas. The surrounded complex includes a large number of palaces, mosques, Jain temples of the 14th century and other exquisite buildings, which are broadly categorized into three Groups - Central or Village, Royal Enclave and finally, the Rewa Kund group.
The main buildings under the category of the Central or Village group include the Jama Masjid, Asrafi Mahal, Hoshang Shah's Tomb and the Jain temples. Probably built in the year 1454, the huge structure of the Jama Masjid of Mandu is an ideal example of the Afghani style of architecture. It is maintained by many that the design of the Masjid was inspired by the original artworks of the Omayyed Mosque of Damascus. The center of the mosque is crowned with a huge dome, while many other small domes adorn the intervening side spaces.
Built by Mohammed Shah Khailji, the Asrafi Mahal or the palace of gold coins stands facing the Jama Masjid. Primarily conceived as an academic institution, it contains a large central courtyard lined on four sides with cells and subsequently it was converted to a palace.
Constructed in 1435, the marble edifice of Hoshang Shah's Tomb is a stark contrast with all the brown structures in the area and is supposed to be the first marble structure of the country. It is said that, the all white structure of the tomb inspired Emperor Shah Jehan while he was toying with the idea of constructing the Taj Mahal in Agra.
The huge complex of the Jain temples is also included in the Central group. The temples include the idols of Thirthankaras, made of gold, silver and marble and the eyes of some of the idols are adorned with shining jade stones. At the rear of the complex, there is also a Jain museum, along with a Theme Park.
The Royal Enclave group mainly consists of Jahaz Mahal, Hindola Mahal, Champa Baodi and Taveli Mahal. Considered as one of the most fantastic structures of Mandu, the two storeyed building of Jahaz Mahal or the Ship Palace was constructed by Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din-Khilji in the 15th century to serve the purpose of his harem, rumoured to consist of about 15,000 women fetched from the shores as far as Turkey. The extraordinary ordinary palace was constructed between two lakes, Munj Talao and Kapur Talao, which gives the impression that the palace is floating like a ship. The main entrance of the palace, adorned with a recessed arch, is flanked by six arched openings on each side. It is further protected by a continuous overhanging cornice having the support of stone brackets. The palace houses three huge halls, separated by corridors, with small rooms at the end. Northern end of the terrace leads to a bath, equipped with broad steps. It is said that, the bathing area had stars and moon cut outs in its dome, as the ladies had wished to bathe under the stars.
Hindola Mahal or the Swing Palace has lost its roof long back and is almost ruined. The peculiar palace, with its unusual sloping side walls giving it the illusion of swaying, was probably constructed during the latter part of the reign of Ghiyas al-Din. Another interesting structure, Champa Baodi is located at the entrance of the Mandu Royal Palace. It is, in fact, a step well, which was mainly used as a retreat during the scorching summer days. The simple three storeyed building, known as the Taveli Mahal, was once used as a guard house, along with the stables of the Royal family. However, today it is used as a gallery of the Archaeological Survey of India, for exhibition of antiquities.
However, the most enchanting and romantic of the Mandu groups, the Rewa Kund group of monuments, are associated with the legendary romance between Sultan Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati. Located about 4 kms south of Mandu Village, monuments of this group include the Baz Bahadur Mahal, Rupmati’s Pavilion and the Rewa Kund. Baz Bahadur, the last independent sultan of Mandu, who ruled his kingdom from 1554-1561, was one of the most famous legendary kings known in the history of India. His palace in Mandu, the Baz Bahadur Mahal, glorifies a fantastic fusion of Mughal and Rajasthani style of architecture. However, according to the inscription at the entrance gate of the palace, it was constructed in AD 1508-09, which means, the palace was actually built far before Baz Bahadur came into power. Forty broad steps, equipped with broader landings at intervals, lead to the main gateway to the palace. The passage through the gateway, decorated with vaulted ceiling, includes rooms for the guards.
Another important structure of the Rewa Kund group, the Pavilion of Rani Roopmati, is located at the edge of the fort and built on the ridge of a cliff, from where Roopmati could keep on gazing to her heart’s content, at the flowing river down the valley. The local ballads created according to the legend, describes the story of Baz Bahadur, a lover of music, who was moved by the melodious tune of a shepherd girl. Immediately, he fell deeply in love with the girl and married her according to the Muslim and Hindu rites. Subsequently, the shepherd girl became famous in local history as Rani Roopmati. As the beautiful Hindu belle was very much attached to the neighbouring river and was reluctant to leave her home on the plain, the desperate the king in his sincere attempt to persuade his beloved, built the palace in such a way, that she could gaze down at the distant glint of the sacred Narmada River from the terrace and the domed pavilions of the palace. In fact, even today, the place is simply gorgeous at sunset.
There are few other structures in the area, apart from the monuments mentioned above, which are also part of the Mandu Fort City. They include the Jali Mahal, Malik Mughit's Mosque, Caravan Sarai, Neelkanth Palace, Nahar Jharokha, Darya Khan's Tomb, Hathi Mahal, Dai ka Mahal, Dai ki Choti Bahan ka Mahal and others.
Ruined and abandoned for centuries, the ornate architecture of Mandu is still breathtaking in its splendour and graceful dignity. Its multiple ancient gateways greet the visitors every few hundred metres, as if to invite and welcome them for a tour, to take them back a couple of centuries.