Commanding a bird’s eye view of the city of Jaipur in Rajasthan is the sturdy fortress of Nahargarh. It is one of the three major forts designed to defend the Pink City, along with Amer Fort and Jaigarh. Primarily known for its ingenious water harvesting system, the fort is also associated with quaint myths and legends. The imposing 18 th century bastion has never been attacked, though it has had some memorable brushes with history.
Jai Singh II, or Sawai Raja Jai Singh as he was popularly known, founded the city of Jaipur in 1727 CE. Faced with the pressure of a growing population in Amber, the Kachwaha Rajput ruler wanted to construct a new capital. However, though Jaipur was less congested than Amber, it was also less secure. Located in an open field, the city was vulnerable to artillery attacks and could even fall to a strong cavalry charge. To solve this problem, Jai Singh II envisioned a chain of fortified peaks to protect his capital. Thus, he commissioned the fort of Nahargarh in 1734. Situated close to the city, the walls of this imposing fort were directly connected to Jaipur as well as the nearby fort of Jaigarh.
The fort was originally intended to be named Sudarshangarh. During the period of construction, the workers would wake up each morning and find the previous day’s work destroyed. Locals attributed this destruction to the angry ghost of a Rathore prince called Nahar Singh Bhomia. Consequently, a temple was built to honour the memory of Nahar Singh and the fort began to be known as Nahargarh. The word Nahargarh literally means ‘the abode of tigers.’ As a result, the fortress has also earned the title of Tiger Fort.
During the First War of Independence in 1857, Nahargarh was used as a shelter by the European population of the city. The wife of the British Resident in Jaipur was amongst those who took cover here. In 1859, the Indian revolutionary leader Tatya Tope reached Nahargarh with his followers. Though the group was fired at nine times, from within the fort, they managed to move out of range and continue their quest.
Until 1944, the fort was used by the Princely State of Jaipur for the purpose of official timekeeping. Solar time was determined using the Samrat Yantra in the Jantar Mantar observatory and a gunshot was fired at Nahargarh to mark the hour. The fort was also used as a royal hunting lodge by the Jaipur Maharajas.
The fort is built in an Indo-European style, with a number of stunning structures inside. Two rows of fortification guard this hilltop retreat from the outside. The main entrance to the fort is called Tadi Gate. The shrine for Nahar Singh Bhomia is located close to the entrance.
In 1868, the fort complex was extended by Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II. After about two decades, Nahargarh was significantly remodelled by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II as well. Barracks and water tanks were added to the fort. In addition, a ramp was built for the purpose of carrying massive cannons to the ramparts. However, chief amongst the new additions was a stunning two-storied palace called the Madhavendra Bhawan.
The Madhavendra Bhawan was designed by Vidyadhar Bhattacharya, the principal architect and city planner of Jaipur. This palace contains the king’s suites as well as rooms for his queens and concubines. The women were housed in 9 identical apartments or quarters. Each apartment has its own lobby, bedroom, kitchen, toilets, and store, as well as rooms for their maids. All the apartments are connected by a narrow corridor called Raja ka Galiyara. The palace is designed in such a manner that using this corridor, the king could visit any one of the queens or concubines without alerting the others. The same concept can be seen at the zenana of Man Singh’s Palace in Amer Fort.
The palace also contains the exquisitely designed and elegantly furnished chambers of the king. At present, they contain a luxury restaurant for visitors to the fort. Delicate frescoes, displaying a blend of European and Rajput sensibilities, can be seen throughout the palace. Moreover, intricate minakari work adorns the walls of the corridors. The top of the Bhawan offers a magnificent aerial view of the city.
Another notable structure is the Diwan-i-Aam or the House of Commons. It was here that the king met his subjects and heard their concerns. Rooms for soldiers to rest (Vishram Ghar) and the artillery room (Shastra Ghar) are also present near the entrance of the fort. In 2016, the Jaipur Wax Museum and a Sheesh Mahal were opened inside these rooms. Wax and silicon statues of over 35 famous personalities, including freedom fighters and members of the royalty can be seen here. The Sheesh Mahal or Palace of Mirrors is built using approximately 2.5 million pieces of glass. Thikri mirror-work, goldleaf, precious stones, and large handmade paintings have been used to decorate this opulent construction.
The Nahargarh Fort is hailed as one of the best examples of sustainable architecture in medieval India. Located in a region of water scarcity and perched atop a hill with no direct source of water, Nahargarh makes inspired use of rainwater conservation techniques. Employing an elaborate system of channels, bridges, and canals, the fort conserves every drop of rainwater and directs it towards lower levels of the fort. Here, a number of wells are used to store the water for use. This includes two large step-wells or baori as well as a smaller step-well or kund.
Perched upon the crest of the Aravalli mountains, the Nahargarh Fort regales visitors with tales of restless spirits and palaces of pleasure. It not only showcases the beauty of Rajput architectural design but underlines the long history of sustainable development in India.