Chittorgarh Fort in India, history and location

Chittorgarh: The Fort of Rajputs, Ponds, and Temples (Part One)

It’s always nice when, after publishing your first article, you’re asked to continue a topic and give it a follow-up. And after the story about Kumbhalgarh fort I was asked to tell about Chittorgarh mentioned in it – a fortress, which is obviously worthy of attention. And here both I and the readers of VO were lucky. It is always a pleasure to write about something with pictures and information from “over there”. I haven’t been to Chittorgarh myself, but a close friend of my daughter was there and brought me a whole CD of wonderful photographs. For a long time I had it lying idle, and now finally “his time has come.

The last time I wrote about the mighty Indian fort Kumbhalgarh (https://topwar.ru/116395-kumbhalgarh-fort-kumbhal-velikaya-indiyskaya-stena.html), it was the second largest in size after Chittorgarh Fort in Rajasthan, and it was built by a Rajput ruler, Rana Kumbha, along with several other forts. And Rana Kubha personally designed plans for 32 of them. What about Chittorgarh Fort then, and who are the Rajputs in general? Let us begin with the latter, because their history is very interesting and instructive in its own way.

Fort Chittorgarh. This is what it looks like from below the valley.

And this is a very funny picture: this is the slope of the surrounding terrain on the approaches to the fort. The man, apparently, decided to “cut” his way and went straight up.

The word “rajput” comes from the Sanskrit “raja putra,” which means “son of a raja,” that is, “son of a lord. As for the question of the ethnic origin of the Rajputs, scientists are still debating about it. Western European historians believe that they migrated to India from Central Asia somewhere between the I and VI centuries AD. Indians have their own version, according to which they came from North India and represented the caste of “kshatriyas” (warriors), and they were called “Rajputs” in the early Middle Ages.

Rajput fighting elephant. The drawing dates from 1750-1770, made in Kota, Rajasthan.

Be that as it may, the Rajputs were indeed noted for their militancy and therefore already from the 9th century played an active role in political life in northern India. Their name was surrounded by a halo of masculinity, because if the situation was hopeless for them, the Rajputs would not hesitate to commit jauhar, a ritual mass suicide. The only worthy occupation for a male Rajput was military affairs. For a real rajput neither farming nor trade were worthy, and even religion was not recommended for him. Though the Rajputs were Hindus, it was not only not forbidden but obligatory for them to eat meat and drink wine in order to keep up their militancy. The traditional weapons of the Rajputs were the broad-bladed swords of the khandas.

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The sword of the Rajputs was the khandha.

Already in the early Middle Ages, soon after the fall of the Gupta Empire (647) they possessed most of northern India, where they created many small principalities ruled by the chiefs of the 36 major Rajput clans.

Chittorgarh: A Fort of Rajputs, Ponds, and Temples (Part One)

A Rajput helmet from the Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur.

When Muslim conquerors poured into northern India in the 10th century, the Rajputs, due to their fragmentation, were unable to offer them a proper response because of their internecine strife. However, the conquerors failed to Islamicize them, and the Rajput principalities preserved their original Indian religions, Jainism and Hinduism.

An 18th-century Rajasthan soldier’s outfit: chilta khazar masha (Cloak of a Thousand Nails), kukhakh khud (helmet), baza band (cuffs), tulwar (sword). National Museum of India, New Delhi.

Naturally, this is why the Muslim rulers of the Mughal Empire had an extremely negative attitude towards the Rajputs (after all, Islam commanded them to kill those who worshiped many gods, much less those with many arms and bishops!) Therefore in the beginning of XIV century they made an attempt to destroy the state of rajputs or at least to weaken it. The Rajputs were defeated by Babur at the Battle of Khanua (1527), and his grandson Akbar (1568-1569) seized many of their forts. Bowing to the power of the strong, the Rajput feudal lords (with the exception of the rulers of the Mewar region) went into the service of the Mughals, but bargained with them the right to maintain their autonomy within the empire.

Maharana Pratap Singh, the legendary 16th century ruler of Mewar.

And all would have been well after that if Sultan Aurangzeb had not turned out to be such a zealous Musullim and engaged in the forced conversion of Hindus to Islam. He also imposed a “faith tax,” a tax on Hindu pilgrimages, forbade the building of Hindu temples, and did not begin to convert existing ones into mosques. In addition, he pursued a policy of discriminating against Hindus in the army and squeezing them out of commerce and the civil service, that is, he hurt those whom it had always been very dangerous to hurt: merchants and officials. All this caused numerous rebellions throughout the Mughal Empire, which were very difficult to suppress. And then the Rajputs went even further. In exchange for maintaining local autonomy and protection from the raids of fierce Afghans, they made a treaty with the British in the early 19th century and agreed to submit to British jurisdiction. Between 1817 and 1818 the British government gradually concluded such treaties with almost all the Rajput principalities. As a result, British rule spread over the entire territory of Rajputana, that is, the Rajput lands, and after India gained independence, Rajputana became the Indian state of Rajasthan. It is interesting that during the Great Revolt, known in Russia as the Sepoy Rebellion, the Rajputs supported the British and not their brothers in faith – the rebels!

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A noble Rajput in 1775. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The history of Chittorgarh Fort itself (“garh” just means fort; it was originally called Chitrakut) goes back centuries. Legends have survived that a Guhila ruler named Bappa Raval seized the fort, which was in its place as early as 728 or 734 A.D. One of them, however, says that he received it as a dowry. Some historians doubt the historicity of this legend, arguing that the ruler of Guhila did not yet control Chittor at that time. Be that as it may, we can assume that already in the 8th century there was a fortress of some kind here.

Fort Chittorgarh in 1878, a painting by Marianne (1830-1890). The English were eager to visit Rajputana, and their artists painted pictures of the exoticism there.

And then, from the 8th to the 16th centuries, Chittorgarh was the capital of the Mewar state controlled by the Rajput clan Sisodia. The fortress came under attack three times by the armies of Muslims: in 1303 by the troops of the Delhi Sultan Ala ad-Din Khalji, in 1534-1535 by the Gujarat Sultan Bahadur Shah, and in 1567-1568 by the army of Akbar the Great himself.

The siege of the Chittor fortress in 1567. Explosion of a mine under the fortress wall. A Mughal miniature from Akbar-name. 1590-1595. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

And in all these cases, when the fortress was about to fall under the onslaught of the enemy, its defenders preferred death for themselves and ritual self-immolation for all members of their families to surrendering at the mercy of the victor. Well, when in 1568 Chittorgarh was thoroughly destroyed by Shah Akbar, the capital of Mewar was moved to Udaipur.

The battle scene. Bhagavata Purana. Central India. 1520-1540, Kronos Collection, New York.

Today Fort Chittor (as the British call it) or Chittorgarh (as the Indians call it) is the largest of India’s forts and a unique example of medieval Indian architecture and military architecture. Its total area covers … 305 hectares, and together with the buffer zone – 427 hectares. All the fortifications of Chittorgarh are situated on an isolated rocky plateau about 2 km long and 155 m wide, which in turn rises 180 meters above the plain. As for the length of the walls of the fort, which is shaped like a fish, it is 13 km.

The fort of Derawar, which belonged to the Rajput dynasty of Bhatti. It is located in the modern province of Bahawalpur in Pakistan. The semicircular bastions protruding from the walls were a feature of Rajput fort architecture.

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It is interesting that almost all the walls with semicircular bastions were built in such a way that just behind them the almost steep precipices of the rocky plateau went down. That is why they were not as strong as in Kumbhalgarh, and there was no need for that. One can reach the fort by a winding mountain road, more than one kilometer long, leading from the town in the valley to the main gate of Ram Pol Fort. There are other roads. But not all are used. Inside the fort, there is also a road that allows you to get to all the gates and monuments that are already inside the fortress walls. In total, there are seven gates leading to the fort. They were built by the ruler of Mewar Rana Kumbha (1433-1468) and named after the same hills: Paydal Paul, Bhairon Paul, Hanuman Paul, Ganesh Paul, Jorla Paul, Lakshman Paul and Ram Paul.

The view from the fort is of the city at its foot.

Since 2013, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so now it’s no longer just India, but the whole world should be concerned about preserving it for our future descendants. It is not too difficult to reach, because it is halfway between Delhi and Mumbai, and it is reached by National Highway 8 and the railroad. The railway station is six kilometers from the fort; the bus station is three kilometers away.

Inside the fort there are a lot of different interesting structures. This is actually its walls and bastions, temples and palaces, but perhaps the most amazing thing is … its reservoirs. Here at an altitude of 180 m you just do not expect to find such a mass of water. Moreover, in the beginning there were 84 reservoirs, of which only 22 have survived. They are arranged in such a way that they are fed by the natural watershed and precipitation, and represent a storage capacity of four billion liters, which could fully satisfy the water needs of an army of 50,000 people that could hide behind its walls and use the fort as a base camp!

One of the fort’s preserved reservoirs.

There are also 65 different historic structures to see and tour, including four palace complexes, 19 ancient temples, and much more. There is also an interesting museum, which is an impressive collection of Indian weapons, restaurants, souvenir stores – in a word, everything you need for a modern tourist. True, an Indian will only pay five rupees to enter, but a foreigner will pay 100!

Suraj Paul is the gate to the courtyard.

Archaeologists have found that the earliest fortifications on one of the hills was built in the V century and then consistently rebuilt until the XII century. The second part of the fortifications was built in the XV century. In addition to the palace complex, located at the highest point in the western part of the fort, there are many temples, such as Kubha Shyam Temple, Mira Bai Temple, Adi Warah Temple, Shringar Chauri Temple and the memorial of Vijaya Stamba. The walls of the fort with its semicircular bastions built into them consist of lime mortar masonry.

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The bastions and walls of Chittor look not so powerful as those of Kumbhalgarh, but, nevertheless, they are very interesting by their architecture. Their machicolations resemble the donjon of Château Gaillard in France. They are built into the parapet of the wall and allow you to shoot straight down and to the sides. But the stones thrown from them rolled down the wall and then flew away. There were no gaps between the merlons, but there were embrasures in the merlons themselves.

Chittorgarh Fort

In India near the town of Chittorgarh, southern Rajasthan, lies the Chittorgarh Fort, one of the largest forts in India and Asia as a whole, inspiring everyone with its view.

The fort was built in the 7th century. A little later the fort served as the central point of the new capital of the kingdom of Mewar. Over the centuries, the fort’s walls have bravely withstood sieges, which is not surprising: according to legends, the fort was home to an entire galaxy of India’s illustrious warriors.

Thus, Chittorgarh Fort is a surviving fragment of medieval architecture, a monument to Indian military prowess. In memory of them once a year is held a great festival “Jauhar mela” (see Holidays in India). On this day the descendants of the princely families parade from the nearest village to the fort. The date of the festival is to commemorate one of the most famous of the Chittorgarh warriors and a woman named Padmini.

There is a very beautiful legend connected with Chittorgarh Fort, comparable with the legends of Cleopatra’s life. The legend tells of Rani Padmini, wife of Ratan Singh, raja of Rajpur, the district where Chittorgarh was situated. Word of Padmini’s wonderful beauty reached the ears of the invader, Sultan Allauddin, then Allauddin thought of conquering Chittorgarh by all means. The fort was besieged for a long time, but the forces were not equal, the besiegers had no supplies left, and Ratan Singh ordered the gates to be opened to give the final battle. On hearing of this decision, the Rani Padmini and all the women of the fort decided to perform the ritual act of self-immolation, jauhar, to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy, and they climbed on the pyre. The men fought to the last man, leaving the enemy no prisoners. It happened in the 14th century, but that was not the end of the fort’s history.

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Chittorgarh survived two more major sieges.

Today the fort is no longer functional, after one of the sieges, which ended with its capture in 1568, the fort was only a picturesque ruin, however, there is something to see.

Tourists who have been to Chittorgarh advise to leave at least 3 hours to visit the fort.

The fort is located on a hill at a height of 180 meters, so it offers a magnificent panorama of India. The fort is surrounded by a 13 km long wall around its perimeter. Inside there are as many as 65 structures of historical value: palace complexes, temples, memorials, gates and ponds.

Currently, there are 22 ponds and 7 scenic gates on the territory of the huge fort. The main gate is called the gate of Lord Rama, Ram Pol.

Worth a visit are the main temples of the fort, such as Kalikamata Temple, built in the 8th century, Kumbha Shyam, built in the 15th century, or Shringar Chauri, no less ancient.

It is also interesting to visit the main towers: the Tower of Victory and the Tower of Glory. Victory Tower was built of white marble and white limestone in the 15th century after the liberation of the area from Muslim invaders.

Tourists also don’t miss the palace of Rana Kumbhza and the palace of the famous Rani Padmini. The latter has been reconstructed on the model of the original building. The place is surrounded by water, in which it is believed that sometimes you can see the beauty of Padmini in all its splendor. To do so, go to the marble gallery and look at your reflection in the water: the legendary beauty of antiquity may reflect with you for a moment.

Entrance to the fort is free, payment is required only when visiting certain museums. One of these museums is the Fateh Prakash Palace Museum, which has preserved for posterity an extensive collection of wooden carvings Bassi settlement, crystal, post-medieval statues of Indra, Ganesha and other deities, as well as ancient weapons and frescoes.

Separately, the fort also houses an archaeological museum.

This is only a list of the most visited sights of Chittorgarh Fort, while there are many others both inside and outside the fort.

The town of Chittorgarh has the famous Sadaar Bazaar, a market where you can buy Indian fabrics or metal products.

Not far from the city there are other tourist routes such as Bassi Reserve, temples of Bijolli, Menala and Barolo. Chittorgarh is worth a visit: it is a fort where Indian folklore comes alive, it is also a city with its red sands, blue ponds and rivers and amber sunsets.

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