Some places, like some people, prefer obscurity over recognition despite notable achievements or lineages. Mandsaur in North West Madhya Pradesh is one such place. Tucked in a corner at almost the border of Malwa (Madhya Pradesh) and Mewar (Rajasthan), it remains amongst the lightweight cities in the state.
Prior to independence, Mandsaur formed part of the Gwalior state. It later became one of the districts of the state of Madhya Pradesh.
There are various theories about the origin of the name Mandsaur. One of them links the name to Mandodari, the consort of Ravan, the king of Lanka. Resultantly a section of people (Namdeos) in the city treat Ravan as a son-in-law. A tall statue of Ravan in a prominent place in the city is a mark of respect to him.
Not many are aware that in 1818 the East India Company gained ascendancy over Indian affairs with the treaty of Mandsaur that signalled an end to the third Anglo-Maratha war. The English thus not only subjugated the mighty Marathas but succeeded in putting an end to the menace of the Pindaris.
I had taken an overnight train from Bhopal to Mandsaur for my first ever visit to the region. The aim was to look up, amongst other things, the rock art in caves along the Chaturbhuj nala and to try and reach the udgam of the Shivna River, a notable tributary of the Chambal River and the life line of the city of Mandsaur.
Chaturbhuj nala is a minor tributary of the Chambal and drains itself into the vast reservoir of the Gandhisagar dam on the Chambal, created in 1960. Amazingly the rock art is spread over some 12 km of rock shelters along the rivulet. According to the Rock Arts Society of India, it is the “longest chain of rock art in the world”.
Having spent the better part of a day revelling in the rock art in the caves along the Chaturbhuj nala and another whole day locating the udgam of the Shivna River, I had been advised by Sri UK Sharma, the District Forest Officer to not miss the rock cut temple called Dharmrajeshwar at Chandwasa, some distance from Mandsaur.
The founder basin of the Shivna River is in the neighbouring district of Pratapgarh in Rajasthan, where rather than a single source a number of small drainage lines spread over fields combine to form a noticeable stream at a village called Shivna. The river takes its name after the village.
On the penultimate day of my visit en route to the ancient temple of Dharmrajeswar, as we passed through a rather inconspicuous small town named Sitamau with a very conspicuous fort on a hill, staff accompanying me asked, “Sir, would you be interested in a research centre cum library called Natnagar?”
The name sounded very interesting, “And why not, I responded?”
It was decided that we would visit it on our way back from the temple.
The Dharmrajeshwar rock cut temple (4th-5th Century AD) and a number of Buddhist period caves in the surrounding area were astounding to say the least. According to experts the temple has been cut out of the rock body of the hill and was initially a Vishnu temple, converted later into a Shiva one. Although smaller in extent, it is no less compared to the far more famous rock cut temple at Ellora in Maharastra.
“Thanks for the offer, but it would be better if you kept your library as a private trust rather hand over those priceless books and archival material to a government department. Of course we shall help in its maintenance with an annual grant”…This was reportedly from the then Chief Minister of MP, Sri PC Sethi to Maharajkumar Raghubir Sinh of Sitamau, in response to the latter’s offer to hand over his vast personal collection of books, papers and other documents of archival value to the State. Hailing from Malwa itself, Sri Sethi perhaps was appreciative not only of the importance of the collection but also its possible neglect at the hands of government machinery.
Thus was born in 1974 the Natnagar Shodh Samsthan (Natnagar Research Institute) housed within the precincts of Maharajkumar Raghubir Sinh’s personal palace in Sitamau.
Dr Maharajkumar Raghubir Sinh (b: 1908; d:1991) was the oldest son and heir apparent of Maharaja Ram Sinh of Sitamau. He was a man of letters and a historian by choice. He pursued his PhD on the history of the Malwa region (Malwa in Transition) under the guidance of well-known historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar. In due course he became a much respected historian in his own right. When his father died in 1967, he forsook the throne, installed his older son instead and chose a lifelong service of historical research and writing.
‘Natnagar’ was the pen name of Maharajkumar Ratan Singh, one of the 19th century (1808-1864) ancestors of Dr MK Raghubir Sinh. Proficient in several languages he was a poet and was the author of ‘Natnagar Vinod’ a collection of poems in Brij Bhasha. The name of the Shodh Samsthan (Research Institute) had obviously been chosen wisely.
“If an intimate history of India is ever written it will begin from here – with its collections of state and revenue records, personal correspondence of Maratha generals, Rajput princes and Mughal mansabdars, horoscopes, paper trails of what led to matrimonial alliances or breakdowns, pilgrimages, household accounts, collections of poetry etc. There is much here which only a historian steeped in his culture could have collected”
TCA Raghavan, former diplomat and author
While the Sitamau Collection is the product of a labour of love of a dedicated prince cum historian, it points to a larger question of how many more similar historical treasure troves are still standing – away perhaps from the prying eyes of white ants – in the vaults of erstwhile princely states. And another – what it would take for that archival material to get retrieved and be made available to modern historians to piece together the true history of ‘Indian’ India as different from the pre-independence ‘British’ India?
Photo credits: Manoj Misra
Photo credit: Natnagar Shodh Samsthan
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