UP Election 2017: Home to Bajirao-Mastani, Bundelkhand is a forgotten postcard from the past

Going by the stupendous success of the 2015 Bollywood film Bajirao Mastani, Bundelkhand should have become a tourist hotspot by now.

Mastani, the second wife of the celebrated Maratha ruler Bajirao Peshwa (1700-1740), hailed from Bundelkhand, and was the daughter of the legendary ruler of the region, Chhatrasal. Mastani, in fact, is not the only reason Bundelkhand should be a tourism priority. The region, rich in history, captures the imagination of the common man — this is the land of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, who needs no introduction, and Alha-Udal, the legendary 12th Century Rajput warriors of Mahoba who repeatedly defeated the Delhi Rajput ruler Prithviraj Chauhan.

Bundelkhand not only played an important role in ancient and medieval history of India, but was also the centre of a large-scale uprising during the revolt of 1857, and remained prominent throughout India’s freedom struggle.

Bhuragarh Fort in Bundelkhand's Banda. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

Bhuragarh Fort in Bundelkhand's Banda. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

But, in the hands of successive Uttar Pradesh governments, the region is nothing but a case study in survival amidst severe drought conditions. The heritage, in such a situation, is not even expected to be a priority for the people. That is why, the palace of the Nawab of Banda — direct descendant of the son of Bajirao and Mastani, Shamsher Bahadur — is in ruins today. The Nawab had played a crucial role during the revolt of 1857.

Then, there is this 277-year-old Bhuragarh Fort where 800 Hindus and Muslims were hanged (as per official records) by the English in 1857 for opposing the Company rule. The fort was a centre of revolt during the first war of Independence, as battle was fought between the Banda rulers and the English. Not many know about this historical landmark just five kilometres from Banda town.
There is also the 10th Century-era invincible fort of Kalinjar — 57 kilometres from Banda, situated at the top of rocky Kalinjar Hill on Vindhya mountain range; this, too, is ill-maintained.

Besides Banda, there are many heritage sites of historical and religious importance spread across the 13 districts of the entire Bundelkhand belt in Central India, of which seven lie in Uttar Pradesh and six are in Madhya Pradesh. In the heady politics of the state practiced by the high-and-mighty in Lucknow, the region was left by the wayside long ago and today, is merely a vote bank for all those who need to capture power in the state. Politicians come here every election season with promises of water and other basic facilities only to disappear till the next elections.

Does history even manage a blip on such a radar?

The state could take lessons in tourism from the neighbouring Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh that have preserved the concomitant regional heritage sites in a far better condition. The tourism sector is a big revenue earner for these two BJP-ruled states.

"Banda itself has such important places associated with our history, especially those related to India's freedom struggle. The English had hanged 800 Hindu and Muslim locals at Bhuragarh Fort during the Revolt of 1857 as they had protested against Company rule. The fort, however, is in a ramshackle condition. Similar is the story of two palaces belonging to the first Nawab of Banda, the son of my great great grandfather, Shamsher Bahadur, who was the son of Bajirao and Mastani," said Shadab Ali Bahadur Peshwa, the eighth generation descendant of the Nawab of Banda, who now lives in Bhopal, in a chat with Firstpost.

Chhatrasal bequeathed Mahoba and the surrounding area to Bajirao in return for the latter’s assistance against the Mughals.

"The film Bajirao Mastani wrongly projected both the characters. Peshwa was one of the finest warriors of India, who bought 40 battles and lost none. He didn’t die the way the film has shown. The government should protect these historical sites and monuments. In this election again, no party has spelt out any plan to promote tourism in Bundelkhand, which can generate revenue for the state and save monuments," he said.

The two havelis of Banda’s first Nawab Ali Bahadur (son of Shamsher Bahadur), ‘Kankar Mahal’ and ‘Bara Beri,’ are lying in shambles — broken, garbage dumped around, unwanted vegetation growing from the cracks of the walls and encroachment. This has all turned these two historical buildings into ruins.

The faveli of the first Nawab of Banda, and grandson of Bajirao and Mastani. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

The faveli of the first Nawab of Banda, and grandson of Bajirao and Mastani. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

"No efforts have been made by the successive governments to protect these important structures. Both the government and the people have to do it jointly, otherwise our historical sites will be destroyed," added Jayant Gore, a direct descendent of the minister of the Nawab and a resident of Banda. Union Minister Uma Bharti while contesting from the Charkhari Assembly seat in Mahoba in 2012, had promised that she would make Charkhari the 'Kashmir of Bundelkhand'. Although she vacated the seat to become Jhansi MP and then a Union minister, Charkhari’s destiny remained unchanged.

"It was Congress stalwart Govind Ballabh Pant, who named Charkhari as the 'Kashmir of Bundelkhand' due to its natural beauty. Not a single party has talked about developing tourism in Bundelkhand in its manifesto. It’s really a sorry state of affairs," remarked Pankaj Singh Parihar, an activist from Mahoba.

Will the stories of Bajirao and Mastani, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Alha-Udal and others remain in the annals of history books as folklore and ballads as the noted Hindi poet Subhadhra Kumari Chauhan had penned — Bundele Harbolo ke Moonh Humne Suni Kahani Thi, Khoob Ladi Mardani Woh To Jhansi wali Rani Thi (From the Bundel poets we have heard about how the Queen of Jhansi had valiantly fought the battle) — or will the government wake up to protect the monuments through a tourism policy?

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Updated Date: Feb 22, 2017 08:53:37 IST

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