The earliest and much smaller version of the fort is believed to have been called Machhindrapur. But the magnificent fort in South Rajasthan in the Aravalli Hills that exists today is called Kumbhalgarh Fort and was built by Rana Kumbha in the 15th century.
While driving up to it we felt that we were on a wild goose chase, as the Google Maps kept saying the fort is right ahead but we could see nothing. Only once we parked the car and walked up to within 500 meters, did we get our first glimpse of the massive walls and the experience is with us even today, many weeks later.
The guide told us that there were unnatural complications when Rana Kumbha had started building the fort. Once construction began, whatever progress that the workers would make during day would get destroyed by night. Investigations didn’t reveal any mischief or enemy action. They revealed instead, a curse which Rana Kumbha didn’t pay heed to. But when the construction of the fort continued to be stalled, he sought guidance from the village saint, Mer Baba. The saint said that the sacrifice, of a pure hearted man who voluntarily offers his life, would ward off the curse. When no volunteers came forward Mer Baba offered his own head to the king. But he laid down three conditions.
“I‘ll ride a horse,” he said. “When the horse stops for the first time, behead me and construct the first gate at the spot”.
Then he gave his second condition. “Construct the palace where my body falls of the horse”.
The third condition was that the palace would be named after him.
The King agreed to all three conditions. After the sacrifice, the majestic palace was constructed unobstructed, the work carrying on continuously for fifteen years. A small Hanuman mandir was built at the spot where the saint’s severed head had fallen, to commemorate his great sacrifice. The gate made next to the mandir was named Hanuman Pol. The palace was made where the body fell, and a memorial too was constructed in the Saints honour. Both the memorial and the mandir are paid respects to even today. The palace was named Kumbhalmer Fort, as per the wish of the saint.
Built with strict adherence to the rules of Vastu Shastra, the majestic fort comprises of seven gates and a total of 360 temples. Water tanks too were constructed, Lakhola tank being the main one. Built entirely of stone bricks, the fort lies 1100 m above sea level. Its surrounding walls are spread across various hills for a distance of approximately 38 km. They are 15 m wide and were so built to allow passage of eight horses abreast at any one time. Strategic spots along the wall allowed the soldiers a clear view to the Thar desert and to the distant Aravali ranges. And yet, despite its spread and massive structure, it is beautifully hidden, which bespeaks of brilliant planning and architecture. Many an enemy must’ve gone round in circles in trying to find the fort, as it can only be spotted from a mere 500 meters, from any side.
Understandably, the fort was used as a place of refuge for the rulers of Mewar at times of danger. Prince Udai was smuggled into it when Chittor was attacked. He later grew up to found the city of Udaipur. The fort stayed impregnable to direct assault, and succumbed only once. It was to the combined forces of Akbar, Man Singh of Amber, Raja Udai Singh of Marwar, and the Mirzas in Gujarat—and that too only due to a shortage of drinking water.
Rana Kumbha himself remained undefeated throughout his life thus earning the title of Maharana, The King of Kings. He was known as a brilliant leader for his men, brave and intuitive. He was charming too and over seven feet tall. The Shiv mandir in his fort had (still has) a gorgeous five feet tall, black Shivling, where Rana Kumbha could perform his Abhishek whilst seated.
Before Rana Kumbha, Mewar had become relatively insignificant due to the incessant attacks by the armies of Alauddin Khilji. Throughout his reign, Rana Kumbha was able to defend his kingdom against this multi-directional attacks. The most notable among them being of the combined attacks by Mahmud Khalji (Malwa), Qutbuddin (Gujarat), Shams Khan (Nagpur) and Rao Jodha of Marwar. Muslim rulers had given him the title of ‘Hindu Suratna’ meaning the Hindu Sultan.
The irony of his life however would be that ‘the Maharana’ who couldn’t be defeated by the combined armies of enemies surrounding him, lost his life to patricide, when his own son Udai Singh I (not to be confused with Udai Singh 2, father of the legendary Maharana Pratap) killed him one night. The faithfuls of Maharana Kumbha soon took revenge and killed Udai Singh, though sometimes it is attributed to him being struck by lightning. In his short rule, Udai lost large parts of Mewar and after his death was succeeded by his brother Raimal.
Kumbalgarh Fort was declared a World Heritage Site in 2013. It is sometimes referred to as the Great Wall of India. The Monument is well managed and is exceptionally clean. Regular allocation of funds channelled to restore and maintain it part by part was very heartening to learn about. The parking however is a nightmare. If the parking boys tell you to not drive up the hill, due to traffic congestion ahead, LISTEN to them. Else you’ll be stuck in jams for two to three hours and be a pain for everybody around too. It is best to park far away and walk up. And yes, if you do take the effort to go all the way there, get a guide. Only that will do full justice to your visit to this magnificent fifteenth century heritage site.
Aarti Pathak is a mother of two young children and resides in Vadodara, Gujarat. A prolific writer she is presently, C.E.O. and Editor at Bonobology.com. She blogs at https://sparrowtimes.wordpress.com