This article has been extracted from
THE IMPERIAL GAZETTEER OF INDIA , 1908.
OXFORD, AT THE CLARENDON PRESS.
Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.
(Ar-budha, 'the hill of wisdom,' identified as the Mons Capitalia of Pliny). — A celebrated mountain in the south of the State of Sirohi, Rajputana, situated in 24 degree 36' N. and 72 degree 43' E., 17 miles north-west of Abu Road station on the Rajputana-Malwa Railway, and 442 miles north of Bombay. Although regarded as a part of the Aravalli range, it is completely detached from that chain by a narrow valley, 7 miles across, through which flows the Western Banas, and it rises suddenly from the flat plain like a rocky island lying off the sea-coast of a continent. In shape it is long and narrow ; but the top spreads out into a picturesque plateau nearly 4,000 feet above the sea, about 12 miles in length, and 2 to 3 miles in breadth.
Its principal peak, Guru Sikhar ('the hermit's pinnacle'), is situated towards the northern end, and is 5,650 feet above sea-level, the highest point between the Himalayas and the Nilgiris. The climate is agreeable and healthy for the greater part of the year. The mean temperature is about 69 , varying from 59 in January to 79 in May; and the average diurnal range is about 14 , varying from 7 degree in August to 17 degree in May. The natural features of Abu are very bold, and the slopes, especially on the western and northern sides, extremely precipitous ; on the east and south the outline is more broken by spurs, with deep valleys between.
The slopes and base of the hill are clothed with fairly dense forests of the various trees common to the plains and the neighbouring Aravalli range, interspersed with great stretches of bamboo jungle. Owing to its heavy rainfall, Abu is, as regards vegetation, by far the richest spot in Rajputana. On the higher parts humid types appear, which are unknown on the plains below. Most noteworthy of these is an epiphytal orchid (ambartari), which clings to the mango and other trees, and in the rains produces fine racemes of delicate pink or lilac flowers.
The occurrence of a charming white wild-rose and of a stinging nettle (Girardinia heterophylla) at once reminds the visitor that he has left the arid region below, while the karanda (Carissa Carandas) is so abundant that during part of the hot season its white flowers scent the air for miles round the station with their delicious fragrance. The kara (Strobelanthus callosus), a large handsome plant, blooms but once in six or seven years ; but its blue and purple flowers, when they do appear, make a great show in September. Several kinds of ferns are also to be found.
The beauty of Abu is much enhanced by the Nakhi Talao, or lake said to have been excavated by the ' finger-nails ' (nakhi) of the gods. Tod described it as about 400 yards in length and the counterpart of the lake 3 miles above Andernach on the Rhine, while Fergusson knew no spot in India so exquisitely beautiful. The lake is now about half a mile long by a quarter of a mile broad, most picturesquely situated between high hills except at the western end, where a peep of the distant plains is obtained through a gorge. The slopes and ravines in the vicinity are well wooded, and several rocky islands add to the beauty of the scene. Colonel Tod, well-known as the author of The Annals of Rajasthan, was the first European who visited Abu, and, for practical purposes, he may be said to have discovered the place in 1822; for, as he expresses it in his Travels in Western India, 'the discovery was my own. To Abu 1 first assigned a local habitation and a name, when all these regions were a terra incognita to my countrymen.'
From the time of Tod's visit till 1840, Abu was used to some extent as a summer residence by the Political Superintendent of Sirohi and the officers of the old Jodhpur Legion. In 1840 invalid European soldiers were sent up for the first time, encamping for the hot season only. In 1845 the Sirohi chief made over to the British Government certain lands for the establishment of a sanitarium, the grant being fettered by several conditions, one of which was that no kine should be killed on, or beef brought up, the hill ; and about the same time the Governor- General's Agent made the place his head-quarters. In this way the station has gradually grown up, and may now be divided into the military and the civil portion.
The barracks were originally built near the Nakhi lake, but were subsequently pulled down as the situation was feverish, and the present site, north of the civil station, was fixed on. They have accommodation for 160 single men and 28 families. The civil portion consists of the Residency of the Agent to the Governor- General, eighty or ninety scattered houses, the bazar, and the lines of the detachment of the 43rd (Erinpura) regiment.
The population of Abu varies, and, as in other hill stations, is greater from April to June than at any other period of the year. On March 1, 1901, the inhabitants numbered 3,488. Scattered about the hill are seventeen small villages, with a population of 1,752 persons, mostly Loks or Bhils. The former are said to be descended from Rajputs by Bhil women, and are a good-tempered, indolent, and generally ill-clad and dirty people, who eke out a living partly by labour and partly by agriculture and the produce of their cattle.
The sanitary arrangements, lighting, &c.of the civil portion of the station are in the hands of a municipal committee, of which the Magistrate of Abu is the secretary. The annual receipts average about Rs. 11,000, derived mainly from a conservancy cess, taxes on dogs, horses, ponies, and rickshaws, and a contribution of Rs. 3,000 from the Maharao of Sirohi ; the average expenditure is slightly less than the receipts. Civil and criminal juris- diction in the civil station, including the road thence to the Abu Road railway station, the bazar at the latter place, and the village of Anadra at the foot of the western slope of the hill, has been granted to the British Government by the Darbar, except in cases in which both parties are subjects of the Sirohi State; and since 1866, with the Maharao's consent, numerous British enactments have been extended to the area described. This jurisdiction is now exercised by an officer termed the Magistrate of Abu, who on the civil side exercises the powers of a Judge of a Court of Small Causes and of a District Court (the Governor- General's Agent being the Appellate and High Court), while on the criminal side he has the powers of a District Magistrate (the Commis- sioner of Ajmer-Merwara and the Governor-General's Agent respectively being the Court of Session and the High Court).
There are three schools on the hill. The oldest is the Abu Lawrence school, founded in 1854 by Sir Henry Lawrence 'to provide a refuge in a good climate for the orphans and other children of soldiers, and there to give them a plain, practical education adapted to the condition of the inmates and to train them to become useful members of society.' This institution, which has accommodation for 48 boys and 32 girls, is main- tained at a cost of about Rs. 30,000 a year, half of which is contributed by Government, one-fourth from private subscriptions, and the balance from fees and the interest on the endowment.
A primary vernacular school, kept up by the municipality at a cost of about Rs. 800 a year, is attended by about 44 boys. The third school, known as the high school (for European and Eurasian children), is about 2.5miles south- east of the station on an excellent site. Originally maintained by the Bombay, Baroda, and Central India Railway, it came under private management in 1903, and is now assisted by a grant-in-aid from Gov- ernment. It has accommodation for 100 children, and the daily average attendance is about 72. The Lawrence and high schools be- tween them form the Abu Volunteer cadet company, which contains about 40 members. There are two hospitals on Abu, one for the British troops and the other for the rest of the population.
The celebrated Delwara temples (devalwara, ' the place of temples ') are situated about a mile to the north of the station. They are five in number and all Jain ; and two of them require special notice, being, in many respects, unrivalled in India. The first is the temple of Vimala Sah, built, as the inscription records, in 1032. It is dedicated to Adinath, the first of the twenty-four Tirthankars of the Jains. The second, which is just opposite, is the temple of the two brothers Vastupala and Tejpala ; it is dedicated to Neminath, the twenty-second of the Tirthankars, and was built in 1231. Both are of white marble, and carved with all the delicacy and richness of ornament which the resources of Indian art at the time of their creation could devise. The temple of Vimala Sah consists of a shrine, containing a large brazen image of Adinath with jewelled eyes and wearing a necklace of brilliants. In front is a platform which, with the shrine, is raised three steps above the surrounding court. The platform and the greater part of the court are covered by a mandap or portico, cruciform in plan and supported by forty-eight pillars. The eight central pillars are so arranged as to form an octagon supporting a dome, which, together with its circular rims and richly carved pendant, forms the most striking and beautiful feature of the entire composition.
The whole is enclosed in an oblong courtyard surrounded by fifty-two cells, each of which contains an image of one of the Tirthankars. Externally the temple is perfectly plain, and the visitor is totally unprepared for the splendour of the interior. At the entrance is the hathi-khana or elephant-room, in the doorway of which stands a life-size equestrian statue of Vimala Sah, a painful stucco monstrosity, 'painted in a style that a sign-painter in England would be ashamed of.' Round the room are ten marble elephants which formerly bore riders, but the figures have nearly all been removed. In the other temple (that of Vastupala and Tejpala), the dome is the most striking feature. It stands on eight pillars and is a magnificent piece of work. It has a pendant which is a perfect gem.
'Where it drops from the ceiling it appears like a cluster of the half- -disclosed lotus, whose cups are so thin, so transparent, and so accurately wrought that it fixes the eyes in admiration.'
'It is finished with a delicacy of detail and appropriateness of ornament which is probably unsurpassed by any similar example to be found anywhere else. Those introduced by the Gothic architects in Henry the Seventh's Chapel at Westminster, or at Oxford, are coarse and clumsy in comparison.'
Round the courtyard are thirty-nine cells containing one or more images, and some of the ceilings of the porches in front of these cells are elaborately carved. Like its neighbour, this temple has its elephant- room, which, however, is much larger, taking up one side of the court. It is enclosed by a pierced screen of open tracery, ' the only one,' so far as Fergusson knew, ' of that age — a little rude and heavy, it must be confessed, but still a fine work of its kind.' Inside the room are ten elephants, which, with their trappings, knotted ropes, &c., have been sculptured with exquisite care. As in the older building, the riders have disappeared, but the slabs behind the elephants tell us who they originally were : for example, Vastupala with his two wives, Lalita Devi and Wiruta Devi ; and Tejpala with his wife Anupama.
[J. Fergusson, Picturesque Illustrations of Ancient Architecture (1848), and History of Indian and Eastern Architecture (1899); C. E. Luard, Notes on the Delwara Temples and other Antiquities of Abu (Bombay, 1902).]