Gwalior: An Overview

Gwalior, located in the “Heart of India,” Madhya Pradesh, boasts a rich culture, heritage, and architecture owing to its historical movements. As the capital of central India from 1948 to 1956, the “City of Music” has been home to several great dynasties over centuries and a witness to many historical battles and power struggles. Surrounded by high rocky hills, the city borders the Ganga-Yamuna Drainage Basin on its North. With an extreme sub-tropical climate, Gwalior is a travel magnet for history and period architecture enthusiasts. The modern-day city is an amalgamation of preserved heritage and evolving industrialization and urbanization. Given its history of various rulers and their respective dynasty, Gwalior is an exemplary example of cross-cultural influences, evidently through its diverse architecture. 

Earlier called Gopadri or Gopgiri, the city later acquired its present-day name, Gwalior, in the eighth century AD, after saint Gwalipa, who helped cure a chieftain, Suraj Sen, of a disease. As a cradle for numerous dynasties since then, it has gained recognition over the years as an ancient civilization hub with a rich cultural, social, and political dynamic. 

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Twin Temple in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India_©vatra voda, unsplash.com

Cultural, Social, and Political Dimensions through Architecture

Gaining geographical status owing to the commission of the Gwalior Fort of the Tomara Dynasty, the magnificent historical monument, has handsomely contributed to the rapid growth of both the ancient and modern city. Described as “the pearl in the necklace of the forts of Hind,” the invincible fort displays a distinct Chinese-influenced Indian architectural style and has served as a host for the world-renowned Tansen Music Festival, celebrating Hindustani Classical Music since the 1930s. The Tansen Sangeet Samaroh annually celebrates music and culture as a tribute to Tansen, the Father of Indian Classical Music, and is a pompous festival in which various artists from the country joyously participate. 

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The Gwalior Fort ©Chirag Vashist, unsplash.com

Constructed in the 16th century AD, Tombs Of Mohammed Ghaus & Tansen is a popular, must-visit tourist attraction. The Rajput architectural monument was designed in the typical Mughal architectural style. A square plan with hexagonal pillars, the structure is crowned with a square dome decorated with blue ceramic tiles. The walls feature intricate carvings and beautiful latticework, as seen from its sprawling gardens. Today, the tomb is one among the living cultural heritage of the historic city.

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Tombs Of Mohammed Ghaus & Tansen ©kevinstandagephotography.wordpress.com

Local inhabitants of Gwalior continue to value their rich lineage in other forms of performing arts such as dance, folk poetry, art, and handicrafts. Often revolving around the theme of nature and occupation, popular dance forms include Ahiri (a dance form among cattle herders), Baredi (performed during Diwali), and Sahara (a dance form among tribes of the forest). Folk poetry and literature recorded significant historical accounts in the works of poets like, Ghag and Jagnik, praised for their biographical, witty, and satirical tones.

Based on “musical harmonics” architecture, the 8th-century temple, Teli Ka Mandir within the Gwalior fort, is regarded as a masterpiece of the Gupta Dynasty. Gracefully integrating the Nagara and Valabhi Prasada styles of design, the complex yet unique structure remains a marvel to historians and archaeologists even today, despite its immense deterioration. 

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Teli Ka Mandir ©holidify.com

The Gopachal Parvat is a series of splendid rock-cut Jain monuments dating between the 7th and 15th centuries. Located on the mountainous slopes of the Gwalior Fort, unique statues of Jain Tirthankaras adorn the massive fort walls. Built by the Tomar kings, the Jain Tirthankar statues are one of a kind in architectural history. 

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Gopachal Parvat ©hotelscontactnumber.in

Another place of splendid architectural history is the Jai Vilas Mahal of the Scindia dynasty. A classic example of European architecture in India from the nineteenth century, the palace is a harmonious blend of the Tuscan, Dorian, and Corinthian styles over three stories. The palace houses the Scindia Museum, established in 1964 and exhibits numerous famous weapons, manuscripts, coins, paintings, and sculptures.

Jai Vilas Mahal ©timesnownews.com

Art and handicrafts, both historically preserved and present-day ones, reflect Gwalior’s sound culture. Well recognized for their papier mache artifacts, leather work, and elegant hand-woven carpets, they encapsulate the indigenous styles of the locality. Tribal jewelry and authentic fabric varieties like the Chanderi & Maheswari Saris, Tussar & Kosa Silks are popular among tourists. 

Demographics and Modernization

Demographically, Gwalior has a population of 1,054,420, of which 53% constitute males and 47% females. Close to 96% of them speak Hindi as their first language, and the average literacy rate was about 84%, as per the 2011 Census of India. Exhibiting religious amity since ancient times, as evident from the Scindia dynasty Maharaja’s respect for Sufi Saints by heading Moharram processions, the city is enlightened with secular beliefs of all kinds.

After being recorded as the second-highest level of air pollution as per a WHO study in 2016, the Gwalior Smart City Proposal was put forward by the government, to address various modern-day concerns, including urban mobility, waste management, and economic development. All this is planned for implementation without disrupting the heritage and cultural value of the place.     

Citations for websites:

www.mapsofindia.com. (n.d.). Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. [online] Available at: https://www.mapsofindia.com/gwalior/ [Accessed 6 Nov. 2022].

www.gwalioronline.in. (n.d.). History of Gwalior, Origin and Establishment of Gwalior. [online] Available at: https://www.gwalioronline.in/city-guide/history-of-gwalior [Accessed 6 Nov. 2022].

Trawell.in. (n.d.). Tombs Of Mohammed Ghaus & Tansen, Gwalior – Timings, History, Best time to visit. [online] Available at: https://www.trawell.in/madhya-pradesh/gwalior/tombs-of-mohammed-ghaus-tansen#:~:text=The%20structure%20of%20this%20tomb [Accessed 6 Nov. 2022].

www.indiahotels.com. (n.d.). Gwalior Tourism | Tourism in Gwalior, India | Indiahotels.com. [online] Available at: http://www.indiahotels.com/gwalior/gwalior-tourism.html [Accessed 6 Nov. 2022].

‌Sharma, V. (2021). Gwalior – A city with celebrated history and culture | IKAN Relocations. [online] Available at: https://ikan.com/gwalior-a-city-with-celebrated-history-and-culture/.

Author

Lakshmi Sundaram is an architect, muralist and graphic designer with an atypical and interdisciplinary outlook. Design being her finest channel of expression, strong narratives direct her work across all domains. Precisely, an aspiring little drop in a mighty ocean of design revolutions.

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