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Chachrauli - Time Takes its Toll

Scattered around the countryside or engulfed by the urban sprawl are many hidden treasures of Indian culture. At Chachhrauli in Haryana is an ancient fort with artistic murals, a part of India’s fast-disappearing heritage.

India has it famous forts, the monumental ones where memorable events from the country’s history were played out. History full of battles, intrigues and romance.

Yet India has hundred more forts scattered around the countryside or virtually engulfed by the urban sprawl which no one visits any more and scarcely anyone can remember the legend surrounding the fort – if indeed legends there ever were. If you drive north out of Delhi on the frenetically busy G.T. Road, the urban sprawl gradually gives way to light industry which in turn yields to agriculture – miles of rape-seed and wheat fields, bullock carts, dusty roads and turbaned farmers. At Karnal, you leave the G.T. Road and the truck bumps its way into another small, crowded, noisy town, and you have reached Chachhrauli, Haryana.

Chachhrauli, formerly the capital of one of India’s 562 princely States, boasts a busy station, a grain market, banks and hardware stores, but it also has vestiges of its princely past – the ruling family’s samadhi (memorials) and their forts and palaces, now housing offices. At the turn of the century, the Raja of Kalsia built for himself a large, sprawling fort with a throne room, a khazana (treasury) and reception rooms and he had the whole fort painted with murals. Long forgotten artists painted every inch of the fort’s walls with flowers, birds, Indian courtly scenes and also rather incongruous modern views of railway stations, trains churches and Europeans. It is hard to believe that the mural painters of Chachhrauli had actually seen churches and railway bridges, so they probably based their art on illustrations from books and magazines.

In 1940 the fort was donated by the Kalsia family to the town of Chachhrauli for its use. Inside the fort, the local authority established two schools, the law courts and several municipal offices. The fort again became alive, this time with children’s voices and office gossip and (almost certainly), legal battles. When I first visited Chachhrauli almost ten years ago, the fort and its murals were in a fairly good state of repair but, over the years, time and use have taken their toll and today the walls are crumbling away taking with them their paintings of peacocks and princes and trains.

In a burgeoning country as vast as India, everyone, has his own idea on what is or is not a priority for India – health, education, housing, industrial development, military build-up – all of which are debated, the problems tackled or shelved and so the nation’s busy life goes on. Sadly, what is clear is that in all this struggle for resources and priorities, India’s tangible, historical legacy is often ignored, and quietly disappears, as no-one has the time, or the money, or the inclination, to shore up walls, or protect documents, or preserve fabrics, or restore paintings.

Chahhrauli Fort is visibly crumbling away, and as it falls, a very small piece of India’s history goes with it. How many more Chachhrauli’s are there? How many more pieces of the Indian cultural jigsaw puzzle must be lost before someone, anyone, decides that India’s history is not just Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, but that is also the mosaic of dusty villages, tin temples, havelis and wall paintings of trains?

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