Jabalpur - A City with many Unique Features

 Contributed by P.K.Lal 

Jabalpur is an ancient city situated in the heart of India. It lies on the shores of holy river Narmada and the plains of its distributaries; Hiran, Gour, Ken and Sone.

In historical records this town finds its name as "JABALIPATTAN". One modern historian is that the town abounds in huge granite boulders which in Arabic are called "Jabal" designating the town as a land of stones. The city is mainly surrounded by low, rocky, and barren hillocks - Kariapather hillock to the north-east, Sita Pahadi and Kandhari hills to the east, Madan Mahal hills and rocks outcrop to the south-west. These outcrops form a major barrier in the continuous development of urban form and restrict inter-links between the various parts of the city.

Jabalpur is famous for its huge military establishment and defence manufacturing units. With a beautiful and spread-out cantonment and its colonial residences and barracks, Jabalpur is the Indian Army's area headquarters for three states namely Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar. Amongst the defence production units - Ordnance Factory Khamaria(OFK) and Gun Carriage Factory(GCF) were established in 1943 and 1905 respectively. The other two units, Vehicle Factory(VFJ) and Grey Iron Foundry(GIF) came up during the early post independence period. This concentration of defence units has been mainly due to its strategic location in Central India. Village Karondi which is said to be the geographical center of India, is situated just 20 miles north of it.

The history of Jabalpur dates back to many centuries. The nearby Tewar, known as Tripuri in ancient times, finds its mention in Hindu religious scriptures from the past such as the Padma purana, Ling purana and Skandha purana. The famous dynasties which ruled over here were Gond and Kalchuri.

In the medieval period, jabalpur was an important center for tantric cult. The centers of cult that still exist are Bajna Math and the  Chaunsath Yogini temple at Bhedaghat, the site of the famous "Dhuandhar" and marble rocks.

The Bajna Math and nearby Sangram Sagar were built by the Gond king Sangram Shah between  1480 - 1540 A.D. Madan Shah, another gond king, built the famous Madan Mahal Fort in 1116, which still dominates the skyline and provides a panaromic view of the city and the countryside around it.

The ancient Tripuri were the first to originally settle in this area and the rulers of this city, the Hayahaya, are even mentioned in Hindu religious scriptures of the past like The Mahabharata, Padma Purana, Ling Purana and Skandha Purana. Jabalpur passed successively into Mauryan and then Gupta rule until, in 875 AD, it was taken by the Kalchuri rulers. In the 13th century it was overrun by the Gonds and by the early 16th century it had become the powerful state of Gondwana. Though besieged by Mughal armies from time to time, Gondwana survived until 1789 when it was finally conquered by the Marathas. The Maratha  rule was very unpopular largely due to the increased activities of the thuggees who were ritual murderers and bandits.

Jabalpur came under the British rule in 1817 when it was wrestled by the east India company from the  Marathas. Just three years after jabalpur became a british territory, Colonel William Henry Sleeman, whose name is intricately associated with Jabalpur, came to this city in the year 1820. By then he had put in 11 years of service for the Indian army where his exceptional ability and talent led to his posting as chief assistant to C. A. Moloney, the representative of the governor general for Sagar and Narmada territories at Jabalpur. To the good luck of  this area, Sleeman continued here almost till the end of his service career in 1856 except for a brief period of four years from 1824 to 1828 when indifferent health forced him to go to Mauritius where he not only regained his health but also met his wife to be, Emilly - a French girl 20 years his junior. They were married at Jabalpur on 11th June, 1928. Emilly proved to be a perfect life mate for Sleeman and was with him in all his endeavours and tireless efforts to develop and improve the lot of people in  this area. She mostly travelled with him and credit for planting of trees on either side of road upto Narsinghpur on one side and Maihar on the other side goes to this couple.

Sleeman’s lasting contribution was the ending of terror of pindaris and thugs who were looting and mercilessly killing the pilgrims and traders on the roads throughout central and parts of north India. When the ‘Sati Pratha’ (the practice of a wife sitting on the pier of her dead husband and burning herself during the cremation) was abolished by the then Governor General of India - Lord William Bentinck, it was Colonel Sleeman who implemented it vigorously in Central India.

After finishing the thugs he opened a reformatory school at Jabalpur for rehabilitating them and their children. A carpet measuring 80 feet x 40 feet and weighing two tons was made in this reformatory school and sent to England for Queen Victoria. It is said that this was the first carpet sent from India to England.

Any narration on Jabalpur can not be complete unless it includes Sleeman’s contributions. There are many legends associated with him. One of the most famous is associated with Sleemanabad - a railway station 50 miles north of Jabalpur on Mumbai - Howrah rail route. It is said that during one of his tours of the area in 1932, he met one saint Baba Haridas in village Kohka at a temple dedicated to mother goddess or a devi temple. Baba Haridas told him that his visit to that place and darshan of devi or goddess would result in his being blessed with a son. Till then he was childless. Soon afterwards his wife became pregnant and he got a son. The boy was born during journey between the towns of Garhakota and Sagar while Emilly was travelling with him. The grateful Sleeman visited village Kohka as soon as possible in 1833 and distributed 100 acres of land to the poor of that village. The new settlement was named Sleemanabad by these villagers to express their gratitude to Sleeman.

It is also said that Col. Sleeman got installed a bell in the devi temple as he felt that he got a son because of puja(religious rites) performed in the temple. He also ordained that expenses for keeping a lamp burning in the temple continuously should be borne by his offsprings. The practice continues till this day and every 10 years one of his descendents makes a visit to the temple to ensure that Sleeman’s wishes are honored. There was even a road in Jabalpur city named after him. It is a pity that in our frenzy to get rid of all British legacies and relics in post-independence India, this road was renamed and thus a part of history got  erased.

Sleeman was one of the most farsighted administrators of Jabalpur and according to historians even though he was British, he made very sincere efforts in developing this area.

The history of Jabalpur during the nineteenth century is closely tied to both the expansion of British administration and the Raja Gokuldas commercial dynasty. Early in the century, Raja Gokuldas' grandfather, Sevaram, settled in the small trading town of Jabalpur and soon began to establish the family's position in society and their rapid rise in wealth.

Jabalpur was also known as city of ponds. Hardly 25 years ago, there existed 52 ponds . Many of them do not exist now as they were filled up and buildings constructed over them. Less than ten exist now but administration is taking steps now to preserve and maintain them. These ponds are known as "tal" in Hindi and many localities had their names after these tals such as Hanumantal, Ranital, Devtal etc. Similarly, other suffixes used for naming localities are Ghar(Kanchghar, Hawaghar etc.), Town (Napier town, Wright town etc.), Tallayya (Srinath Ki Talayya, Tilak Bhumi Talayya etc.), Pur (Ghamapur, Gorakhpur etc.), Pura (Dixitpura, Kachhpura etc.), Bagh (Gopalbagh, Baldeobagh etc.), Kua (Sathia Kua, Chikni Kua etc.), Ganj (Lordganj, Mukadamganj etc.) and Hai (Sunarhai, Macharhai, Nunhai etc.).

"VINOBA BHAVE", the modern saint philosopher of India, christened this city as "SANSKAR DHANI" meaning the capital of various cultural influences. He was impressed by its cosmopolitan character and communal harmony. The city has sizeable population of people from Bengal, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and South India who live in total harmony and peace and add richness to the life in the city. One can easily see the fusion of different cultures in this city.

The Dussehra festival of Jabalpur is very famous. Dussehra is celebrated to mark the victory of good over evil. It is believed that Lord Rama killed the ten-headed demon king Ravana on this very day and so did Goddess Durga killed the buffalo demon Mahishasur. Lord Brahma - one of the trinity of Hindu gods Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva - had given a boon to Mahishasur that he would not be killed by Gods, spirits, men or any aspect of nature. The ten armed Goddess Durga was created and bestowed with energies of many Gods to kill Mahishasur. Mahishasur did not get a woman included while asking for boon as he never could imagine a woman could be so powerful. The battle between Mahishasur and Goddess Durga went on for 9 days and on the tenth day the Goddess killed him thus ridding the creation of rampaging scourge.

The attraction of festival at Jabalpur is mainly because of a very large number of idols of Goddess Durga being installed in every nook and corner of the city. The Dussehra procession consists of Ram Leela (the life of Lord Rama up to the killing of Ravana depicted as drama in open air grounds in different localities of most of the cities and villages in India for ten days culminating in the killing of Ravana on the tenth day i.e., on Dussehara) scenes followed by the trucks carrying the idols of Goddess Durga for immersion in pond/ river. The Durgotsav (the celebration of worship of goddess Durga for ten days) procession is led by Sunarhai Durga followed by Noonhai Durga. Sunarhai and Noonhai are old localities of Jabalpur city and Durgotsavs of these two places are of historical importance. The celebration committees of these two places having been established 136 years ago in 1866 and 124 years ago in 1878 respectively. One Munir Ahmed - a Muslim was amongst those few persons who started Durgotsav in this city with the installation of idol of the goddess at Sunarhai and formed the celebration committee on more or less permanent basis. In recognition of the major contribution of a Muslim in starting the celebrations, a green cloth is hung as a background for the idol and the practice is continuing uninterrupted till today.

The 52nd session of the Indian national congress was held at Jabalpur in early 1939. In the history of congress the session is recorded as Tripuri congress (the ancient name of Jabalpur). Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose,  was the re-elected president of the congress for second term despite opposition from Mahatma Gandhi and all senior congress leaders whose candidate was Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya. The hostility was so great that Gandhi ji said,” Pattabhi’s defeat is my defeat”. Mahatma Gandhi did not attend this congress which took place in open air near river Narmada’s Tilwara ghat and all senior leaders refused to serve in Bose’s executive committee known as congress working committee, the top body deciding congress policy and program. Disgusted Subhash Chandra Bose resigned in April, 1939 but that is another story. Subhash Chandra Bose was lovingly known as Netaji. He was also imprisoned for some time in Jabalpur prison. The association with Jabalpur left a lasting impression on him. In 1941, when he traveled incognito from Calcutta to Northwest frontier province and then left India in the disguise of a Pathan with the name of Ziauddin, his visiting card carried the Legend, "Ziauddin, Insurance Agent, 19 Civil Lines, Jabalpur."

During the first war of Independence in 1857, the Indian Sepoys of British army revolted and made a descendent of Gond dynasty – Shankar Shah - their Raja (ruler) and fought the British under his leadership. Unfortunately they were all arrested and Raja Shankar Shah and his son Raghunath Shah were sentenced to death. The execution was carried out by tying them to the mouths of cannons at prominent public places.

During the freedom struggle, Jabalpur was also an important center of revolutionary movement. The hills of Madan Mahal were used for testing bombs and a very large number were tested here. It is also said that the bomb which was thrown at Lord Hardinge, Viceroy of India, at Delhi in 1911 was manufactured here and its preliminary testing was done by Rasbehari Bose and Chidambaram Pillai in Madan Mahal forests.

Jabalpur has been an important educational center. It has produced many literary figures and magicians. Also a few god men belong to this place..Osho Rajneesh, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and Swami Swaroopanand, the Shankaracharya of Jyotirpeeth and Dwarka have all been associated with Jabalpur. Besides others, Jadugar Anand and Jadugar Nigam are magicians of international stature from Jabalpur.

It is, however, the marble rocks at Bheraghat which has made Jabalpur a famous tourist spot. Bheraghat is about 20 miles from Jabalpur. The marble rocks at Bheraghat rise to a hundred feet on either side of Narmada. Captain J. Forsyth on seeing the beauty of rocks exclaimed,” the eye never wearies of the----effect produced by the broken and reflected sunlight, now glancing from a pinnacle of snow. White marble reared against the deep blue of the sky as from a point of silver, touching here and there with bright light the prominence of the middle heights; and again losing itself in the soft bluish greys of their recesses….”.

Boating facilities are also available to see the marble rocks.

Other attractions are Dhuandhar falls (Dhuandhar literally means the smoke cascade) and Chaunsat Jogini temple.

The tourist attractions at Jabalpur are (i) Madan Mahal Fort (ii) Balancing rock (iii) Sangram Sagar and Bajna Math (iv) Tilwara Ghat (v) Pisanhari Jain temple (vi) Rani Durgawati memorial and museum and (vii) Tagore Garden in cantonment. 

Visit to Kanha and Bandhavgarh national parks can be conveniently planned while staying at Jabalpur.

Acknowledgement: The author is thankful to Dr. Pankaj Shukla and Ganga Pathak for certain historical facts taken from their articles in local daily ‘Nav Bharat’.   The photographs for this article (covered under general disclaimer of this site) are collected by Sameer Times from various sources  which had no copyright string attached to it and are believed to be in public domain.