Junagadh – A walk through history and folklores at Uparkot Fort

Junagadh is an exciting town to explore for the tourists with an eye for architecture and a taste for history. It was an important city during the regimes of Mauryean and Gupta dynasties in 300 to 200 BC and early AD. Post-independence, it was again in prominence and tested the skills of ‘Iron-will’ Sardar Patel, when its eccentric nawab refused to merge his small state with India and insisted to be part of Pakistan. Pages after pages of Indian history books are filled with references to this town as it refused to fade out from the memories of both the time and the history.

Junagadh’s places of tourist interest are all in a fairly compact busy market area. It is fun to amble through its narrow streets that reveal their hidden pan-Indian treasure at every corner – the sight of the skyline broken by domes, Disneylandish spiraling minarets, old Buddhist caves, Jain and Hindu temples, bold gothic archways, an old fort, the mansion of the nawab and many intricately carved wooden doors and windows. The rich cultural heritage of Junagadh is evident in its landmarks that have the political and the religious influence of its various rulers.

A peaceful place enroute, from Sasan-Gir to Junagarh

A peaceful place enroute, from Sasan-Gir to Junagarh

However, I remember Junagadh more as a town of simple and honest people.

I started to get positive vibes while planning the trip itself. I discussed my travel plans with Jwalant, who belongs to Saurashtra region and is my co-passenger in the office bus most of the time. I consulted him for a decent accommodation in Junagadh. He suggested Leo Resort after enquiring his relatives in Junagadh and informed me that the hotel owner had offered a 10% discount. I got the final quote by email where they offered even higher discount on their own, a pleasant surprise!

As mentioned in an earlier post that at Anil Farm house, Sasan Gir, we hired a taxi and moved to our final destination – Junagadh. On the way we saw a river in the solitude with a peaceful surrounding. After clicking a few snaps we moved ahead. No one can really enjoy the beauty of a peaceful place with a driver eager to start again 🙂

Midway, in a small town we saw a green-grocer and could not stop the temptation of buying some fruits from his colorful stall. After several trips to Europe, I have realized that how lucky we Indians are; India is a land of fruits and vegetables, a variety of them available in all seasons.

Fruits! So many varieties, Sasan Gir to Junagarh

Fruits! So many varieties, Sasan Gir to Junagarh

When we were about to reach Junagadh, we saw some white stuff growing in the farm, it was only after a while that we realized that it was cotton. How can I forget that India is the third largest producer of cotton after America and China and the lion’s share of Indian cotton production comes from Gujarat.

Cotton Fields near Junagarh

Cotton Fields near Junagarh

After entering the town we soon reached our destination – the Leo Resort. It was big, well maintained and immaculately clean. Such a luxurious resort in such a small town! It must be an ambitious project of its owner. All the buildings were two-storied with well-carpeted, spacious air-conditioned rooms having big balconies and big-spacious bathrooms with modern bath fittings.

Rachit Enjoying the resort

Rachit Enjoying the resort, Leo Resort, Junagarh

The resort had well maintained gardens with hammock chairs to enjoy the bright-sunny days of Gujarati winter. The recreational room had billiards table, chess and carom board. Rachit and I tried billiards and he thoroughly enjoyed his first rendezvous with the game.

The food was a disappointment. It was of the kind that is served in Delhi/NCR restaurants, where the taste of gravy dominates so much that naming the sabzi with closed eyes becomes a challenge! Perhaps the local guests who take their meal in Leo look for something ‘Hotelish’. After our first meal we invariably ordered the meals with very less oil and masala. The food that was served subsequent to such orders was better, except once when the cook thought that we were interested in having a boiled meal 🙂

Once we ordered Bread and butter, costing Rs 25, and when a waiter brought precisely three nicely decorated bread pieces in a tray, it appeared more of a precious souvenir than something to devour. In toto, Leo resort is a luxurious resort, but it seemed to lack something. Perhaps, they call it a character 🙂

Colorful Hookahs in one of the gardens, Leo Resort, Junagarh

Colorful Hookahs in one of the gardens, Leo Resort, Junagarh

We started exploring the town with a visit to the Fort of Uparkot. It is the same fort from which Junagadh has derived its name. To help readers comprehend the historical events and their dates, I am listing them down in chronological order. Although in the post they appear in the order as I visited them.
2nd-4th century – Buddhist cave complex
7th century – Fort abandoned
9th century – Chudasama dynasty gained control over Junagadh
10th century – Fort was rebuilt
11th century – Navgahan Kuva
12th century- Story of Rani Ranak Devi
15th century- Defeat of Raja Mandlik III
16th century – Defeat of Bahadur Shah

The imposing fortified citadel of Uparkot is located on a plateau in the middle of the town. It rises from the edge of the old quarters of Junagarh in a street lined with ornate Kathiawari houses. The Uprakot fort is believed to be built in 319 BC by Chandragupta Maurya as one of the western outposts of his pan-Indian empire. Mauryan and Gupta rulers mentioned this place in the Girnar rock inscription as a strategically important place. The town and the Fort were abandoned in the 7th century. The Fort remained abandoned for three centuries and when it was re-discovered in 10th century, it was completely overgrown by a jungle.

The Rajput dynasty Chudasama gained control over Junagadh by 875 AD and realized the defensive importance of this old fort and transformed it into an impregnable fortress with 65 feet high walls and a 300 ft deep moat around it. Chudasama ruler Ra Grahario I is credited with rebuilding this fort. The current appearance of this fort is mainly the result of rebuilding and reconstruction under various rulers of Chudasama dynasty. Over the period of thousand years this fort has been besieged as many as 16 times and one such siege lasted for around twelve years.

The fort of Junagarh (photo courtesy: Poonam Ranka)

An ornate triple gateway forms the entrance to the fort; crossing a few temples on a cobbled pathway that leads upward, we reached to the summit of the raised fort. I believe that one can truly enjoy the visits to historical monuments only when one knows the history behind them and can relate to it. At the summit there were two canons; standing there and looking at the city below, I was contemplating to take the services of a knowledgeable guide. However, it is easier said than done as most of the guides lack credibility.

A young boy offered to assist us. I was looking for an expert so I did not show much interest. But, I realized that the other guide has stopped asking us as he did not want to compete with that boy. After all, Junagadh is a utopian place with no cut throat competition. I was forced to take his services – a decision that I didn’t regret.

The boy started with the two canons kept there. Can canons also have a history behind them? These two definitely have one …or maybe I am a history buff who looks for history behind everything, a tag that everyone from many of my readers, my wife, to my young kid Rachit tries to put on me. I try to be polite towards these allegations, but I am sure, they were never good at history 😉

Story of Neelam and Manek, Uparkot Fort, Junagarh

Story of Neelam and Manek, Uparkot Fort, Junagarh

In the early sixteenth century, when Portuguese arrived on the western coast of India, Bahadur Shah was ruling Saurashtra. Initially Bahadur Shah was able to thwart any Portuguese attempt to occupy Indian Territory. Soon he got in conflict with the Mughal Emperor Humayun, probably after Bahadurshah’s attack on Chittorgarh. Humayun inflicted heavy losses on him and Bahadurshah’s empire was repeatedly pounded by incessant barrage of Mughal attacks.

Pressed hard by the Mughals at one side and the Portuguese at another, he made a peace pact with the Portuguese. The Portuguese agreed to assist him against Humayun and in exchange Bahadur Shah accepted their rule on a part of Diu and allowed them to construct a fortress. He had unwittingly provided them a foothold.

In the meantime, Mughal threat receded as Humayun got engaged in battles with the smart and shrewd Shershah. Bahadurshah seized the opportunity and tried to regain his strength. And then he realized his mistake in allowing the Portuguese to build the fortress as by that time the Portuguese had a complete control on Diu.

Bahadurshah got support from Turkey and a Turkish fleet arrived on the coast of Gujarat in an attempt to expel Portuguese and to reestablish the trade between India and Turkey. These two canons Neelam and Manek were brought by that convoy, led by Suleiman. The canons were cast in Egypt in 1531. Neelam the larger among the two is 17 feet long.

One day the Portuguese anchored their ship on the coast of Gujarat and invited Bahadurshah for a peace treaty. Bahadurshah boarded it, but never returned. He was killed on the ship and his body was thrown into the Arabian Sea. These two canons are witness to that lost war, the beguiling way in which Bahadurshah was ensnared and to the Portuguese occupation on Diu that lasted from 1538 till 1961 is an example of a long saga of small accession allowed by local Indian kings to imperial powers eventually leading to colonial rule.

The two canons are facing the abandoned Jammi-Masjid. Jammi Masjid’s courtyard has a roof with three octagonal openings. It is better to call it the Palace of Rani Ranak devi as this structure and its 140 pillars are of her palace. Today, nothing much interesting of that palace is left except the folklores associated with the palace. Those of you who have been reading my posts know about my obsession of history and folklores 🙂

Rani Ranakdevi's Palace, Uparkot Fort, Junagarh

Rani Ranakdevi’s Palace, Uparkot Fort, Junagarh

The boy, our guide, narrated the story of Rani Ranakdevi that sounded like Indian Trojan war; just that it was much more dramatic. Read on.

Rani Ranakdevi was an abandoned child whom a family of potter adopted and took care of her as their own child. She grew up into a very beautiful woman. A team of bards noticed her and told about her beauty to the Solanki ruler ‘Siddhraj Jaisinh’ – a famous ruler of Ahilwad Patan who ruled from 1094 to 1143 AD. After listening about her beauty from the bards Siddhraj got impatient to marry her. Meanwhile, Ranakdevi got married to Raja Rakhengar, the ruler of Junagadh. When it came to Siddhraj’s knowledge, he attacked Junagadh.

The army of Junagadh strongly defended the fort and the siege continued for twelve years, yes for twelve years. By then Rani became proud mother of two kids.

Raja Rakhengar had two nephews – Desal and Visal. He looked after them as his own kids. As they grew, they became ambitious and conspired against him. They hid armed enemy’s troop in the sack and loaded them on the carts and reached the entrance of the fort. When the guards on duty questioned them, they got angry. They told the guards about the difficulties by which they could procure food for the residents and scolded them for asking unnecessary questions. The two brothers then ordered them to open the gates of the fort. As the carts entered the fort, the defenses of the fort collapsed. Raja Rakhengar was caught, murdered & beheaded and Rani Ranakdevi was captured.

डस नही पाए नाग बांबी के मुझे
डस गया जो आस्तीनों में पला|

It is believed that Mt Girnar was very big at that time and Rani Ranakdevi used to worship it. When Rani was forcibly taken away she became very angry and cursed Mt Girnar – “O, Girnar, are you blind? Do you not see your queen’s doom? How will you keep your head high after it? It started a terrible avalanche that threatened to tear the mountain apart. It mellowed Rani and she said, “Enough Girnar! Please do not destroy yourself”. Her words miraculously stopped the avalanche.

Mt Girnar from Rani Ranakdevi’s Palace, Uparkot Fort, Junagarh

Mt Girnar from Rani Ranakdevi’s Palace, Uparkot Fort, Junagarh

When Siddhraj Jaisinh was returning victorious, Desal and Visal requested him to declare them his new vassal and to coronate them. Siddhraj was in no mood to reward the two traitors who conspired against their own uncle. He told them coldly, “You were not loyal to your own uncle, so how could I trust you”? He then ordered their execution.

The victorious caravan of Jaisinh reached Wadhavan, a nearby village, with the Rani and the head of Rakhengar as the memento of their victory. Rani Ranakdevi was pleading to commit sati. At Wadhavan, Jaisinh had a nightmare and he decided to allow her. But he put the condition that no one would fire her pyre and told her, “If you are as pious as you say, then ask God to light your pyre”.

She sat on the pyre with her husband’s head. Suddenly there was lightening in the sky that burnt the pyre. Today there is a temple dedicated to the sati in Wadhavan, Saurashtra. It is believed that a river Bhogavo, used to flow around that village that became waterless after her curse.

The legend of Ranakdevi is the favorite fable of the Gujarati bards.

Intricate carving in Rani’s Palace, Uparkot Fort, Junagarh

Intricate carving in Rani’s Palace, Uparkot Fort, Junagarh

The residence of Ranakdevi was converted into mosque by Muhammad Begada after his conquest of Junagadh. He defeated Chudasama ruler Raja Mandlik III in 1473. Our guide narrated a story that how Mandlik’s doomsday was prophesied much earlier by a Brahmin lady.

Nagbai, a Charan lady, considered Mandlik III like his brother. Once on the festival of Rakshabandhan, she went to tie rakhi on Raja’s hand. She wanted to put vermilion on his forehead. But, whenever she tried to do so Raja turned his head away. Nagbai tried several times but failed while everyone started to laugh at her. The unkind act of Raja made her furious and she cursed him, prophesying that he would lose his kingdom and Mohammedans would rule where Chudasama’s exercised authority so long.

The prophecy came true in AD 1473 when Mahmud Begada invaded Junagadh; Raja Mandlik was defeated and had to embrace Islam. Mahmud renamed Junagadh as Mahmudabad but the new name remained only for a short time.

With this victory of Mahmud, the rule of Sultans and Nawabs started in Junagadh.

Raja Mandlik and Junagadh are closely associated with the spiritual pride of Gujarat, the enlightened saint Narsinh Mehta, who is also known as the आदिकवि (the first poet) of the Gujarati language. There are many accounts associated with this great saint, as how Lord Krishna helped him in his difficult times and looked after his family.

Raja Mandlik once got Narsi Mehta arrested on the complaints of some people, who were jealous of Narsi Mehta’s growing popularity, and asked him to prove his innocence by making lord garland him. Narsi started to sing Lord Krishna’s bhajan in front of a Krishna temple and a miracle happened. The temple doors opened and a garland that was previously on Lord Krihsna’s idol, propitiously fell round in the neck of Narsi. The king realized that he was not an ordinary person and fell at Narsi’s feet.

It may not be common knowledge that Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite bhajan – “वैष्णव जन तो तेने कहीन्ये”, that become synonymous to him, was in-fact composed by this revered saint. I am including the bhajan here to enjoy its beauty.

वैष्णव जन तो तेने कहीन्ये, पीड़ पराई जाने रे,
पर दुख उपकारकरे तोये, मन अभिमान ना आने रे|
सकल लोकमां सहुने वन्दै, निंदा ना करे केनी रे,
वाच काछ मन निश्चल राखे, धन-धन जननी तेरी रे|
समदृष्टि ने तृष्णा त्यागी, परस्त्री जेने मात रे,
जिहवा थाकी असत्य ना बोले, परधन नव झाले हाथ रे|
मोह माया व्यापे नही जेने, दृढ़ वैराग्य जेने मनमां रे,
राम नाम सुताली लागी, सकल तीरथ तेने तनमां रे|
वणलॊभी ने कपट रहीत जे, काम-क्रोध निवार्या रे,
वाने नर्सियों तेनू दर्शन करता, कुण एकोतेर तार्या रे|

[A true “Vaishnav” is the one, who feels the plight of others,
He helps others, but does not let pride enter his mind
He worships everybody in the world and does not criticize anybody.
He keeps his mind and tongue in control.
Mother of such a person is blessed.
He sees everything equally, rejects greed and considers someone else’s wife as his mother
He never speaks lie and does not touch others valuables.
He does not succumb to worldly attachments,
He has been addicted to the elixir coming by the name of Ram,
He has no greed and deceit, and has renounced desires and anger,
All holy places are in the body and mind of such a person.
The poet Narsi will like to see such a person, by whose virtue, the entire family gets salvation]

Series Navigation<< Girnar Rock-Book InscriptionsBuddhist cave complex and the Step-wells of the Junagarh Fort >>


    1. Dear Mahesh

      I am pleased to see you here and thanks for taking out time to read the post :-), and to leave the comment.


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