The Royal Cenotaphs of Bada Bagh, Jaisalmer

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Rajasthan | 118
First Published on March 28, 2016

From atop the Jaisalmer Fort, somewhere far off in the horizon, I glanced about some unique golden structures. The Bada Bagh Cenotaphs, as our guide pointed out, was the royal tombs of the Bhatti dynasty of Jaisalmer. Even from a distance, they looked glamorous and there was no way, I was not visiting them. And so we did, on our way back from the mysterious Ghost town of Kuldhara.

The cenotaphs of Bada Bagh as seen from Jaisalmer Fort.

Call this an eerie journey, I was already pensive, with my unanswered questions of Kuldhara and along the way, I kept spotting the other abandoned villages of the Paliwal clan. I was so busy musing over the story of this clan that I did not even realize when we reached the majestic cenotaphs of Bada Bagh Jaisalmer. Warm winds blew over the desolate golden piece of art – there were no tourists nor any guides. The atmosphere for me continued to be as strange and mystic as it was in Kuldhara. Despite this strange feeling, the magnificence of the Jaisalmer cenotaphs had me stumped.

This tour of the Bada Bagh cenotaphs is bound to leave you equally spellbound. The structures are not only beautiful but very intriguing. I would not be surprised if after reading this guide to Bada Bagh Jaisalmer, you plan a visit here – most likely to spot the clues that I will drop through this mystical journey.

History of Bada Bagh Jaisalmer

The majestic Jaisalmer cenotaphs at Bada Bagh

Bada Bagh is called Bara Bagh in the local language and it means a “big garden“. However, this place is anything but a garden. This is the place that was built as a memory of the royal family – for those Kings and Queens who passed away. The typical tomb shaped cenotaphs are called Chhatris. The first one that was built was for Jai Singh II by his son Lunkaran in the 16th century. Jai Singh II was known for his contribution to making the desert around Jaisalmer green. He set up a dam near a lake and help parch the dry heat of this place. To honor him, his son set up a memorial in the form of this cenotaph near this dam and created a large park around it.

Cenotaph of Maharwal Jawahar Singh II at Bada Bagh, Jaisalmer

The tradition caught on and from then on, every death of a royal member of the rulers of Jaisalmer was honored with a Chhatri in Bada Bagh Jaisalmer. This continued till the 20th century when the last one for Maharawal Jawahar Singh was left incomplete as his son who ascended the throne after him, died within one year of his ascension. This was considered to be bad luck and from then on, the tradition of cenotaphs at Bada Bagh was discontinued.

The layout of the Jaisalmer cenotaphs

One of the things to do in Jaisalmer is to visit Bada Bagh cenotaphs

Have you ever felt this – sometimes you find something so beautiful, that you want to keep it exclusive?

You don’t know where to begin, you feel that if you began it wrong or touched it wrong, it will spoil the excitement.  You want to leave it elusive and yet you can’t. Well, that is how I felt as I entered Bada Bagh cenotaphs. The entire spread of golden tombs beckoned me, yet I was hesitant to enter. I did not know where to start and what to do, and all I wanted to do is capture it all in a moment and yet, not. 🙂

The grandiose of the individual Jaisalmer Cenotaph belies the importance of the person

Bara Bagh is set along a hill and you enter the place at the base. The place has two distinct rows of cenotaphs, each one similar and yet distinct. The simple stone structures have some lovely carvings on it and it is amazing how there is no color contrast to these carvings and yet, they stand out on the entire façade adding to the beauty of the cenotaph.

The ceiling of one of the cenotaphs at Bada Bagh, Jaisalmer

The Jaisalmer cenotaphs are of varying sizes and the significance of the same is simple. The more powerful you are, the bigger your cenotaph is. Naturally, the biggest ones belonged to the main Maharaja while scattered between them were smaller ones that possibly represented princes and smaller royal members. The roofs of these are quite striking and give the small structure a shrine-like appearance. It sort of reminded me of the various dance pavilions that I have seen in India.

Smaller cenotaph of a prince at Bada Bagh, Jaisalmer

It isn’t just the size that will give you a clue of how important the person was. The important structures had elaborate domes, exquisitely carved ceilings, and intricate pillars. Of course, a lot of these have crumbled over years, but one can still see its grandeur.

Stone Tablets and Marble slates inside the Bada Bagh Cenotaphs

Stone tablets representing the royal family at Bada Bagh, Jaisalmer

Within every Bara Bagh cenotaph are tablets that represent the ruler for whom it was built. The more recent ones had marble slabs while the older ones were made with the same golden sand stone as the rest of its exterior.

Marble slab representing the ruler at the Jaisalmer Cenotaphs

As I walked along the Chhatris, I saw that these stone and marble pillars were etched with the same figure of a ruler on a horseback. In addition to the same, there were some women. My hubby’s theory was that these were figures of the number of wives that the ruler had. And the same was true to some extent, except that it was a little gorier than just the number of wives.

Stone tablet representing the ruler and his wives at Bara Bagh, Jaisalmer

It represented the women in the life of the ruler who self-immolated or became satis by jumping into the burning pyre of the ruler. The tablet of the woman next to the ruler was his queen while the one with a lot of women were representative of his concubines. I have always felt that this particular tradition of Sati has been barbaric and horrifying and every time, I encounter it, I feel angry and sad for these women who believed it to be a part of their “duty” towards their husband. I got to know of this significance of the stone tablets much later after I had left Bada Bagh and in a way, it was good coz my pensive mood did not affect my fellow travelers while we were at Bada Bagh.

Crumbling Jaisalmer cenotaph of Mâhârawal Mooraj Sing Ji III

The other interesting fact about Bada Bagh cenotaph is the way the horses are depicted on the tablets. If the horse had the front two legs in the air, its owner died in a battle. In case it was shown with only one leg raised, then the ruler was grievously injured in battle and had succumbed to the wound. Four legs on the ground meant that the ruler had died a natural death. Hmmm…now you know what I mean about throwing enough clues for your own treasure hunt.😉

Other interesting facts about Bada Bagh Jaisalmer

You will find the stone or marble tablets within all the cenotaphs of Bada Bagh Jaisalmer except for one. This one is the last and the most recent of the lot – deliberately left incomplete for Maharawal Jawahar Singh.

The entrance to Maharawal Jawahar Singh's cenotaph at Bara Bagh

As you climb up and enter this particular cenotaph, you will notice that there is no memorial. Instead a stand holding an earthen pot of water along with a sketched portrait of the ruler. I am given to understand that this is placed in the cenotaph of the one who departed last, as an attempt to quench his thirsty soul. Notice that the entrance of the cenotaph has an inscription. This is nothing but the name of the ruler for whom this cenotaph was built. In this case, Maharawal Jawahar Singh.

Besides the Chattris, try and spot a pole called as the Govardhan Sthambh. This is close to the dam area that borders the Bada Bagh cenotaphs. It was built to commemorate the tank and dam that was initiated by the oldest ruler cremated at Bada Bagh.

On the whole, you will find that the entire place has an abandoned look but despite this, the beauty of the place is unmistakable. Hidden in these lost cenotaphs are some brilliant clues to the life of the Jaisalmer royalty and find those is what makes your tour of Bada Bagh Jaisalmer interesting and memorable.

As my car pulled away, I glanced back at the silent royal structures. The same feeling associated with an elusive beauty hit me and I kept looking at the Bada Bagh till I could see it no more. The strange feeling was so powerful that I almost missed the lovely windmills in the backdrop of the Bada Bagh. Somehow, the majestic cenotaphs of Bada Bagh made everything else seem so insignificant.

If you are headed to Jaisalmer, I would definitely recommend a visit to these golden monuments of Bada Bagh. Waiting to know what you felt after reading this guide to Bada Bagh Jaisalmer. Till then, pin this to your board.

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How to reach Bada Bagh Jaisalmer?

Jaisalmer is accessible from most cities in Rajasthan by road and rail. The nearest airport to Jaisalmer is in Jodhpur and one will have to take a cab or bus or train to reach Jaisalmer.

Once in Jaisalmer, you can get to Bada Bagh by any public transport, including bus, autos or cabs. Your hotel will be able to arrange for one. Alternatively, you can just hail one off the street. It is located approximately 5 km from Jaisalmer Railway Station. You can even club a visit to this place enroute to Sam SandDunes.

What is the best time to visit Bada Bagh Cenotaphs?

The Jaisalmer cenotaphs are open from 8 am to 6 pm everyday. Mornings are a little cooler to visit these monuments. However, I highly recommend visiting the Bada Bagh Jaisalmer around Sunset. The golden glow of the sun shines off these royal cenotaphs, making them literally glow in the desert.

In terms of the weather, the best time to visit is from October to February.

What are the entrance fees for Bada Bagh Jaisalmer?

The entry fees for an Indian is INR 20 and for a foreigner is INR 50. The charges for a still camera is INR 50.

Guides are not easily available. We found one only once we were exiting. There is no fixed charge mentioned here for a guide. You will need to negotiate your own deal.

How much time do I have to keep aside for visiting these Jaisalmer cenotaphs?

Keep aside 45 minutes to 1 hour for a complete tour of Bada Bagh Jaisalmer

Where to stay in Jaisalmer?

Jaisalmer offers you two options for your stay here. One is where you can enjoy a traditional haveli or hotel within the city and the other is spending a night or two in the desert. Look for a hotel or stay within the Jaisalmer Fort. This will allow you easy access to all the major places to see in Jaisalmer.

When it comes to desert stays, you can pick a camp at either Sam Sand Dunes or Khuri Dunes. To know which is better and why, you should read through this complete guide to Jaisalmer desert camps.

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