Ranthambore: The Untold Saga

 

रणथम्भौरकहानी अनकही 

 

सिंह सुवन सत्पुरुष वचन कदलन फलत इक बार |

तिरिया तेल हम्मीर हठ चढ़े न दूजी बार ||

A lioness gives birth to a cub only once; 

once alone is the word of a good man given;

Once alone does a plaintain bear fruit; 

a woman is anointed only once with oil for marriage;

And once alone did Hammira give his irrevocable promise.

 

 

There has never been a man so valiant.

A man of his words; of an indomitable spirit,

He put down everything at stake

to protect and uphold the glory of his motherland.

 

 

A supremely glorious emperor.

Founding a great kingdom beyond the bounds of time and dharma,

he began a golden era in the history of the Chauhans.

 

There’s never been a man as valiant as Hammira. There’s never been.

 

Rajputana: The land adorned with tales of dauntless warriors who bravely fought until death and beyond as Junjhaars.

This is the story of Ranthambhor:

of the invincible fort that, for centuries, remained unconquered by war.

Where the honor of the Chauhans’ victories

Infallibly bejeweled the crown of Goddess Durga.

 

 

THE FORT

 

Situated on the junction of the World’s most ancient mountain range- the Aravalis and the Vindyas, the fort constructed on the ‘Ran’ and ‘Thambhor’ hills came to be known as- ‘Ranthambhor’.

 

THE GANESH TEMPLE

 

 

Five ponds there are, in ‘Rinthambhgadh’;

the water never, thus dries!

two graneries huge, with food, abound;

and Lord Ganesha Himself, here resides!

 

With sunrise, devotees begin thronging the fort. Located near the defence wall on the western end of the fort, the ‘Ganesha Temple’ is one of the most revered temples of the region. On the festival of Ganesha Chaturthi, a huge fair attracts thousands of devotees from far and wide.

Lord Ganesha here, is in His ‘Trinetra’ (three-eyed) form.

 

Lord Shiva, it is believed, resides on Mount Kailasha; Vishnu in the Ksheersagara (ocean of milk); and Lord Ganesha resides, here, in Ranthambhor.

A letter in the name of Ganesha  from anywhere in India, always finds its way to the Ganesha Temple in Ranthambhor.

The first invitation to a wedding ceremony is given foremost to the supreme Lord Ganesha.

 

 

HISTORY OF THE RANTHAMBORE FORT

 

According to popular belief, the Ranthambhor Fort was built by Maharaja Jayanta of the Yadava dynasty in the 5th Century A.D.

Other versions ascribe the construction of the fort  in 944 A.D. to the Chauhan king Sapadlaksha.

In A.D. 1283, Raja Hammira Deva ascended the throne. A descendent of the celebrated king Prithviraja Chauhan, Rao Hammira came to be known as the most glorious and chivalrous ruler of Ranthambhor.

 

 

THE HAMMIR PALACE

 

Constructed in the reign of Hammira Deva, the ‘Hammira Mahal’ (the ‘Palace of Hammira’) is Ranthambhor Fort’s most enchanting structure. Built with beautiful red stone in the Rajputa style, the palace has high walls and is adorned with traditional outward projecting pillar supported Jharokhas (windows).

Exquisite curtains and canopies would have once adorned the grand entrance gate!

In the large palace complex are several chambers. Apart from the main rooms, the compound also has stables and servant quarters. The magnificent pillars are a remarkable confluence of ancient Indian architecture and construction technology.

All around in the Hammira palace are galleries in which are built the primary rooms. The walls and doorframes of the grand chambers have been sculpted with exquisite specimens of floral art.

In the middle of the ceiling hang bunches of lotus flowers carved in stone.

In the palace are separate rooms for men and women. On the inside too, are constructed tunnel like galleries which lead to the womens’ chambers.

The interconnected inner chambers, a completely self reliant royal residence equipped with all facilities are indicative of an era of prosperity, luxury and sumptuousness.

In this solid, secure multistoreyed palace are three segments above the ground, and some constructed underground.

The upper segments’ chambers are connected to the lower segments through internally constructed stair systems: such construction seems to have ensured the secure movement of the royal family within.

In Hammira Deva’s reign- art, literature and architecture were given a prominent position: this is clearly evident in the second segment of the palace even today. In the third segment of the palace is a lounge like chamber- a perfect place to behold the distant valleys far across; the fort’s magnificent defence walls and parapets spread far and wide.

 

The various components of the palace- roofs, pillars are constructed  with stone blocks firmly interlocked with iron clamps. An epitome of the era of a prosperous and grandiose Hammira Mahal: the beautiful temple, secure  kitchen and provision store, all within the palace premises.

 

 

THE CONQUEST OF HAMMIR 

 

According to the Hammir-Mahakavya composed by Nayachandra Suri, Rao Hammira was an extraordinarily gallant and chivalrous emperor- he extended far and wide the boundaries of his kingdom and came to be known as a ‘Digvijayin’ (conquerer of all quarters). After his victorious conquests, on the advice of the royal priest Vishvaroopa, Hammira performed the ‘Koti-yajna’, similar to the ‘Ashvamedha yajna’ rite.

 

CHHOTI KACHAHARI

 

On the northern edge of the fort, constructed atop a high platform of Hammira Deva’s period is the ‘Chhoti Kachahari’ (‘The Small Court’). Tradition maintains that this building was used for administrative purposes.

 

BADI KACHAHARI

 

A little distance away from this place is situated the ‘Badi Kachahari’ (‘The Large Court’, or ‘Hammira’s Court’). This solid, secure edifice was constructed by the Chauhan kings. The emperor, it is believed, would sit here, attending to the subjects’ problems and issues.

The magnificently grand structure’s pillars, verandahs and chambers- all resonate with its exquisite symmetry.

 

BATTIS KHAMBA CHHATRI

 

Rao Hammira Deva, after the death of his father, Maharaja Jaitrasimha, had a magnificent ‘Chhatri’ (Pavalion) constructed in his memory. Built exquisitely with red sandstone, this structure is an extraordinary specimen of matchless classical architecture. Commemorating the 32 glorious years of the strong and stable reign of Maharaja Jaitrasimha are the 32 pillars of the monumental pavilion.

In the interior of the Chhatri’s primary dome are beautiful ornamental and sculptural engravings. Undoubtedly, the ‘Battis Khamba Chhatri’ (‘The Twelve Pillared Pavilion’) is, a sublime expression of ancient Indian architecture.

In front of the pavilion is a beautiful fountain pond. Beneath the Chhatri  is a beautiful shrine to Lord Shiva, in the sanctum sanctorum of which is installed a majestic Shivalingam. The monument indeed is, a perfect testimony to the brilliance of Chauhan period architecture.

 

 

ADHURA SWAPNA

 

In front of the Battis Khamba Chhatri is the third Chhatri in the fort complex. On account of its incomplete construction, this Chhatri is known as ‘Adhura Swapna’ (The Unfulfilled Dream).

 

BADAL MAHAL

 

The Chauhan kings gave due reverence to dance, music and literature in their period. The ‘Badal Mahal’ (‘The Palace of the Clouds’) situated in the fort is an imposing palace constructed in three sections. The Nrityamandapa (Dance Pavilion) of the Nrityashaala (the Dance Theater) is built beside the fort wall.

Adorned with beautiful Jaalis (lattice-screens) and Jharokhas (windows), this palace would have been used for recreation.

 

The architecture of the palace is a blend of the Rajputa and Mughal styles. The niches in the interior of the building would once be lit with lamps, em-brightening the whole palace with soft, dreamy glow!

The geometric patterns constructed with stucco are mesmerizing.

It is said that the ‘Badal Mahal’ acquired its name from the clouds that  lashed against its porticos. Beneath the palace complex in the rampart wall is built a secret chamber. It seems the chamber was used for spending time in solitude.

 

 

THE ANCIENT CITY OF RANTHAMBORE

 

The Hammir-Mahakavya mentions how Raja Hammira Deva learned from his father- Maharaja Jaitrasimha, the art of keeping the subjects happy and contented; their rights protected. Hammira’s reign was truly the fort’s golden period.

In the fort premises is positioned an extremely well planned metropolis. In the ancient city of Ranthambhor were wide roads, open markets and neatly decorated houses. The city configuration was such that the houses had Moonsteps sculpted on the entrances for welcome, which are hemispherical ornamental stairs.

Numerous homes were multi-storeyed; even the space beneath the staircases was ingeniously used!

Situated on the primary trade route from the North to the South in India, Ranthambhor flourished as a major metropolis- such also is the description found in the works of foreign travelers. The city is constructed in a grid layout pattern, where lanes branch out from the main road on both sides.

In the city are also built multi-storeyed Havelis (mansions) of ministers, merchants, traders and other rich citizens. The windows, Jharokhas and Jaalis of the Havelis have exquisitely carvings.

 

THE DULHA MAHAL

 

A major edifice of the Ranthambhor city is the ‘Dulha Mahal’ (‘The Groom’s Palace’). The structure is characterized by the platforms built in the outward projecting Jharokhas, which were seemingly used for musical performances. From the Dulha Mahal can be seen a breathtaking view of the ‘Padma Talab’ (‘Lotus Pond’) below.

 

In the numerous rooms of the palace would once reside together a multitude of people: apparently, the Dulha Mahal was a kind of a great community centre.

 

The large niches as well as the vault like structures built within the inner chambers stand as a testimony to such use.

 

THE TEMPLES INSIDE RANTHAMBORE FORT

 

Since the ancient times, all sects were equally revered in Ranthambhor. Consequently, in the city are found Shiva temples, temples to Krishna, Jaina temples, Shrines to Rama, etc- worship centers of all sects and communities.

 

THE ANNAPURNA TEMPLE

 

The ‘Annapurna temple’ is one of the finest examples of Indian sculptural arts. The mention of the sculptor’s name in the inscriptions found in Ranthambhor justify the high esteem in which the arts and artists were held.

 

THE RAGHUNATH TEMPLE

 

On the inner walls of the ‘Raghunatha temple’ are exceptionally beautiful coloured murals.

 

THE SITARAM TEMPLE 

 

The chief characteristic of the ‘Sitarama temple’ is a pulley used for attending to the Lord’s service, which apparently moved a fan in the sanctum sanctorum.

 

THE LAXMINARAYAN TEMPLE

 

In the present time, the ‘Laxminarayana temple’ houses the idols of all major temples of the fort which are ceremoniously worshipped even today by the devotees.

 

THE JAIN TEMPLE OF RANTHAMBORE

 

The ‘Jaina temple’ situated in the central portion of the fort is a classical example of North Indian temple architecture- the Nagara architectural style. The protection of the Jaina temples by Chauhan kings is indicative of the  increasing influence of Jaina acharayas (teachers) of the period.

 

At the center of the Mandapa’s (assembly hall) dome like ceiling is an exquisite lotus flower figure. The sculptural ornament of the Sabhakaksha (assembly hall) is unparalleled in its beauty and spleandour!

 

The Jaina temple is very ancient: the Chauhan king Prithviraja I ‘s  Jinmata inscription of 1105 A.D. mentions the donation of golden cupolas to the Jaina temple of Ranthambhor by the ruler.

 

THE KANKALI KALI TEMPLE

 

The Rajputa emperors worshipped Kali as the Goddess of power, and before leaving for war, would seek Her blessings to slaughter the enemy forces. Here, the divine idol of Goddess Kali is ‘Trinetri’ (three-eyed). Local beliefs consider the ‘Kankali Kali temple’ (‘The temple of the Skeletal Kali’) as an ancient Shaktipeetha (seat of divine energy) and a Tantric worship site.

 

THE RAJ MANDIR- THE ROYAL TEMPLE

 

Near the Hammira Palace is built the ‘Raj Mandira’ (‘The Royal Temple’). Evidently,  the Raj Mandira, in accordance with its name, was a major  worship center of the royal family. The temple’s grandeur stands as a testimony to such use.

 

 

WATER SYSTEMS OF THE RANTHAMBORE FORT

 

It is said that the Ranthambhor Fort is spread across an area of 20 sq. km- given such a tremendous extent, within and outside the fort premises are several large ponds and reservoirs for water supply.

 

THE PADMALA RESERVOIR

 

Behind the Hammira Palace is located the reservoir ‘Padmala’. On the upper reaches of the tank are small Jharokhas (windows) for enjoyment of cool, fresh air. There once stood a beautiful garden called the ‘Pushpa vatika’ (‘The flower garden’) here, enriched with the fragrance of ‘Ketaki’ (umbrella tree flower) and ‘Champa’ (Plumeria) flowers.

During fort construction, the large scale excavations for stone extraction must have resulted in the formation of these huge reservoirs.

 

THE JANGALI POND

 

Near the fort’s ‘Jangali’ talab (pond) was developed an extremely effective water harvesting technique- the rainfall in the entire region was made to flow through a channel of hard, impermeable rock, ultimately flowing into the Jangali pond.

 

THE RANI TALAB 

 

The huge Ghats (stepped banks) of the ‘Rani Talab’ (‘The Queen’s pond’) suggest the use of its waters by the royal family. In the huge catchment of the reservoirs were also built wells and Baoris (stepwells).

 

THE GUPT GANGA AQUIFER

 

The ‘Gupta Ganga’ (‘The hidden Ganges’) is an imperishable source of water hidden deep within an unknown aquifer. In this cavelike space is a temple to Goddess Ganga. The Kund (small pool) inside remains full of clean, cold water all year round.

In the chamber built in the upper reaches is an idol of the great sage Bhagiratha.

In the Gupt Ganga is distinctly visible the fort construction scheme: these rock cliffs act as a great natural barrier for the fort built atop the impregnable rocky terrain.

This natural rock terrain was ingeniously integrated into the fort construction design with profound dexterity.

 

JOHARA VOHARA: GRANARIES

 

Behind the Hammira Mahal are situated ‘Johra-Bohra’- the large grain stores. The massive amount of grain that would be stored here is immediately evident from the humongous proportions of these constructions.

The grain sacks were brought up the slopes and then emptied into the storehouse constructed beneath through the holes on the roof.

 

 

This grain would be used by the royal family and the military during dire situations. Secure grain storage necessitated appropriate measures for safe rain water discharge.

 

THE DEFENCES OF THE RANTHAMBORE FORT

 

Built at a height of about 1,580 feet above sea level, the Ranthambhor Fort, according to fort architecture, is a ‘Giridurga’ (hill fort). The Giridurga is regarded as the most secure and impregnable fort among all.

 

From the defence point of view, the fort has two main characteristics: the steep mountain precipice which, acting as a natural barrier provides additional security to the fort, and the surrounding natural chasm, gorges and impassable forest ravines which make the entry into the fort, an extremely precarious ordeal.

With the steep mountain precipice was constructed a gigantic fort wall- the ramparts being several kilometers long. The ramparts were constructed wide enough, so soldiers could easily inspect the whole region on horseback.

Thick steely walls were constructed to protect the fort from cannon attacks. On the Fort’s lofty walls, at regular intervals were constructed semicylindrical bastions and turrets which not only stablized the enormous security ramparts, but also acted as shelters for soldiers standing sentinel, concealed from enemy eyes.

 

THE STORY OF RANTHAMBORE FORT

 

During the reign of Rao Hammira, Jalal-ud-din Khalji, the first Sultan of the Khalji dynasty, attacked Ranthambhor in 1290 A.D. and again in 1292 A.D., but couldn’t succeed. Yahya-bin-Ahmad in his Tarikh-i-Mubarakshahi wrote thus: ‘The fort’s walls are so high that even eagles could not fly!’

 

 

When the next Sultan of the Khalji dynasty, Ala-ud-din Khalji’s efforts too went in vain, in A.D. 1299 he ordered, this time, his generals Ulugh Khan and Nasrat Khan to conquer Ranthambhor. Raja Hammira Deva, however, had been keeping a close vigil from the fort’s lofty walls.

Mounted on the fort walls, the ‘Bhairava’, ‘Dhikuli’ and ‘Markati’ yantras (war machines) started showers of stones and heavy boulders on the army of the Sultan below. A ball shot from the ‘Maghrabi’ yantra struck Nasrat Khan, thus killing him. Now, Ala-ud-din himself assumed the command of the army, and marched to Ranthambhor, camping at the  nearby ‘Randoongri’ (‘The Battle hill’). The Muslim army began filling the fort’s moat with sand, stones and wood; but high above, posted on the fort’s lofty bastions, Hammira Deva’s soldiers with their weapons and fire balls burned to ashes the wood piles in the chasm.

When the enemy army began constructing mines to capture the fort, the Chauhan soldiers threw on them boiling oil mixed with resin, incinerating them all in a flash.

After repeated failures, the Sultan’s big army was now getting tired, leaving the soldiers dispirited. Contemporary historian Minhaj-us-Siraj wrote: ‘The fort, for its exceeding strength, solidity and impregnability is famous and notorious throughout all Hindustan’. Amir Khusro in Khazain-ul-Futuh writes, ‘The towering Ranthambhor fort talked with the stars through its lofty pinnacles’. The Indian historians too inform us, ‘despite attacks by as many as 70 kings, the fort could never be conquered’.

 

TOPGATTAS: THE GUNPOINTS

 

At many points in the Ranthambhor Fort are built the Gunpoints. From these gunpoints were fired Cannons- the Topgatta’s (Gunpoint) extremely thick mammoth walls justify their use as gun mounting points.

 

THE HISTORY OF RANTHAMBORE FORT

 

In the due course of time, the fort changed hands with many kingdoms- Delhi, Malwa, Mewar, and eventually, Bundi’s ruler Rai Surjan Hada. It is said that in 1527 A.D., after the battle of Khanwa, Rana Sanga took refuge in this very invincible fort, and once again, began gathering military strength against Babur.

In A.D. 1569, once again the emperor Akbar, with the aim of conquering the fort, camped at Randoongri. Akbar had paths built to drag great culverins up the mountains so as to bombard and demolish the fort’s solid walls; however, after political mediation by the king of Amer, Rai Surjan Hada handed the fort over to Akbar.

 

THE FORT GATES

 

In the security mechanisms of the Ranthambhor Fort, its colossal gates in all four directions played the extremely crucial role of a solid, secure shield: ‘The Delhi Gate’, ‘Suraj Pol’, ‘Sat Pol’ and the ‘Naulakha Pol’.

 

THE NAULAKHA POL

 

The Fort’s primary prodigious entry gate is- the ‘Naulakha’.

 

THE HATHI POL

 

The second gate in the sequence is the Hathi Pol (‘The Elephant gate’). It is said that a gigantic statue of an elephant and Mahout once stood here as a barrier and hindrance for defence reasons; their remains can still be seen even today.

 

THE GANESH POL

 

Built right beside the cliff, this gate is, the ‘Ganesh Pol’.

 

THE ANDHERI POL

 

On entering through the Ganesh Pol, a zig-zag path leads to the last entry gate on this side of the fort, which is extremely critical from the military and defence point of view. This is, the ‘Andheri Pol’ (the ‘Dark gate’). In the event of external attacks, the sharp spearlike iron thorns fixed to the gate would combat elephants trying to force their way into the fort. These thorns add further solidity and strength to the gate.

 

To check enemy progress into the main inner area of the fort at every step, the path further ahead was constructed narrow and tunnel-like.

 

SUPARI MAHAL

 

Built right above the Andheri Pol is the ‘Supari Mahal’ (‘The Welcome Palace’). From the towering bastions of this palace could be inspected all ramparts, gates, outposts- even the distant valleys far across.

 

THE SATPOL GATE

 

Standing on the Fort’s western fringe, the Sat Pol (‘The Gate of Truth’) has been a witness to that horrific deciding battle fought in A.D. 1300.

 

THE WAR OF RANTHAMBORE

 

The onset of incessant rainfall increased still further the difficulties of the besiegers- of the frustrated army of Ala-ud-din Khalji. Camping at the Randoongri, the Sultan’s army was at the very aim of Hammira Deva’s  dauntless warriors.

 

Behind this cataclysmic war was a momentous character- Muhammad Shah: Ala-ud-din Khalji’s rebellious warlord to whom all Rajputa rulers refused to render refuge, owing to the Sultan’s influence. It was then that Rao Hammira Deva, following the conduct of a true Kshatriya warrior, bestowed upon the asylum seeker, protection, which in the course of time, became a significant reason for this war.

Unable to conquer the fort with military strength and might even after a prolonged seige, the Sultan, now resorted to diplomacy.

On the pretext of a peace negotiation, Ala-ud-din concealed under the cover an intention to manipulate Hammira’s confidante and advisor, Ratipala, and successfully turned him to his own side.

Angered by the growing scarcity of food within the fort and the betrayal of his most trusted servants turning traitors, Rao Hammira Deva decided in favour of a final, decisive battle.

 

THE JAUHAR OF RANTHAMBORE

 

Maharani Ranga Devi, with her daughter, Princess Devalladevi, along with the other indomitable royal females decorated the pyre of the Jauhar. The heroic Rajputa warriors wore Kesariya banas (saffron cloths) and set out for the last battle. Situated near the Hammira Palace, this place turned witness to this historic Jauhar. It is said that 13,000 amazon females together ascended into the intense raging fires of Jauhar.

The formidable, mighty Hammir Deva, like a fearless lion, wreaked havoc on the enemy army. In the final hours, rather than fall into the unholy hands of the enemy, Hammira, found the prospect of embracing death much more glorious, and with a roar of ‘Har Har Mahadeva! (Liberate O’ Lord of the Lords!) offered his very head, in devotion to Lord Mahadeva. At this very place today stands a Shiva temple.

 

THE FALL OF RANTHAMBORE

 

Tuesday, the 11th day of July, 1301 A.D.-with the mighty Rao Hammira Deva’s death, the sun set over the glorious reign of the Chauhanas of Ranthambhor.

In the war, the neo-Muslim chief Muhammad Shah who had sought the protection of Hammira, stood with Hammira till his last breath, and fighting against Ala-ud-din, ultimately attained martyrdom.

In the fort is the tomb of the Sufi Saint Malik Bahauddin.

The fort which the Chauhans had, for centuries, adorned; enriched; showered upon with unparalleled love; extending far its glory-pride; today, that very fort saw an end to the days of pomp and spleandour- to its days of prosperity and opulence. And thus ended, a golden era.

 

 

Truly indeed- Ranthambhor isn’t just an invincible fort; but a real, living representative of the glorious Indian history, culture and those dauntless warriors who laid down their lives for their country.

There’s never been a man as valiant as Hammira. There’s never been.

 

Ranthambhor: The Untold Saga”

 

Written by: Vidhu Rashmi Jain