Mewar rises to a staggering 3600 feet above sea level at Kumbalgarh.
The idyllic beauty of its valleys, and the rugged terrain of its mountainous region have influenced the tastes and way of life of the rulers and people of mewar.
Rajasthan History Congress – Udaipur Session, 1969
When one arrives at the threshold of Lake Lakhola in a village called Kelwara, 84 kms out of Udaipur, Rajasthan the only canvas visible is the crown that adorns the majestic Mewar kingdom. The jewel is the fort of Kumbhalgarh or Kumbhalmer.
This is where legendary Maharana Pratap, the brave warrior who Akbar the great revered highly, moved his capital to – the well-nigh inaccessible Kumbhalgarh. And this is where numerous battles took place to bring the Rajput kingdom under Mughal suzerainty, albeit with not so much success when compared with other provincial wars. Where the nearby Mandalgarh was seized several times and is now in absolute ruins, this scarred but dignified structure stands high.
The isolation of a structure of historic importance aids in defining the experience of visiting such a place. Urban clutter seems to geometrically slot the physical universe that humans occupy. Ergo, visiting a fort/monument sends them into a zone of fascination for it is not just the structure that is isolated.
As the journey towards the fort inches to a close, the sheer scale becomes much wider than imagined. The mountainous way from the lake to the top gently meanders across the landscape that is surrounded by eroded hills.
The earliest references to the fort go back to the 5th century CE attributing its construction to King Samprati, the last of the Mauryan descendants. There is very little or credible information from the next 800 years up until the Sisodia clan came to power. Shihab Hakim, one of the first Islamic historians, mentions Kumbalgarh as “Mahour”, during the reign of Ala-ud-din Khilji. It was during the reign of the greatest of them all Maharana Kumbha, that Kumbhalgarh was restored to its present glory.
Even now after more than 400 years, the Victory Tower, Kumbhalgarh fort and the plains of Sarangpur, where he first clashed with Muhammad Khilji, recall to mind a ruler who had lived and fought gloriously and left a cultural legacy of which any people could be proud.
A warrior of extreme physical strength and willpower, Kumbha was responsible for not just creating formidable military strength, but also the artistic and cultural progression of the Mewar kingdom that astounds people with its grandeur and aesthetics. The ruler got 32 out of the 84 forts constructed that dot the landscape of Mewar.
The sprawling landscape of the fort is circumscribed within a thick wall that runs 36 kms long across the mountain range Aravalli for as long as the eye can see. Kumbha had been unsuccessful at getting the wall constructed after repeated attempts. The king then consulted a spiritual preceptor who advised a voluntary human sacrifice. He also suggested that a temple be built where the head would fall. Initially there wasn’t a volunteer, but, one day, a pilgrim, or some versions suggest a soldier and others that pointed that the spiritual preceptor and pilgrim were one person, came forward and was ritually decapitated. The rite has been commemorated in the form of a shrine and temple at Hanuman Pol, the main gate of the fort.
The frontal walls are fifteen feet thick. A total of seven huge gates pave the way for the entrance, constantly under the imposing watchtowers from where skilled arms men could unleash their fury upon invaders. According to lore, Maharana Kumbha used to burn huge lamps on the walls that consumed fifty kilograms of ghee and a hundred kilograms of cotton to provide light for the farmers who worked during the nights in the valley.
There are 360 temples, mostly Jain structures, within the fort. One of the prominent temples is the Neelkanth Mahadev temple that stands on 24 pillars and has a 5-feet tall shivlingam made out of a black stone. In the western corner, the deity is represented with 12 hands and one face – a strange reference to Harappan statues.
Situated atop a four-feet high platform is the Parsvanath temple that was installed by a Jain saint Ratan Shekhar Suri in 1513 CE. Located roughly a kilometer and half from the Shiv temple are the Bawan Mandir that is a complex of 52 temples built around a massive central worship area. Although dilapidated in its current disposition, the main temple has some of its glory rescued in the interior, where carvings have been restored.
Pillaging has claimed forty temples in this complex, a common phenomenon across India. In addition to these places of worship, there is Golera Jain temple, Mata Temple, and Mamadev Temple. Rana Baori, a stepwell paves a precarious way to the Mamadev Temple that is sometimes also called Kumbha Shyam temple. The fort is a treasure trove of artifacts for it has yielded more than 400 specimens to various museums. A good 268 statues discovered were those of Jain pilgrims alone.
The royal residence called the Badal Mahal Palace is located at the top of the fort. In a stark contrast to the raw, mud like appearance of the palace walls, the interiors are painted in green, white and turquoise. Frescoes depicting wars, jauhars and, lifestyle of the royal empire adorn the walls here. The two prominent halls of the palace are the Mardana (Men) and Zenana (Women) Mehal.
As one stands on the roof, it appears as though nature is singing the glorious pride of the warriors who have shed their blood over centuries to protect this panoramic landscape of Mewar. The various sounds coming from the surrounding jungles create a symphony that echoes far into the Aravallis. These ‘jungles’ are the great confines of the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary
The verdurous landscape of this valley is spotted with endemic fauna and alluring flora. Spread across an area of 609 sq. kms the sanctuary is at an altitude of more than 3500 ft. above sea level. The Marwar desert flanks its western side offering a diverse topography.
A great variety of vegetation is found within the sanctuary. The mountains here are rich in Ayurvedic herbs some of which are rare outside the Aravalis. The lush cover is a heaven for a number of animal and bird species. The panther is the main predator with other carnivores like Indian wolf, jungle cat, hyena, jackals and the endangered caracal. The herbivores included sambhar, chinkara, wild boar, roz, sloth bear and the endangered four-horned antelopes.
The sanctuary is also a habitat for crocodile, starred tortoise, Indian mud or flap-shelled turtle, common garden lizard, Indian monster lizard, rat snake, Indian krait, russels viper, Indian cobra, water snake python and the endangered green yellow chemo lion.
The bird watchers can have a great time in the sanctuary with more than 200 species of birds to be seen here. They include babblers, barbet, bee-eater, cuckoo, bulbul, rock chat, pea fowl, drogue, grey jungle fowl, and flycatcher among several others. Among birds of prey, crested serpent eagle, crested hawk, eagle, shikra, Kestrel, falcon, owlet etc. can be seen. The winter season sees the natural reserve playing host to visitors such as dabchick, cormorant, Indian shag, darter, egret grey heron storks and spoonbill.
To encapsulate the entire experience of visiting Kumbhalgarh Fort, it could be said that it gives the feeling of being a tiny dot on the vast scale of history. Isolation!
Photos and article © -Kirit Kiran