Widely regarded for its cultural contribution to India’s history, Guna is steadily becoming a popular destination among history enthusiasts and tourists alike. With several temples and ancient forts that can be found around the area, its wealth in pre-colonial and Mughal-style architecture is regarded to be some of the best examples in India. Structures dating as far back as the 18th century dots the existing urban landscape of Guna, with historic forts and temples serving as recognizable landmarks alongside its rivers and other natural features.
Situated right at the heart of India, Guna has now become an important trading district within the Madhya Pradesh State. Narratives about the pre-18th century history of the area are often chronicled to have been about tumultuous struggles in leadership and power. Until 1808, the area was originally called “Ondila” or Unda”, and Bahadurgarh later on, until it was renamed Isagarh by the occupying French. The Guna district includes the current district of Ashokanagar before it was subdivided post-liberation. The name Guna refers to Gwailor United National Army, about the area’s history of being part of the princely state of Gwailor pre-liberation.
Understanding the history of Indian architecture lies in recognizing major styles and periods within the country’s vast historical timeline. Pre-Mughal architecture can be recognized throughout Hindu and Jain Temples, often bearing Dravidian architectural styles. Characterized with single or multiple Shikharas as a prominent feature, temples built during this time in India are either carved out of rocks or made out of stone which is contrary to the use of red bricks typical of the Mughal era.
While military fortifications served as protection against the instability and invading forces in the region, the numerous temples, mosques, and tombs served as a refuge for people asking for guidance and protection through prayers. A large number of temples in and in the surrounding areas in Guna are dedicated to Lord Hanuman, the main deity worshipped in the region. Aside from Hinduism and Jainism, other religions can also be found in the area making it an interesting cultural melting pot anchored in history and religion.
Set atop a hill near Guna, the Bees Bhuji Temple is easily recognizable from afar by the prominent lamp pillar emerging from the temple’s inner sanctum. The Hindu deity Durga is known to be enshrined in this temple, with pilgrims flocking to the area in hopes of achieving blessings by correctly counting the hands of this deity. Durga is a twenty-handed Hindu god of motherhood and protection as well as war and destruction.
Bajrang Garh Fort Guna
Despite most parts of the fort being in ruins due to the Scindia War of 1816, its four major gates surprisingly remain intact. The gates, known as Moti Mahal, Bajrang Mandir, and Rang Mahal remain to be popular attractions with tourists alongside the stepwell that still exists within the fort. An ancient temple can also be found within the fort and is mostly frequented by locals. Located just outside Guna, the Banjrangarh Fort, or Fort Jarkon was built in 1775 by its previous Maratha rulers in the Mughal style of architecture popular at the time.
Panchmuki Hanuman Ashram
Lord Hanuman, the main deity worshipped by locals and devotees has several temples around Guna dedicated to him. Two of the most recognizable areas are the Hanuman temple near the Guna airport and the Panchmukhi Hanuman Ashram above the hill in Vivek Colony, City of Guna. Known as a place of peace and serenity, this area is tucked up the hill away from the hustle and bustle of the city and is frequented by locals to offer their prayers and attend festivities.
A spiritually significant temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman -the five-faced god bearing the five strengths of the Hindu deities, the temple is done in classic Northern Indian style of architecture with walls and columns adorned by intricate details of divine and mythological sculptures adorning its exterior and interiors. Its cruciform plan and semi-stunted shikhara are characteristic of Central Indian architecture with an inner sanctum that houses Lord Hanuman’s statue. The temple has been said to be a site of pilgrimage for 600 years, with people across Madhya Pradesh coming to this temple in Guna to seek the deity’s blessings.
The future of Guna
Connecting the areas of Malwa and Chambal to the rest of India, the Guna train station and railway is located along the national highway in Gwalior and was built during the colonial occupation of India. This allowed ease of distribution of goods such as cotton to major trading areas like Mumbai, making it an important and major source of agricultural trade and commerce post-liberation. Remnants of colonial architecture and railroad infrastructure such as the Guna Train Station can bring awareness and appreciation of the evolution of ancient structures and post-colonial Indian architecture.
Mughal-era buildings such as the Taj Mahal often represent Indian architecture, overshadowing the lesser-known architecture of ancient Indian temples. Mughal architecture is characterized by features such as arches, minarets, and bulbous domes as well as intricate ornamentation with Persian, Turkish, and Muslim influences. Beyond its Saracenic and early-Indian roots, the renewed interest in the history and architecture around Guna can help inform new structures, particularly in the construction of new hotels emerging within the district.