Aesthetics and Ancient Architecture Come together in the Six Hill Forts of Rajasthan
Plainly speaking, the hill forts of Rajasthan are nothing but military fortifications to guard against enemy attacks but the Rajputs who had a penchant for beauty and aesthetics turned them into pieces of art. Each fort is an amalgamation of different architectural styles and brings forth the exuberance of the royal Rajput lifestyle.
There are mainly six forts that have been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, these are:
- Chittorgarh Fort
- Kumbhalgarh Fort
- Ranthambore Fort
- Gagron Fort
- Amber Fort
- Jaisalmer Fort
The Forts of Rajasthan Chronicle the Princely History of the State
According to the document by UNESCO that describes the six hill forts of Rajasthan, these are a series of properties located in the north-western state of Rajasthan. Every fort is located on the old mountain ranges of either Vindhya or Aravalli. These were primarily defense settlements of the Rajputs, the warrior caste of Rajasthan.
The Rajputs were the undisputed rulers of Rajasthan between 8th and 18th century and the forts that go up to 20 kilometers in circumference stand as an ode to the power that these kingdoms once exuded.
The six forts that date back to the medieval times are the best representatives of the Rajput military architecture. They give us an insight into the formation of the princely states of Rajasthan, their social strata, ideologies, and the rule of the land. The forts are also representative of the evolution that the Rajput architecture saw as they moved into the post medieval times. They also give us a peek into the political and military conflicts as well as alliances of the times, especially with respect to the Moghul rulers of the North and Central India.
The Proud Rajput History of Chittorgarh Fort
Chittorgarh fort was the creation of the Mauryan Empire that reined between 5th and 8th century and throughout their rule the fort was continuously strengthened. The Chittorgarh fort was later occupied by the mighty Rajputs with ongoing assaults by Muslim invaders.
The fort itself is built on the south-eastern plateau in the Aravalli Range and stands 500 feet tall covering an area of 8 square kilometers. The ancient city of Chittorgarh was the capital of the princely state of Mewar; however, owing to security reasons, the capital was ultimately shifted to Udaipur by King Udai Singh II in the year 1559.
The legend that surrounds the fort says that it was never occupied by any external force, although the documented history differs from this belief. The Chittorgarh Fort has stood the test of time and the assault of its invaders steadfastly, having seen sieges thrice during 15th and 16th centuries. It is said that each of these battles was more horrendous than the other.
The fort was first attacked in 1303 by Allauddin Khilji and subsequently by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat in 1534 and later by Akbar in 1567. Having suffered all these assaults from the Islamic rulers, the fort still stands strong today. In fact, the fort is so well preserved that you might find it surprising to know that it was ever conquered. The curvy roads and many gates meant for security are still present.
It is believed that, during its glory days, Chittorgarh Fort was home to over 70,000 citizens, although only a fraction of that population is settled there today. Inside this legendary fort, which is also one of the biggest in India, you will find Kirti Stambha and Vijay Stambha.
The Vijay Stambha or the Tower of Victory was commissioned by Rana Kumbha in 1437 to celebrate his victory over the Sultan of Malwa. The tower is a piece of art that stands 9-storey tall and is flush with the carvings of Hindu deities; however, in the 3rd and 8th storeys the word Allah in Arabic has been carved into, perhaps by the Islamic rulers who later invaded the fort.
The Chittorgarh Fort is not just famed for its fearless men but also the sacrifice of the Rajput women. There are legends that describe the heart-wrenching demise of Queen Padmini and Queen Karnavati who valiantly embraced death on the pyre. They had chosen death over the impending atrocity and humiliation in the hands of Allauddin Khilji. Their stories are forever a part of the legends that surround Chittorgarh Fort.
Rajputs were a clan that chose death over dishonor without a second thought. While for men, it meant a battle to death defending their motherland, for women it meant jauhar, as an alternative to capture by Muslim invaders. According to the ancient chronicles and local ballads, the men would face a certain death in the hands of the enemy as they sped towards them wearing saffron. The women would prepare themselves for the jauhar simultaneously.
Chittorgarh Fort today dawns a new face, one of historic importance, appreciation of the Rajput taste as well as romance. It stands as a reminder of the Rajput valor, sacrifice and honor.
The sheer size of the fort demands that it be explored via a vehicle and even then it takes about three hours to cover everything that it has to show you. Of course, over the time, some parts have been reduced to ruins but you will find that the yesteryear glory is still exuded in other parts of the fort. Royal palaces, reservoirs, military towers, temples all form the part of attraction for visitors. Tourists can also unwind while feeding the ever-hungry fish in reservoir. The view of the town from Vijaya Stambha is a scene that will take your breath away.