The Bhadra Fort, formerly known as the Arak Fort is a prominent historical monument situated in the walled city area of Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Located on the banks of the Sabarmati River, this iconic fortress served as a royal court during the reign of Sultan Ahmed Shah I, the ruler of the Gujarat Sultanate. The fort complex proudly boasts of the city’s first-ever electrical apparatus, the Bhadra Fort Clock Tower. One of the striking edifices of Ahmedabad, the Bhadra Fort, embodies the history and grandeur of the city.
The Bhadra Fort and the city of Ahmedabad has witnessed significant events and served as a symbol of power and authority. The history of the city dates back to the early 8th century, when the area around Ahmedabad was known as Ashaval and was inhabited by the Bhil tribe. In the 11th century, King Karandev I, the Solanki ruler defeated the Bhil king of Ashaval and established the city of Karnavati on the banks of the Sabarmati River. The Solanki rule lasted until the 13th century at which point the region of Gujarat came under the control of the Vaghela dynasty of Dholka. Gujarat was annexed by the Delhi Sultanate in the 14th century. Zafar Khan Muzaffar, who served as the Governor of Gujarat under the Delhi Sultanate declared himself independent in 1407 and established the Gujarat Sultanate at Patan. Ahmed Shah I, the grandson of Zafar Khan, founded the city of Ahmedabad in the immediate vicinity of Ashaval in 1411 and made it the capital of Gujarat Sultanate. He built the Bhadra Fort in the same year. It is believed that the fort derived its name from the Bhadra Kali Temple, situated within the fort complex. However, a plaque near the fort narrates a different story, tracing the origin of the fort’s name to an ancient Rajput citadel by the name of Bhadra at Anhilwada-Patan.
Due to its strategic location on a trade route that passed through the port-cities of Khambayat (Cambay), Surat, and Bharuch and its proximity to the Sabarmati River, Ahmedabad was sought after by several rulers. Towards the middle of the 16th century, the Mughals wrested control of the region. Gujarat was ruled by almost 60 governors during the Mughal reign. Although Ahmedabad lost its importance as the capital city during this period, it continued to be one of the thriving centres of trade and commerce.
In 1783, the Peshwas and the Gaekwads jointly brought an end to the Mughal rule and established the Maratha Empire in the city. During the First Anglo-Maratha War, the British troops under General Thomas Wyndham Goddard stormed the Fort and captured the city of Ahmedabad on February 15, 1779. Later, the fort was handed back to the Marathas under the Treaty of Salbai. In 1817, the British conquered the fort and it remained in their possession until India attained Independence in 1947. The fort was used as a prison to confine political prisoners and revolutionaries during this period. Today, the fort complex houses some of the government offices, such as the office of the Archaeological Survey of India, the Post Office and the city’s civil courts.
Bhadra Fort encompasses an area of approximately 43 acres and is enclosed by fortified walls, made of red sandstone. This historic fort is a striking illustration of Indo-Saracenic architecture, characterised by intricate carvings, impeccable arches and balconies. Windows and murals are lavishly adorned with exquisite latticework. Some of the ornate arches in the fort exhibit Islamic inscriptions. The fort had eight arched gateways. Bhadra Gate, formerly referred to as Piran Pir’s Darwaza, served as the main entrance. Several notable structures exist within the fort complex.
On the eastern side of the imposing fort lies the historic gateway, Teen Darwaza or the Triple Gateway. One of the oldest and longest gateways of the city, the Teen Darwaza, was built by Sultan Ahmed Shah I. The striking gateway has three arches, the middle one wider than the other two. The structure is adorned with intricate carvings and surmounted by an attic storey with ornamental cresting. The gateway features in the logo of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.
Teen Darwaza served as the entrance to the royal square at the Bhadra Fort. The Royal Square, known as Maidan-Shah, is an open space dotted with several palm trees. This space was used for royal processions and royal sports. A major attraction of the fort is the royal garden known as Nagina Baugh, situated on the west.
Ahmed Shah’s Mosque, also known as Shahi Jam-e-Masjid, is another notable structure inside the complex. Built in 1414, it is considered as one of the oldest mosques in Ahmedabad. It is said to have been used as the royal household’s private mosque. The mosque has four arched gateways and is supported by 152 pillars. Windows are adorned with perforated stone latticework. A mound known as Ganj Shahid or the martyrs’ mound is situated in the courtyard. It houses the tomb of warriors who died in Sultan Ahmed’s initial battles.
One of the most impressive structures of the fort is the Bhadra Fort Clock Tower. The clock was brought from London in 1849 by the East India Company and was installed here in 1878. Originally, a kerosene lamp was used to illuminate the tower. However, in 1915, it was replaced with Ahmedabad's first electric lamp, marking a significant advancement. The clock had fallen into disrepair but was restored in 2016 by Percy Daruwala, a Navsari-based clock restorer.
Azam Khan Sarai, built by the Mughal governor Azam Khan in 1637, is a royal palace situated inside the fort premises. This splendid structure served as a Musafir Khana (a resting place for travellers) during the Mughal era. It has a huge entrance that leads into an octagonal hall. This grand palace once housed a gibbet on its roof that was used for hanging prisoners. During the reign of the Marathas, a room in the north wing of Azam Khan Sarai was turned into a temple of Bhadra Kali. At present, the palace serves as the venue for conducting the flag-hoisting ceremony on Independence Day and Republic Day.
The fort is associated with a popular legend. According to the legend, when Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth, was about to leave the fort, a watchman named Siddique Kotwal pleaded with her not to leave without informing the emperor. The goddess agreed to wait until the watchman returned after meeting the king. However, Kotwal never came back as he killed himself to ensure that the Goddess remained in the city forever. It is believed that this incident resulted in the prosperity of the city of Ahmedabad. A mausoleum was built in honour of the watchman near the Bhadra Gate.
The Bhadra Fort was renovated by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as a cultural centre for the city in 2014. The stunning fort is a popular tourist attraction in Ahmedabad. Even today, thousands of years after its construction, this timeless structure offers connoisseurs of history a treasure trove of legacy and culture.