Jaisalmer’s Pillars that Time Forgot

The forts and palaces of Rajasthan are examples of the most spectacular architecture symbolising dynastic power and built as strategic military defences by the proud rulers of this region. For modern visitors they represent the grandeur and opulence of the Rajput courts, their legendary wealth, their turbulent history and their readiness to find and embrace death, if defeated. Some of the largest forts in Rajasthan have seen bloody battles, long sieges, intrigues, jauhars (immolations) and sometimes, defeat. Since the region is strategically located along India’s western frontier through which historically important trade routes passed, it was constantly under attack by forces intent on entering North India, right from the time of Alexander the Great.


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Photograph by Anjali Singh.


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Photograph by Yusuf Ansari.

In spite of these disruptions, the city of Jaisalmer, the most outlying of all the principalities, continued to grow in wealth, and expanded beyond the fort walls. Due to its isolated location, the state was totally unaffected by the Maratha incursions that frequently disrupted the other kingdoms of Rajasthan till as late as the 19th century.


Photograph by Anjali Singh.

In this period of warfare and conflict, many ways of commemorating battles and heroes came to find a place across the length and breadth of this land. The Goverdhan pillars you can see dotted around the desert are one such commemorative structure. The Goverdhan pillars erected in order to mark the heroic deeds of local chiefs are numerous and widely distributed. A careful study of theLalit Vigrah, the Prithviraj Vijay Siwalik pillar inscription, literary references of the Kharataragachha Pattavali, detail various Goverdhan inscriptions in the Jaisalmer area.


Pali and Sanskrit are two different languages and scripts engraved on the pillars. Pali is younger than Sanskrit and its derivative. This classical language and its position in the cultures of India is akin to that of Latin and Ancient Greek in Europe and it has significantly influenced many modern languages of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.


Kanhaiya Lal Vyas a historian from Jaisalmer and also one of the foremost guides to the golden city maintains a pipeline of information about Jaisalmer now for more than four decades. While interacting with visitors he utters the importance of a Goverdhan and also tells us how old they are with reference to the Vikram Samvat or vikram era (Hindu calendar started in 57 BC and is still used in Nepal). the Vikram Samvat calendar starts half a century before the Gregorian calendar and works on a different calendar cycle.


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From the SUJÁN Archives.


Goverdhan pillars have the same height beneath the ground as above, which helps these pillars withstand aestival sandstorms which occur in summers and other various weathering influences in the harsh and merciless dry conditions of the Thar Desert.


From the SUJÁN Archives.

Jaisalmer is rich in tradition as people of different social castes live in The Thar. The dome shaped stand-alone structures of the Goverdhan pillars in the desert also have carved displays of guardians giving directions. According to Hindu mythology Vishnu represents four faces that is north east south and west, respectively.


According to the History of Jaisalmer by Ramavallabha Somani. A careful study of the Bhatti history from 10th to 12th centuries AD proves that the Bhatti chiefs had to fight constant battles against incursions by raiders such as Mahmud Ghazni among others. In Lodarva, the erstwhile capital of Jaisalmer state, there is a Goverdhan pillar, which records some earlier incidents of the invasions of the Muslim army and is a fine, surviving example of these mysterious but historic landmarks you will come across on your excursions and drives. In some ways, it is therefore correct to say that the desert landscape of Jaisalmer is made up of the sands of time.

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