Project LooM

View from the Fort: Chanderi history


View of Chanderi town from the fort. Aminuddin Ansari is on the left.

I grew up in South India where forts are not as common as in the North.  This part of India has not been invaded as much.  So when I visited Chanderi, my first question was about the fort.  Why is there a fort and who invaded this small town in the heart of the Malwa plateau? Turns out it was Babur and the Battle of Chanderi is recorded in the Baburnama as below.

For those of us who are here for the textiles and a little bit of history, what you need to know is this.  The Battle of Chanderi was fought between Babur and Medini Rai, an ally of Rana Sanga.  Babur took over the fort very quickly.  Medini Rai organized a Jauhar ceremony for all the women and children.  Some of his men killed each other in a cooperative suicide.  Babur erected a tower of skulls to celebrate his victory.  Gory to say the least.  As he says below in the Bevridge translation of the Baburnama, in lilting yet factual prose:

“Why they had gone so suddenly off the walls seems to have been that they had taken the resolve of those who give up a place as lost; they put all ladies and beauties to death, then, looking themselves to die, came naked out to fight. Our men attacking, each one from his post, drove them from the walls whereupon 2 or 300 of them entered Medini Rao’s house and there almost killed one another in this way: — one having taken stand with a sword, the rest eagerly stretched out the neckblow. Thus went the greater number to hell. By God’s grace this renowned fort was captured in 2 or 3 garis (cir. an hour), without drum and standard, with no hard fighting done. A pillar of pagan-heads was ordered set up on a hill north-west of Chanderi. A chronogram of this victory having been found in the words of Fath-i-daru’l-harb (Conquest of a hostile seat), I thus composed them:

Was for a while the station Chandiri Pagan-full, the seat of hostile force;
By fighting, I vanquished its fort,
The date was Fath-i-daru’l-harb.”

Below is what the town looks like now.  With undulating hills and valleys, the weather was cool and pleasant when we visited in late November.  Temples and mosques stood beside each other.  The houses, largely painted white, jostled beside each other like school children during recess.

That said, Chanderi is still a lovely town.


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