The Cursed City of Bhangarh

There is a famous ruin in Rajasthan, India that is said to be haunted by Mughal princes who once kept a palace there. A sign has been hung by the local authorities forbidding visitors from entering the ruin after sunset. It threatens that legal action will be taken against anyone who disobeys the command. This is the city of Bhangarh. It contains a magnificent palace, several impressive temples, and a walled fort. Despite the size and glory of its buildings, the city lasted little more than a few generations. According to legend it was brought low by a curse.

Bhangarh was founded in 1573 by the Mughal nobility that resided in the area. Bhagwant Das, ruler of Amber and close ally to Emperor Akbar, gave the valley where Bhangarh is situated to one of his sons for his personal residence. The precinct was uninhabited except for a few sheepherders and a guru who lived and meditated in a hovel hidden away in the forest. As the only permanent tenant of the valley, the guru gave his blessing to the city’s construction, but only under the condition that its spires and pagodas not shade him in his meditations. “Should the shadows of your palaces at any point touch me,” the guru said, “your city will be no more. I shall have it committed to the dust and wind.”

As a provincial capital, Bhangarh grew. rapidly Emboldened by his mounting wealth, the son of the city’s first ruler embarked on an ambitious project to expand and improve his royal palace. Its turrets grew to such a height that they did eventually obscure the guru’s hut from the sun. The guru was angered that his wishes were ignored and placed a curse over the city of Bhangarh. And sure enough, with the ascension of Jaipur just a few miles to the southwest and the gradual diminution of the Mughal throne, Bhangarh’s position in the region began to decline. In 1720, Jai Singh II conquered the city and incorporated it into his kingdom. Seeing it as the old Muslim capital he let it fall to ruin. The city underwent steady depopulation until finally, in 1783, a famine caused it to be completely abandonment.

There is another story and another curse. A famous and beautiful princess once lived in Bhangarh. She was courted by all the noblemen in Rajasthan. A tantrik magician loved her from afar but could not pursue her on account of his caste. To make her come to him, the tantrik enchanted a vial of oil which the princess’s handmaid had bought from the market to anoint her mistress. If the oil were to have touched the princess’s skin she would fallen hopelessly in love with the magician. But the princess herself had some command of magic and was able to discover the spell. She threw the vial out of the window of her bedchamber. When it struck the ground, the oil transformed into a boulder, which grew as it rolled down the palace hill. The boulder sought the sorcerer through the streets of the city and finally crushed him in a gruesome spectacle. But before it did, the magician managed to utter a curse against the palace and all who dwelled there. That following year Bhangarh went to war with a neighboring city. In a terrible battle, the ruling family of Bhangarh was butchered by their rivals and their palace ransacked.

According to the Rajputana gazetteers, the remnants of that ruling family of Bhangarh still resided in the area as late as 1879. They are called the Rajawats. After the fall of their kingdom, they were dispossessed of all their lands and riches and made to grow food as simple farmers. The chronicle says of them, “Though they are now only cultivators in many villages, they retain much of their noble bearing, and to some extent their social position. The Rajawat cultivators always hold their land at favorable rates.” In recognition of who they were, landlords let them rent them land at lower rates than the other farmers.

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