Chhatris are elevated, dome-shaped pavilions used as an element in Indian architecture. The word Chhatri means "canopy" or "umbrella." In the context of architecture, the word is used to refer to two different things. The usual and more widely understood meaning is of a memorial, usually very ornate, built over the site where the funeral (cremation) of an important man was performed. Such memorials usually consist of a platform girded by a set of ornate pillars which hold up a stone canopy. The word chhatri is also used to refer to the small pavilions that mark the corners, roof of entrance of a major building. These pavilions are purely decorative and have no utility, but are a classic folly which announce the status and wealth of the owner.
Chhatris are commonly used to depict the elements of pride and honor in the Jat, Maratha and Rajput architecture. They are widely used, in palaces, in forts, or to demarcate funerary sites. Originating in Rajasthani architecture where they were memorials for kings and royalty, they were later adapted as a standard feature in all buildings in Maratha ruled states, Rajasthan, and most importantly in Mughal architecture. They are today seen on its finest monuments, Humayun's Tomb in Delhi and the Taj Mahal in Agra. Chhatris are basic element of Hindu as well as Mughal architecture. The term "chhatri" (Hindi: छतरी) means umbrella or canopy.
In the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, chhatris are built on the cremation sites of wealthy or distinguished individuals. Chhatris in Shekhawati may consist of a simple structure of one dome raised by four pillars to a building containing many domes and a basement with several rooms. In some places, the interior of the chhatris is painted in the same manner as the Havelis (Mansions) of the region.
Many other chhatris exist in other parts of Rajasthan. Their locations include:
- Jaipur - Gaitore Cenotaphs of the Maharajas of Jaipur. Set in a narrow valley, the cenotaphs of the former rulers of Jaipur consist of the somewhat typical chhatri or umbrella-shaped memorials. Sawai Jai Singh II's Chhatri is particularly noteworthy because of the carvings that have been used to embellish it.
- Jodhpur - White marble Chhatri of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II
- Bharatpur- the cenotaphs of the members of the Jat royal family of Bharatpur, who perished whilst fighting against the British in 1825, are erected in the town of Govardhan. The chhatri of Maharaja Suraj Mal of Bharatpur has fine frescos illuminating the life of Surajmal, vividly depicting darbar and hunting scenes, royal processions and wars.
- Udaipur- Flanked by a row of enormous stone elephants, the Lake Pichola island has an impressive chhatri carved from gray blue stone, built by Maharana Jagat Singh.
- Haldighati - A beautiful Chhatri with white marble columns, dedicated to Rana Pratap, stands here. Chetak Smarak, the cenotaph dedicated to Chetak, Rana Pratap's famous horse, is also noteworthy.
- Alwar - Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri is a beautiful red sandstone and white marble cenotaph of the rulers of Alwar.
- Bundi - Suraj Chhatri and Mordi Ki Chhatri, Chaurasi Khambon ki Chhatri, Bundi and Nath Ji ki Chhatri are located in Bundi. Rani Shyam Kumari wife of Raja Chhatrasal on the northern hill constructed the Suraj Chhatri and Mayuri the second wife of Chhatrasal on the southern hill erected Mordi Ki Chhatri.
- Jaisalmer - Bada Bagh, a complex with chhatris of Jai Singh II (d. 1743) and subsequent Maharajas of Jaisalmer.
- Bikaner - Devi Kund near Bikaner is the royal crematorium place with a number of cenotaphs. The chhatri of Maharaja Surat Singh is most imposing. It has the spectacular Rajput paintings on the ceilings.
- Ramgarh - Seth Ram Gopal Poddar Chhatri
- Nagaur - Nath Ji ki Chhatri, Amar Singh Rathore-ki-Chhatri
Some of the best-known chhatris in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan are located at the following cities and towns:
- Ramgarh - Ram Gopal Poddar Chhatri (Ram Gopal Poddar Chhatri )
- Bissau - The Raj ki Chhatri of the Shekhawat Thakurs
- Parsurampura - Thakur Sardul Singh Shekhawat's chhatri
- Kirori - Chhatri of Raja Todarmal (Ruler of Udaipurwati)
- Jhunjhunu - Chhatri of Shekhawat Rulers
- Dundlod - The beautiful chhatri of Ram Dutt Goenka
- Mukungarh - Shivdutta Ganeriwala Chhatri
- Churu - Taknet Chhatri
- Mahansar - The Sahaj Ram Poddar Chhatri
- Udaipurwati - Joki Das Shah ki Chhatri
- Fatehpur - Jagan Nath Singhania Chhatri
In Madhya Pradesh
- Shujalpur - Tomb Of Ranoji Scindia, Founder Of Scindia Dynasty. Situated At Ranoganj, Shujalpur To Akodia Road.
- Shivpuri - Intricately embellished marble chhatris erected by the Scindia rulers in Shivpuri.
- Gwalior - Shrimati Balabai Maharaj Ladojirao Shitole Chhatri
- Gwalior - Rajrajendra Ramchandrarao Narsingh Shitole and wife Gunwantyaraje Ramchandrarao Shitole (princess of Gwalior)Chatri
- Orchha - Elaborate chhatris of local Hindu kings are not popular tourist attraction
- Gohad - The Jat rulers of Gohad constructed the chhatri of Maharaja Bhim Singh Rana on the Gwalior Fort.
- Indore and Maheshwar - Chhatris of Holkar rulers.
- Alampur - Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar built the chhatri of Malhar Rao Holkar at Alampur in Bhind district in 1766 A.D.
Chhatris can also be found in the outskirts of Bhuj city belonging mainly to Jadeja rulers of Kutch. The chhatri of Rao Lakhpatji is very famous for its intricate designs & carvings. Most of them but have been destroyed in the earthquake of 26 January 2000. The restoration work is going on.
There are two notable chhatris in the United Kingdom, a country with strong historical links to India. One is a cenotaph in Brighton, dedicated to the Indian soldiers who died in the First World War. The other is in Arnos Vale Cemetery near Bristol and is a memorial to the distinguished Indian reformer Ram Mohan Roy, who died in the city.
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