My article on Kumbhalgarh has appeared in July 2016 issue of JetWings, the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways.
SURROUNDED BY THE MIGHTY ARAVALLI MOUNTAINS SITS THE SPLENDID KUMBHALGARH FORT IN RAJASTHAN.
A WALK DOWN HISTORY – KUMBHALGARH
Looking at a knee-high stone structure that resembled a small temple and housed a couple of vermillion-covered stone idols, I was intrigued and asked my guide about it. He told me it was the Bhairon Temple, and noticing my raised eyebrows added, “No. It is not the Indian deity Bhairava, but a monk, Bhairon Singh, after whom the temple takes its name.”
A Story of Supreme Sacrifice
This piqued my curiosity. He went on to tell me a tale of extreme sacrifice. He mentioned that when Rana Kumbha, the then ruler of Mewar, was getting this fort built, the construction completed during the day would mysteriously crumble and fall apart in the night. Rana suspected sabotage. He assigned the fact-finding task to his trusted general.
A few nights of vigil later, the general reported that the happening seems otherworldly and no one was indulging in any foul play. Rana asked around to check the probable causes for these weird episodes. The general came across the monk, Bhairon Singh, who told Rana that they would be able to build the fort only if someone voluntarily sacrifices his life for the cause.
Bhairon Singh noticed that Rana was worried and he willingly offered to sacrifice his life, but on the condition that his name be kept alive even after his death. Rana agreed and kept his promise. The spot from where Bhairon Singh started his sacrificial walk was where the main entrance of the fort (Hanuman Pol or Hanuman Gate) had been built; the spot where he sacrificed himself was where this little temple had been built; and the spot where Bhairon Singh’s body finally fell became the main entrance to the palace.
A War Strategist and an Architect
Rana Kumbha is credited with an astonishing feat of having built 84 forts—of which he designed 32! As a brave military strategist, some of the forts built by him have a glittering track record of seldom having fallen to the enemy. Kumbhalgarh is one of the forts that was both, designed and built by Rana.
Rana selected this unique location for strategic reasons—anyone approaching the fort could not see it till he was just about a kilometre from the fort, meaning that when the enemy would get a glimpse of the fort, he would concurrently be spotted by the fort guards—a definite strategic advantage. The fort was built on a ridge that separated the arid side of Aravallis from the fertile pasture. Thus, in case an escape became necessary during a battle, it was easier to flee into the thick vegetation cover.
The Great Wall of India
An astonishing fact unknown to most is that after the Great Wall of China, Kumbhalgarh Fort’s peripheral wall is the longest one in the world. The wall runs around the perimeter of the fort for a modest 36 km and is wide enough for eight horses to stand side by side.
Kumbhalgarh Fort was built in the 1440s and its construction took 16 years to be completed. The fort houses approx. 360 temples—of which 300 are Jain temples and the rest are dedicated to other Hindu deities. Along with five other hill forts of Rajasthan, Kumbhalgarh Fort was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.
The highest point of the fortress is Badal Mahal (Palace of Clouds). It is here that Maharana Pratap, one of the legendary rulers of Mewar, was born.
Given its vantage, one can see sand dunes of the Thar Desert from the fort on a clear day. Kumbhalgarh Fort has only been captured once during its entire history; this was because the fort ran out of water despite having one of the most sophisticated rainwater harvesting systems in place at that time. It did not fall to a single army, but to the joint armies of Mughal Emperor Akbar, Raja Man Singh (Amer), Raja Udai Singh (Marwar) and the Sultan of Gujarat.
During your next trip to Rajasthan, make it a point to visit this magnificent heritage marvel.
While in the state, you could also make a short trip to Haldi Ghati and the Ranakpur Jain Temple, both detours on the Udaipur-Kumbhalgarh route.