Bikaner is home to many picturesque places, but there’s none other like the Devi Kund Sagar. Bursting with rows of pillared ornamented domes, locally known as chhatris (umbrellas), it is a crematorium built in honour of the royal family of Bikaner. These cenotaphs are flanked along a reservoir situated within a walled enclosure, and are an architectural marvel worth-visiting.
Made with red and pink sandstone, and white marble, Devi Kund Sagar is one of the best photography spots in Bikaner. It is an off the beaten landmark in Rajasthan that is particularly interesting for historians, photographers and architecture aficionados. And is also known as Bikaner Royal Cenotaphs and Bikaner Raj Parivar Vishram Grah locally.
If you are looking to add a lesser known attraction to your Bikaner itinerary, then Devi Kund Sagar is your answer. Except for the caretaker and a couple or two, I barely came across anyone else throughout the one hour that I spent goggling the chhatris at sunset. Continue reading to find how to get there, best time to visit, photography tips, and other practical information about visiting the Royal Cenotaphs in Bikaner.
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What exactly is a cenotaph?
Cenotaphs are monuments or tombs made in honour of important people. They are prevalent throughout the state of Rajasthan, where the ones in Jaipur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur are more popular among visitors. You can find memorials such as these in other parts of India, and the world too.
The cenotaphs in Rajasthan are particularly fascinating due to the canopylike structure, known as chhatri. It is also interesting to note that the royal families of Rajasthan are Hindus, so the deceased members are lit on pyre, not buried. The lavishly carved chhatris in Rajasthan exist as a tribute to the greatness of the royal family members, and are built on the ground that they were cremated.
The last cenotaph at Devi Kund Sagar is of Maharaja Narendra Singh Ji, who passed away in 2003.
History of Devi Kund Sagar
Rao Bika of the Rathore Clan of Rajasthan founded the city of Bikaner in 1488. His cenotaph, along with those of a few other rulers after him is situated in Bikaji Ki Tekri, the first fort of Bikaner. The royal crematory at Devi Kund Sagar was later constructed sometime in the 16th century to pay homage to the members of the Bikaji dynasty.
The earliest cenotaph at Devi Kund Sagar is of Rao Kalyan Mal (1539-1571 AD), who was the fifth ruler of Bikaner. Generations of Bikaner kings, queens, princes and princesses after him each have a memorial dedicated to them at Devi Kund Sagar. When visiting, you will notice that the chhatris for men, women, and children are all designed in different architectural style.
There are also cenotaphs of 22 female members of Bikaner royal family that committed sati. It is a historical Hindu practice of self-immolation during which a widow throws herself in the funeral pyre of her deceased husband. There is also one cenotaph of a Sata, a male ruler who committed sati. Thankfully, the practice has been prohibited by law since the late 20th century.
Architecture of the Royal Cenotaphs in Bikaner
What makes Devi Kund Sagar a must-visit place in Bikaner is its architecture. With over seventy cenotaphs spread out around Kalyan Sagar tank, it is enthralling that each one of them has its own design and characteristics. Not only are the chhatris architecturally distinguished between genders and ranks; their design, size and details vary from ruler to ruler as well.
The chhatris that caught my utmost attention were that of Raja Karan Singh (1675 AD) and Maharaja Anup Singh (1698 AD). Standing on 16 (!) marble pillars, the cenotaph of Maharaja Anup Singh is a one of the finest examples of the confluence of Rajputana and Mughal architectural style. It may look plain at first, but as you get closer and look up inside the dome, beautiful floral patterns, peacocks, and tales of Lord Krishna emerge out of nowhere.
There are also several other cenotaphs where frescos using vegetable dyes can be found. According the information board at Devi Kund Sagar, the royal cenotaphs of early rulers of Bikaner are built in Dulmera, the red sandstone commonly found in the region. While the later ones are constructed using white marble. There are also many chhatris where the canopy is made with marble, but the rest of the structure is built in red sandstone.
Moreover, the cenotaphs of a male each have a vertical marble slab with detailed carvings. Whereas the memorials of a female have a horizontal slab with footmarks engraved on them. The ones of children, on the other hand, are simple, raised platforms that do not have a canopy. These are known as Nada.
Although the exterior of the chhatris is really beautiful in itself, the site is not that well maintained overall. Some of the frescos inside the cenotaphs seemed to be fading away. In fact, a few of them looked like they were in an urgent need for restoration.
How to reach Devi Kund Sagar?
Devi Kund Sagar is situated on the outskirts of Bikaner, at a distance of approximately 9 km from Bikaner Railway Junction. The area surrounding the cenotaphs is a little deserted and off-the-beaten path, so I would recommend hiring a private taxi or auto-rickshaw to take you there. You can get either one of them from the main city, or your hotel in Bikaner, and book it for a few hours for a return trip.
If you have your own car, then you can also drive to the Royal Cenotaphs Bikaner. It is located on a main road (location on google maps) and there is a decent parking area by the entrance. Public transport, on the other hand, is not a feasible option to get there.
CG’s tip: The National Research Centre on Camel in Bikaner is located in the same area and is about 13-minute drive from Devi Kund Sagar. There are also several temples nearby, so you can club a few tourist attractions in Bikaner and make it a day trip. Our auto-rickshaw for 3-4 hours cost us INR 500.
Best time to go?
The best time to visit Devi Kund Sagar is an hour before the closing time. It is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day. But since Bikaner is a desert city, it can be really hot and unpleasant to sightsee in the afternoon, especially with no footwear policy at the cenotaphs. Moreover, the light at sunset reflects beautifully and makes the chhatris look even more alluring.
CG’s tip: The sunset was around 6 pm when I visited Bikaner, and luckily, we were allowed to stay inside till it got dark. But because the official closing time is 5 pm, I would still recommend going earlier to be safe. The chhatris are quite spread out, so having extra time wouldn’t hurt!
The entrance fee for Bikaner Royal Cenotaphs is INR 5 for Indian nationals and INR 10 for foreign visitors. You can buy the ticket from the caretaker sitting at the front gate. Just remember to carry cash with you.
Devi Kund Sagar was one of my favourite places to photograph in Bikaner. The architecture of the cenotaphs makes them a particularly interesting subject to capture. And the fact that it is not a crowded landmark only adds to the charm. I must have left the place with hundreds of pictures, so here are some of my photography tips that may be of help:
- Shoot at sunset. The chhatris look best in soft light and since sunrise isn’t an option, I would recommend taking your pictures near or at sunset. You can even capture the sun go down behind the marble cenotaphs at the front, it truly is a scenic sight.
- Tripods are not allowed. Most places in Bikaner, and Rajasthan in general, prohibit the use of tripods for every day visitors in most landmarks. However, if you were to get a special permission for shooting purposes, then you can use them.
- There are no additional photography fees. If you want to take photos with a camera or a phone, then there are no hidden charges to bring one inside Devi Kund Sagar. A lot of places in India ask you to pay extra, or guards try to when it is not even required, so I would suggest reading the information board properly before falling in the trap.
- Remember to bring a wide-angle lens with you. Some of the chhatris are closely located to each other, so if you do not have a full frame camera, then something like 18 mm might not be enough to fit the entire structure in the frame.
- Since a majority of the chhatris are made with white marble, wearing contrasting colours like red, yellow, green, blue can help elevate your pictures.
- And last but not the least, keep an eye on your gear while there. I felt incredibly safe throughout my time at Devi Kund Sagar, but it is better to be careful.
Some things to know before visiting:
Since Devi Kund Sagar is not a widely popular landmark to visit in Bikaner, there is very little information about it online. Here are some points that will help you better plan your trip to the Royal Cenotaphs in Bikaner:
- Shoes are not allowed inside. Devi Kund Sagar is considered a sacred site in Bikaner and you will have to take off your footwear at the entrance. The chhatris are spread out in a relatively large area and you will have to walk barefoot to see them up close.
- The floor can be really hot to walk on during the day, so it is advisable to go during the morning or evening hours. It can also be dirty, so take some dirt removable wipes with you to clean your feet afterwards. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
- It is prohibited to climb on the chattris. A lot of tourists visiting Devi Kund Sagar get pictures taken while standing inside the cenotaph, but that is actually not allowed as they are sacred monuments. Even if the guard is not looking in your direction, being respectful to what the place represents is important.
- There are no guides available on the premises. If you are looking to know more about the chhatris by doing a guided tour of Devi Kund Sagar, then it is best to hire someone from beforehand. The information boards are scare, and other than the caretaker, there is barely anyone else.
- Learning about the glorification of sati at Devi Kund Sagar can be overwhelming and uncomfortable, especially to millennials like myself. If it makes you feel uneasy too, then consider skipping seeing the marble slabs from up close and the nearby, Sati Mata Temple altogether.
That’s it from me about visiting the Devi Kund Sagar in Bikaner. I hope you found this guide helpful in planning your trip to the Bikaner Royal Cenotaphs. They truly are every bit as photogenic as they look in pictures.
If you have any further questions or doubts, then please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or message me on Instagram. I always love hearing from you!
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