Vistas of Vidarbha: Nagpur and Beyond (Part1) ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

Nagpur: The city of Bhonsles, Gonds, Oranges, and more! (In this article I describe the GI tagged Nagpur Oranges, the Zero Milestone, The Civil Lines buildings, the Chitnavis Wada and Rukmini Temple in the old Mahal area)

Located in the eastern part of Maharashtra, the Vidarbha region is also known as Berar and it shares its borders with Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh. It accounts for almost 75% of the state’s forest cover. It is believed that 52,000 years ago, a meteor weighing 2 million tonnes struck our planet creating a 2 km wide hole in eastern Maharashtra. The crater gradually turned into a lake with an ecosystem around it that is so unique, that scientists from all around the world have come to study it.

Nagpur: I was flying in from Mumbai and my first stop was Nagpur, the third largest city in Maharashtra. It is also the ‘winter capital’ as the winter session of the Maharashtra state assembly is held here. The British considered Nagpur to be the centre of India from the time when the country was divided into different provinces and Nagpur was the capital of Central Provinces and Berar. They also planned to make Nagpur the second capital city. When the states were created later, Nagpur became a part of Maharashtra; it was given the status of the second capital of Maharashtra.

GI tagged Nagpur Oranges: Mention the city of Nagpur, and the first thing that comes to your mind is ‘Nagpur Oranges’.  The typical variety of orange that is frequently grown in Nagpur is the mandarin orange (Citrus Reticulata Blanco) which is tangy yet sweet, apparently because of the unique soil and agroclimatic conditions of the Vidarbha region. No wonder it was considered a worthy candidate for getting a G I Tag.

Zero Mile Monument: I had to visit this monument built during the British Rule in India when the Great Trigonometric Surveyof Indiawas undertaken in 1907. It is supposed to be the geographical centre of undivided India! The sandstone pillar came to be known as the Zero Mile Stone. And right next to that is another small structure that represents the GTS Standard Bench Mark. It is also the time when the height of our fabulous mountains was also calculated. Post partition, Karaundi village in Madhya Pradesh is actually the geographical centre of India, but this Zero Mile Monument is so much part of Indian history and so we carry on considering it to be the centre. However, for a monument of importance, it needs more attention and respect accorded to it.

Around the Zero Mile Stone, is the area called Civil Lines, a name that you will find in many towns in the north of India. The Civil Lines was developed during the British Raj for their senior civilian officers. In Nagpur, you now find buildings of importance like the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) building, The GPO (General Post Office), the Vidhan Bhavan (State Assembly) around the area. Closeby is also the Deekshabhoomi monument dedicated to B R. Ambedkar, who headed the drafting committee of the Indian constitution. This is the area of modern Nagpur city.

Mahal Area, Nagpur

But there is so much history in the older parts of Nagpur – a city that was founded by the Gonds of Deogarh, before being made state pensionaries by the Bhonsles – in particular, Raghoji Bhonsle I. It was created by the Gond King King Jatba in the 15th century. These rulers were in a cultural flux where the culture of the ruling class was strikingly different from that of the Gond community at large. The ruling class emerged not by adhering to its root culture but by adopting the culture and methods of its adversaries.

Chitnavis Wada

One of the places I visited in the older ‘Mahal area’ of Nagpur was the Chitnavis Wada. The wada, which is at least 250-year-old is one of the few remaining wadas (mansions) of the Bhonsle period. This belonged to Sir Gangadhar Rao (Randive) Chitnavis, who was an Indian landholder and politician in the Central Provinces, of British India. Chitnavis is a title given to ‘document writers’ and accountants. The official work was conducted in the Wada itself.

The mansion, which is on land that spans 2 acres, was supposed to have been made in stages. The first stage in the central part had mud floors as well as walls. The interior rooms have used bricks, lime plaster and cement. Locally found material is used in the wada. The central area is covered with beautiful paintings depicting stories of Lord Krishna from his birth to his ascent to heaven. These paintings are recent and were painted in the 1950s. So basically, the Wada is built in the traditional style with 3 courtyards. This room also has a lovely pooja room. The carvings in the Wada were done by carvers and artisans who were brought to Vidarbha from other states like Punjab, Bengal, and Rajasthan.

An inside view of the Chitnavis wada

The entrance to the wada

The first floor leading to the terrace has a living room with a beautiful mosaic floor. One of the descendants Awantika Chitnavis says that in the bygone times, at least 100 people would eat in the Wada every day and bullock carts would bring in grains and vegetables from their farms.

Within the wada compound in the North-West corner is the Murlidhar temple built in sandstone with a mandap with carved wood columns and a tiled roof. From the terrace, you can see the gopuram of this family temple. The Hanuman shrine and Garuda shrine face each other outside the Murlidhar main complex.

Rukmini Mandir Complex

My next stop in the Mahal area were twin temples in one complex that belonged to the Bhonsle era. This name is a misnomer, as the temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva and the other to Lord Krishna (Lakshmi Narayan Dham). The name came about as the temple was given to the Raghuji Bhonsle II’s courtesan or perhaps a mistress. It was built around 1780-1800 in the era of Raghuji Bhonsle 2 of the Bhonsle Dynasty. Raghuji II is fondly remembered as the architect of Nagpur. The glorious 28 years of his rule is considered to be the golden period and a lot of architectural activity in this region happened during his reign.

This temple complex is in the midst of a busy commercial area of Mahal. Following my GPS, I walked towards a narrow road and was wondering if indeed there was a temple inside. The entrance really needs some upkeep and banners shown in pictures below need to be removed.

The entrance to the Rukmini Temple, Mahal

Lord Shiva Temple (Raghurajeshwar Mahadev Temple): As I enter this historic temple, it was disheartening to see advertisements for a ‘stationery and printers’ shop. As Indians we require to overcome the callous attitude to buildings of historical significance. Leaving that aside, the structure by itself is beautiful. The plinth of the temple is made up of stone and columns are carved out of single wood with features on the bracket. The shikhar of the temple is in the North Indian style. The sanctum sanctorum has a Shivalinga made from three colours of marble, and also vigraha of Ganesha, Nagadeva and Annapoorna. There is a ‘Gomukh’ probably to drain the abhishek water.

In front of the temple is a Marble seating area for the royalty to sit and witness the prayers

 Lakshmi Narayan Dham: You have to enter this temple in the twin complex through a door to enter the Laxmi Narayan Dham. It is also popularly known as the Jai Singh Bhonsle Parisar. This also has a shikhar on the temple and the temple faces a marble structure. The sabha mandap has intricately carved pillars that are colourful and this is typical of the architecture of the Bhonsle era. Similar to the ‘Gomukh’ in the previous temple is a marble crocodile face. As you go around the temple, you are left awe-inspired to see the mesmerising and intricate carvings. The corners are also beautifully embellished that one wonders at the superb architectural skills of the artisans of those times. There are niches that may look similar but each niche has a different figure, element or carving and there are no figures that are actually repeated.

However, the area all around cuts a sorry figure with habitation within the courtyard and the residents hang clothes inside the complex. The temple also needs cleaning. Indeed, there is a sheer lack of knowledge and sense of history. There was also a lady cutting vegetables in the Garuda marble temple that faces the main temple. I cannot fathom this happening anywhere else in the world. This temple is submerged and surrounded by an unplanned area. The authorities should wake up to preserve these temples and accord them the importance they deserve. I stepped out feeling both elated and disappointed. Every inch of the Mahal area seems to have history, colour, and a vibrant vibe.

I hope you liked reading and viewing this part of Vistas of Vidharba and the Nagpur story. Please share this story, so that more readers will be made aware of this part of Indian history. Part 2 will be coming up soon. Stay tuned! Leaving you withe some more pictures of the Mahal area.

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