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Posted at: Jan 14, 2018, 1:43 AM; last updated: Jan 14, 2018, 1:43 AM (IST)

Monumental stories set in stone

Every little structure at Chittorgarh Fort, an indelible part of Indian medieval history, turns into a storyteller

Akash Mehrotra 

Stories abound in this fort. Wrapped in history, Chittorgarh Fort, 100 km from the lake city of Udaipur, has been a textbook lesson on valour, honour, sacrifice and romance. Taken as an epitome of Rajput bravery and pride, Chittorgarh has been a part of history lessons. One of the oldest surviving forts of India, it was actually built by the Mauryas. Over centuries, it has changed many hands, seen many battles, but its grandeur increased with time. Even in a state of decay today, these buildings awe with the magnificence of ages and periods of history they have witnessed.

Chittorgarh was once a fortified city and the capital of Mewar Rajputana (southern part of Rajasthan), before falling in the hands of Khiljis, then ruled by Gehlot and Sisodia dynasties from the 7th century AD until captured by Emperor Akbar. Today this stunning fort is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The fort was attacked three times (in 1303, 1535 and 1568) and each time, its inhabitants chose death over dishonour. The men rode out of the fort to certain death and women and children immolated themselves on a holy pyre to save their honour.

Chittorgarh is no stranger to such tales. Its illustrious history can form the base of many folktales. And one such is of a beautiful queen Padmini and an enamored king Alauddin Khilji. Khilji was said to be infatuated by Padmini’s beauty. That made him attack Chittorgarh, the king of Chittorgarh. He fought till his last breath but failed to save Chittorgarh from Khilji. Queen Padmini, knowing of her king’s fall, chose to immolate herself in the holy pyre rather than be taken by Khilji as wife or mistress.

Set in the medieval era, Queen Padmini was the subject of several ballads, fantasies and poems, penned by poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Going through historic documents, you might not establish any authenticity of this tale, but this is what Chittorgarh has chosen to identify itself with.

Built atop a hillock, the fort overlooks the sleepy town as a royal guardian. There are seven gates and more than 60 monuments, including four palaces, memorials and scores of temples and several water bodies in the fort. Though most of these monuments are in different states of ruin, but as you walk along these crumbles, you live those tales. In Rana Kumbha Palace, screams of tens of thousands who immolated themselves when the Mughal emperor Akbar attacked the fort and defeated Rana Kumbha, still seem to echo. Even in crumbles, the palace stands as a spectacle of architecture. Every brick in the palace can turn a storyteller. 

Another major landmark in the fort is the Victory Tower. With nine storeys and 122 feet tall, it was built to commemorate a victory and later used to keep an eye on the enemy’s army. Saying that the tower can keep you in a click frenzy mode for hours, won’t be an exaggeration. 

At a stone’s throw is the section with the emerald-tinged waters of the Gaumukh reservoir. But probably the best part of the fort is the Padmini palace, the epicenter of tales that made Chittorgarh Fort an indelible part of Indian medieval history. As you walk through those walls, you find yourself closer to those stories. 

Take a short walk towards the edge that overlooks the Padmini lake. On the edges, is an arid landscape, eager to embrace you and take you back to those ages of the formidable fort turning into a battlefield, when thousands of women chose honour over life, the victories, victory tower had seen and the hub-bub of life that once defined this fort. Every little monument takes you beyond the ballads of Malik Muhammad Jayasi, as if calling you to know the real Padmini, the real Chittorgarh, as it existed, fought, died and then revived. 

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