Tales from beyond the sands of time – Chittaurgarh.
Part 6 of Rooh – E – Rajasthan.
To read part 5 – Click here.
To read part 4 – Click here.
To read part 3 – Click here.
To read part 2 – Click here.
To read part 1 – Click here.
History, is me.
By the time I reached the outskirts of this underexposed historical town, it was mid afternoon. The sun was right on top and bearing down with all its heat. Turning off the National Highway towards Chittaur was like exiting a party. The moment I was off, the rush of vehicles at high speed vanished. So did the smooth road actually. My first obstacle was a railway crossing. I had been standing there for quite a while waiting for the train to cross. Which it hadn’t, so I dismounted and stretched my legs. The train was nowhere to be seen.
The locals and I got talking. I broke the ice by asking them the way to the RTDC (Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation) Chittaur hotel. They gave me a general direction and then came back with questions of their own. Was my bike a bullet? Where was I coming from? What was I up to? And the most common of them all in India, what mileage did my motorcycle give me?
The train arrived in the midst of our banter as two or three strangers looked my bike over. I was resting against the bonnet of a truck as the cargo train passed the railway barricading ever so slowly. In a minute, I saddled up and got ready for my last little haul into Chitttaurgarh. A full thirteen kilometers of searching, stopping and asking for directions finally brought me to the unassuming gate of the RTDC Panna hotel here. This RTDC hotel looked as barren as the city. It was a Sunday and so all the shops were closed too. A vibe similar to Barmer prevailed over the entire city.
I got myself in to the hotel and settled in. 300 kilometers of highway riding hadn’t exhausted me enough I thought and decided that I might as well take an afternoon round around the city. I was only going to be here three nights so I felt the need to make the most of it. The hotel manager too, had started identifying with my adventurous streak. In his typical small town way, he told me that he was impressed. All over again I was humbled by this strangers’ praise. I realized how many people actually wanted to go out and do something like this but thanks to the rut of life, they didn’t.
My afternoon ride took me through random empty streets of Chittaur. I didn’t really see much. The heat was so oppressive that soon I decided that I’d rather take a nap, recharge myself and then hit the streets with the right verve. I over slept.
The next morning started early, with me heading out early enough to check out the Chittaurgarh Fort. Really the only true reason for me to visit this town. The Chittaurgarh Fort is not only a historical madhouse of information for seekers but also has a lot more to its credit. In terms of sheer size, it is probably the largest single fortified structure in India. As you close in, crossing the river Berach, the scale of this extraordinary building reveals itself. I stopped dead in my tracks, pulled out the camera and tried, in vain, to capture the fort’s length. This was the first time on this trip that I felt out of my depth, photographically. The size of the fort was just too big for my camera and skill. The time of day wasn’t helping either, there was a faint haze blocking the clear view of the fort. I had no choice but to move on into the fort and start exploring.
I rode on up into the fort walls and through the gates, something which I had now gotten used to. Each Rajasthani fort had it’s characteristic entrance gates. In Chittaur however, a paved road led through these gates into the fort premises, I rode my bike all the way into the center of the fort. This fort is at an elevation of about 500 feet from sea level and one can feel the temperature change slightly. At first, I couldn’t figure out what I was to do next. Yes I wanted to see the sights here but I didn’t know where they were. I took a full round of the fort on my motorcycle after which I found a ticket counter which had a map of the fort on it. That’s when I got my bearing. Honestly, I was still overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the structure.
I spoke to the people at the ticket counter for a while. Looking at their expressions I could instantly make out their assumptions about the kind of tourist I was. Three people were really interested in telling me about where the most interesting bits of the fort are and so I listened to them.
The Chittaurgarh Fort:
Apart from its size, this fort has an abundance of stories within its mammoth walls. The fort is believed to be named after the Mauryan ruler Chitrangada Mori. For 800 years, Chittaur was the capital of Mewar and all through that period and beyond, the Rajput warriors of Chittaur painted an unsettling and moving picture. Death before defeat was their resolve. More than a few times this fort has seen defeat in its history. Yet, the lore of the men, women and children who hailed from this land never once fails to inspire awe.
As I spent time in the fort, three stories came up in front of me again and again. The tales of Mirabai, Queen Padmini and Panna Dhai. These were stories which, in a short while, made me realise the importance of Chittaur in Rajasthan’s history.
Mirabai’s time at Chittaur was as the wife of Rana Kumbha. She was a devout follower of Lord Krishna and considered herself to be the wife of Krishna, hence she wasn’t too happy with her marriage. After Rana Kumbha’s death, she completely gave into her devotion to Krishna. She is believed to have spent her last years as a pilgrim at Dwarka but none really know where she disappeared.
The Mirabai temple:
This is a beautiful temple dedicated to the saint-poet. Standing close to the Kirti Stambh, it is one of the most beautiful temples in Chittaur. In the early morning light, the intricate architecture gleams with unparalleled brilliance. Inside the temple, a representation of Meera, praying to her Lord Krishna, has been established.
The Kirti Stambh:
The Mira Temple and Kirti Stambh, in the morning (left) and just before sunset (right).
The Kirti Stambh is a 12th century monument, built by a Jain merchant. It stands close to the Mira Temple and is a beautiful piece of architecture, just like the Mira Temple itself. Both these monuments stand together in perfect accompaniment.
The Rajput men chose to charge out of the walls of this fort into the enemy. Fighting to the last breath, preferring to die fighting than to accept defeat and live a life after surrender. This deeply ingrained Rajput trait leads on to another sorrowfully amazing tale of the women and children of Chittaur. Jauhar.
An ancient Indian practice of divine self immolation, performed by women and children of a particular Rajput clan, in the face of defeat of the defending army. It is often a common assumption that the act of Jauhar involved only the women and children of the kingdom but the truth is that Jauhar involved the Rajput warriors of the army as well. When it was eminent that defeat was inevitable, the women inside the fort performed Jauhar, after which the men charged out into the enemy committing Saka. Preferring to die fighting over enduring defeat.
Dusk over the fort.
At Chittaur, Jauhar was performed a total of three times over it’s history. First by Rani Padmini and then the second by Rani Karnavati and finally the third when Chittaurgarh Fort was besieged by Emperor Akbar.
Rani Padmini and the Padmini Palace:
Queen Padmini was considered the epitome of beauty in her time. Wife of the then commander of the Chittaurgarh Fort, Rana Rawal Ratan Singh, the stories of her beauty had transcended kingdoms. It was inevitable that the lure of her beauty caught the Mughal ruler Allauddin Khilji’s attention. Driven by his lust, he marched towards Chittaur to secure her as his queen.
Here is where an interesting tale begins, Khilji saw the brilliantly guarded Chittaurgarh fort and decided that he would try and acquire Rani Padmini without conflict. Khilji’s army was deterrent enough. He sent a message to the Rana that he considered Padmini his sister and wanted to see her. Looking at the Mughal army, the unsuspecting Rana Rawal Ratan Singh gave in to Khilji’s demand of getting a look at his wife, Queen Padmini. In those times, this was a rather shameful occurrence and hence Khilji was only allowed to see the queen in a mirror. Smitten by her beauty, he decided that he would not leave Chittaur without her as his queen.
Later, when the Rana went upto the outer limits of the fort to see off Khilji, he was arrested by Khilji’s soldiers and held in captivity. Queen Padmini soon got the message that she was now required to leave with Allauddin Khilji as his wife and that her husband was under captivity.
Enraged, she decided she would have none of it. In a brilliant countermeasure to Khilji’s deceit, Rani Padmini and the Rana’s men came up with an ingenious plan. In over a hundred palanquins, hid Rajput warriors, masquerading as the queen’s maids. They made their way to the Mughal army camp and attacked the camp, freed Rana Rawal Ratan Singh and brought him back to the security of the Chittaurgarh fort.
In the ensuing aftermath, Allauddin Khilji’s army laid siege to the fort but could not beat the fort’s defenses. Khilji kept up his unrelenting battle with the Rajput army until the fort’s supplies perished and there was no chance of a victory for the Rajputs of Chittaur. At this juncture, it was decided that the Rajput warriors would commit Saka, they would charge into the enemy and fight until death. Hearing this Queen Padmini and the Rajput women decided to commit Jauhar.
After the battle was over, all that Khilji’s lust driven army found upon entering the Chittaurgarh fort were burnt and charred remains of the women and children of Chittaur.
The Padmini Palace is a white building which still stands today. There are gardens to welcome you as one approaches the main complex. The room with the mirrors, where Allauddin Khilji saw queen Padmini, is open to the public and one can even see those very mirrors, they still hang from the ceiling today.
By far one of the most poignant stories from the land of Chittaur. Panna Dhai’s tale of sacrifice still manages to bring a tear to the eyes of many a mother today.
A 16th century Rajput woman, Panna was the nursemaid to Udai Singh (later, the founder of Udaipur, son of Sangram Singh). The word ‘Dhai’ in her name stands for wet nurse, she had been given charge of Udai Singh from his early childhood.
Chittaur. A historical panorama.
The story begins when Banbir, an exiled cousin of Udai Singh was appointed as regent of the kingdom keeping in light the arrest of Vikramaditya II. Banbir, who considered himself to be the rightful heir to the throne knew the time was right to act. He assassinated Vikramaditya II and was on his way to assassinate the already asleep 14 year old Udai Singh (the Maharana-elect), whose existence was the only barrier between Banbir and the throne of Mewar.
A servant hurriedly informed Panna of Banbir’s doings, Panna understood what Banbir was planning and told the servant to smuggle Udai Singh, the Maharana-elect, out of the Chittaurgarh fort. She instructed the servant to wait for her at a rendezvous point near the river. As the young Udai Singh was taken away from the fort, Panna placed her own son in Udai Singh’s bed and covered him. In time Banbir burst into the room and inquired about Udai Singh, she pointed at the bed where her son lay asleep, only to watch her own son being killed at the hands of Banbir.
Panna left the fort after her son’s hurried cremation and retook charge of Udai Singh from the servant, out by the river. Here began an epic trek for the duo who were only given proper refuge at the fort of Kumbhalgarh. Years later, Maharana Udai Singh went back to Chittaurgarh and assumed the throne.
A heroic feat of sacrifice and loyalty to the throne was showcased by Panna. But for her, the city of Udaipur (later founded by Maharana Udai Singh) would never have existed.
The Vijay Stambh or the Tower of Victory:
This unique structure stands in the midst of some temples at the top of the fort. Built to celebrate victory over the ruler Mahmud Khilji by Rana kumbha, it is intriguing to say the least. The carvings on the inside and out are so very intricate that one can spend minutes just staring at a single part of this nine story tower.
For a fee of INR 5, one is allowed to venture inside the tower. Fair warning, this venture is not suited for people who suffer from claustrophobia. There is no room for two way pedestrian traffic inside. At some points the climb is pretty precarious, especially for me as I was carrying my hefty camera bag on my back. Getting shots was tough and so my trusty ultra wide angle lens came to the fore. Inside the tower, it is dark, dingy and well, stinky. There is constant movement of people and hence the 157 step climb from bottom to top is not all that easy. At the top though a big and windy room awaits you, I can’t say the view is panoramic because it’s blocked by the carvings on the windows but I’d still say it was worth it.
View from the top.
After my descent, I spent the entire evening in the Vijay Stambh complex. The complex is also home to a few other Jain temples apart from the Stambh itself. The complex is also home to the Gaumukh (Hindi for: cow’s mouth) reservoir, this water body is fed by a natural spring, which flows through a carved cow’s mouth in the rocks, hence the name. During the various sieges the Chittaurgarh Fort endured, this water body was the primary source of fresh water for the population.
The GauMukh reservoir and the Vijay Stambh complex.
This complex is also home to numerous Langoor monkeys. If you’re ever bored, just sit down and observe these ultra happy and inquisitive creatures jump around. Keep a close watch on your belongings though!
Sundown with the Langoor monkeys.
Also, this is a brilliant place to watch the sun go down, especially after a hard day’s tourism.
My second day in Chittaurgarh was reserved for riding about inside the fort in the day and the sound and light show in the evening. Early morning went by as I sipped my tea and felt the fresh morning air of this town. Two nights that I had spent here hadn’t revealed much about the town itself.
To me, it felt like all the sacrifice and bloodshed over those olden ages still had some sort of bearing on this place. Chittaurgarh, seemed to me like a stoic town, not reacting to my arrival in any noticeable way. I was here, studying the history as deeply as I could but there was no telling if I was actually learning anything about the place in reality.
This was also a time when I became increasingly introspective. At this point, I had spent more than three weeks on the road. A lot had had happened in my head, with it going through these myriad experiences, thumping across this sandy state. There was no homesickness, there was no longing to get back home. Even though my bike wasn’t in all that great a nick, I felt like I could survive like this for as long as I wanted. I had completely become used to being alone. Meeting and interacting only with strangers.
The making of a true traveller.
It is at times like these that I realize I’m on the right path. I know I’m made for the road, a traveller through and through. Also, someone who would be incomplete without his camera and motorcycle. So many realizations, so little time.
The mango tree above me moved with the breeze, letting a ray of early sunshine dart into my half open eyes. As if to shake me out of my trance of thoughts, the sun’s rays did well to wake me up. This was my second and last day in Chittaurgarh, most had to be made of it. So I geared up and made my way towards the fort. I entered using the same winding road which passes through the gates and reached the top quick.
A view of the city from the fort’s walls.
I still hadn’t been able to properly capture the entire length of the fort from afar. Slowly I was giving up on the idea altogether. For some reason I felt I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the real majesty of this monument. I carried on, the 13 square kilometers that the Chittaurgarh Fort is spread out over, offer a lot of space for someone who just wants to experience peace. Birds will chirp, the sun will rise, the temperature will go up and the occasional cow will moo, that’s about it. There is also an abundance of greenery up here and all over the fort, a nice contrast to the image of Rajasthan I should say.
Oh, it’s green.
The people of Chittaurgarh too had been nice to me. I was welcomed well by my RTDC caretakers and even in the town while asking directions and sipping on roadside chai, people had been polite. It had become a characteristic of the people of Rajasthan, there had not been one incident as yet on this entire trip where I’d felt I was being taken for a ride, so to speak. The cities and roads of Rajasthan had become my home and I was happy.
Chai on a Chittaur street.
Even on this day as I rode my motorcycle nonchalantly around the fort premises, I felt like I was a part of this place. An unnoticeable speck in the span of the history of this fort. Still, this place grounded me like no other I’ve ever been to. I could relate to the tales of valour, heroism and sacrifice here. The vast plains that stretched out behind the fort looked to me like chalk slates, where each ruler came and wrote his own piece over the previous one’s.
Chalk slate of Chittaur.
It was strangely beautiful, the way even the air here felt like it had a touch of the past.
Coming back to being the tourist, I had bought my ticket for the sound and light show this evening. I already knew most of what there is to know about Chittaurgarh but I felt the sound and light compilation would be a good opportunity to learn more as well as a relaxing way to spend my last evening.
Here, at Chittaurgarh, the sound and light show is managed and run by RTDC itself. Don’t be surprised if you find the goings on a little laid back. They will wait till there are at least 25 people in the stands to start the show. I find this small town bending of the rules pretty amusing, really.
Light, sound and action!
The hour long show was just perfect. All the history I had learnt about Chittaur in the past two days got woven into a fine thread. The timelines became clearer in my head. And once again, the heroism of this quaint land touched me. It’s strange that sometimes I feel I should have been born in those years to experience the history first hand. Who knows, maybe I was. I’d miss my motorcycle though!
By far the most compelling part of my time in Chittaur was when I asked the sound and light show operator a simple question. My question to him was ‘You watch this show everyday of your life, do you still like it?’ A Rajput himself, he came back with a simple reply. He said ‘Sir, I’m a Rajput. Each day while I watch this show from behind, a tear escapes my eyes and my chest fills with pride. Every time, everyday.’
And you know what, I felt what he said to me word for word. Somehow I could relate to him.
The show got over and soon the same would happen to my time in Chittaurgarh. I promised myself I would come back. For now though, Udaipur was my next port of call. A very short 115 kilometer ride was ahead of me.
Early next morning, as usual, I geared up and said my goodbyes to the RTDC friends I had made here and left. These short two days had been good. The true embrace of Rajasthan had started to take hold over me. After spending more than three weeks on the road in this state, I had found my comfort zone. I was excited thinking about what Udaipur held in store for me.
The motorcycle was straining to go beyond 100 km/h on the 100 kilometer long National Highway 76 to Udaipur but I was determined to push her. I kept the throttle jammed open all through, stopping only twice, once for a quick breakfast and the second to take a leak on the side of the road like a traditional Indian traveller. The bike was hanging in there, for the first time since Jodhpur, I felt she could pull through for the remainder of the trip. I was still keeping my fingers crossed though. I had started respecting my motorcycle’s resolve too, she deserved it.
Gaining on Udaipur!
This short 3 hour ride was filled mostly with me thinking about what Udaipur was going to be like. Udaipur is known for its luxury and well, I had been saving up all along. I couldn’t wait to get there!
For more pictures from Chittaur, Click here.
In this article:
Number of nights: Chittaurgarh – 3.
Distance travelled: Jaipur – Chittaurgarh = 320 kms.
Motorcycle condition: Misfires, slight over heating, engine noise (crank issues). She’s got guts carrying on like this! Salute!