Madhya Pradesh finds its mention in ancient texts as a famous centre for weaving between the 7th and 2nd century BC. Its historical significance includes its location on the boundary of two cultural regions of Malwa and Bundelkhand. This region, in the dense forests of Vindhyanchal ranges, is a rich depository of various traditions. The location turned out to be more advantageous in the 11th century since it was near the trade routes connecting Malwa, Mewad and Central India to the ports of South and Gujarat. It has also been an important ancient centre of Jain culture with references in the Mahabharata.
Albaruni, the Persian scholar, referred to Chanderi in his travelogue dating to a period of around 1030 AD. Chanderi was known for hosting various exquisite dynasties and been witness to many rulers, kingdoms and architecture. The lasting feature in the history of Chanderi, from the 12th century onwards has nevertheless been the magical weave of the Chanderi fabric.
Chanderi is situated in the state of Madhya Pradesh in the Ashok Nagar district at the intersection of 24.42 N Longitude and 78.11 E Latitude. With a population of about 28,313 (in 2001 survey) it is placed at an elevation of 456 meters above sea level. It is situated at a distance of 127 km from Shivpuri, 37 km from Lalitpur, 55 km from Ashok Nagar and about 45 km from Isagarh. It is surrounded by hills southwest of the Betwa River.
'Buddi' (old) Chanderi is located at a distance of 19 km from the present Chanderi town on the banks of river Urvashi. It is believed that 'Chaidnagar' mentioned in the Puranas is what Chanderi was earlier called.
The nearest airports are at Bhopal (258 km) and Gwalior (259 km). Lalitpur (36 km) and Jhansi (124 km) on the Delhi-Chennai and Delhi-Mumbai main line are the closest railheads. Ashok Nagar (46 km) and Mungaoli (38 km) also serve Chanderi. It is connected by regular bus services with Gwalior, Indore, Guna, Shivpuri, Ashok Nagar, Jhansi, Lalitpur, Tikamgarh, Vidisha, Sanchi and Bhopal.
Chanderi boasts of an extremely healthy climate in the valley of the ancient Betwa River. The valley is flanked by the Vindhyachal range. The rainfall ranges between 700 to 1100mm a year. During the monsoons the region grows rich with plants, wildlife, natural brooks and waterfalls. The summer temperatures rise up to 45 degrees and in the winter it dips to 5 degrees.
Chanderi is a town rich in cultural heritage and is slowly moving into the modern age. Taking into account its history and culture, there have been many steps taken to designate Chanderi as a Heritage town. Chanderi's water supply is from its many lakes, water tanks and stepped wells or 'Baolis'. 1200 Baolis were counted within Chanderi during the period of Emperor Akbar.
Chanderi is a Tehsil and Sub-Divisional headquarter and more than half its population is involved in the handloom sector. The other cottage industries are Beedi-making and sand stone cutting.
Chanderi brims with several monuments of the Bundela Rajputs and the Malwa Sultans. Majority of the existing monuments in Chanderi were built in the years between 1312 A.D. to 1687 A.D. These could be categorized into three main styles - Islamic style, Mughal and the Malwa Indo Islamic. Many ancient Hindu and Jain temples believed to be of the 10th to 13th centuries are present in Chanderi.
The Chanderi fort dominates the skyline, situated on a hill which is 71 meters above the town. To the south - west of the fort, there is a fascinating gateway called the Katti-Ghatti. This was made purely by cutting through the hills with swords by the Mughal soldiers. There are approximately 375 monuments in Chanderi, but only 11 of them are under the protection of the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and 5 monuments are under the protection of the Madhya Pradesh State Archaeological Department. Some of the monuments are also under private ownership or owned by the Local Government. The monuments of Chanderi date from the 4th Century A.D. to the 19th Century.
The current population of Chanderi is a vast mixture of Muslims, Hindus and Jains. It has also been a major centre of the Parwar Jain community. Gurilagiri, Bhamon, Bithala and Bhiyadant are a few examples of places with majority of Jain population. Chanderi is a place of attraction amongst tourists & pilgrims for its handicrafts, natural beauty and history.
The fair of Jageshwari Devi held annually in Chanderi is believed to be more than a thousand years old. There is a famous story behind the fair. The ruler of Chanderi, a great devotee of Jageshwari Devi, contracted leprosy. The Devi commanded him to meet her at a particular spot after an interval of 15 days. The impatient king ran to it on the third day itself. Though he was cured of leprosy, he could not see more than the goddess' face. Since that day a fair or mela dedicated to the goddess is held here.
Navdurga Ganghor is another local festival where many traders come from around the town and outside to conduct buying and selling utilities and cattle. They also gather to see the local dances like Ganghore or Raee. This dance is organized in the nights and the 'Mashal' or lamps are used in the dance. Many local instruments are used to create the rhythm. Another local dance which is famous is called the Dhimrayai. In this dance, the men dress like women.
The Urs at Hazrat Makhdoom is a Muslim festival celebrated every year in the Dargah near Parmeshwar pond between 27th to 29th of March. Millions of devotees flock to the mosque in celebration. It hosts a music function called Kabally, where many famous singers gather to sing into the night.
The weavers of Chanderi fabric are a mix of the Kohlis and the Muslim Julaha community. Apart from these, artisans belonging to the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Other Backward Communities (OBCs) are also involved in the weaving of these sarees. The Weaver's Mohalla (neighborhood) in Chanderi comprises of around 5000 families and their 1200 - 1500 looms. The sub-tasks to weaving are never outsourced and there are definite clusters catering to specific tasks like making bobbins, dyeing, rolling etc. The women are more involved with making threads using leftovers, while the men deal with the operational mechanisms of the loom, since this requires more physical strength.
Chanderi is renowned for its beautiful fabric which have a hard-to-match sophistication. 'Kati Ghaati', a famous gorge in Chanderi was created using just swords in 24 hours. In 1430 AD, the soldiers of the Mughal ruler 'Jiman Khan' carried out this task to create a victory gate. Even today, in the region of Chanderi's 'Bundelkhand' the remains of the marks made by sword slashes can be seen on the rock hill.