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Meherangarh Fort

Earlier called the Chintamani fort, the fort was built in 1459 by Rao Jodha the founder of Jodhpur on the summit of a steep hill called the Bakharchiriya or bird's nest. The citadel was fortified by eight Pols or gates (now reduced to seven) regulating entry into the premises. The expansive ramparts of the castle span some 10km, and if you stand atop the fort, you do get a bird's eye view of the city with its whitewashed homes. Bakharchiriya was an apt name for the hilltop on which the fort now sits, is perched on top of Meherangarh and from there you get a commanding view of the landscape. In fact from that vantage point, you can even sight the Kumbhalgarh fort situated a good 125 km away. The fort stands 122 metres above the plain and rises on sheer bare rock. It is fortified by walls ranging from seven to twenty-four metres in thickness, and rising upto a height of 40 metres.

The Main Poles or Gateways To Fort
It would have presented a forbidding sight to any invading army with its maze of imposing towers at frequent intervals. Jai Pol, the main entrance to the fort was built in 1808 celebrating the great victory of Raja Man Singh over his great rival Jagat Singh of Jaipur. Also the doors of Jai Pol are embellished won by Raja Abhay Singh from Ahmedabad. The western gate of the fort is called the Fateh Pol (victory gate) which was built to commemorate an important event in Jodhpur's history- the reclaiming of the fort from the Mughals by Ajit Singh in 1707. The Lakhna Pol, also called the Dedh Kangra Pol was added on in the 19th century, constitutes an important historical landmark in Jodhpur. It was built during Rao Maldeo's reign in the 16th century, but it bore the brunt of the attack launched by the Jaipur army in 1807. It still bears the dents from the cannonballs launched at it by the aggressors. To the left of the Lakhna Pol is the Amrit Pol, also built by Raja Maldeo, on passing which you come to the original entrance of the fort which was built in 1459.

The then entrance consisted of a boulder, which had two holes in which were inserted wooden logs to provide a provisional barrier. Beyond the Lakhna Pol is the Loha Pol (Iron Gate) dating back to the 15th century, although the fašade that you see today was again the contribution of Rao Maldeo in the 16th century. The handprints of 15 royal satis, Jodhpur queens who burnt themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands, are a chilling reminder to the barbaric custom, which was very much in vogue in Rajasthan. It was the considered an honour by the women themselves to sacrifice their lives for their menfolk. So much so, that when Maharaja Ajit Singh died in 1731, no fewer than six of his wives and fifty-eight of his concubines burnt themselves on his funeral pyre. and although sati was made illegal by the British governor general William Bentick in 1829, the last recorded case of sati occurred in Jodhpur as recently as 1953. Just next to it is the Suraj Pol or Sun Gate, one of the oldest gates in the complex. This gate is one of the oldest in the Mehrangarh fort, and on entering it you will come across a flight of stairs which takes you to the Moti Mahal, one of the loveliest palaces in the complex.

Fort Temples
Nagnechiji Temple

To the extreme right of the fort complex is located the Nagnechiji temple, the family temple of the Rathore dynasty. The Nagnechiji idol was brought to Marwar in the early 14th century by Rao Dhuhad, and after Meherangarh was constructed the idol was placed there.

Chamunda Devi Temple
Adjacent to it is a temple dedicated to Goddess Durga, called the Chamunda Devi Temple. The idol of Durga was brought by Rao Jodha (the founder of Jodhpur) himself, but it was destroyed in a gunpowder explosion in 1857. It was reconstructed by Takhat Singh who reigned between the years 1843 and 1873. The precincts of the fort house two tanks as well, which was the main source of water to the residents of the complex. The Gulab Sagar or Rose-Water Sea is the larger of the two and situated to the south of the complex. The other tank is called the Rani Talao or Queen's Lake which, as the name suggests reserved for the ladies of the zenana (royal ladies).

Moti Mahal

The Moti Mahal or the Pearl Palace was built during Maharaja Sur Singh's reign in the last two decades of the 16th century. Moti Mahal was where the king used sit on his throne and meet all his subjects. The size of the hall indicates that it must initially have been utilised as a Public Audience Hall. The alabaster throne which lies resplendent and one end of the room is magnificent to behold and the enire palace has a very ostentatious look to it with the entire ceiling covered with mirrors and gilt. It is has been very well maintained and the walls and ceilings are still sparklingly smooth. Its latticed screens and superb balconies are in many ways similar to the Anup Mahal in Bikaner, and both of these palaces by way of coincidence were built in the 1670s. The Moti Mahal is where every Jodhpur ruler since the founder Rao Jodha has been crowned. The red sandstone coronation seat or Sangar Choki is spectacular and so is the white marble facing which was added on by Bakhat Singh in the 1750s. The palace houses the royal palanquins, and silver howdahs (special seat for riding on elephants), one of which was gifted by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to Jaswant Singh. Other howdahs are resplendent with the flags of the nine Rathore states of medieval times, eight of them offshoots of Jodhpur itself.

Khabka Mahal
Situated right above is the Khabka Mahal,which literally means sleeping palace. It has two main rooms; the Dipak Mahal built by the then Prime minister of Jodhpur and Chandan Mahal, which was the council room of the ruler, where he discussed the affairs of state with his ministers and held meetings with visiting dignatories. A picture by itinerant painter A.H. Muller depicts the great hero of Jodhpur in the 17th century Durga Das, carrying off the infant Ajit Singh, (who was to be the future ruler of Jodhpur to safety) to protect him from being slaughtered by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

Jhanki Mahal

The Palace of Glimpses, as this palace is commonly known, is next door to Khabka Mahal. It is called so because it was from where the women of the royal household to take a look at the outside world. Purdah was strictly enforced by the Rajputs in medieval times and the women's quarters were deliberately fitted with latticed screens to allow the royal women to peek outside without being observed themselves. Like the Moti Vilas (mentioned below), the sandstone jalis (latticed windows) were so fine as to look like lace from a distance. The Jhanki Mahal is virtually covered with mirrors where no doubt the royal ladies attended to themselves. Other interesting aspect of the palace is the numerous royal cradles you will find here, all of them exquisitely embellished. One of the cradles is actually motor-powered and was presented to the Maharaja of Jodhpur in 1948.

Phool Mahal
The Phool Mahal or Flower Palace which is right adjacent to the Moti Mahal is a more recent building, constructed by Abhay Singh (reigned between 1730-50) and was further decorated between 1873 and 1895. The best part about the palace is the wall paintings, which on close inspection reveal a distinct European influence. Hardly surprising because these decorations were carried out during Maharaj Pratap Singh's reign, who was very much an Anglophile. The Phool Mahal was utilised as a Private Audience Hall and it depicts the many classical ragas (a pattern of notes of melody and rhythm) of Indian music on its walls.

Daulat Khana Palace
Right beneath the Phool Mahal is the Daulat Khanaa place of great historical interest. The curios present here include heavy locks, liquor bottles wrapped in wet cloths to which the warriors drank to fortify themselves before an imminent battle, coin boxes, carpet weights, vanity boxes of the royal women and intricately decorated hookahs (long pipe for smoking tobacco). But what really stands out in the Daulat Khana is silk tent made of red and gold brocade which was made for the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, but captured from his son Aurangzeb by the Raja Jaswant Singh in the latter half of the 17th century.

Moti Vilas & Sardar Vilas

Meherangarh Fort Jodhpur, India Travel GuideThe next two palaces you come across are the Moti Vilas and the Sardar Vilas. The unique feature of the Moti Vilas is its beautifully carved latticed screens. The detailing is so fine that from a distance you could be forgiven if you mistook the jalis (latticed screens) to be built out of lace. Neighbouring the Moti Vilas is a zenana court, built in 1640 and comprising of beautifully chiselled stonework. The Sardar Vilas located nearby is chiefly characterised by its exquisite woodwork. The doors and the panelling in the interiors of Sardar Vilas is marvellous to behold. Much of the woodwork is gold-plated and embellished with ivory. It also houses a splendid marble table, which was presented to it by the king of Kabul.

Umaid Vilas
Next door to Sardar Vilas is the Umaid Vilas, which has a gallery of miniature paintings mostly belonging to the Jodhpur school. Earlier, the Jodhpur school was strongly influenced by Jain art, but later with Jodhpur establishing close ties with Delhi the Mughal influence began to dominate. The magnum opus of Umaid Vilas is a painting of Maharaja Pratap Singh painted by a Jodhpur artist called Amar Das. You will also find a portrait of Maharawal Jaswant Singh of Jaisalmer here. There are plenty of pictures of Rajas playing Holi (Hindu festival of colour) with their consorts, splashing colour on each other.

Takhat Vilas

The Takhat Vilas is located above the Sardar Vilas and was added to the fort by Maharaja Takhat Singh who ruled between the years 1843 and 1873. The entire palace is laced with pictures painted on wet plaster depicting stories from the Krishna-Lila (the life and times of Lord Krishna the blue-god) and the legend of Dhola and Maru which is well known throughout Rajasthan.

The Romantic Tale Dhola Maru

The story of Dhola and Maru is fairly typical of the tales of Rajput romance with love finally conquering all. Apparently a long time ago there was a small kingdom called Poogal in which lived a king called Pingal. One day he decided to have his infant daughter Maru married off to Dhola, the son of Nal, the king of Narwar and his good friend. So Dhola and Maru got married at childhood but before they attained adulthood Nal died, and not surprisingly his son Dhola forgot the marriage vows he had exchanged with Maru at birth. So Dhola got married again to Malwani, while Maru pined away for him as her father king Pingal sent umpteen messages to Dhola which he never received as his wife Malwani had all the messengers either arrested or bumped off.

But as they say 'where there is a will there is a way.' Maru got through to Dhola finally through a group of folk singers, and Dhola on learning about his first wife started off for Poogal immediately. However the cunning Malwani was not going to let the two childhood sweethearts meet if she could help it. As Dhola set off she sent word through a messenger that she had died and Dhola ought to hurry back. Dhola not oblivious of the ways of Malwani saw the lie for what it was and carried on. His journey to Poogal was uneventful apart from an inopportune encounter with Umar Sumar, the leader of a band of robbers who tried to persuade him that his wife Maru had been married off to somebody else. Umar Sumar was himself very keen on Maru, but Dhola was having none of it. He arrived at Poogal to a tumultuous welcome and Dhola and Maru were united at last. However the star-crossed lovers' troubles were not over yet.

On the way back to Narwar, Maru was stung by a desert snake and died. Overwhelmed with grief Dhola decide to become the first 'male sati' in Rajput history by ascending the funeral pyre of his wife. But was saved in the nick of time by a yogi and yogini who claimed that they could bring Maru back to life. They played their musical instruments, and believe it or not these modern day seers actually brought back Maru to life, similar to what Jesus Christ did to Lazarus in the Bible. But the remarkable story doesn't end here. Enter the villain of the piece Umar Sumar once again. He hadn't rid himself of his infatuation for Maru and invited the gullible couple to spend an evening with them. However the couple's fairy godmother was obviously working overtime and again they were warned of the dacoit's evil intentions, this time by some folk singers. Whereupon the couple jumped atop their camel and made off for Malwa in double quick time. and like all Cinderella-endings, the couple along with Malwani lived happily ever after. When you visit the Takhat Vilas and see the murals depicted there remember the Dhola-Maru story- a legend repeated all over Rajasthan.

Jaswant Thada Cenotaph
Travel to Meherangarh Fort in Jodhpur, IndiaAs you peer over the high castle walls, you notice the Jaswant Thada Cenotaph. It was built in 1899, with all the rulers before him being cremated at Mandore, the previous capital of Marwar. Jaswant Singh who ruled Jodhpur from 1873-95, is worsipped in the city almost like a god and was credited during his lifetime as someone who possessed remarkable healing powers. His cenotaph is built like a temple and was worshipped like one by the public, and the stones with which it was constructed came from a quarry located at Markana, a village on the outskirts of Jaipur. The marble walls of the cenotaph are extremely thin, at some points only about six inches thick. Needless to add all the wives and concubines of Jaswant commited sati on his funeral pyre and their memorials are found alongside him.

Other Attractions
The other major palaces in Meherangarh fortare the Sheesh Mahal and the Rang Mahal. Sheesh Mahal or Mirror Palace as the name suggests is resplendent with mirrors. Although not in the same league as the Sheesh Mahals you will find in Bikaner and Amber but it is still wotrh a look. The highlight of the palace are the wall paintings you will find of various Hindu deities. The most exquisite pictures are the ones depicting Krishna, Shiva, Parvati, Rama, Sita, hanuman, Ganesh, Vishnu, Brahma and Durga. The Rang Mahal too is laced with mirrors and ornamented with fine mirror work.

Sileh Khana

Another place worth seeing while you are visiting the fort is the Sileh Khana or the armoury. Rajputs being a warrior tribe loved their weapons and they took great care of them. The Sileh Khana is bursting at the seams with all kinds of antique guns, maces, shields and ornamented swords. The armoury is similar to the Sileh Khana at Jaipur as far the variety of weapons go. The items include the sword of Rao Jodha called Khanda weighing over seven pounds. Also present are swords used by Tamerlane, the ancestor of the Mughals who sacked Delhi in 1398.

Nine Unknown Men

Nine Unknown Men are a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka.