iFeature | Charmed in Chanderi

This post was originally penned for The Alternative and was hosted here

“Chanderi is so much more than just its silk sarees”, Vineet said looking wistfully at all the life-size saree advertisements as we walked around the place.
I was in Madhya Pradesh accompanied around by a local from the guesthouse I was staying at while soaking in Chanderi. There was so much history to the place that I was surprised I had not come across any of it before. Wikipedia describes Chanderi as a town of historical significance. I was in awe.
In a way, we were both feeling cheated – Vineet because everything anyone knew about Chanderi seemed to be only about the silk sarees, not its history and me well because, I hadn’t heard about either until then!

Panoramic view of Chanderi

Where is Chanderi?
I’d actually first heard about Pranpur - which is located 3 kilometers away from Chanderi - through “Travel Another India’s” website which aims at promoting responsible tourism around India. The guesthouse I was staying at – Amraee Rural Resort – in Pranpur was developed as a part of the UNDP’s Endogenous Tourism Project to showcase Indian villages as tourism destinations along with the Ministry of Tourism (Government of India).

Doodle on the wall at Amraee Rural Resort

I’d arrived at Pranpur after having been to Orchha and Khajuraho. At first it didn’t seem like it had much to offer; except for an ideal getaway to do nothing. The property owned by the Ministry is big enough and quite green with butterflies flitting about the place and birds chirping in the mornings. The rooms are spacious and clean while the food is sumptuous. What more to ask for, no?

Artisans of Pranpur
I, however with help from the property manager, spent my morning visiting the nearby village to see the crafts and meet with the locals behind them. The experience was similar to the one I had when I went to Kutch in March last year. In a brief span of about 3 hours, I saw samples of exquisite metal work, terracotta and clay as well as weavers spinning magic with silk, cotton and zari threads. While it was mesmerizing to simply see their work as their fingers moved deftly, it was upsetting to know of how inadequate market linkages rob them of what they rightfully deserve.

Listening to them share stories of how they are expected to cough up an amount to release their goods from being apprehended while making their way to local fairs and markets would make you believe that they have been hardened by their experiences. It doesn’t help that the weather too is harsh – extreme dry heat during the summers followed by biting cold during the winters.
But thankfully it hasn’t.

Soaking in at Pranpur village

There was honesty as they spoke. They were proud about their craft and their culture. I could see their eyes light up when they spoke. They were aware of what they were fighting against but seemed determined to fight an honest battle. And they spoke dispassionately about it.
What left me feeling somewhat more hopeful for their cause is that alongside with education, their children also work with their parents - the craft will survive another generation.

And if you’re thinking that because there aren’t adequate market linkages, with tourists coming into these villages the products might be priced on an upper side – well, that was barely the case.
On the contrary I was left stupefied with the degree of trust they were able to place in me in just that little time -- so where one craftsman was ready to send some of the Chanderi saris with me back home so I could sell it on his behalf to people I know and transfer the money to him only after the sale had been completed, another when told that as I hadn’t come prepared to shop I would be letting go of some of pieces I’d selected, offered to accept a cheque for the required amount.

Time traveling
I then spent the second half of my day taking in the history and heritage that is Chanderi being transported back in time by the magnificent structures in front of me.

Jama Masjid
 Jama Masjid: It was built in 1251 CE. It is the largest not only in Chanderi, but in the Bundelkhand region - it is believed to be able to accommodate more than 3000 people.

Badal Mahal Darwaza
Badal Mahal Darwaza: This is all that remains of what is known as the Badal Mahal. But the enchanting gate is identified with Chanderi across the country. On one side of the gate used to be a hanging balcony where musicians used to play instruments to welcome guests.

Kati Ghati
Kati Ghati: The Kati Ghati is an impressive gateway that was cut overnight out of an existing rock upon the orders of Chanderi's governor Sher Khan's son Jiman Khan. About 30 feet high and 85 feet wide, it forms an entry into Chanderi from Malwa and Bundelkhand

Khandargiri: Situated about 2 km south of the main town of Chanderi, Khandargiri is famous for a 45-feet statue of the 23rd Jain Tirthankara Rishabhnath that has been carved out of the hillside. There are several caves adjoining the statue that contain similar carvings of tirthankaras and other Jaina motifs

Raja Rani Mahal
 Raja Rani Mahal: The Raja Rani Mahal is often treated as part of the same palace, but they belong to different styles and eras. Today at Raja Rani Mahal, youngsters learn various skills related to weaving, designing and tailoring to market it through Chanderiyaan, an online initiative.

Koshak Mahal
Koshak Mahal: The Koshak Mahal was built in 1445 CE as a victory monument. The building was initially planned as a seven-storey structure. Now only three-and-a-half storeys remain. It is not known if the entire building was ever completed

Looking back at my day I had to agree with Vineet that there is definitely more to Chanderi than its silk sarees

Chanderi Fort

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