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Hey guys 😀 Hope you’re doing just gr8 😉 Welcome to yet another interesting post in my Regal Rajasthan series 😀

Last time, I took you on a tour through Rajasthan’s Mehrangarh Fort, in the Marwar region.

Today, I’m going to introduce you to one of the most important forts in Rajasthan, located in the Mewar region 😀

Among all the Rajput kingdoms, Mewar stands out for its rich history and tales of bravery and sacrifice. The Mewar region replete with annals of valour and chivalry is an oasis in the arid landscape. Two names, Maharana Pratap and Meera Bai, are absolutely synonymous with the region. It is that region which abounds in superlatives with magnificent hills, azure blue lakes, breath-taking forts and palaces and vivid landscape. Two most important forts in Mewar are Chittorgarh and Kumbhalgarh.

If you travel 110 kms east of Udaipur, you reach the most important fort, a stronghold of Mewar – Chittorgarh, the largest fort in India, one of the largest in Asia… and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Imposing and awe-inspiring, Chittorgarh (or Chittaurgarh) stands on 180m high hill that rises rapidly from the plains. It was the most important fort, and the long-time capital of the erstwhile Mewar kingdom, ruled by the Guhila (or Gehlots) / Sisodia clan of Rajputs.

Chittorgarh occupies a place of pride in the history of Rajput chivalry and remained an important seat of power from 7th to 16th century AD. It epitomizes Rajput spirit, valour, pride and romance. Read this brief history of this magnificent fort before starting the tour…

The fort was built by the Maurya dynasty in the 7th century AD. It was first known as Chitrakoot, named after a Rajput chieftain Chitrangada Mori (or Maurya).  Some accounts say that the Mori dynasty was in possession of the fort when Bappa Rawal, the founder of the kingdom of Mewar, took over Chittorgarh and made it his capital in 734 AD. After that date, his descendants ruled Mewar, which stretched from present-day Gujarat to Ajmer, until the 16th century, when Mughal emperor Akbar captured Chittorgarh in 1568.

In its 834 years of history as the capital of Mewar, Chittorgarh suffered three sacks, and each time jauhar was performed. The first attack was by Alauddin Khilji in 1303. The Muslim Sultan of Delhi besieged the fort, prompted by his desire for conquest and his infatuation with Rani Padmini (or Padmavati), the queen of the Mewar ruler, Rana Ratan Singh. He had heard of Rani Padmini’s exquisite beauty and sent word to Rana Ratan Singh that he would give up the siege if allowed a glimpse of the queen. It was agreed that he could behold her reflection through mirrors. The treacherous Sultan while exiting the palace gates, made the king his captive and demanded the queen in exchange of his release. The Rajputs pulled up a daring risk, and instead of their queen, sent palanquins with their soldiers to the Sultan’s camp. Rana Ratan Singh was rescued. Alauddin Khilji returned with a stronger force which destroyed the Rajput defence. Rani Padmini preferred death to abduction and dishonour. She led the women in the fort in committing jauhar (an act of self-immolation by leaping into a large fire). The men left the fort in saffron robes to fight the enemy unto death.

When the outcome of a battle was against the Rajputs, the Rajput women and children would commit jauhar in the night, and the next morning, men would commit saka. Brahmin priests would chant Vedic mantras and Rajput women dressed in their wedding finery, along with their young children, would embrace sandalwood flames. The next morning, after taking a bath, the men would wear kesariya (saffron robes of martyrdom) and apply the ash from their wives and children on their foreheads. Then, the palace gates would be opened and men would ride out for comple annihilation of the enemy or themselves. Rajput men could not be captured alive.

Jauhar and saka took place only when the Rajput rulers fought with Muslim rulers. Jauhar came about because the barbaric Muslims would rape even the dead bodies of Rajput women who poisoned themselves after Rajput defeat in the battle. To prevent desecration of their bodies after death by poison, the Rajput women chose jumping into pits of fire. When the victorious Muslims entered the city, they could not find a single woman’s body, dead or alive. So, what is considered inhuman today, was considered divine during those demonic times of evil Muslim invaders. Chittorgarh experienced jauhar three times. Padmini’s jauhar was the first of the three.

Chittorgarh was recaptured in 1326 by Rana Hammir of the Guhila (or Gehlot) clan of Rajputs. He belonged to an impoverished cadet branch of that clan. He regained control of the region, and re-established the dynasty which was thereafter called Sisodia, named after the village where he was born. In the 16th century, Mewar had become the leading Rajput state. Its ruler, Rana Sanga led the combined Rajput forces against Mughal emperor Babar in 1527, but was defeated at the Battle of Khanua. He died soon after. His widow, Rani Karnavati took up the regency in the name of her elder son Vikramaditya, a weak ruler. In 1535, Chittorgarh was conquered by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. Led by Rani Karnavati, the women in the fort committed jauhar on March 8, 1535. The next morning 32,000 Rajput men rode out to face the invading Muslim army and committed saka.

The third jauhar in Chittorgarh took place in 1568, when Mughal emperor Akbar captured the fort after a five-month seige. The king Rana Udai Singh II, his sons and the royal women, using secret routes, escaped soon after the siege began. The fort was bravely defended by two Rajput commanders, but after defeat became certain, the Rajput women committed jauhar in the night of February 22, 1568. The next morning, the men committed saka.

Rana Udai Singh II built the city of Udaipur, to the west in the foothills of the Aravalli Range, and made it his capital. It remained the capital of Mewar until it acceded to the Union of India in 1947. Rana Udai Singh’s son, the great Maharana Pratap (who is regarded as a personification of the values Rajputs cherish and die for), took an oath to fight and recover Chittorgarh from Akbar. It became his life objective. He alone stood firmly for his honour and dignity, and had a reputation of a brave man with great character even among his enemies. Maharana Pratap is the greatest heroes in the eyes of Rajputs of Mewar. He died in 1597. Even Akbar shed tears upon hearing of the death of the king whom he could never defeat.

Besides Maharana Pratap, Chittorgarh is famous for its association with the most famous female Hindu spiritual poetess, Meera Bai. It was her marital home, as she was married to the eldest son of Rana Sanga. Meera Bai is considered to be the most passionate worshipper of Lord Krishna, and her compositions are still popular throughout the country, especially in the North.

Chittorgarh’s eventful history and rich monumental heritage is characterised by its strong fortifications, gateways, bastions, palaces, temples, towers and reservoirs which are fine examples of Rajput architecture. Important sights include Vijay Stambh (Victory Tower), Kirti Stambh, Government Museum in the Fateh Prakash Palace, Kumbha Palace, Padmini Palace, Ratan Singh Palace, Kalika Mata Temple, Samadhisvara Temple, Kumbhaswamin Temple, Meera Bai Temple, Jain temples and Gaumukh Kund.

So, let’s explore:-D

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The fort has seven gateways, the first is known as Padal Pol followed by Bhairav Pol, Hanuman Pol, Ganesh Pol, Jorla Pol, Lakshman Pol and finally Ram Pol which was built in 1459 AD.

One of the gates…

Kumbha Palace, built by the great Rana Kumbha of Mewar (who ruled from 1433 to 1468)…

Rana Kumbha made several additions and alterations to the earlier palace which stood here. Although the palace is in ruins, it provides faint glimpses of pristine glory of Rajput architecture. It has residential structures and open courts. Built of dressed stones, the exterior walls exhibit lavish decorations.

An old temple with intricate carvings…

Kumbha Palace is believed to be haunted. The three large-scale jauhars that took place here due to Muslim invasions lends credence to the belief.

Steps leading to a tunnel set afire with Rajput women inside…

This is one of the places where Rajput women in the fort committed jauhar and were reduced to ashes in the burning flames.

Among the many mesmerizing and touching tales of bravery and sacrifice, there is a special one of a mother’s sacrifice of her own son for a prince – the story of Panna Dai, the nursemaid of Prince Udai Singh II. It goes like this… After the death of Rana Sanga, his widow Rani Karnavati took up the regency in the name of her elder son Vikramaditya, a weak ruler. In 1535, Chittorgarh was sacked by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. Rani Karnavati performed jauhar along with thousands of other women in the fort. Soon after, the Mewar nobles placed Vikramaditya under arrest for abusive behaviour. Udai Singh II, the youngest son of Rana Sanga, who was sent to Bundi for safety before the attack on Chittorgarh, became the heir-elect to the throne. A distant cousin Banveer was appointed to act as his regent. But shortly, Vikramaditya was killed by Banveer, who next proceeded to kill Udai Singh to capture the throne. Hearing of this, Udai Singh’s nursemaid, Panna Dai passed off her own son as the heir-apparent. After killing Panna Dai’s son, Banveer took over the throne. Panna Dai managed to bring Udai Singh to Kumbhalgarh, where he lived for three years, disguised as a nephew of the fort’s governor until his identity was revealed. In 1540, he was crowned in Kumbhalgarh by the nobles of Mewar. His eldest son, Maharana Pratap was born in the same year. Backed by a large combined Mewar and Marwar force, Maharana Udai Singh, then aged 18, marched on Chittorgarh to reclaim his throne. Banveer the usurper was defeated, and Maharana Udai Singh rode into Chittor to a hero’s welcome.

The view from Kumbha Palace…

Watch my video: View from Kumbha Palace

From Kumbha Palace, you can sight the other structures in the fort. The beautiful tower of victory, Vijay Stambh…

Two temples: Kumbhaswamin Temple and Meera Bai Temple…

Close view of the two temples: Meera Bai Temple to the left, and Kumbhaswamin Temple to the right..

The small shrine, Meera Bai Mandir, was built in honour of Meera Bai, the great devotee of Lord Krishna…

Meera Bai (1498-1546) was the daughter-in-law of the great Rana Sanga. She was the wife of his eldest son, Bhojraj, the heir apparent to the throne of Mewar. Her maternal grandfather was Rao Duda, the Rathore Rajput ruler of Merta (1495- 1525) in Marwar, and fourth son of Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur and Mehrangarh fort.

Meera Bai grew up amidst an atmosphere of total Krishna consciousness, which was responsible in moulding her life in the path of total devotion towards Lord Krishna.

Rana Sangha, the powerful king of Mewar, approached Rao Duda for Meera Bai’s hand in marriage to his son Bhojraj. Rao Duda agreed to the union. However, Meera Bai could not bear the thought of marrying a human being when her heart was filled with thoughts of every nature, all about her Krishna. But unable to go against her beloved grandfather word, she married and Chittorgarh became her marital home. Bhojraj and Meera Bai enjoyed a relationship of friendship and understanding, with Bhojraj appreciating Meera Bai’s poetic talents and indulging her wish to have a temple build to God Krishna within the palace complex. Bhojraj predeceased his father in 1526, without any children. His death had a profound effect on Meera Bai’s life, for she lost both a friend who had kept her interested, however tenuously, in worldly affairs; and a patron who had protected her from criticism and rebuke within the family while indulging her eccentricities. She left Chittorgarh and settled in Dwarka, singing the praises of Lord Krishna.

The beautiful Kumbhaswamin Temple…

Originally dedicated to Varaha (boar incarnation of Vishnu) the temple was built in 8th century AD and largely renovated by Maharana Kumbha (1433-68). An image of Varaha is shown in the principal niche on the back of the shrine.

In front of the temple is an image of Garuda under a canopy…

Vijay Stambha…

Watch my video: Vijay Stambha

This magnificent nine-storey tower was built by Maharana Kumbha in 1448 to commemorate his resounding victory over the combined Muslim armies of Malwa and Gujarat. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the tower is 37.19 m high. An inscription in the uppermost storey giving detailed chronological account of life and achievements of rulers of Chittor was taken up by Rana Kumbha’s court scholar Atri and was later completed by his son Mahesh. The names of architect of this tower, Sutradhar Jaita along with his three sons Napa, Puja and Poma are inscribed in the fifth storey.

You can reach up to the top storey through a narrow, internal flight of steps…

The tower is adorned with beautiful intricate carvings, outside as well as inside…

Views from top of Vijay Stambha…

Beautiful old temples…

Gaumukh Kund, which was a major source of water…

Situated to the south of the 11th century Samadhisvara temple and adjacent to western rampart, Gaumukha (cow’s head) Kund (reservoir) is a large, deep, rock-cut tank with an irregular oblong shape. A perennial underground stream of crystal clear water flows into it from a small natural cave through an outlet shaped like a cow’s head, hence the name.

Rani Padmini Mahal…

Named after Rani Padmini, the beautiful queen of Rana Ratan Singh, the palace stands at the northern periphery of the Padmini pond. It was said that Rani Padmini was more gorgeous than the Indra’s celestial nymphs, her pallor was so radiant that anyone passing by her, could not help but stare at her magnificent form, bedazzled by her glorious glow equivalent to that of twelve suns, her skin was so transparent that when she would drink water it could be easily seen through her throat. Though these things might as easily be dismissed as being hyperbole, it cannot be denied that the queen must have been a real beauty.

A three-storeyed pavilion known as Jal Mahal stands in the middle of the pond…

Obsessed with the stories of her beauty, Alauddin Khilji laid a siege on Chittorgarh. He sent a message to the king that he would lift the siege if Rani Padmini was given to him. For the Rajput rulers, the dignity of their women was far more precious than their treasury and kingdom. Khilji sent another message that he would leave after getting a glimpse of Rani Padmini. With the safety and well-being of Chittorgarh at heart, Rani Padmini agreed to let Alauddin Khilji have a look at her reflection. It was arranged that Khilji would be taken to the palace situated on the shore of the tank, amidst which stood the Jal Mahal. Then the mirrors in both the places were arranged in such a way that when the queen would appear in front of the mirror of her palace, her reflection would create a reflection in the mirror of the shore palace, wherein the Khilji could have his wish of catching a glimpse of her face. However, Khilji never got to see Padmini’s face. One of the maidservants impersonated Padmini and her face was shown to Khilji.

After taking a glimpse of the legendary beauty of Rani Padmini through the mirror, Khilji treacherously captured Rana Ratan Singh. A daring rescue succeeded but Khilji returned with a mighty force. Heavily outnumbered and facing Rajput defeat, all the women in the fort led by Rani Padmini decided to perform jauhar (self-immolation), while the men started preparations for saka (suicidal combat). The women dressed up in their wedding finery, carried a kalash (a pitcher pot) in their hands, filled with a little water and topped with a coconut and few mango leaves and sang auspicious songs on their way towards the burning fire.

Rani Padmini and other brave Rajput women chose death over slavery and committed jauhar before Khilji could get to them. They chose the path of destruction and deification over that of life and disgrace, and for that are still revered by the people of Mewar.

The first ever mention of the legendary Rani Padmini or Padmavati was made in 1540, when an Awadhi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi wrote a poem on the ethereal beauty of the queen that had incited the Turkish sultan to attack the fort of Chittorgarh leading to a renowned historical tragedy. The story was retold so many times since then, through the medium of theatrical plays, poems, stories, movies, and the famous opera Padmavati, that it has now become more of folklore.

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The fort’s Kalika Mata temple attracts a huge number of devotees. Kalika Mata or Goddess Kali is worshipped as principal deity in the temple. Built by Raja Manbhanga in the 8th century AD, it was originally dedicated to Surya (Sun god), which is evident from the image of Surya carved in the centre of doorjamb of the sanctum.

A devotee making daal baati for Goddess Kalika..

While vegetarian devotees offer daal-baati to the goddess, non-vegetarian devotees prepare meat as their offering to the goddess. There are separate areas for vegetarian and non-vegetarian cooking.

There are many viewpoints around the fort. This is one of the popular ones…

Watch my video: View from Chittorgarh

Kirti Stambha and a Jain temple next to it…

This six-storeyed tower having a height of 24.50 m is dedicated to Adinatha, the first Jaina Tirthankara. It was built by Shresthi Jija in 1300. The tower is built on raised platform and has an internal flight of steps. However, climbing this tower is not allowed.

There are plenty of custard apple trees on the fort…

The souvenir shop in the fort sells a wide variety of local handicrafts, including saris made from custard apple. While saris from bamboo and banana can be found at some places in the country, saris from custard apple are quite uncommon. So a visit to the souvenir shop is a pleasure trip.

The importance of Chittorgarh in Indian history is awe-inspiring. Remember, the great Maharana Pratap spent his entire life fighting to recapture this fort from Akbar. It may have lost relevance in today’s world, but history and legends never die…

 

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Coming next # Regal Rajasthan: Kumbhalgarh Fort

 

 

 

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