There are more than 500 forts in India and every State has them. The oldest surviving fort in India is the Qila Mubarak at Bhatinda built in 100 AD during the Kushan empire. The oldest mentioned fort is the Kangra Fort in Kangra, HP, supposedly built after the Mahabharata battle and written about by the writers in Alexander the Great's expedition into India in 323 BC.

Throughout history in India and abroad high walled structures  have been associated with providing protection to its inhabitants. In Sanskrit forts are called durg, in Hindi a qila or garh or gad. Fort is an English word popularised by the British who after taking over the country started recording and cataloging the forts of India. Basically a fort was a capital of the local king or raja and around it usually grew a full-fledged township. Two forts of India the Agra Fort and the Red Fort are on the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The capture of a fort many a times turned the tide of history. The capture of Qila Mubarak in Bhatinda in 1004 AD by Mahmud of Ghazni resulted in the commencement of Islamic era in India. Shivaji built many forts and fought the Mughals out of them.

Forts are constructed out of sand, mud or stone. The strongest are the forts made of stone. The surroundings of  a fort also played a very important role in there security and protection from enemies. Jal durgh is a fort surrounded by water. Giri durgh are forts situated on top of sloping hills like Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. Van durgh are forts surrounded by thick forests. Dhanu durgh are forts situated in barren desserts and far way from nearest civilian areas. Mahi durgh are forts surrounded by thick walls made from mud, stones or bricks. These forts were built according to layout prescribed in Arthashastra and by Manu the law giver from ancient times.

Whenever forts are mentioned in India the first fort that comes to mind is the Red Fort in Delhi. Its location makes it highly visible.  The other fort which is also equally famous is the Agra Fort in Agra. The other majestic forts are the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, the Jaisalmer Fort, The Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur and the Gwalior Fort in Gwalior. We shall describe below these five forts in some detail below :

The Red Fort : 

                                         Red Fort, Delhi by alexfurr.jpg

The Red Fort is situated in old Delhi opposite Chandani Chowk. It had the distinction of the unfurling of the tricolour flag after independence by the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and its unfurling from its ramparts every Independence Day thereafter. It thus holds a special place in every Indian's heart and mind.

The Red Fort is popularly known as Lal Ouila after the red sandstones from which it is constructed.  It was originally known as quila-e-Mubarak as the King stayed in it. It was built in 1648 by the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It served as the residence and court of the Mughal kings for the next two hundred years till 1857 when the British captured it and partially destroyed it.

The octagonal shaped fort covers an area of 255 acres, enclosed by 2.41 km of perimeter defensive wall whose height varies from 18 to 33 meters. The artwork of the fort is Persian, European and Indian in style.

Its construction was started on 13 May, 1638 and completed in 1648. It lies along the river Yamuna. Upon its construction the capital of Mughal Empire was shifted from Agra to Delhi.

Of its 14 gates its three famous gates are the Lahori Gate, Kashmiri Gate and Delhi gate. Few other  are Turkman, Mori and Ajmeri gates. Many gates have been destroyed.These were used by the public and the Khizarabad Gate was used by the emperor. The Diwan-e-Aam or the Public Hall measures 540 by 480 feet and is surrounded by guarded galleries. It was here the emperor interacted with the common public. The Diwan-e-Khas was were the Peacock Throne was placed and the emperor received state guests.

The Mumtaz Mahal housed the ladies of the court. The Rang Mahal housed the emperors wives and mistresses. The Khas Mahal was the abode of the emperor. In 1659, Aurangzeb added the Moti Masjid as his private mosque. There are small gardens inside the Fort. The water was drawn inside the fort from the Yamuna through a column known as Shahi Burj.

The Red Fort saw the decline of Mughal power after death of Aurangzeb. In 1857 it was abandoned by the last Mughal,  Bahadur Shah Zafar, but he was arrested and brought back as a prisoner, tried and exiled to Rangoon in 1858. Thereafter the British allowed the Fort to be plundered, looted and destroyed of its rich walls, precious stones, furniture and immense damage was done to its many structures. The fort, after Independence was used as an Army cantonment till 2003. Today it is under the Archeological Survey of India who are trying to restore its pristine glory destroyed by the British and earlier by the barbaric Nadir Shah who took away the peacock throne to Iran.

Today Red Fort is used for hoisting the national flag every Independence Day by the Prime Minister. A Sound And Light show is also held everyday inside the Fort. In 2007 it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Today the Red Fort is a much visited tourist site and is closed on Mondays.

The Agra Fort: 

                                        

 

Shah Jahan built the Agra Fort in Agra before building the Red Fort in Delhi. Agra was the seat of Mughal Empire. It is situated about 2.5 kms from the world famous Taj Mahal.

The present day Fort stands on an earlier fort which existed from 11th century on wards. It was captured by the Lodhi kings before the Mughals seized it after the first Battle of Panipat in 1526 and acquired in the loot the famous diamond Koh-i-Noor. Babur and Humayun stayed in the Fort till 1540 when Humayun lost it to Sher Shah Suri. In 1555 Humayun recaptured it only to lose it to Hemchandra Vikramaditya or Hemu. It was Akbar who recaptured it from Hemu following the second Battle of Panipat in 1556. 

It was Akbar who was responsible for rebuilding the fort after he made Agra his capital in 1558. The old brick fort was rebuilt with red sandstone from Barauli area of Rajasthan. The renovated fort was completed in 1573 after eight years of reconstruction. However it was Shah Jahan who created the present look fort with white marble laden with precious stone buildings.

The fort is spread on 94 acres and is semi circular in shape with seventy feet high walls alongside the Yamuna river. It has four gates on four sides. Abdul Fazal the court historian records that nearly 500 beautiful buildings were built inside the fort. Many of these were demolished by Shah Jahan and the British to make way for new structures including barracks for soldiers. Its Delhi gate is grand and considered to be a masterpiece. It was built in 1558 and has artwork inlays of white marble. The fort has both Islamic and Hindu architecture decorations and styles. 

The fort existed in a different form under the Rajput kings and was also known as Badalgarh after Raja Badal Singh. Certain discoveries are indeed pointing to the fact that a fort existed at this site during the time of King Ashoka the Great. Unlike other forts in general, the Agra Fort is built on plain ground but architecturally gives the semblnace  of a sloping edifice. 

The fort is spread on 94 acres and is semi circular in shape with seventy feet high walls alongside the Yamuna river. It has four gates on four sides. Abdul Fazal the court historian records that nearly 500 beautiful buildings were built inside the fort. Many of these were demolished by Shah Jahan and the British to make way for new structures including barracks for soldiers. Its Delhi gate is grand and considered to be a masterpiece. It was built in 1558 and has artwork inlays of white marble. The fort has both Islamic and Hindu architecture decorations and styles. 

The Akbar Baoli is a 8 meter in diameter and 25 meter depth step well for drawing water and also for providing relief from the intense heat of Agra in summer. The Diwan-e-Aam is built on a raised platform and is 61.77m long by20.12mwide hall with 48 large pillars for support. The Diwan-e-Khas was built as a permanent structure by Shah Jahan in 1636. It consists of two interconnected halls, an outer columned hall and an inner closed hall, consisting of roofs supported by multifold arches emerging from fine marble pillars, with relief carvings of floral motifs richly decorated with inlay of semi precious stones. 

The fort also has a Turkish bath known as Sheesh Mahal which was constructed in 1637. It consists of a large number of fine mirrors on the arches,walls and the ceilings with irregular geometric and floral patterns, which create a mesmerising scene when candles were lighted. It was the luxurious bath of the kings Khas Mahal. There was also the Moti Masjid for the king to offer his prayers and was also an elegant structure.

Although Akbar started the renovation of the fort it was Shah Jahan who built inside it magnificent structures. Three Mughal Kings reigned from its premises namely Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jahan, before the latter shifted his capital to the Red Fort in Delhi. 

In May 1666 Shivaji the Maratha King came to Agra to meet Aurangzeb and was deliberately placed behind lowly ranked men. Smarting under this insult he stormed out of the Diwan-e-Khas only to be placed under house arrest. Shah Jahan was kept in a section of the fort with a view of the Taj Mahal upon his being ousted from power by his son Aurangzeb, till his death in 1666.

In 1983 it was included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Along with Taj Mahal it draws lakhs of domestic and foreign visitors every year to marvel at its magnificent structures full of historic significance.

The Gwalior Fort :

                                             Fort Gwalior.jpg

The Gwalior Fort  built by Hindu Kings is a fort  built on  a hill near Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh and is said to exist from 275 AD on wards It has been ruled by  a large number of rulers over such long span of time. The present fort was built in 8th century AD and overlooks the Gwalior city.

The fort encloses an area of nearly 3 square kilometers and consists of many Hindu and Jain temples,monuments and palaces. Its concrete sandstone walls are 11 meters in height and it has two gates, the Hathi Pul main entrance gate and another gate called the Badalgarh Gate.

The fort has been under Khushwahas for nearly a 1000 years (not in its present form) when it passed into the hands of Tomars and then passed to Muslim kings before ending up with the Mughals, Marathas and British. Finally from the British it went to the Scindias. The Mughals used it as a prison and many  royal prisoners were executed in its premises on the orders of Akbar and kings who followed him.

The imposing fort was described by Babur as the pearl among fortresses in India. The present Fort was built in two parts and in two different periods. The first part, the main fort was built by the Tomars in the 8th century. The Gurjari Mahal and Man Mandir Palace were built by Raj Man Singh Tomar  in the 15th century. There is the Jauhar Kund where the harem women burnt themselves in 1232 after the defeat of the Hindu king. Aurangzeb imprisoned and killed his brother Murad in the beautiful Man Mandir Palace. The Gujar Mahal of medieval vintage is now converted into a museum. Inside the fort are three temples, six palaces and many water tanks.

The Man Mandir Palace is the most beautiful  palace and the blue ceramic tiles give it a very sophisticated touch. The Karan Palace, Jehangir Palace and Shah Jahan Mahal are also  excellent structures. The 9th century Teli-ka-mandir is a 100 foot structure built in a mix of Dravidian and north Indian architecture and has a very liberally sculpted exterior. Then there is the Sas-bahu temple built in the 11th century and dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The fort also has a place in history as it has the first ever recorded use of the Indian invention of shunya known as zero.

The grand and imposing fort has seen nearly 2000 years of history and is worth a visit. The best time to visit it is between October and March. It is open all days between 9am and 6pm and takes upto 2 hours to see it nicely. There is also a Sound and Light show.

The Jaisalmer Fort :

                                          

 

It is the only living fort in the world with around 5000 persons staying inside it. They are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the fort. Jaisalmer Fort was built by Raja Jaisal in 1156AD and is among the largest forts in the world. It stands majestically on the Trikuta Hill in the Thar Desert and overlooks the Jaisalmer town in Rajasthan.

It is made of yellow sandstone which gives it a golden hue and is also called sonar quila by the locals. The fort consists of three layer of walls. The overall height of the fort is around 250 feet with inside walls having a height of 30 feet. It has four pols known as Ganesh Pol, Suraj Pol, Hawa Pol and Akshya Pol. It has 99 strongholds and its old wells still supply water to the residents.

The fort was made famous by Satyajit Ray, who inspired by its beauty made a popular film Sonar Kella set around the golden fort.   

Till the British came and developed Mumbai, Jaisalmer played a very important role in business with Arabia, Persia, Africa and Egypt. The kings and the fort were very powerful on this route. However its importance now is as a frontier town on the border with Pakistan.

The fort is on softer foundations in contrast to other forts. The sedimentary rock foundation makes it susceptible to water leakages. Many parts of the fort have crumpled especially parts of the Rani ka Mahal. The fact that there are residents in increasing numbers inside the fort also leads to water seepage and pollution creating damage to the fort walls

The fort simply looks magnificent when lit up in the nights with its golden exterior walls radiating a mesmerising  panorama.

The Mehrangarh Fort :

                                             Mehrangarh Fort.jpg

Imagine a man being buried live to propitiate the gods. That is a what happened to a man called Raja Ram Meghwal whom the royal builder of Mehrangarh Fort buried alive in its foundation to ward off evil spirits on the fort he was going to build. The imposing fort was ordered to be built by Rao Jodha the fifteenth  Rathore king of Jodhpur. The foundation of the fort was laid on May 12,1459 by Jodha atop the Bahurcheeria hill.

Mehrangarh means the sunfort in Sanskrit. Most of the fort as seen today was however built during the reign of Jaswant Singh (1638-78). It is built of burnished red sand stone. The fort cost a sum of rupees nine hundred thousand .

The fort is spread over 5 kilometers and its imposing walls rise to a height of 118 feet and 69 feet in width. It can entered through seven gates. Some of the gates are dedicated to famous victories like the Jai Pol, built by Raja Man Singh in 1806 upon victory over forces of Jaipur and Barmer or the Fateh Pol commemorating victory over the Mughals in 1707, The Loha Pol is another gate which has the hand prints of the ranis who in 1843 became satis by immolating themselves on the funeral pyre of Raja Man Singh.

A unique feature of the fort is that it was never taken in a siege and thus was always under the Rathores whose various kings left their mark with beautiful additions of palaces and temples among other structures. The fort has witnessed great victories and war booties but also scandals and secrets. Jaswant Singh threw his mistress out of the window for he suspected she was his father's mistress or Man Singh had his Prime Minister dashed to the ground 400 feet below or Maharaja Ajit Singh was murdered by his son and so on.

Inside the fort are beautiful palaces named Moti Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, Phool Mahal, Umaid Palace and Takhat Vilas spread in sprawling and huge courtyards. It also has a famous temple the Chamunda Mataji Temple built by Rao Jodha in 1460 and attracts huge number of visitors during Dussehra.  There is a very well stocked and maintained museum in the fort. It exhibits the heritage of of the Rathores in arms, costumes, paintings and decorated rooms. 

The Mehrangarh Fort is a massive fort and one of the largest in the country. It is worthy of a visit and has also an elevator at the entrance for quickly going up to enjoy the fort.

The above are only five of the many forts that exist all over the country. Besides telling about the history of their times they also show how Indians were ingenious in planning and building the variety of forts. They were self contained towns and small cities and afforded protection to both the king and his family but also their kingdoms.

(Pictures from Wikipedia)


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