Perhaps there is no other place on earth like Chittor: a fort whose name is synonymous with honour, especially with what today appears like a very strange form of feminine loyalty. A very Indian, or more correctly Asian, social value is the notion of 'losing face', when a person would rather sacrifice his/her life then bring shame to the family name. This, added to the soldier's motto 'never give in', became the theme song of Chittor.
This fort, also called Chittorgarh, was the traditional home of the Rajput rulers of Mewar. The hill on which the fort is built is 152 meters above the plain and the almost impregnable fortification walls encompass to tableland (five and a half kilometers long put in width less than a kilometer at the widest point).
This long plateau is studded with buildings that cover the seven hundred years of occupation from the ninth century to 1567 when Udai Singh moved his capital to Udaipur. During this long period the Mewar and the fort of Chittor occupied an important political position in the history of the subcontinent. But a fort cannot survive without the economic means to do so. Not far from the fort are some ancient mines, which yielded a large supply of silver, copper, lead, and antimony. These Zawar mines may well have added to the coffers of the Maharanas of Chittor in the fourteenth century and their wealth provided the much needed funds to build the places and temples.
The hilltop plateau of Chittor offered a commanding, strategic position and there were several sources of water like the Gaumukh Kund, a reservoir at the center of the western side of the fort. Gaumukh means cow mouth and the lake is so called because that is what the shape of its entrance resembles. The name is also an indirect reference to the source of the Ganga, the heavenly river believed to have appeared here to feed the fort and to sustain its heroic occupants during battles and sieges. Over its long period of occupation the fort was laid under siege a number of times and held out, but eventually three events proved fatal.
The first tragedy struck in 1303 when Ala-ud-Din Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi who had built the lovely Alai Darwaza at the Qutub complex in Delhi), sent his army to the Deccan, Gujarat, and Rajputana to extand the boundaries of his kingdom. Ala-ud-Din came himself to the foothills of Chittor because, we are told, he had heard of the beauty of Padmini, the wife of Ratan Singh of Chittor. Ala-ud-Din was granted permission to see this legendary beauty from the refraction of a mirror on the water below. Ratan Singh, a true gentleman, then accompanied his guest to the foot of the fort where he was treacherously captured. Padmini was ordered to surrender to the Sultan with a promise that husband would be released. Aware that Ala-ud-Din was not one to keep his word, she worked out a counterplot. A caravan of palanquins carrying the royal beauty descended, and when they entered the camp of the enemy it was the Rana's soldiers who jumped out of them. A fierce fight ensued, and in the confusion the brave warriors ensured that their king Ratan Singh escaped. Finally, defeated the Rajput soldiers, Ala-ud-Din entered and captured the fort of Chittor but found no lady Padmini. All that was left was a huge fire, the johar, into whose flames thousands of royal ladies and their companions had leaped rather than face capture and dishonour. The flames had offered them a death more honourable than surrender to the Sultan of Delhi.
To the southern end of Chittor fort lies a building called Padmini's Palace. It is here, they say, that Ala-ud-Din Khilji gazed in wonderment at the reflection of the Queen's face. The present building is a replica of the original structure reconstructed by Maharana Sajjan Singh in 1880. Near Gaumukh reservoir is an open court known as the Mahasati, the royal cremation ground, where the women were said to have joined the funeral pyre in a grand procession.
The second tragic event occurred in 1535 when Chittor was besieged by the Sultan of Gujarat, a leading figure who had been a power to reckon with in western India for some time. At the time the Rana was a minor and the army of Chittor was led by Jawahir Bai, the Queen Mother. She was slain in battle and the young prince went into hiding. The traditions of the land of Chittor prohibited anyone but the royal family from leading the army so the Prince of Deolia was crowned as the sovereign head. Realizing that their army was incapable of combating the might of the Sultans, a huge sacrificial johar was organized and another generation of brave women, daughters and mothers of Chittor, jumped to their deaths.
The great palace within the fort is that of Maharana Kumbha (AD 1433-68), possibly rebuilt several times but providing an idea of early Rajputana royal architecture. The Palace of Rana Kumbha is built of finely cut stone covered with coats of stucco and possibly painted. At the southern end it is entered through a gate called Tripolia (three pols, gates), which leads to an open courtyard. To the north is the Sabha, the council chamber where the Rajput heads of family met. A three-storeyed building to the west is the Pade ka Mahal or the Kanwar ka Mahal, the palace apartments for the heir apparent.
Also built by Rana Kumbha is the Victory Tower called Vijaya Stambha built (1457-68) to commemorate the victory over Mahmud Khilji of Malwa in 1440. The tower is an interesting architectural structure located in the central area of the fort south of the Ram Pol. A similar tower, though of somewhat earlier origin, is the (22.8 meter high) seven storey Tower of Fame, the Kirtti Stambha, near Rana Kumbha's palace. It was probably built in the 12th century and stood in front of a temple. The design of the Vijaya Stambha or Victory Tower is an amalgamation of religious (square ground floor converted into a form with many angles, niches with images and a quantity of decoration) and secular architecture (elaborate brackets and lattice windows). It has nine storeys and rises 37.2 meters above the ground, with a steep stairway that winds up to the top, offering a wonderful view of the fort and its environs. The tower is constructed out of a pale yellowish limestone and is covered with elaborate carving and decorative panels. Although the tower has no ostensible function apart from a commemorative one, it has come two symbolize Chittorgarh, a place of honor and valor.
South of the Kumbha Palace is a compound housing two temples. The larger one was built by Rana Kumbha in 1450. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu and the images now placed in the sanctum are of Vishnu's incarnation Krishna and his consort Radha. The temple is called Kumbha Shyam Temple after its founder, Shyam referring affectionately to Krishna, the dark one.
The smaller temple in the same courtyard is the Temple to Mirabai, a poetess and a saint born in 1504. She had before she was married, as the legend tells us, fallen in love with Shyam, the dark Lord Krishna. In 1516, hardly 14 years old, she was engaged to the heir-apparent of Chittorgarh, but defined all conventions and continued to love, praise, and even talk to her heavenly Krishna (Hari). This infuriated the Rana, her father-in-law, who suspected that her lover was human. A sample poem of Mirabai's runs thus:
Life without Hari is no life, friend,
And though my mother-in-law fights,
My sister-in-law teases, the Rana is angered,
A guard is stationed outside,
A lock is mounted on the door,
How can I abandon the love I have loved in life after life?
Mira's Lord is the Giridhara: Why would I want anyone else?
Mirabai became a widow within ten years and was forced to leave Chittor because the royal family could not accept her unconventional behaviour. She wandered through India and made pilgrimages to places associated with Krishna, like Dwarka and Brindavan, and devoted her life to prayer and worship. At this temple in Chittor her picture and an image of Krishna have been placed to commemorate this daughter of the fort whose popular devotional songs are still sung throughout India.
The third and final blow came when Akbar led his army to the foothills of Chittor in 1567. There are several heroes of this battle and, as the legend would have us believe, even Emperor Akbar was impressed by the bravery and allegiance of the men and women of Mewar. Two princes, Jaimal and Patta (from vassal states of Chittor), came to the defence of the fort for Maharana Udai Singh (who later founded the city of Udaipur) had gone elsewhere for strategic reasons. Jamal was hit on the thigh by a shot from Akbar's matchlock. Unable to walk, but refusing to give in, he was carried to battle on the shoulders of his courageous cousin Kalla. The two of them, linked together in this manner, posed a formidable threat and fought their way down the fort. Near the Bhairon Pol, the second gateway on the fort, are the chattris that mark the place where this brave pair finally died. In Jahangir's diary there is an entry that notes:
Akbar named the matchlock with which he shot Jaimal 'Sangram', being one of great superiority and choice, and with which he had also slain three or four thousand birds and beasts.
The account of the other hero, Patta's death is recorded by Tod, the nineteenth-century British historian:
He was only sixteen and recently married: his father had fallen in the last shock and his mother survived but to rear this sole heir to their house. Like a Spartan mother of old, she commanded him to put on the 'saffron robes', the color of sacrifice, and to die for Chittor; but surpassing the Grecian dame, she illustrated her precept by example. She armed the young bride with a lance, with her descended the rock, and the defenders of Chittor saw her fall, fighting by the side of her Amazonian mother. The young Patta of Kailwa fought bravely and, himself on foot attacked the war elephants of Akbar. The names of Jaimal and Patta are as household words inseparable in Mewar, and will be honoured while the Rajputs retain a shred of his inheritance.
The battle continued, and by the time Akbar's forces entered Chittor more than eight thousands Rajputs had died defending their traditional home and the fires of the Johar had devoured the lives of several thousand women.
The entrance to the fort of Chittor is well-preserved and gives a perfect idea of how difficult it was to capture it without trickery and deception. The road zigzags up to the fort, which had seven gateways making it exceedingly difficult for the enemy to get past the several lines of defence. The last and final entrance gateway called the Ram Pol, is one of the most elegant structure of Chittor and gives some idea of Hindu fortification techniques. Near the gate stands a memorial to the young Patta of Kailwa. The ruined Palaces of Jaimal and Patta are within the fort just south of the Gaumukh reservoir.
Apart from other ruined palaces, there are a few historical temples in the fort complex like the Kali-ka Mata Temple. It was first built in the eighth century and dedicated to the Sun god Surya, the heavenly ancestor of the Mewar family. The temple is raised on a high platform and is embellished by some very fine sculptures. The original image was said to have been destroyed by Ala-ud-Din Khalji when he captured Chittor in 1303 and was replaced by the present one of Kalika, the patron goddess of Chittorgarh, in the middle of the fourteenth century.
• What's in the Neighbourhood
The palace and lake city of Udaipur is 110 kilometers from Chittor. There are numerous Hindu and Jain temples and medieval forts to be seen in and around Udaipur.
• How to get there
Chittor or Chittorgarh (the fort of Chittor) can be reached by train, car, and bus from Udaipur (110 kilometer away). There is a small guest-house and tourist bungalow near the base of the fort. Most people like to travel from Udaipur on a day trip, with an early start and a strenuous but wonderful day spend walking through the ruined fort. Shops and facilities inside the fort tend to be minimal so go stocked with adequate supplies of water, snacks, and a light, generous, romantic heart.