December 3, 2012
The epic Mahabharatha has immortalized the name of Virat Nagar because it was in Virat Nagar the Pandavas lived their year in exile incognito. When opportunity came knocking at my door top visit this city, courtesy a journalist friend of mine based in Delhi during my recent visit to Delhi, I grabbed the opportunity to make a trip to this small town in Rajasthan, just 80 kms from Rajasthan’s pink city Jaipur.
Due to dense traffic it took us 4 hours from Delhi to reach this city of little known wonders, a budding tourist destination. The primary goal of my trip was to visit the Bal Ashram belonging to Bachpan Bachao Andolan at Viratnagar and it was like a icing on the cake when I realized the city is dotted with important prehistoric sites and has a glorious history.
I must say this little known place is a wonder of wonders for those who have deep interest in prehistoric sites and a penchant for history. The history of Bairat goes back to Mahabharata. Known as Viratnagar it was the capital of the ancient Matsyadesa founded by king Virata, in whose kingdom the 5 Pandavas said to have spent their 13th year exile in disguise. According to excavations carried out by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) around this town it is revealed that the city has enough remnants to demonstrate that people have been living here since prehistoric times.
History tells us that Bairat or Virat Nagar has a glorious past steeped in history. There are many legends associated with it and some monumental structures speak volumes of its historical importance. Even now people believe that the place has lot of treasure (gold and silver coins and other valuable items) buried underneath. Locals talk about a man striking rich just a couple of years ago when he was digging the land for constructing his house.
Virat Nagar was known as Bairat during the time of Mahabharata some 3500 years ago. During 5th century BC it came under the rule of the Chedi Kingdom and was later part of Mauryan Empire under Ashoka. As I was strolling in the vast expanse of green-filled Bal Ashram grounds in this vicinage I could see the Panch Mala Mahal standing in all its glory just at a few hundred meters away, indicating that the Mughals too have left their mark in this amazing city. It is also known as a Chhatri (cenopath) that used to house Mughal emperor Akbar who hunted and stayed overnight on his yearly pilgrimage to Ajmer. Panch Mala Mahal which is in a very bad shape despite being under the wings of ASI, boasts of some of the oldest and interesting murals of Rajasthan. It is believed that these wall paintings in Panch Mala Mahal served as a model for the tradition of mural paintings, which has become a hallmark of the Mughal rule in India.
Panch Mahal is an imposing structure giving us a glimpse of the insight the Mughals had in constructing their structures.
The ground floor is presumably used for resting the horses and the servants and the other parts were probably used by the king and his entourage. It has steep steps on one side to go upstairs and once on top it gives a brilliant view of the entire city of Jaipur. The exquisite murals are in actually a feast to the eyes.
On the way to the Panch Mahal there is a Jain temple Shri Parshvanath Digambar Jain Nasiyan, which I visited on my way back from Panch Mala Mahal. The temple built in the 16th century is situated on the foot of the Vindhyachal Mountain and is a one of the major attractions of the city. The entrance of the temple complex is called as Mughal Gate. On entering an open courtyard there is a beautiful temple belonging to Digambara Jains. There are 5 statues of the Pandavas in the courtyard of the temple.
In the afternoon it was a visit to another ASI protected site known for the remnants of Budhista Monastry and a Buddhist Stupa that left me awestruck. An ASI board enroute indicated that Bairat is the home to the ruins of Bijak-ki-pahadi, a Buddhist chapel belonging to 3rd centry, known to be the oldest free-standing Buddhist structures in India. The route towards the site is a steep climb upwards amidst the picturesque beauty of peculiarity of the stones in various shapes and sizes revealing a story unto them.
On approaching the site it was the cannon-shaped rock on a ridge with the ancient Hanuman temple beneath that attracted our attention. It looks as though the rock perched delicately on the mountain top in all its grace and beauty. A few furlongs further are the ruins of the Bijak-ki-Pahadi and other ancient Buddhists monuments. The area also believed to have the rock-cut edicts of emperor Ashoka. The circular brick shrine has a large rectangular compound for an open entrance.
On one hand it is a sheer pleasure to marvel the accomplishments of our forefathers and their workmanship on the other it is heart-rending to see the ancient history of India in tatters.
Climbing further to get an overview of the Bijak-ki-Pahari it was another surprise another cave-like assembly of stones where a slight human touch has made it into a cave-like monument. A local Rajasthani who took me towards this cave told me that the cave is home for a husband wife pair of Bagheera, the black-toned Indian leopard. As there are many herdsmen grazing their sheep in this area there is reason to believe what he says. When I was lost mesmerized by the serenity of this mountain area, this guide even cautioned me to come down from the area as it was getting dark. It is with a heavy heart I retreated from the area with rich memories of Virat Nagar etched in my memory.
Though there were other interesting places in and around I could not visit them due to paucity of time considering my tight schedule. It also gets darker by 5.30pm and is quite chilly as the night approaches. From what I could glean during my short stay will be an unforgettable experience, which I will cherish forever.