Timangarh The Timangarh Fort, situated at a desolate location near Masalpur sub tehsil headquarters about 40 kms from Karauli, is famous as a storehouse of ancient ashtadhatu and stone idols and sculptures, hidden underground near the various temples located inside the Fort complex. The beautiful carvings on the temples, both religious and geometrical, are striking proof of the exquisite workmanship of highly skilled artisans that once operated in this region. Mixed Iron-Metal pellets abound on the nearby hillocks, and give pointers about this area having been a nerve center of metal idol- and weapon- making in its heydays. The Fort also offers a beautiful view of the Sagar lake next to it, and villagers still cherish hopes of the day when they can find the paras stone believed to be somewhere at the bottom of the lake.

History

The Fort is said to have been built circa 1100 AD, with some destruction thereafter. Its reconstruction is said to have been undertaken in 1244 AD by Yaduvanshi Raja Timanpal, the scion of Vijay Pal, the Raja of Bayana. The name "Timangarh" is assumed to be in recognition of Raja Timanpal's contribution. A stone engraving at the entrance of the Fort also mentions this as this year, but some historians believe that this engraving was placed at the time of the reconstruction of the Fort, going by the fact that some idols unearthed are more than a thousand year old. The Fort is originally believed to have had five entrances or dwaars (pols in the local dialect), but some more gates were apparently added later by the Moguls. The latter additions are apparent from the way some carved blocks from deep inside the fort have been used in the construction of the gate at the main entrance to the Fort, along with plain-faced stone blocks of somewhat different colours and variety. The Fort is thus believed to have been under occupation of Mohammad Gouri's forces from 1196 to 1244 AD.

Little is known about when the fort was abandoned, but villagers believe that its residents deserted this complex almost 300 years back. The Fort is supposed to carry the curse of a Natni (a trapeze artiste), and there is a Natni ka khamba (Natni’s pillar) located in the neighbouring plains area, about three km from the Fort. It is said that the then King challenged the Natni to walk over a rope stretching some two km near the entrance, and had promised her half his kingdom in return. She completed the course from one side to the other, but on her return journey, the Ranis panicked and ordered the rope be cut. The Natni fell and died, but placed a curse on the king that his majestic Fort would one day be in ruins. That curse has now come true.

Architecture

As stated earlier, the entrances at the Fort bear the markings of Mogul construction. One can see some carved stone slabs, and some with writings on them (placed so that the letters are upside down) at the Main entrance, in stark contrast to the simple plain faced stone slabs used elsewhere in its construction.

The interiors of the fort were not touched by the Moguls, and one can still see the remains of an ancient township, complete with Palaces, temples, bazaars, and houses in the area. Some of the most exquisite carvings, geometrical, flower- patterned, and religious, adorn their rooftops and pillars. A number of gods, goddesses and their villainous and tantric counterparts adorn these pillars, though most of them have now been broken up and plundered by the smuggler gangs operating in the region. Idols of all varieties- stone sculpture, ashtadhatu idols, statues studded with gems- and of all religious groups- Jains, Buddhist and Hindu abound in the area, hidden underground, though from the ones that have been recovered by the Police authorities, it appears that Ganesha and Vishnu were the favourite subjects of the sculptors.

Almost seven hundred years back, the pillars of some of the temples and houses were apparently lined with simple bricks and converted into bunker like closed structures. Inside these buildings were placed a number of expensive ashtadhatu idols brought from various parts of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and other parts of North India, to save them from plunder and loot. It is these idols and idol- carvings on the pillars that have been attracting the attention of smugglers and mafia groups for almost four decades now.

Status in Revenue record

The Fort is situated on khasra numbers 659 and 659/1 in Revenue village Tarhati (Kanchanpur Tarhati), measuring a total area of 203 bighas (51.5 hectares approximately). The land classification is shown as “Gair Mumkin Quila” (“Fort land Unfit for Cultivation”). Roughly 194 bighas (49 hectares) of this is a part of notified Reserve Forest area. The notifications dated 9th November, 1955 and 14th February, 1963 issued by the Forest Department also record the villagers rights to cattle grazing and passage and to worship in the temple located inside, although the temple was abandoned about forty years back when the temple priestess is said to have been attacked and killed by a tiger in the area.

Smuggling Activity in the Area

For many years the area was largely untouched, and precious little happened here except for some thefts and destruction by over- enthusiastic cattle grazers. But sometime in the 1970s, the Nawabs of nearby riyasats (principalities) are said to have visited and camped in the area, and taken away a number of idols and weaponry. Their visits are said to have been followed by foreigners frequenting the area in Helicopters, and large-scale plunder has been the tradition thereafter.

For almost thirty years now, organized groups comprising of local unskilled labour, residents of neighbouring villages, some sonar (goldsmith) families of Agra, Mathura and Delhi, and musclemen of all shades have been operating this illegal trade. The network is reported to extend to foreign countries, although the complete chain has not been identified in the absence of exact information, and also since the masterminds have tended to operate in the background The activity, in its peak years involved working by labour at night, and hiding these stolen idols in haystacks in the nearby villages, to be moved later to Delhi and other parts of the country. These gangs, in their hurry to quickly dig up and steal the idols have damaged the entire temple and Fort complex reduced it to a state of near collapse.

Apprehending the labour gangs at work has proved to be extremely difficult, as there is only one road to the entrance, and “lookout” members located on the ramparts of the Fort can easily spot from miles any Police force coming to the Fort. Upon such notice of movements of the Police, the labour gangs simply abandon their digging and come down the numerous hilly tracts coming out of the Fort boundary and simply vanish in the plains. Despite these constraints and the severe lack ofinformation from the local villagers, the Police Administration has been highly successful in recovering idols stolen from this area. The number of recovered idols has varied from 2 in 1987-88, to 6 in 1993, and to 67 in the last one year. The total value of these idols runs into almost into ten crores in the buyers’ markets in India and abroad, and at least a hundred times that worth are still buried underground. The gangs are presently dormant, waiting and evaluating the situation on how the government now proceeds on the matter.

The participation of local labour in the digging of idols can by no means be termed as totally voluntary, although the same can not be said of the links higher up in the smugglers’ chain.The area offers little avenue for altern -ative employment, and is bereft of minimum economic activity, be it roads or agriculture The entire Masalpur area is characterized by plateau formation, and the rocky surface leaves little scope for agriculture. The road network is poor, and the area is also located too far in the interiors for any other economic activity to develop. The villagers themselves claim to turn to digging when other available employment opportunities take a turn for the worse.

The illegal network seems to be caste oriented, the local kahars being the ones who actually do the digging. They are the ones who have acquired the expertise of identifying potential areas for idol excavation, by simply looking at ash content in the soil initially dug up which usually implies a temple location where puja offerings must have been made, and also by following pillars and wall patterns to determine the probable location of the temple garbha or sanctum sanctorum. These persons are usually promised lakhs of rupees if and when they discover some valuable idol, although what they actually get has been as little as ten thousand rupees for 100 man-months of work while the value of the stolen idol itself has been of the order of a few crores. The storage and local middlemen activity is confined to a few upper castes in the neighboring villages, and the valuation work is supposed to be carried out by a select unidentified group of goldsmith families of UP and Delhi.

Planning The future

Initial action could be taken by the State Government themselves by declaring the Fort and its adjoining area as a “protected ancient/ historical monument” under the Rajasthan Monuments, Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1961. Similar steps are required for protecting this Fort by notifying it as an "ancient monument", an "archeological site" and a "protected area" under the (Central) Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. The immediate requirement is therefore of survey of the area and documentation of the site by the Directorate of Archaeology at the State level, in association with the Settlement and Survey teams from the State Revenue Department. After immediate declaration under the State Act, the matter could then, or simultaneously, be pursued with the Central Government for the required notifications under the Central act.

Planned excavation would also have to be carried out, since this activity would save the temple architecture from plunder, and would also bring up hundreds of invaluable idols now buried underground. This excavation would also provide much needed employment opportunity to the locals, who would also be saved from exploitation by the mafia groups, since their present/ past remuneration from digging activity has not really exceeded more than fifty rupees for a day’s work. The area would also benefit from reconstruction of the temple complexes that have been severely damaged over the past few decades of smuggling activity

Another simultaneous activity that would have to be taken up would be establishing a museum and research center at Masalpur, and also develop the road network to the Fort. A gallery at Karauli on a much smaller level is being planned by the District adminis- tration for housing antiques recovered from the area and other parts of the district, and also for housing some weaponry and artifacts available at various thanas and tehsils. However, the resources at the District level are severely limited, and the State Government would have to intervene for protection, preservation and development of the Fort and the surrounding area.

Attracting the tourists would not pose an immediate problem, since the District anyway plays host to almost eighty lakh tourists every year to its four major temples (Kailadevi, Madan Mohanji, Mahaveerji, and Balaji), and even a small percentage of this traffic attracted to this Fort would mean not just employment for the locals as guides, but would also help in boosting the local handicraft industry. The requirement for tourist guides could easily be met by suitably training and orienting the local youth towards the long-term benefits of preserving and developing this Fort and its assets. Other activities that could be taken up near the Fort complex include development of boating and other water-sports at Sagar lake, and trekking and adventure sports around the plateau on which the Fort is located .

A society could also be set up, either at the State level, or under the chairmanship of the Collector, which could look after the operations of the Museum, and the research and trainingactivities, and also the requirements for the development of the local handicrafts and tourism-related activities. With the development of Karauli-Masalpur and Hindaun-Masalpur roads, the drive time to Timangarh would be reduced by half, and it could then form part of the Karauli-Ramathra-Sawai Madhopur tourist circuit.

The choices available are thus very rigid. The plan of action has to incorporate all of the above steps, for any inaction means automatic and continued plunder of the Fort, together with the stumbling of whatever hope remains for development of this area and its people. History, they say, has a way of teaching us lessons. And allowing Timangarh’s glory to fade would perhaps be the most expensive one of all. For History never really repeats itself.

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