Sprawling over a high hill near the Berach River, stands the historic Chittorgarh Fort. Located in the present-day city of Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, it is one of the largest forts in India. This imposing fortress which served as the capital of the kingdom of Mewar in Rajasthan, is an iconic reminder of Rajput pride and valour. The fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 under the Hill Forts of Rajasthan.
The formidable Chittorgarh Fort is linked to significant events that shaped the history of the region. There is no certain evidence regarding the origin of the fort. However, it is largely agreed upon that the fort was perhaps built by a local Mori Rajput ruler Chitrangada Mori in the 7th century. It is said that the fort was named after him. According to a legend, the construction of the fort is attributed to Bhima, a legendary figure of the mythological epic Mahabharata. The legend has it that Bhima once struck the ground here with all his might which led to the formation of a large reservoir. Today, this legendary reservoir is known as Bhimlat Kund.
The political history of Chittorgarh Fort has been tumultuous. This impregnable fortress caught the attention of many rulers who tried to capture it. Around the 8th century, the fort fell into the hands of the Guhila ruler Bappa Rawal. The Guhilas ruled over the kingdom of Mewar and Chittorgarh Fort became its capital. The magnificent fort remained under the control of the Guhila dynasty until 1303 at which point Alauddin Khilji laid siege to the fort. Thus began the saga of bloodshed and plunder. As per legends and Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s poem, Padmavat, Alauddin invaded Chittorgarh Fort in order to capture Ratnasimha’s beautiful queen, Padmini. Legends also state that after the king was killed, Rani Padmini along with other women committed mass jauhar (self-immolation) to safeguard their honour.
After gaining control, Alauddin handed over the fort to his son Khizr Khan and Chittorgarh was renamed as “Khizrabad.” His rule lasted for eight years till 1311 after which he was compelled by the Rajputs to assign power to the Sonigra chief Maldeva who held the possession of the fort for the next 7 years. Hammir Singh, a descendant of the Guhila clan recaptured the fort and restored the fort’s former glory. He became the founder of the Sisodia dynasty of Mewar. During his reign, the kingdom of Mewar expanded and prospered to a great extent.
One of the most famous sieges happened in 1535, when Bahadur Shah, the ruler of Gujarat attacked the fort with the desire of expanding his empire. Bahadur Shah’s forces stormed the fort and once again the fort witnessed a brutal bloodbath. The Rajput troops were annihilated and it is said that over 13,000 women committed jauhar. However, Bahadur Shah could not hold the fort for long and it was restored to the Sisodias.
In 1567, Mughal Emperor Akbar besieged the fort. Maharana Udai Singh II, the then ruler of Mewar moved out of the fort to western Mewar and left the fortress in charge of Rao Jaimal of Badnore and Rawat Patta Sisodia. Maharana Pratap, the son of Maharana Udai Singh II wanted to stay back and fight the Mughals but was compelled to leave. Despite offering a heroic resistance, the Rajputs failed to defend the fort and Chittorgarh fell to the Mughals. Thereafter, the capital was shifted to the city of Udaipur. Although Maharana Pratap fought several battles to resist the expansionist policy of Akbar, he never succeeded in regaining Chittor. In 1616, following the signing of a treaty between Jahangir and Maharana Amar Singh of Mewar, the Chittorgarh Fort was handed back to the Rajputs. Several centuries later, the fort was refurbished in 1905 during the British Raj.
The colossal Chittorgarh Fort which is roughly in the shape of a fish covers an area of around 700 acres and has a circumference of 13 km. It is also called the Water Fort. It had 84 water bodies out of which only about 22 exist today. These include talabs (ponds), kunds (wells), and baories (stepwells). Gaumukh Reservoir is a unique water body that is situated at the edge of the cliff. It is a massive water tank, fed by a spring that emerges from a Gaumukh or ‘cow’s mouth’ shaped rock structure. This reservoir served as the main source of water at the fort during the numerous sieges and is considered to be sacred by the locals.
The fort is accessible through seven gates (Pols), namely the Padan Pol, Bhairon Pol, Hanuman Pol, Ganesh Pol, Jodla Pol, Laxman Pol and the main gate called the Ram Pol. All seven gateways have been built as massive stone structures with reinforced doors to ward off attackers and invaders.
There are two significant towers situated within the fort premises, namely Vijaya Stambha (Tower of Victory) and Kirti Stambha (Tower of Fame). The Vijaya Stambha is a huge nine-storey tower that was erected by Rana Kumbha in the 15th century to commemorate his victory over the combined forces of Malwa and Gujarat led by Mahmud Khilji I, the Sultan of Malwa. This architectural marvel stands at a height of 122 ft and is adorned with detailed sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses. The magnificent tower has 157 narrow and circular steps that lead to the terrace where one can savor a breathtaking view of the entire town.
Kirti Stambha is a 72 ft high tower, constructed by Bagherwal Jain merchant, Jijaji Rathod during the reign of Rawal Kumar Singh in the 12th century. This seven-storied tower is dedicated to Adinath, the first Jain Tirthankar and has an impressive 5 feet high statue of him. The tower is embellished with sculptures of the Jain Pantheon.
This historic fort boasts of a number of grand palaces. Rana Kumbha’s Palace is one of the oldest monuments within the fort complex. This ruined edifice is located near the Vijaya Stamba. Maharana Udai Singh II, the founder of Udaipur was born here. The legend of the courageous midwife Panna Dai who sacrificed her infant son to save prince Udai’s life during the siege of 1535 is associated with the palace. One of the most striking features of the palace is its spectacular array of canopied balconies. It is believed that Rani Padmini committed Jauhar along with many other women in one of the underground cellars of the palace.
Fateh Prakash Palace is situated near Rana Kumbha’s Palace. It was constructed by Rana Fateh Singh in the early 20th century. This majestic double-storeyed palace is a classic example of modern Indian architecture. The palace is well-known for its pillars and corridors and exemplifies Maharaja’s inclination towards art and culture. It has now been converted into a museum and houses a diverse collection of weapons, paintings and crystal ware.
Overlooking a small lake is the massive Ratan Singh Palace which was the winter abode of the royal family. The palace compound consists of a grand courtyard, exquisitely designed rooms, pavilions, balconies, pillared chhatris, a well-maintained garden and a temple dedicated to Ratneshwar Mahadev. Although most of it is in ruins now, the grandeur and the regal aura of the palace can still be felt.
Rani Padmini’s Palace is another splendid monument within the fort premises. The compact three-storied white building is a 19th-century reconstruction of the original structure. Situated in the southern part of the fort, this legendary palace was the royal abode of Rani Padmini, the beautiful queen of Mewar. Adorned with distinctive dome-shaped pavilions and surrounded by a water-filled moat, this palace became the template for later constructions. The concept of Jal Mahal or a palace surrounded by water, became a popular architectural style that was emulated by several other palaces in the state.
The sprawling fort also comprises several noteworthy temples within its precincts. Built in the 8th century, Kalika Mata Temple is an ancient structure within the fort complex. It was initially constructed to worship Surya, the Sun God but was destroyed in the 14th century. It was rebuilt as a Kali Temple. Tulja Bhavani Temple is another notable construction that is situated on the west side of the fort. This temple was built in the 16th century and is dedicated to Goddess Tulja Bhavani, an incarnation of Goddess Durga.
The striking Meerabai Temple was built by Rana Kumbha in an Indo-Aryan architectural style. It is believed that mystic saint-poetess Meerabai who was an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna worshipped Krishna at this temple. The temple rises from an elevated plinth and has a conical roof. Kumbha Shyam Temple (Varaha Temple) is a larger temple that is located in the same compound. Chittorgarh was once a major center of Jainism and the fort houses many Jain temples such as Sattaees Devari, Shringar Chauri and Sat Bis Devri.
Today, the Chittorgarh Fort hosts an interesting festival called the Jauhar Mela. Commemorating the jauhars which took place in the fort, this annual festival pays tribute to the bravery of the Rajputs. Members of the Rajput community, particularly those who have descended from princely families, organise a huge procession on this day.
In 1887, the famous author Rudyard Kipling is said to have visited the fort. The ruined city of Cold Lairs, in his work The Jungle Book, is believed to have been based on the Chittorgarh Fort.
Brimming with stories and boasting of grand architectural features, the Chittorgarh Fort has great historical and cultural significance. This stupendous fort offers an invaluable insight into the reign of the Guhilas and Sisodias of Mewar. The fort’s gigantic size, intricate design, and gallantry of those who sacrificed their lives to defend it, speak volumes of its former glory.