Spreadeagled across the mountaintop with its towers soaring boldly towards the heavens, the fort of Chittaurgarh is the crucible of Rajput history. Here, where defending one's honor was more important than death, events played themselves out with tragic intensity. In Chittaur one hears the silent footfalls of history, doomed and anguished, yet heroic and utterly romantic.
Even the stones seems to tell stories about the legendary beauty of Rani Padmini and the heroic feats of the Rajput maharanis; the collective anguish of a people committed to the practice of jauhar—when men donned saffron robes and marched out to their sure death, while women and children succumbed to mass self-immolation rather than be taken captive by the enemy. Chittaurgarh was the seat of this history so filled with pain and death, dignity and honor, love and romance, and to find myself physically there was an overwhelming experience.
Here was the splendid fort, with its broken walls and towers of fame.
Founded by Chittarangada Mori of the Mori dynasty in the 5th century AD, the fort was initially known as Chitrakut. One can see the stupa dedicated to him still standing at the turn of a road, with the oldest Mori tank at its side. From the 8th to the 16th century it was the Shishodia dynasty that reigned gloriously and nurtured 54 generations starting with Bapa Rawat and ending with Udai Singh. Enshrined within its 700 acres are fortifications, palaces, temples, tanks, granaries, bazaars and towers-800 years of toil which echo with tales of romance and valor, so characteristic of the Rajputs.
During the Mewar reign, the fort was ravaged thrice. Each time the people preferred death to dishonor, which is why there is an air of solemnity and respect surrounding the fort even today. The fort is a massive structure with many gateways built by various rulers who reigned at different times. Some of the main gates are Padal Pol, Bhairon Pol, Hanuman Pol and Ram Pol. Seven gates defend the approach to the fort on the west; one faces the east; and the last one defends the north. One marvels at how such immense structures came into being. How were rocks of mammoth proportions carted to the highest points of the hilltop? How was each slab of concrete measured, cut and placed to make such perfect towers? What was the inspiration behind the spectacular sculptures on every inch of the temple facades?
One significant structure that stands intact today is the palace of Rani Padmini, wife of Rana Ratan Singh, with a water pavilion, Jal Mahal. It was at this water pavilion that Allaudin Khilji saw a reflection of Rani Padmini in 1303. Although there were great painters and poets of the time who swooned over the queen's beauty, there is no record of her face. Silent devotion at Mirabai's Temple. Sent an offer to the palace to exchange Padmini for Ratan Singh. Rajput chivalry could not allow this to happen. With much cunning, warriors disguised as part of the rani's coterie, hid in palanquins and set out to save their king.
Today, one can still see the delicate Jal Mahal, used as Padmini's summer residence, rising from the middle of the lake. The complex around it was for her servants. Narrow corridors, open courtyards, concrete sieves on the windows... they are all there. What is missing is the sound of payals echoing under the high ceilings.
Within the ramparts is the palace of Rana Khumba, most of it in ruins now. However, it is believed that Rani Padmini and the other Rajput women committed jauhar in its underground cellars which are blocked today.
Rani Padmini wasn't the only lady of consequence in Chittaur. The city was also a refuge for the mystic princess and poetess, Mirabai who devoted her life to Lord Krishna. She lived here in seclusion. Her three-storeyed residence faces Rana Khumba's palace. The Khumba Shyam Temple , built by the Rana in Indo-Aryan style, is also associated with Mirabai. On the other hand, the temple where she worshipped Lord Krishna is built in the North Indian style on a raised plinth with a conical roof and an open colonnade around the beautiful sanctum. This is where she meditated, wrote her bhajans and sang them into.. the sky.
There is also an interesting building, said to be the residence of the commanderin-chief, which has a beautiful facade. What attracted me to the crumbling structure were the blue ceramic tiles that glinted from afar. From here one can get a good view of the victory tower, fragments of the boundary wall and the temples that lie scattered within.
HOW AND WHERE
Chittaurgarh is accessible by air, road and rail. Udaipur (90 kms away) is the nearest airport. By rail it is connected to Ajmer, Jaipur, Alwar, Delhi, Bundi, Kota, Udaipur and Ahme- dabad. By road some distances are: Delhi-583 kms, Mt. Abu - 297 kms, Jaipur - 325 kms, Udaipur -112 kms, Indore - 325 kms, Ajmer - 105 kms.
Chittaurgarh has both standard and budget hotels. Standard hotels include the RTDC Hotel Panna (tel 41238), Hotel Padmini (tel 41588) and Hotel Pratap Palace
In the budget category, there are hotels like Shalimar Alok and Anand Approved guides of the central archaeological department and Rajasthan tourism are available.
Tours are normally conducted for large parties via travel agents in Jaipur and Udaipur. However, once you reach Chittaurgarh, it is not difficult to arrange a guide. In fact even the auto rickshaws will take you from point to point within the fort for Rs ,150 to Rs 300 depending on the amount of time you wish to spend there.