Ajaigarh located south-east of Mahoba, south-west of Kalinjar and north-east of Khajuraho formed the formidable quadrilateral seats of power, religion, art and architecture of the Chandelas. Ajaigarh is said to have been derived from the word Jaya-pura-durga which then became Jaya-garh as seen in some inscriptions found in Jaipur. This historical city was established by the descendent of Maharajadhiraja Veer Chhatrasal, Bhakat Singh in 1765 CE as the capital of the princely state of Ajaigarh. However, this city and a part of the impressive fort was already built by their predecessors, the Chandelas. The Chandelas called this city Nandipur after Nandi while Kalinjar was named after Lord Shiva.
Historians consider the architecture, sculpture and artistry of Ajaigarh fort to be the mother and inspiration behind the renowned Khajuraho temples built by the Chandelas. The Ajaigarh fort is located in Panna district atop a plateau in the Vindhyachal mountain range at an elevation of about 1744 feet. Though the credit for the construction of the fort of Ajaigarh is given to Ajaypal of the Bundela Rajput clan, the contribution of the Chandelas is visible in every part of the fort.
Ajaigarh fort is built on a steep hill called Kedar Parbhat accessed by a flight of roughly cut stone steps (around 600). There were five gates initially leading to the fort but only two remain with one on the north and the other leading to the Taroni village located at the foot of the hill. The fort is said to be built of sandstone. At the top of the hill is the grand doorway called Kalinjar Darwaza. On the right side of the doorway beneath a huge rock are two openings side by side filled with water called as Ganga and Jamuna. These two water tanks were constructed by Maharani Mahishi Kalyani Devi when the surrounding villages were plagued with disease and famine. These are perennial and considered to be sacred by the locals.
There is a mysterious inscription in an unknown language below the Shiva Linga carved on the rock on the right side as you walk up. It is said that the one who can read this inscription will unearth the hidden treasure buried in the fort but will also lose his life after finding it! There is a lock and key carving on the rock which is believed to be like a bill of payment or bill of transaction. It is said that there is a lock that will open when the words on the inscription are deciphered which will lead one to the place where the treasure is hidden. Many historians, theoretical linguistics and philologists have attempted to read the strange inscription but have failed. Locals believe that the secret to finding the large treasure lies somewhere in the fort but for reasons unknown continues to remain undiscovered.
There are lovely carvings and detailed sculptures of Lord Ganesha, Lord Karthikeya, Lord Krishna, yoginis and yogis, stories from the scriptures, Lord Nandi, women worshipping Lord Shiva, nine forms of Devi (Navadurga) and a mother feeding her son to mention a few all over the rocks. These exquisite sculptures that are more than 1000 years old if not more are breathtaking typical of the Chandelas visionary thinking.
To the south of the fort are four beautiful temples that have been built by the Chandelas in the Pratihara style of architecture and are called Chandel Mahal locally known as Rangmahal. The motifs, detailing on the base and the top of the pillars and the intricate carvings in the walls are typical of the style they favoured but these temples are on the verge of collapse. It appears that the same architects designed Ajaigarh and Khajuraho.
There are three grand Jain temples which are also in ruins built somewhere in the 12th century. These temples are side by side near a large pond concealed in the dense forest. The carved figures and intricately detailed work on the hard rock is a visual delight. There are some inscriptions seen on the stones. It is said that these monolithic statues of Jain Tirthankaras were smaller in size initially but have grown as the years went by!
There is a Panchamukha Shiva Linga found below an old Banyan tree which is worshipped by locals. There is also a temple dedicated to Raja Paramardi Deva inside the fort. Bhuteshwar hill lies to the north-west of Ajaypal temple where there is an old Shiva Linga inside the cave. The temple dedicated to saint Ajaypal is at the bank of the Ajaypal lake and locals say that the ancient idol of Ajaypal was stolen and later recovered in Khajuraho. The idol is now in safe custody and brought to the temple only on special occasions.
Locals say that one time the whole city was afflicted with malaria and famine. Ajaypal arrived at the palace and sought to perform certain rituals to which the king agreed. The rituals invoking Lord Shiva and Durga Devi went on for days after which the people were relieved from their suffering. The king constructed this lake in honour of the saint. Locals have great faith in saint Ajaypal and pray at the lake and at the temple dedicated to saint Ajaypal when any of their animals become sick. The practice is to arrange small stones one on top of the other when the animal falls ill and to disassemble those stones once the animal has recovered.
The fort and the surrounding palaces and temples built by the Chandelas was raided by Mahmud of Ghazni, the Mughals and the British. Remains of idols, pillars, temples, cornices, pedestals, amalaka, richly carved stones and several inscriptions of the late Chandel period are strewn about in the forest.
The reign of the Chandelas is called as the Golden Age in the history of Kalinjar and Ajaigarh. This fort is one of the eight built by the Chandelas and richly deserves the recognition that is due to it. Unfortunately, Ajaigarh is not visited by many and has fallen into disrepair.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)