Bada Bagh (also known as Bara Bagh or Barabagh) is a garden complex 6km north of Jaisalmer. If you’ve already visited Jaisalmer Fort and Palace you may have spotted this place from one of the viewpoints overlooking the city and Thar desert beyond.
Here are the royal cenotaphs(or chhatris) of the Maharajas of Jaisalmer state, starting with Jai Singh II (d.1743) and the last intended for Jawahar Singh but remains unfinished after Indian independence. When Jawahar Singh’s son ascended the throne after his father, he died within a year. This was considered such bad luck that the tradition of building cenotaphs here was discontinued.
Jai Singh II was well known for his contribution to making the desert around Jaisalmer green. He constructed a dam near a lake here, and in his honor his son Lunkaran set up a memorial in the form of a cenotaph and a park next to the dam. The stretch of road immediately before the site and carpark is in fact built on top of the dam, although it’s hard to appreciate that when you’re there.
This tradition of building cenotaphs caught on, and every subsequent death of a royal member of the rulers of Jaisalmer was honoured with a chhatri at Bada Bagh.
Bada Bagh means “big garden”, although any evidence of this green oasis in the desert seems to have mostly disappeared, at least in March when I visited. However, it does claim other green credentials now, as enveloping the site today is an impressive mass of wind turbines. I did my very best not to include these in any of the photography, but if you visit Bada Bagh it will be one of your lasting memories of the site.
Most of the cenotaphs have a single stone slab set in the middle, usually with a carving depicting a man on horseback, representing the ruler for whom the cenotaph was built. Next to this is often further carvings of women, often quite a number of them. I initially thought this was to represent how many wives the ruler had, but sadly it’s not quite as simple as that.
These carvings of the women actually represented how many self-immolated by jumping into the burning pyre of the ruler, an act known as Satis. At the time of visiting Bada Bagh I had no idea this was what I was seeing being represented.
The cenotaphs are of various sizes, the more powerful and important you were, the bigger your cenotaph is. The smaller structures are probably for princes and other peripheral members of the royal family.
It’s an incredibly atmospheric place, despite the wind turbines looming a short distance away. The entire place has an abandoned feel to it, contributed in part by the fact that I had the entire place to myself. I get the impression this place is not that frequently visited.
If you’re intending to visit Bada Bagh the best time is early morning. This is not just because of the light, but because of the direction of the light. Early morning gives you the best opportunity to photograph the site avoiding the wind turbines just a short distance beyond to the south and east.
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