गढो में गढ़ चित्तौड गढ़, बाकी सब गढिया
It is a fond saying in Mewar region of Rajasthan- “Among all the forts, only Chittorgarh is a fortress, rest are mere fortalices.
These days the fort of Chittorgarh is a deserted ruin. Air of desolation hangs over its honey colored ramparts, temples, towers and palaces, which sprawl over its rocky plateau. Time has mellowed this once roaring fort, which always stood like the rock of Gibraltar against foreign attacker, still these ruins vividly evoke the zeal of Rajput chivalry and bravery. This fort represents the quintessence of Rajput heroism and valor. Its many known and unknown tales, buried under the layers of time and the ubiquitous sandstone, attract the connoisseurs of Indian history in big numbers.
Let me start the third part of this series from Vijay Stambh, the prominent, well-kept monument that today symbolizes this fort. This sand colored tower was erected by Maharana Kumbha to commemorate his victory over the combined forces of Sultan Mehmud Khilji of Malwa and Sultan Qutubuddin Shah of Gujarat in 1437. This tower is thirty feet wide on its base, has nine storeys, rises up to 37.19 meter and has 157 steps to reach the top. It took a decade and approximately 7 million rupees to build.
It is an experience to walk on its narrow, dimly lit stairs. Idols of the Hindu trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, preside on every floor. Generally the architects of Indian monuments kept themselves anonymous. It’s the same for Vijay Stambh’s architect as well, except that on fifth floor, his name Jeta and the name of his three sons Naapa, Pooja and Poma, is engraved. Also, on the top storey the lineage of Mewar rulers, starting from Maharana Hameer to Maharana Kumbha, is engraved. We walked to the top once; there is nothing much interesting inside as compared to its delicately carved exterior.
When Chittor was capital of Mewar the Maharanas of Mewar were cremated on a platform adjacent to Vijay Stambh. On its other side is “Mahasati”, place where second jauhar was committed.
In the first article of the series, I wrote about the third and the last jauhar that was committed in 1568 at the time of Akbar’s assault on the fort.
The Sisodia rulers of Mewar lost Chittorgarh fort thrice to foreign invaders and all these three times the defeat resulted in a jauhar . The women of the fort willingly marched en-masse into the flames of a huge pyre. This act of self-immolation of their loved ones made Rajput warriors brazenly fearsome with no vulnerabilities and no desire to live. They then fought ferociously with the single mission of killing as many invaders as possible while defending the honour of their motherland before embracing death as martyrs.
The second jauhar in 1535 was result of an unexpected onslaught by Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. Maharani Karnavati, the dowager queen of Maharana Sanga, was ruling Mewar on behalf of her son Vikramaditya. Vikramaditya was quite unpopular among Rajput chieftains. He was the same Maharana who was responsible for atrocities on Meerabai . Was treatment meted to Meera played a role in him being so despised? May be! However, this was not the only reason. Many of his chieftains were also victim of his puerile behavior.
When Sultan BahadurShah attacked Chittorgarh these chieftains refused to fight under Vikramaditya. They agreed to defend their motherland and the honour of Sisodia clan only when Maharani Karnavati agreed to send him to her native place, Bundi, along with her younger son UdaiSingh and trusted maid Panna Dhai.
It shows how important is the role of a leader and reminds me of an interesting observation of a French Diplomat who once said, “I am more afraid of an army of 100 sheep led by a lion than an army of 100 lions led by a sheep.”
The leaderless Rajput army was small and the differences among them were huge. They had already lost a battle against Sultan and were demoralized as well. The sudden siege of the fort left Maharani with no other option but to request Mughal Emperor Humayun for his immediate help. She sent a rakhi to Humayun. Humayun was quick in realizing the subtle message conveyed by the delicate sacred thread.
He was on an expedition to Bengal. He stopped his progress and rushed towards Chittorgarh. However, by the time he reached Chittor, the damage was all done. The inhabitants of the fort embraced death either in the battlefield or in the sacred pyre. When Humayun saw the tragic end of the inhabitants of the fort and the Maharani, he deeply regretted his not being able to reach on time. He defeated Sultan and reinstated Vikramaditya as Maharana of Chittor.
The skeptics believe that the delay on Humayun’s part was deliberate as he was unsure that should he fight for his Hindu sister or not! Regarding reinstating Vikramaditya, they argue it was not an act of nobleness but political calculations of a shrewd Emperor, a foolish teenager was much easier to control than a seasoned Sultan.
From this site of gory past, let us move to the ruins of an old Shiva temple. Its solitude attracted me. I slid through a locked, rusted turnstile and walked on its desolate pathway enjoying the tranquility of the surroundings; no one was in sight. My footsteps scared a quail. It hurriedly crossed my path. I was not alone there. It was soon followed by another one. By the time my hands reached the camera in my pouch, the two birds vanished. Quail is a weak flier and this makes it vulnerable to hunting, though I missed my shot.
I sat there for sometime, listening the silence and the occasional rustling of dry leaves. While enjoying the solitude, I was lost in thoughts about the complex relationship Sisodia clan shared with Mughal Dynasty.
It started with Maharana Sanga inviting and fighting along with Babur against Ibrahim Lodi. Soon this friendship of convenience went sour and Sanga pitted himself against Babur, eventually losing the battle of Khanwa that also ended his life. Maharani Karnavati’s decision to send rakhi to Humayun, Babur’s son, to seek his help surprises me as much as Humayun’s generosity to come to her help and eventually returning the throne to its rightful owner. Something again went kaput and Akbar, Humayun’ son, attacked Chittorgarh that resulted in the third jauhar of the fort. The rivalry between Maharna Pratap and Akbar is well-known. The love-hate relationship continued and when Shahjahan, Akbar’s grandson, revolted against his father Jahangir, he sought protection in Mewar and is believed to have spent around six months at Jagmandir in Lake Pichhola.
I guess it is unavoidable when two proud and powerful dynasties grow together with a deep understanding of each other’s weakness and strength, passing through thick and thin of time, still remaining firm-footed in their strongholds.