Gazing up at the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort, its gargantuan walls seemingly constructed by the hands of Titans themselves and its facade bathed in the rosy hue of the rising sun, it’s impossible not to be awestruck.
Perched atop the majestic hills of Jodhpur, the Legendary Mehrangarh Fort of the Sun stands as a timeless testament to the grandeur of the Rajputs! This mighty fortress has withstood the test of time, glistening in its magnificence through centuries of royal patronage. Its majestic gates welcome all who seek to experience the grandeur of its opulence and its magnificent walls guard the secrets of its glorious past. Come, let us explore the Legendary Mehrangarh Fort of the Sun!
Rising from the sands of Jodhpur like a glorious beacon of Indian history, the majestic “Fort of the Sun” – Mehrangarh – stands in all its grandeur. Built in the 15th century CE by Rao Jodha, this fortress is a majestic reminder of India’s rich cultural heritage. Unlike other historical landmarks, Mehrangarh is still under the control of the royal family of Jodhpur, making it a unique destination. Tourists from all over the world come to marvel at its stunning architecture, dazzling palaces, impressive courtyards and the internationally renowned museum. Let Mehrangarh’s beauty fill your heart with reverence and your soul with awe!
Myths and legends abound with tales of the courageous Rathore clan. In the 12th century CE, chaos ensued in the North of India with the invasion of Muhammad Ghori. This unforeseen event forced the Rathore rulers to migrate westwards. Fortunately, Rao Siyaji (r.1226-1273 CE) had the foresight to settle his clan in the town of Pali, in the Marwar region of Rajasthan. Subsequently, Rao Chunda (1383-1424 CE) rose to prominence and founded his capital in the same region, at Mandore.
Rao Jodha, the 15th ruler, was undeniably a strategic mastermind, who made the wise decision to shift his base to a place 9 kilometres south of Mandore. Armed with the knowledge of the devastating effects of gunpowder and cannons, he made sure to construct a fortified structure that could withstand the might of invading forces. The site chosen for the fort was a rocky outcrop of a mountain, a staggering 125 metres high. The fort was named “Mehrangarh” in honour of the ancestral deity of the Rathores – the sun.
Some historians have even claimed that “Mehrangarh” is a later-day rendition of the original name of the fort, “Mihirgarh”. The city at the base of this hill went on to be known as Jodhpur, named after its founder, forever immortalizing his legacy. Legend has it that the mountain of Bhakurcheeria, renamed the ‘Mountain of Birds’ due to a lone hermit known as Cheeria Nathji living there, was cursed by the hermit when the king tried to move him away to build a fort. The hermit warned that the fort would experience a water shortage if it was built.
Fearing this, the king sought a voluntary human sacrifice to reverse the curse, but when no one came forward, Raja Ram Meghwal stepped up, offering his own life and was buried alive within the foundations of the fort. While it’s been many years since this curse was supposedly cast, locals still believe that every 3-4 years, water scarcity befalls the region due to the hermit’s powerful hex!
Mehrangarh Fort Architecture
Rising more than 400 feet above the city of Jodhpur and sprawling across 1200 acres, the colossal structure of the fort is an imposing sight to behold. Its 500-metre wide walls reach a height of 120 feet in some places, creating a powerful contrast to the surrounding rocky terrain. This rocky outcrop is known as Jodhpur Group-Malani Igneous Suite Contact and is the last remnant of the Precambrian age – no wonder it has been declared a National Geological Monument!
The once parched expanse beneath the fort has been transformed into an oasis of ecological restoration known as the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park (since 2006). The park boasts impressive volcanic and sandstone rock formations, along with a stunning variety of greenery and wildlife. The grand city walls surrounding the fort run for an astounding 10 kilometers. Topping it all off, the highest point of the fort offers a breathtaking view of Jodhpur, its iconic blue-tinted houses painted with a blend of quicklime and indigo glimmering in the sun.
Tracing its origins to the 15th century CE, the majestic Mehrangarh Fort has been the witness of remarkable architectural evolution over the course of almost 500 years. With successive rulers contributing to its construction and additions, this fort reflects the changing times and a variety of architectural trends. It all began when Rao Jodha laid the foundations of the fort, and this was followed by a significant development under Rao Maldeo (r. 1532-1562 CE), who fortified the fortifications by erecting a solid wall as its core. The Marwar’s political ties to the Mughals brought about a cultural amalgamation, which is evident through the fort’s architecture.
The mighty fort boasts a whopping seven gates – Jai Pol, Fateh Pol, Loha Pol, Amrita Pol, Doodkangra Pol, Gopal Pol and Bheru Pol – all of which are equipped with powerful cannons at their strategic junctions, such as Bhawani and Kilkila. As if that wasn’t enough, the intimidating presence of these large-scale battlements is enough to send any intruder running for the hills! But the real showstopper lies within the walls. The Loha Pol, the innermost gate, contains a rather macabre attraction – the reddish handprints of 15 queens who self-immolated in the same spot, creating an atmosphere of eeriness!
The majestic Mehrangarh fort is home to a magical museum that holds the treasured antiquities of the Rajputanas! There are seven Period Rooms, including the Phool Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, Takhat Vilas, Jhanki Mahal, Sardar Vilas, Moti Mahal and Dipak Mahal. In addition, there are six incredible Galleries – Howdah Gallery, Daulat Khana, Palanquin Gallery, Painting Gallery, Textile Gallery, and Arms Gallery – that will keep you enthralled for hours!
The Moti Mahal, otherwise known as the Pearl Palace, is the oldest and grandest of the fort complex. Constructed by Sawai Raja Sur Singh (1595-1619 CE), it is said that its walls shine with a pearl-like luster, made from a mix of shells and lime mortar. When the light passes through its sparkling windows, the interior of the palace is illuminated in a kaleidoscope of colours. Not to be outdone, the nearby Sardar Vilas boasts of its beautiful gold-plated woodwork. Last but certainly not least is the Sheesh Mahal or Palace of Mirrors, flaunting its exquisite mirror work and resplendent depictions of gods such as Brahma, Siva-Parvati, Krishna, and Ganesh.
The illustrious Maharaja Ajit Singh (r. 1679-1724 CE) created Dipak Mahal, the main administrative center of this mighty fort, as well as the chamber from which he slumbered. But it was Maharaja Abhay Singh (r. 1724-1749 CE) who left a lasting mark by having the magnificent Phool Mahal or Flower Palace constructed. Its ornate ceiling, boasting golden filigree work that showcased flowers and creepers, and its incredible paintings, particularly the captivating raga mala series depicting the personification of various ragas of Indian classical music, make this palace truly unforgettable!
The 19th century CE brought with it the Takht Vilas, a stunning private chamber for Maharaja Takht Singh (r. 1843-1873 CE). This palace is a resplendent vision, with its intricately painted walls, floors, and ceilings, depicting a myriad of themes from Hindu gods and goddesses to Rajasthani folk tales – including some cheeky western-inspired facial expressions! Takht Singh also had a hand in creating the Jhanki Mahal, or “Palace of Glimpses”, designed to provide a peephole for the royal women of the court. Through its jaalis, screens, and small windows, they could view the proceedings without being seen.
The Howdah Gallery of Jodhpur proudly exhibits the glittering silver howdah gifted to the Maharaja Jaswant Singh by Emperor Shah Jahan! Not to be outdone, the Palanquin Gallery dazzles with intricately designed palkis made of gold and silver, studded with precious stones. Meanwhile, the Daulat Khana boasts a remarkable collection of antiquities from both the Rajput and Mughal periods, highlighted by the grand sword of Akbar! A rare and invaluable glimpse into the royal past of Jodhpur, these palaces-turned-galleries are a must-see!
Step right into the Sileh Khana and be astounded by the impressive array of weapons on display – from swords with intricately carved steel blades and exquisite hilts, to splendid shields, and even delicate daggers. Then, wander over to the textile gallery and marvel at the opulent collection of royal paraphernalia – majestic tents, vibrant canopies, alluring carpets, and breathtaking floor spreads! Lastly, feast your eyes on the painting gallery, and be captivated by the finest works of Marwar school miniature painting.
The Mehrangarh fort is renowned for its majestic courtyards, or chowks. It’s no wonder that the majestic Shringar chowk was the site of the coronation ceremony, complete with a stunning marble throne for the ruler to make a grand entrance on! And if that isn’t impressive enough, the Daulat Khana Chowk boasts intricate sandstone latticework on the jharokhas – a sight worth beholding. But that’s not all – over at the Zenana Deorhi Chowk, or Women’s Square, one will find even more intricate latticework. To top it all off, the Mehrangarh fort houses a temple dedicated to the tutelary deity of the Rathores, none other than Chamunda Devi.
Marwar and the Mughals
The Rathores of Marwar felt the reverberating effects of the Mughal Empire’s rise to power, and soon found themselves falling under its control. Maharaja Udai Singh, fondly referred to as Mota Raja, was the first to submit to the rule of Akbar and become a Mansabdar. Akbar not only restored Udai Singh to his rightful place at Mehrangarh, but also gave him the title of “Raja of Marwar” and bolstered his authority over the rival Rajput clans. Though the relationship between the Mughals and the Rathores had its share of highs and lows over the years, the shrewd Mota Raja was clear-sighted enough to make the best of the situation.
The brave and loyal Udai Singh not only cemented his alliance with the Mughals through the marriage of his beloved daughter to Prince Salim (later Emperor Jahangir), but also through the aid of his successor Sur Singh who helped Jahangir conquer the state of Mewar. Subsequent rulers of Marwar, Gaj Singh I (r. 1619-1638 CE) and Jaswant Singh, loyally continued to serve the Mughals and aided in many critical campaigns of the Empire. However, upon the death of Jaswant Singh, the mighty Emperor Aurangzeb chose to place Marwar directly under Mughal administration – something which was strongly objected to by the Marwar minister Durgadas, who quickly formed an alliance of Rajputs to challenge Aurangzeb’s rule.
After the death of Aurangzeb, Ajit Singh managed to reconquer the long-lost heirdom of Mehrangarh and numerous other surrounding fortifications. However, he too was unable to stand his ground against the Mughals and ultimately had to submit to their sovereignty. He gave away his daughter, Indra Kunwar, to Farrukhsiyar in marriage, and was also made to surrender his son, Abhai Singh, to the Mughals. During his reign, Maharaja Abhai Singh remained steadfastly loyal to the Mughal dynasty.
The British Rule
In the 18th century, Rajputana faced a major threat from the Maratha armies of the Holkars and Scindias, who were making Marwar bankrupt. Maharaja Man Singh of Marwar (r. 1803-1843 CE) had no choice but to seek the help of the British and sign the Subsidiary Alliance in 1818 CE. Although Man Singh was allowed to rule his princely state, he was acting as a subordinate ruler of the British. But it didn’t take long for Man Singh to be influenced by the militant ascetic sect, Nath Yogis, and violate several provisions of the treaty. The British had to take control of Mehrangarh in 1839 CE to finally put an end to the Yogis and have the upper hand!
Under the tutelage of Maharaja Takht Singh, Marwar graciously offered assistance to the British to suppress the Uprising of 1857. Jaswant Singh II (r. 1873-1895 CE) then made the daring decision to move the royal residence from Mehrangarh fort to the magnificent palaces of Rai ka Bagh and Ratnada, located on the outskirts of the city of Jodhpur. As the fort’s military power began to wane, it was no longer deemed suitable to be the royal abode. Yet, its significance in the Marwar polity still remained.
Mehrangarh Fort Post Independence
After India’s independence, Jodhpur’s Princely state officially joined the Indian Union. While most of the historical monuments were taken over by the government, the majestic Mehrangarh fort stayed in the hands of the royal family. But then when the privy purses of the royals were abolished in 1971, the guardians of the fort had to find new ways to preserve their ancestral legacies. So, a brilliant idea was sparked – the Mehrangarh Museum Trust was established in 1972, initiated by the honorary Maharaja of Jodhpur, Gaj Singh II, who donated an astonishing 15,000 items from his own collection to the trust, thus creating a magical museum within the fort.
Under the visionary leadership of the former ruler, the Mehrangarh fort has become a hub of learning, museums, and sustainable conservation. This stunning architectural wonder is truly one of the most well-preserved monuments in India. In 1998, India’s first professional museum store opened at the fort, and today it is home to two renowned festivals – the International Folk Festival and the World Sacred Spirit Festival. Even today, the fort stands strong and continues to exude the pride and identity of the people of the region.