Known to be the largest fort in India, the Chittorgarh fort in Rajasthan boasts grandeur and poise of the Rajput clan. Occupying an area of about 700 acres, it spreads over a hill seamlessly, rising 180 meters above the plains of a valley. It is a majestic historical monument and has witnessed significant events in history. Exuding a royal charm like most of the places in Rajasthan, Chittorgarh city also has a story to tell.
The mighty Chittorgarh fort is believed to be constructed by the Mauryan rulers in the 7th century A.D. It derives its name from the Mauryan ruler Chitrangada Mori. Back then, Chittorgarh was called Chittor and according to historical records it was the capital of Mewar for a period of 834 years. The reign of the Rajput King Bappa Rawal began in Mewar in the 8th century A.D after the fort was gifted to him as dowry following his marriage to a Solanki princess. The fort remained in the possession of the Sisodiyas and Guhilots Rajputs who had descended from Bappa Rawal and the Rajput supremacy continued, but with hindrances.
Chittorgarh was a strategic location and the seat of the Rajputana, a piece of meat for ambitious Mughals and other Muslim invaders. It always attracted their attention and the Rajputs always had to be vigilant in order to protect and safeguard the centre of their patriarchal empire. It was considered as an invincible fort. However, its future was doomed. The fort was struck with a blow in 1303 at the hands of Allauddin Khilji. He defeated Rana Ratan Singh, looted and sacked the fort. But there was a tale behind this siege, one that was beyond political aspirations.
The invasion was a result of Allauddin Khilji’s obsessive desire to make Queen Padmini, the wife of Rana Ratan Singh a part of his harem. An epitome of beauty, charm and wit, Queen Padmini was an alluring woman. Khilji was stung with curiosity after hearing about her popularity. He sent a letter to Rana Ratan Singh, requesting him the permission to meet the Queen personally and stated that she was like a sister to him. Vigilant as she was, Queen Padmini realised that a trap was being laid by Khilji. She denied meeting him personally and instead told Rana that Khilji could only see her reflection.
The news was not a disappointment to Khilji. He and his few trusted soldiers went to the fort. While Khilji saw the reflection of the Queen in a mirror, stunned, his men studied the fort carefully, to implement a treacherous plan. As Rana politely came to see off Khilji, his men kidnapped Rana. Khilji sent a letter to the Queen asking her to become his mistress in order to see her husband alive. At the crack of dawn, the Queen left the fort with some 150 palanquins, which were occupied with well build and loyal soldiers. The soldiers attacked the inattentive men of Khilji and rescued the King. Khilji, burning with rage, followed the Rana’s regiment to the fort and a fierce battle was fought. Rana and all his brave soldiers followed the tradition of Saka, wearing orange robes and turbans and fighting till death. On the 26th of August, Khilji won the battle. But the joy of victory was short-lived, for the Queen and all the women of the empire committed Jauhar (self immolation on a pyre), preferring death over dishonour. The fort thus received the first burn in its history, swallowing one of the most beautiful women of India.
For over a century the Rajputana thrived and nurtured at the hands of valiant and powerful kings like Rana Sanga. But he could not hold on to the reins of Mewar and Chittor for long and lost his life in a decisive battle fought with Babur in 1527. His death resulted in dilapidation of the Rajput supremacy. The Chittorgarh fort was seized by Bahadur Shah in 1535. It is believed that following the defeat of the Rana Sanga, 13000 women committed Jauhar in order to die respectfully and the brave soldiers fought till death to defend the fort. The final siege on the fort was made by Akbar, the Great, as he wanted to win the renowned Chittorgarh fort. Rajputs fought bravely yet again for their pride, but a losing battle. Their women performed Jauhar and again a tragedy was carved on the walls of the fort.
Today, if you walk inside the fort, basking in the daylight, you will be shrouded with its massiveness. The fort has seven gates, a huge precinct and a plethora of palaces and temples. The pointed arches of the doors of gates had a purpose. They fended off cannon ball attacks and elephants. Tall towers (Stambhas) constructed as signs of victory only increase its humungous charm. On the way, you can also see cenotaphs built by Akbar to honour the sacrifices of Prince Jaimal and his clansman Kalla, who fought till death against him. The Vijay Stambha, the Kirti Stambha, the Rana Kumbha Palace or the Padmini Palace, every spot radiates pride and bravery while the gates and cenotaphs radiate sadness.
The city of Chittor has been mentioned in the epic Mahabharata. If legends are to be believed, the fort was constructed by Bhima, the second of the Pandav brothers, who was known for his incomparable power. It is said that he hit the ground with his fist and a reservoir sprang to life. It is called the Bhimlat kund (well). Once, the fort had 84 functional water bodies, only 20 survive today. All the water bodies are considered to have holy water.
More than the history, more than the state and more than the time, it is the fort that holds the ever elusive magic. It is really a personification of a warrior who has fought his every battle with vigour and confidence, and still stands tall.
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The Queen of Chittor, Padmini was so beautiful that anyone who saw her was besotted. A poem ‘Padmavat’ describing her life and beauty was written by a poet named Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540.
The biggest Rajput festival, the Jauhar Mela is held every year to commemorate the Jauhar of Queen Padmini. Descendents of the royals and thousands of Rajputs hold a procession to celebrate the Jauhar, an act that immortalized the women who died to safeguard their honour.
Inside the fort, vicinal to the Kirti Stambha is a temple that is dedicated to poet-saint Meera, an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. She is famous all over India for her devotion for Lord Krishna and her devotional songs or bhajans. It is believed that due to her dedication, she won over death even after consuming poison sent to her by her enemies.
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