¤ The Colossal Fort
Right in the center of the National Park is Ranthambhore fort, a
stronghold built in 994AD by Sapaldaksh Chauhana to thwart invasions
by Persian invaders. The fort has a nice legend to it. It is said that
two princes went on a boar hunt. They found one alright, but as soon
as the beast spied the duo he dove into a lake. The princes appealed
to Lord Shiva to bring the boar out so they could kill it. Shiva
agreed, but on the condition that the princes would have to build him
a fort. Out came the boar to be killed, and the two princes went forth
and built a fort.
fort is located on a high cliff surrounded by jungles and has a bloody
history. In the 14th century, the fort became the site for
the first ever jauhar (self immolation by women) in Rajput history.
Jauhar, put simply, meant that wives of Rajput warriors immolated
themselves in a huge bonfire when confronted with defeat. All this
happened during the reign of Raja Hammir Dev who was fighting the
Persian forces. The women left behind in the fort came to know of
Hammirs death in battle and consequently decided to end their
lives. However, Hammir was very much alive. On his return to the fort
and learning about the jauhar, he beheaded himself before a statue of
Shiva within the fort.
¤ The Great History
During the 12th century AD the Turks were ruling Delhi and in 1194AD
Qutub-ud-Aibak captured Ranthambhore fort from the Rajputs. On Aibaks
death in 1210AD Altamush was appointed his successor who realised that
in order to gain control over Turkish possessions in India he would be
required to make the Sultanate stronger than before. By 1220 Altamush
had established the northern frontier along the river Indus. However,
with Qutub-ud-din Aibaks death the Rajputs had realigned
themselves and had come together as a force to reckon with.
Ranthambhore fort which they had lost to the Turks had been regained
and Ajmer and its surrounding areas were secure. Delhi saw different
rulers in Altamushs successor Raziya Sultan and subsequently
Balban, who were unable to make much headway into Rajasthan, and
Ranthambhore remained in Rajput hands.
Then came Alauddin Khilji, a ruler of Afghan descent. The Rajputs had
mastered the art of guerilla warfare and counted on that to hold out
against the Sultanate, but had not contended with Khiljis
military tactics. Alauddin Khilji captured Ranthambhore fort in 1303
and destroyed the temples within its walls. Later, the Rajputs
reclaimed the fortress and held it till the Mughal emperor Akbar came
along in 1569. Akbar laid siege to the fort with an artillery barrage
which lasted for 37 days, but ultimately it was a ruse which got him
the fort. The emperor disguised himself as a common mace bearer and
was accompanied by one of his Rajput generals, also in disguise.
Within a few hours the fort had been taken and Akbar acknowledged as
its ruler. Being of generous disposition, the emperor gifted away the
fort to the Maharaja of Jaipur.
¤ Strongest Bastion
The approach to the fort is from the west along a serpentine route
which passes through four fortified gateways. The first gateway is
armoured with a huge iron chain and elephant spikes to discourage
intentions of ramming it with an elephant. Likewise is the second
gate. The third gate lies on a sharp bend and is protected by the
ancient Ranthambhore monolith head. The final gate is the strongest
bastion of defense with huge spiked doors, a turret and a raised
platform which leads into a long vaulted tunnel which in turn goes
right into the fort. So many defenses and this is the only way to
enter the Ranthambhore fort!
An 18th century traveler describes the fort as being famous throughout
India, well protected, completely inaccessible, concealed in
mountainous regions where the ridges were high and surrounded the
entire fort, leaving only the forest gorge below as entrances and
exits which could be easily defended. Only cannons could blast through
the walls and force entry, and the notorious inaccuracy of cannon fire
meant that the fort justified its reputation as unconquerable.
The walls of the fort are equally foreboding, rising upto 200ft (61m).
A massive climb without anything to hold on to, or a death-fall,
depending on where one is. However, the interior of the fort is now in
ruins and the remains of only two temples dedicated to Shiva and
Ganesh, a Jain temple and a water tank can still be found. The Badal
Mahal in the north section of the fort offers a splendid view below.