History says that the Chittor fort in Southern Rajasthan was built by Bappa Rawal in the 8th century CE and it served as the capital of Mewar until it was invaded by Akbar. Its imperial presence was enhanced by the fact that it sat atop a 180 m high hill, imposing and impregnable. However, its numerous elements were not just put in place at the start but instead built over the centuries of its occupation.
It was equipped with defence and civic buildings that were protected by endless walls with recurring bastions. Sprawling over 289 hectares, Chittorgarh was a centre of trade, commerce and administration of a kingdom situated close to a highway.
The fort, encompassing beautiful temples, imposing royal palaces, commanding towers and hundreds of ruins, is an echo of a past that was glorious in its reaches and rich in its architecture and traditions. In fact, legend associates the place with the great epic Mahabharata- this is where Bhima struck the ground so hard that water gushed out to form a large reservoir.
Recorded data claims that the fort dates back to 8th century CE when Bappa Rawal received it as a dowry from Maan Mori. But who was Bappa Rawal? Well, his origins are disputed, but it is widely held that during threatening attacks of invasions from Arabs he was brought up as a Brahmin in a hermitage, where he used to take care of the cattle. Once as he reared his cows, sage Harita chanced upon him and predicted that he would become a Chattrapati. Eventually, he consolidated his forces and established Mewar, making Chittorgarh the kingdom’s first capital.
Story time folks!
From the 8th to the 16th century CE, Bappa Rawal’s descendants ruled over Mewar from Chittorgarh. The fort has witnessed the illustrious rule of kings like Rana Kumbha and Rana Sanga. The first defeat befell Chittorgarh in 1303 when Ala-ud-din Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, besieged the fort, to capture the beautiful Rani Padmini, wife of Rana Ratan Singh. It is said that Rani Padmini’s beauty had enticed Ala-ud-din Khilji to invade Chittorgarh.
This resulted in a battle between Khilji and Ratan Singh. The fort was under siege for seven months. It is believed that when both sides were exhausted, Ala-ud-din Khilji crafted a sly plan. He asked Ratan Singh for a glimpse of his wife Rani Padmini in return of lifting the siege over Chittor. Khilji was taken into Padmini’s palace in the midst of a lake and Padmini’s reflection was shown to him in a mirror as she sat down on the steps of the Jal mahal. Khilji then asked Rana Ratan Singh to accompany him to the last gate of the fort where he was outnumbered and captured by the Sultan’s army.
Khilji demanded Padmini in return of her husband’s freedom. Padmini sent 700 palanquins of soldiers disguised as women along with two of her brothers- Gora and Badal. A battle esued between the two and the soldiers of Chittor embraced death fighting, while Rani Padmini and other women jumped in tomburning pyres.
In 1533 CE, during the rule of Bikramjeet came the second attack from Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat. Once again jauhar was led by Rani Karanavati, a Bundi princess. Her infant son, Udai Singh, was smuggled out of Chittor to Bundi and survived to inherit the throne. He was saved by his nurse, Panna Dhai, who sacrificed her own son to save the crown prince.
The final ransacking of Chittor came a few decades later, in 1568 when the Mughal emperor Akbar captured the fort. Maharana Udai Singh II fled to Udaipur where he re-established his capital. Akbar carried away all the distinctive pieces of architecture and sculpture and placed them in his capital.
Rana Pratap, the legendary king, made the last effort to win back Chittor, but he never succeeded and died a warrior’s death, like many of his ancestors. The sun had set on the glory of Chittorgarh, which has since been lying mostly in ruins. The fort has been built over a long period of time. The fortified walls, which stretch all around the top of the hill, encompass a variety of monuments ranging from palaces, havelis and temples to bazaars, towers and water reservoirs.
Protected by a series of seven gates that were well guarded during the ancient times, the fort proved to be unassailable. These gates are locally known as pol. Perhaps, the most magnificent monuments in the fort are palaces such as those of Rana Kumbha, Padmini and Ratan Singh II. Kumbha’s palace, said to be the oldest authentic palace, can be approached through two gates, Badipol and Tripol that face east.
Architecture of the Palace
The palace is an architectural marvel consisting of administrative areas such as the diwan-e-khaas and diwan-e-aam and residential apartments for kings and queens accompanied by servants’ quarters. What may go unnoticed in this palace is the excellent drainage system consisting of narrow channels covered with stone slabs and small bathrooms.
The Kumbha palace has been a residence for most of the kings that ruled over Chittorgarh. Padmini’s palace, known as Jal Mahal, is a small residence set in the middle of a lake, forming a perfect place for comfort during the scorching summers of Rajasthan. One is instantly reminded of the massive lake palace of Udaipur, built much later. Probably the concept of building a palace in the middle of a water body has its origins here.
Rana Ratan Singh’s Palace is located away from other monuments and is one of the few places that have been restored. It is accompanied by a temple that has numerous sculptures of goddesses, whose names have been written in Devanagiri. There are a large number of temples in the fort, most of which are Hindu, while a few are Jain.
The artists’ imaginations have been trapped in the fierceness of Surya’s archers driving away the darkness, the grace of horses marching ahead and the swing in Sun god’s charioteer, Arun’s whip. The wind god Vayu, one of the deities that guard directions, is beautifully represented with the flow of his hair and flutter of wind in his banner.
At present, the shrine houses an image of goddess Kalika. Hundreds of devotees from the nearby settlements visit this temple every day. The Kumbha-Shyam complex is famous for its Meera and Krishna temples as they reinforce the longevity of the fort in the legends it harbours. The Kumbha temple that was originally dedicated to the Varaha avatar of Vishnu has a dome which is studded with icons of Varaha, Vishnu and other gods. Jainism was patronised too. In fact, there are many beautiful and elaborate Jain temples in the fort. The Jain temple close to Kirti Stambha is a splendid example of medieval temple architecture with anekanda type of nagara shikhara (northern style of temple tower) and walls studded with beautiful sculptures.
The ogee arch and the domes of various shapes at Chittor have been influenced by the architecture of Mandu, the southern capital of Malwa. These ogee pointed arches that are typical of Mandu can be seen in Fatta haveli and Bhamashah haveli and some of the gates that lead to the fort. The most striking monuments of Chittorgarh are two large stambhas or towers that dominate the landscape.
Building towers to signify victory and achievements draws its origins from Islamic architecture. The Vijay Stambh was built in 1438 CE to honour the victory of Rana Kumbha over Muhammad Khilji. It is 120 feet high and has nine distinct storeys with openings at every phase of each storey.
Rana Kumbha was a devotee of Vishnu so the entire tower is inlaid with well-sculpted iconography of Vishnu’s incarnations alongside other deities. It has a narrow spiralling stairway that leads to the top storey, a small mandapa. Kirti Stambh, dedicated to the first Jain tirthankara, Adinath, is situated on an elevated platform and is 76 feet high.
Though these may appear to be the highlights of the Chittorgarh experience, much more awaits those who wish to spend time exploring this historic space which is indeed more than just a single structural entity. It in fact represents the very essence of the historic times that it has survived and evolved through, preserving its stories in sunlit sheen of sandstone.
This article is the outcome of a research project carried out under the Discover India Program (DIP) of Foundation for Liberal and Management Education (FLAME), Pune, India, by a group of seven undergraduate students. This article is authored by the group leader Aakrati Gupta. Source: Heritage India magazine Web Editor: Kshitija Pande, Ankita Badoni