The Sunken Garden and tbe Gantaghar: The Heart of Mandi
The Heart of the Town….
Mandi, situated on the left bank of Beas River in the foothills of Shivalik range, had fascinated me since my early childhood when we passed through the town during our yearly sojourn back to our ancestral village. The rickety HRTC Bus would stop at the old bus stop that was in the middle of the market. I would raise my little head from the lap of my mother and would watch out of the window. The sunken garden, at that time, was a deserted place, full of garbage and wild plants with heaps of rubbish lying around it. The Ghantaghar would raise its head proudly from behind all the littered waste that made the place.
I would be mystified and would ask my father about this strange combination. “This is the place where a princely ruler of Mandi had hung his enemy to death.” Afraid that the restless soul of the killed enemy might be hovering around, I would again sink my head in the comfortable lap of my mother. The ancient past always haunted me especially the hoary legend behind the sunken garden! I wonder whether the youth of Mandi who throng the lush and green garden and the Indira market, a modern business complex, around it know the hoary story that is buried under this green façade? The pagoda-type structure with a clock tower, a marvel of hill architecture and the star attraction of the garden, hides a hoary secret under it.Beneath this precious monument are buried the tragic tales of the hoary past. It reminds of the cruelty, betrayal and perversion of Sidh Sen (1684-1727), who beheaded his son-in-law, Raja Prithi of Bhangal. A small area near Jogindernagar used to be Bhangal state in that time. His head was buried in the centre of the garden and limbs at the four corners of what became the Sunker Garden. According to the legend the Rani of Bhangal, Raja Sidhsen’s daughter, had come to her father following strained relations with her husband. Sidh Sen wanted to teach him a lesson and perhaps another reason would be to take over the small princely kingdom of Bhangal. He laid a trap and sent for Prithi Pal who came to Mandi but on his arrival at Mandi he was taken captive. An abortive attempt was made by Prithi Pal to escape from prison with the help of Raja of Sukket, the present day Sundernagar. It is said that Prithi Pal was hidden in a sack and was to be ferried across the river Beas but the ferrymen were able to detect him when they poked the sack. Ferrymen recognised and informed Sidh Sen. Prithi Pal was then killed. The ghastly murder of Prithi Pal was followed by many natural calamities. Sidh Sen summoned astrologers and tantrists who attributed to the wrath of the raja’s wandering spirit. Sidh Sen grew panicky and on the advice of astrologers started lighting an earthen lamp daily at the place where the head of his son-in-law had been buried. The subsequent rulers kept up the tradition of lighting earthen lamp for centuries. The Sunken Garden used to be a small lake in the days of Sidh Sen and was called Sidhsar. Joginder Sen, the last ruler of Mandi state, converted it into a garden. A clock tower was built during him regime. Though the historic Sunken Garden located on the confluence of the Beas and the Suketi in this 500-year-old town, has regained the grandeur of its royal past when all cultural and religious festivities were held here, but can we forget the tale of treachery, cruelty and betrayal that marked the place?Watching the gaiety and life reverberating the sunken garden I thought of the mortal remains lying buried under the garden and a restless soul hovering over it questioning the betrayal, cruelty, greed and spite that guide all tales of sadness and pain.