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Gwalior is justly famous for at least three things: its imposing fort, Mian Tansen, and the first epigraphic evidence of zero. According to legend, Gwalior began from a meeting between Suraj Sen and the hermit Gwalipa, who lived on the hilltop where the fort stands. The hermit cured Suraj Sen of leprosy with a drink of water from the Suraj Kund, which still remains in the fort. He then gave him a new name, Suhan Pal, and said his descendants would remain in power so long as they kept the name Pal. His next 83 descendants did just that, but number 84 changed his name to Tej Karan and -- you guessed it -- goodbye kingdom.
1398 the Tomar dynasty came to power in Gwalior and, over the next few
centuries, Gwalior Fort was the scene of continual intrigue and clashes with
neighboring powers. In 1516 the fort was besieged and taken by Ibrahim Lodi
after a long struggle. Later the Mughals, under Babur, took the fort and held it
until 1754, when the Marathas captured it. In the next 50 years the fort
changed hands many times, including twice to the British, until it came into the hands of the Scindias, whose royal descendants still live in
Gwalior. During the Indian Uprising in 1857 the maharaja remained loyal to the British
but his troops didn't, and in the mid-1858 the fort was the scene of some of the
final, and most dramatic, events of the whole Uprising. It was near here that
the British finally defeated Tantia Topi and it was in the final assault on the
fort that the rani of Jhansi was killed. Gwalior's most famous son of recent
times is the former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. [—Adapted from Lonely Planet India, 2003; Aug 05]
(Going "home" can be bittersweet. In this essay, Namit Arora revisits Gwalior, where he came of age.)
‘No man ever steps in the same river twice,’ wrote Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher, ‘for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.’ Some also say this about ‘home’, making it less a place, more a state of mind. Or as Basho, the haiku master, put it, ‘Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.’ Still, in an age of physical migration like ours, one of the most bittersweet experiences in a migrant’s life is revisiting, after a long gap, the hometown where he came of age. More so perhaps if, while he was away, his neighborhood turned to ruin, crumbling and overrun with weeds, as happened in my case.
Last month, I revisited my boyhood home in Gwalior, a city in north central India, with my parents. I had grown up with my two sisters in Birlanagar, an industrial township in Gwalior, until I went away to college at age 17. After graduation, I left for the U.S. in 1989 for post-graduate studies and various jobs in the U.S. and Europe over the next two decades. I continued to think of Gwalior as my hometown until my parents also left in 1995 and I stopped going there during my India visits. By most measures I had a decent boyhood in Gwalior, yet I’m loath to idealize it or look upon it fondly. If it had its joys, it was also full of graceless anxieties, pressures, and confusions. (READ MORE)
All pictures above were taken in 2014, and the ones below in 2005
State Archaeology Museum (inside Gujjari Mahal), Jai Vilas Palace, and Scindia Museum
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