Perched atop a high hill at a height of 1276 metres above main sea level, the impregnable Kumbhalgarh fort is surrounded by thirteen mountain peaks, guarded by seven gates and seven ramparts and strengthened by rounded bastions and immense watchtowers. The second most important fort of erstwhile Mewar called Kumbhalmer in local dialect and Kumbhal Meru in Sanskrit text is located at a distance of about 90 km north of Udaipur in Rajsamand district.
Out of 84 forts that form the defence of Rajasthan, 35 were built by Kumbha. It was listed as World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2013. Archaeological surveys reveal that the site of this mammoth fort was occupied even before Kumbha’s period .There are remains of an ancient fortress and a large number of houses on a hillock to the north-east of the Bhilwara village in the vicinity of Kumbhalgarh that are spread over an area of about 750 by 150 mtrs. According to a legend, Maurya ruler Sampriti, second son of Ashoka was the Governor or King of Ujjain and ruled between 223 and 215 BC. Sampriti had become a Jain and so he built some Jain temples also. Parshwanath temple was built in Greek architectural style. However, according to another legend, the so-called Sampriti’s fort was built by the Chauhan rulers of Jalore.
There is an ancient fort wall that begins from the first or outermost gate popularly known as Aret Pol located about 4 kilometres south of Kumbhalgarh and connected with the second gate named the Halla Pol. There are remains of the same wall at the third, fourth, fifth and sixth gates that are known by the names of Hanuman Pol, Bhairav Pol and Nimbu Pol respectively. A large area might have been defended by the wall which on technical grounds gave the impression to be an older fortification wall and was almost double than that of the present fort wall. In the verses of a literary text named as Amar Kavya Vanshavali that was written by Ranchhod Bhatt, a court poet of Maharana Raj Singh II between 1652 and 1680, Karnaditty, the descendant of Bappa Rawal built a fort called Ahor or Mahor that was renovated and renamed as Kumbhalgarh by Maharana Kumbha .The third phase of construction was done by Maharana Kumbha and fourth one by Maharana Fatehsingh.
The impenetrable fort was thus designed and built under the able supervision of Mundan who was a great scholar of the ancient principle and techniques of fort building. Kumbha started the construction work in 1443 and it took about 10 years to complete it. It is said that about 20,000 persons were engaged.
According to a legend, there were big hurdles that were taken as a result of the displeasure of Devi. So, to overcome this difficulty Med Baba, a saint, was called from Ranakpur who said that for this, a human sacrifice was needed. The Baba decided to make his own sacrifice. He said that next morning he would climb up a hill and where he stops for the first time at that place the first gate of the fort should be built. His head was to be cut off at the place he would stop for the second time. A temple was to be built at the place his head fell off .Even after that ,his body would continue to move and would decide the boundary of the fort .Today the main gate of the fort, Hanuman Pol, has a shrine and the temple to commemorate the great sacrifice that paved the way for the construction of the fort. When the construction was complete, Kumbha got coins made that had name of Kumbha and the fort on it.
Kumbhalgarh is encircled within several mountain ranges and commands a fine view of the wild and rugged scenery of the Aravallis and sandy deserts of Marwar.It is defended by a series of walls built on the slopes of the hills and has a number of domed buildings that can be reached through the town of Kelwara along a winding approach. Kelwara that lies in the foothills of the fort is one and a half kilometre away from Kumbhalgarh. From the town there is a precipitous rise of the rocky region that is impeded by a gate named Aret Pol. Besides Aret Pol, bridging the narrow accent, there is the second gate named Halla Pol. This Pol is an intermediate to the outer gate which connects the narrow gorge with another outer gate named Hanuman Pol. This is adorned by a colossal idol of Hanuman that Kumbha brought as a spoil of war from Mandor, Marwar and set up there with a great veneration. Between Hanuman Pol and the summit, there are four other gates along with the rampart made of well dressed stone masonry. In fact Kumbhalgarh is well protected by a massive wall built on the slopes of the hill line which at regular intervals is embellished with rounded bastions and battlements as well as parapets on the top. The fourth wall is very broad measuring 3.5 to 6 metres at the top. Since the fort is easily accessible from the South, the wall on the southern side has been constructed to a width of 6 metres at its top. The wall is so brought that five, six or even eight horseman could ride abreast along its top to keep vigilance. The wall that extended over 36 kilometre is claimed to be the second longest in the world after the Great Wall of China. It seems that the formidable fortification had been so constructed to make scaling even by means of ladders, difficult.
There are six entrances and eight narrow passages in the rampart. The gateways are named Ram Pol, Daniwatt, Sant Kotadi Vaga Pol, and Tida Pol. They are protected by strong doors which when closed, would allow no Entry without risking the lives of those who try to force their way through them
The interior of the fort is also a series of ascent and descents which through the skill of the architect, is so beautifully adapted with the physical conditions of the region that spontaneously there has emerged space for palaces, domed buildings, barracks for the garrison, temple, reservoirs, and agriculture fields, grain stores and habitable land. There was provision to store food for 30,000 persons for a year. All these features have provided ample facilities for those living in it to survive for a long time even when the fort is surrounded on all sides by the enemy.
The central open space of the fort is occupied by the inner fort known as Katargarh which occupies the upper part of the conical hillock. It is crowned with the palace called Jhali ka Malia, the palace of the Jhali queen and with Badal Mahal, the cloud palace of the Rana. These edifices provide a view of the lands far below- Sandy deserts and the mass of cactus strewn mountains within this palace area there is a reservoir called Naharchhali where it is said that a tiger and goat used to drink water together, a metaphorical way of expressing the tolerant policy of the Maharana. On the right side of this area there is a Topkhana which was the main source of defence in the later part of the mediaeval period. At one time a cannon stood at the spot which Maharana Kumbha brought from Nagaur as a trophy.
Towards the other extremity of the upper region there is the old palace of Kumbha with its small rooms, narrow verandas and tiny staircases which stand as a witness to the simple living habits of Kumbha despite the fact that he was a great ruler and warrior. Further onwards there is a temple of Navdurga.
Just on the other ridge below the palace, there is an area with the cluster of temples, some of which are in perfect state of preservation, while some others in ruined condition. There is a Neelkanth Mahadev Mandir with six feet high Shiva Lingam for Kumbha’s daily worship. Then there is Kumbhshyam Mandir of Lord Krishna. Nearby is a Vedi, altar, that was used by Kumbha for the Agnihotra ceremony, Yajna on the occasion of the consecration ceremony of the fort, this building of three storeys numerous massive low columns and sculpted panelled parapets is an object of great architectural merit. Nearby is a fine Jain temple with the square sanctuary with vaulted dome and colonnade of elegant pillars all around and another Jain temple of a peculiar design having three storeys each decorated with massive low columns.
In the gorge below the fort, there is a memorable Shiva temple built by Kumbha in 1458 AD. It is the brow of the mountain which overlooks the pass leading to the hilly region of Godwad. The courtyard of the temple is enclosed by a strong wall and has idols of divinity of extreme beauty made of marble. One of the ideal is that of Kuber, the treasurer of Gods, with two office attendants who are busy pouring coins from bags to plates, one full of circular coins and the other of square ones. It was from this temple that the famous Kumbhalgarh inscriptions were recovered in pieces on which were inscribed the history of Mewar from the time of Guhil, the founder king of Mewar, to Rana Kumbha’s time.
The political history of Kumbhalgarh fort is glorious. It is said that Mahmud Khilji of Malwa visited the Kumbalgarh area in about 1458. After ascending the hill for some distance on the eastern face of the forest, he left with the impression that an effective attack with limited time and energy was not possible, so he marched away to Dungarpur. Similarly, Akbar’s forces were also repulsed several times by the invincible and impregnable position of the fort. It was only through treachery and trickery that Akbar’s general Shahbaz Khan occupied the fort in 1578. But his occupation lasted only for a short time as Rana Pratap soon recovered Kumbhalgarh. The vain glory of Jahangir and hollow statecraft of Aurangzeb failed to make an impression on the fort. It served as an abode of the royal house of Mewar from Rana Uday Singh to Raj Singh First when the entire might of the Mughal Empire was pitted against Mewar. During the Maratha disturbances an armed band of Sanyasis who formed the garrison revolted but in 1818 Colonel Todd, the then political agent, gained possession of the place by arranging for the arrears of pay due to them and the fort was restored to the Maharana.
The connoisseur of art, Kumbha built several temples. In its heyday, the fort was a prosperous town and it is said that every evening the bells of three hundred and fifty temples summoned the faithful to the evening Aarti. Prince Prithviraj was in full command of the region when his father Raimal was the ruler of Mewar. The romances of this prince and his wife, the heroic Tara have become legendary. It was for her that Prithviraj built the Tara Burj, which is visible from the Bhairav Pol. Behind the temple of Mamadev there is a raised dais where it is said that Tarabai and her handmaidens hunted tigers. But death cast a shadow on those happy times and kumbalgarh saw the death of Prithviraj. His beloved Rani followed the tradition and committed Sati. Prithviraj and Tara are remembered only by a simple shrine overlooking the road leading to Marwar. Prithvraj rides a horse while time has left only a rubble of stones as the grave of Tara.
Kings and emperors are remembered by the ballads sung in their honour or by the monuments they build. It is said that Kumbha perhaps knew that balladeers would be silent about his time as an astrologer had predicted his death by the hand of a Charan, balladeer. This prompted him to banish the whole community from his kingdom. Thus the story of his times was inscribed and the fort became famous for the Kumbhalgarh inscriptions. These have been found at the Mama Dev temple built in the gorge below the fort. The interior of the wall was covered with massive slabs of black marble, with the history of Mewar, from the time of Guhil inscribed on them. The earliest inscription dates back to 1491AD. The first slab of these inscriptions gives an account of the temple, lakes, fort and sacred sites of Mewar, perhaps a precursor to the numerous books on architecture written during this period. There is a fragmentary inscription even at Naw Chowki.
Besides love of music and fine arts, versatile Kumbha had a desire to have a reference gallery of Hindu and Jain religious idols conforming to the code of sculpture. The idol making project was started in 1458 A.D. It was led by Mundan Bhardwaj under a Banyan tree. He was assisted by his brother Nath, sons Ishwar, Govind and Arjun and others. The aim was to preserve the prevalent forms of all the major Hindu and Jain deities. Even Mandan’s directions to his team were compiled in texts known as Roop Mandal or Roop Avtar. The work was abruptly stopped when Kumbha was assassinated by his son in 1468. By then, only some of them had been installed. Luckily sixteen of them have survived the passage of time and can be seen at the Government Museum inside Udaipur City Palace. They include depiction of Brahmani, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Varahi, Damodar, Vasudev, Keshava, Madhava, madhusudana, purushottama etc. with detailed inscriptions on their bases.
For tourists visiting Kumbalgarh these days, there is another attraction in the form of Ganga Gordhan Museum located about two kilometres shot of the Fort. It has a collection of over 5,000 Indian coins. The coins belong to periods ranging from Maurya, Kushan, Gupta and Satwahan time and Vijaynagar region there are coins used in the last 5000 years including the British rule. Also on display are various paper currencies, locks, idols etc. It took over 25 years to collect the items from various places in the country. Information about all these items has also been provided.
Kumbhalgarh Fort has been witnessed many Historical events. It was here that Rana Kumbha’s son Udha slew him. It was in the safety of its precincts that Uday Singh spent his childhood. The legendary Panna Dhai carried him to Kumbhalgarh, substituting her son and seeing him killed instead of the heir. Udai singh stayed in hiding with Asha devpura. Many years later, this force saw the coronation of this child Rana Uday Singh.
That Kumbha was a kind hearted ruler is evident from the fact that he used to burn massive lamps which consumed 50 kilograms of ghee and a hundred kilograms of cotton to aid the farmers who worked during the night in the valley. Another attraction of the fort is that overlooks the Kumbhalgarh wildlife sanctuary that covers 578 square kilometers. Recently, it has been declared as a national wildlife sanctuary. It is a protected treasure trove of medicinal plants and trees and provides shelter to panthers, sloth bears, nilgai, sambar and a large variety of birds. The Indian wolf is breeding here successfully.
To attract more visitors, the tourism department organises a three day classical dance festival here. Keeping with Kumba’s dedication to promoting fine arts, the festival brings together many of India’s finest performing artists with classical dance recital set against the backdrop of the glowing citadel.
Kumbhalgarh has played an important part in the history of Mewar. seldom rivaled and never surpassed, it was the bulkwork of Mewar throughout the glorious history of the country.
(Source: Rajeshekhar Vyas and Anju Bedi)