Tracing the Regal Footfall

A trip to Rajasthan is seldom out of any wanderlust‘s bucket list; the endless sea of scorching sand, silhouettes of garish folk dancers, the intricate mirror works on their ghagras,  fathomless tunes from tired harmoniums, the twirls of the  Ghoomar dancers,  Kathputli the peppy colored puppets and endless forts and palaces with umpteen tales of valour and glory. One could indulge in endless shades of dreams of this land where every site showcases the regal essence and glorious history, and none would leave this land without getting a sneak peek into Royalty. 

As the dust and din settled down after a severe summer, a journey to Rajasthan begins in February. The itinerary was kept pretty simple taking hints from the usual tour operations and schedules.  Ahmedabad – Udaipur- Jaisalmer – Jodhpur and then return through the national capital.

As any traveler would vouch for, I too repeat that any detours in a trip, a walk down the road less traveled, glimpses of unseen beauty, all these make a trip more memorable than a meticulously planned itinerary.

Casual browsing through the inflight magazine ended with the name Chittorgarh. The column read Chittorgarh – Centuries of regal legacy. A land that reminds of immortal tales of sacrifice and heroism. Home to Rani Padmini, Mira bai, and Pannadai.

Chittor Fort
The Fort, its magnificence, and artistic exemplary got it a space in the UNESCO Heritage Site in 2013. The Fort rests on the plains made over River Berach, a tributary of River Banas. Spanning 13 miles and 700 hectares, it is one of the biggest Forts in the Asian subcontinent. The initial name was Chitrakooda and it is said to have been built by the Maurya Emperor Chitrangada.
Folktales attribute the building of the Fort to Bhima and state that when he struck the earth, water gushed out and made Bhim Lathakund, an artificial water body.

There are seven entry points to the Fort the main one being Sooraj, the one named for Sun. Just outside the Sooraj, it is a vast plain land, where the enemy troops gathered before an attack. Huge spikes are seen on the main doors to stop elephants from trampling them. Inside the Fort, the sculptures tell of the Hindu, Jain, and Mughal culture. There were times when seventy thousand people resided within the Fort.  Today there aren’t many who live here and there are strict restrictions on renovations.

Rana Kumbha palace
On the right is one of the oldest structures, the Rana Kumbha Palace, with its steeples seen from miles away.  Kumbakarna Singh renowned as Rana Kumba ruled Chittor from 1433 to 1468. This palace is said to be originally built by Bappa Raval in AD 734 and was later redone during Rana’s reign.

The rerouting from Udaipur to Chittorgarh, a two-hour train journey was inevitable. The train pulled into Chittorgarh, a relatively small township rather late into the night. Chittorgarh or Chittor Fort is a five-mile ride from the station. Decided to retire for the night in a lodging close to the Railway station.

The next morning, the journey to Chittorgarh Fort, perched on a high cliff, began in an auto-rickshaw after bargaining down from Rs. 300 to a more easy one hundred Rupees. A winding hill road leads to the main gate, called Ram Pol, of the Fort.

The entrance to the Fort costs Rupees twenty. And here it was, the threshold of a magnificent structure that has lived, witnessed, and spoke of gallantry

As history unfolds, Chittorgarh belonged to the founder of the Mewar dynasty, Bappa Rawal. As in most Royal tales, there are two versions to this, one that he conquered it from the Mauryas and the other that it was gifted to him as dowry.

In Ad 734, Chittorgarh was the capital of the Mewar dynasty. The kingdom spread through many provinces till Gujarat. It was a mighty troop in every aspect, geographically, and in monetary terms, the clan was a supreme power. Between the plains of Sultanate of Delhi and Gujarat, there have been innumerable, ghastly tales of invasion.

The first invasion was in 1303 when Aladdin Khilji was intrigued by the tales of Princess Padmini’s beauty.  The chivalrous Chittorgarh troops proved meek in comparison to the Khilji men. The King, Rathan Singh succumbed to the injuries. Pages of history state that the Princess and seven hundred damsels committed Jauhar – a ritual of self-immolation. The remaining menfolk ritually marched to the battlefield to get themselves killed.

Twenty-three years from then, a young royal from Shishoda named Hummer Singh fought back to restore the legacy. Thus, he became the first of the Shishoda Dynasty. In the next century and a half, Mewar became a supreme power. In 1527 the Mewar king Raja Singh even had the mettle to throw down the gauntlets at the ever-powerful Mughal Babbar, a failed effort though.

In 1535 Sultan of Gujarat Bahadur Shah invaded Chittorgarh. It was a bloody duel, and history repeated itself. The Queen Karnavati and her ladies self-immolated themselves and the 32,000 men gave up their lives in their saffron garbs.

Much later in 1568, Emperor Akbar invaded Chittorgarh and took over the Fort from Maharana Uday Singh II. Yet again, a few Rajput women gave up their lives. In 1616 Mughal emperor Jahangir, through a treaty, returned the Fort to the Rajputs.

A structure out of well-polished stones, it’s magnificent and is beyond words. The countless patios all around the palace make one spellbound. It is believed that it is in the cellars of this palace where Rani Padmini and the other womenfolk performed Jauhar to save their honour. According to legends, this was also home to the Krishna Bhakti Poetess, Mirabai. There’s a light and sound show every evening for the tourists outside the foyer.

Vijay Stambh
To commemorate his victory over Malwa Sultan Mehmood Shah, Rana Kumbha erected Vijay Stambh. It took ten years to put it together and is visible from every corner of the Fort. Its 37 meters tall, and there are nine floors in total. There’s a narrow stairway that takes you right to the top. The walls are adorned with timeless pieces of art. At the end of 157 steps, you will see the city of Chittor, a sight worth the climb, and the illuminated Vijay Stambh reminds every visitor of the illustrious history of the Fort.

Kumbha Shyam Temple
In the 15 century, the Kumbha Shyam temple was built by Maha  Rana Kumba. An ardent  Vishnu devotee, Rana picked up the ruins of a temple built ages ago in the 8 the century. The archways and inner walls are adorned with the sculptures of the Hindu Gods and goddesses, Vishnu being the main idol. Meerabai offered their daily prayers in this temple. Markings of her spiritual guru’s footprints are preserved in this place of worship. Quite close by there’s another temple, Meera Mandhir, a private spot for offering prayers for Mira, also built by Rana Kumba. Both the temples have adapted the Indo-Aryan architecture.

Samadeshwar temple

Rameshwar temple is a big structure with intricate designs and architecture marvel and is dedicated to Shiva. The temple was built in the eleventh century by Raja Bhoja. Chronicles speak about modifications to the temple during the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. As the renovations spanned through five centuries traces of varied architectural styles can be seen here.

Rani Padmavati’s Palace
On the South of the Chittorgarh Fort is Rani Padmavati’s palace, which bears testimony to one of the tragic stories in History. It is an Ivory colored three-storied palace with patios,  amidst water bodies. It is believed that this is where Khilji caught a glimpse of Rani’s beauty through a reflection on a mirror. That glimpse of the gorgeous Queen leads to the destruction of Chittor. The infamous mirror is kept and guarded in the palace. Very close to the palace is Padmini kund pond, and right in the middle of the pond is Jal Mahal,
where the queen used to spend her days during hot summer.

Kirti Stambha
Another marvel is the Kirti Stambha. It is a 12-century tower and was built by a Jain Merchant Jijaji Rathod. It’s 22 meters tall and is believed to be a  dedication to the Jain Acharya Adinath. The structure is a very evident effort of glorification of Jainism.

Historians speak about the Jain influence in this province during that era. Though little smaller in stature than the Vijaystambh, Kirti Stmabh or the Tower of Fame is believed to have existed before the Vijay stamp. The architecture style of this six-storied structure mostly comprises latticed arches and carved balconies. Jain inscriptions and images of Jain divinities run through the walls of this tower. Rathan Singh palace, the winter abode for Mewar’s is close to the Ratneshwar ponds. The place has a rectangular layout, with well-maintained lush gardens. There are many visible damages to the monuments, artwork, and sculptures that might have happened through various invasions..
There are more sights to see, more stories to listen to. Every brick has a tale to tell. Maybe, Another day, another time …!

by Vipin Wilfred, Sherry Josep

Photos : Vipin Wilfred

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