Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Fort at Chittor

"Give the historians something to write about."


Just a small part of the beautiful monstrosity that is Chittorgarh. I ripped this picture off its Wikipedia article.

I like to think that all of us have our own fairylands, medieval empires and alternate universes we'd like to visit when we were younger - when the distinction between the real and the imaginary meant little. Till today, I have in me an inhuman appetite for fantasies - stories of made-up worlds and made-believe wonders which cannot possibly exist in our narrow, boxed-up cell we call reality. It's the only bit of childhood I still retain within my person, I believe; this willingness to suspend my beliefs, this yearning to see places only the mind can see. I like to see this bit follow me to my grave. Everyone should have a constant part of themselves which defines who they are.

Of course, you might wonder why the heck I'm telling you all this nonsense you can't care less about.

What I'm trying to say is, the first time I clapped eyes on the magnificent fort of Chittor from a distance while sitting in a car bounded for the broad mountain table it stood on, I felt like a child of five again. It felt like I was actually going to someplace that isn't real.

Meet k0k s3nw4i, the resident photographer of k0k bl0k, hard at work in Chittorgarh. All pictures following this one was taken by his awesome self.

This place is so old that it was actually mentioned in the Mahabharata. It was said that the Pandava hero, Bhima, struck the ground here so hard that water gushed out and formed a large reservoir. I don't know who Bhima is either, so it's okay if you don't.

The fort itself has been documented since the 7th century AD by the Maurya dynasty and the mists of history cleared a little bit in 734 AD when it came into the position of one Bappa Rawal, founder of the kingdom of Mewar who made it his capital - and it remained the Mewari capital for the next 800 plus years.

What really made Chittorgarh special in the annals of history is how much it stands for valor, heroism, pride, sacrifice and - most of all - freedom. Its people were those of the Rajput, of the noble warrior caste and its stones stood in eternal testament of their suicidal tendencies. Whoops, did I just say suicidal tendencies?

One of the seven gates I passed on the way up.

In 1303 AD, the Sultan of Delhi, Ala ud din Khilji, descended upon the fort at Chittor with a great host to capture Rani Padmini, whose beauty had (in my own words) stirred ol' Ala ud din's loins. In the face of inevitable defeat, the men chose to perform "Saka" - which ostensibly means "run screaming out of their nigh impenetrable fort in saffron robes in a blaze of glory to die, and to take as many of their enemies with them". In conjunction to that, Rani Padmini, along with all the other royal ladies in the fort and their young children, performed "Jauhar" to avoid dishonourable acts inflicted upon them by the victorious invading army (basically, they walked into a big fire - the bad guys are less likely to want to rape charred corpses).

That's just the first time.

The Satbis Deori Jain temple in the fort.

Back view of the Satbis Deori temple.

In 1535, Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat laid siege upon Chittorgarh and once more, the fort's inhabitants reacted in pretty much the same way. 32,000 men in saffron rode into martyrdom while the women, led by Rani Karnawati, had a huge cookout - all in the name of honour, glory and the Rajput.

That is time number two.

The Jaya Stambha, the Tower of Victory and the emblem of Chittor. 37 metres of overt masculine symbolism.

The same from a different angle. Nine exquisitely carved stories, inside and out. Possibly the most impressive sight in Chittorgarh.

The great Mughal emperor Akbar besieged the fortified city in 1567 and... oh you know, the same story. Boring stuff, I know - I'd think so too if I've never been to Chittorgarh.

But I have. I have stood within the walls of the fort of a race of people who always chose death in battle over the shame of defeat - people of immense valour and nobility who held onto their standard of chivalry and waved it in the face of their enemies no matter how much bigger they are compared to themselves. I have seen the massive ruins of their once great city they gave their lives to defend - the tradition, belief and pride they gave their lives three times to protect. These are sort of stuff I read about in novels of high fantasy, where honour meant something more than the piece of shit it is in society these days.

It isn't just history, or a bunch of yahoos running towards certain doom in safffron. Chittorgarh represents what I consider one of the most important defining values of civilisation. Only humans can have honour.

On the lighter side of things, only humans have opposable thumbs. That and the ability to fib.

One of probably millions of priceless sculptures defaced by the Muslim invaders (they no likey idols). The Mughals are responsible for destroying many, many of India's oldest and greatest legacies. Bloody vandals.

A little island apartment in the middle of a shallow pool at the Padmini Palace. Yeap, the same Padmini in the first Jauhar. There had been a dry spell, so...

After the conquest of Chittorgarh by Akbar in 1568, the royal line moved to the foothills of the Aravalli Range and established the new Mewar capital, Udaipur - named after Maharana Udai Singh II, it's founder.

However, the really interesting personage related to the lores of Chittorgarh is Udai Singh's son, Maharana Pratap Singh, who is regarded as the living epitome of everything the Rajput cherish and die for. The man swore an oath to live his life in the jungles with his men, to fight the Mughal invaders until the day he reclaim the Fort of Chittor from Akbar again. He compromised his own safety, faced innumerable hardships and notably (and also amusingly, sorry), ate bread made out of grass in his lifelong campaign of reconquering the old Mewar empire. In an age when the Rajput failed, and the heads of the other clans swore fealty to the sovereignty of Emperor Akbar, Maharana Pratap Singh alone stood bright in the eclipse of their proud heritage.

West of the fort, right outside the Surajpol, or the Sun Gate - overlooking the plains where great battles were won and lost.

Maharana Pratap Singh never accepted Emperor Akbar as his ruler, in spite of how much greater and more powerful the Mughal kingdom was compared to the Mewar. The Mughal diplomatic efforts to win him over were to no avail either. It was said that his refusal to give in was in part due to Akbar's order of the massacre of 30,000 unarmed civilians at Chittor - because they would not convert to Islam. Pratap, in all his Rajput sensibilities, simply could not bow down to such mindless cruelty.

It is against the Rajput and Hindu warrior code to attack someone who is unarmed or a person who have thrown down his weapons.

Kirti Stambha, the Tower of Fame. Older then the Jaya Stambha, but shorter. For an idea of the scale, check out the stairs and doorway.

For 30 years, Akbar mounted campaigns after campaigns against the famed Rajput maharana but they all failed to bring Pratap to heel. In the last decade of Maharana Pratap's life, he finally freed and restored most of his former kingdom to glory - save Chittorgarh, the lifelong liberation of which, sadly, eluded him.

But, he died a free man.

The ruins of the Rana Kumbha palace, where Rani Padmini commited her Jauhar.

A walkway somewhere amongst the ruins of the palace. I really like this picture - it's so desolate and secretive.

My friend and travel mate, Vince, was convinced that if the Fort at Chittor had been preserved with greater care (and had the Mughals shown a lot more respect to public property), it would no doubt be considered as one of the World's Wonders today. I however did not share the same mind as he though I was no less impressed by the magnificence of the monument and the glorious tradition which was its mortar.

Chittorgarh was actually not an item in our travel master plan but we gave in to the urgings of our Frightfully Competent Guide and took a day out of our stay in Udaipur to visit the amazing fort (even the Lonely Planet guidebook said that it's a place "worth reshuffling an itinerary to explore"). And damn, I am so effing glad we did.

So, if you're ever in Udaipur, do try to make time to for it. There's a shortage of great monuments in this world which stood for the virtues of honour and honour, pride and freedom - of a race of warriors too proud to ever bend their knees. This place is guaranteed to wake the little boy in you.

Y'know, the one which wears a bucket on his head and slashes at evil trees and invading grasses with a plastic sword.

For honour and glory!
k0k s3n w4i


Dr.Vishaal Bhat said...

Here I am again.. First to comment as usual. I have been frequenting this place every day since the last post .. waiting for the next part of visiting my amazing country... I know you would have had some ghastly experiences but thanks for highlighting the ones that exhilarated you.

By the way I recommend you read the Mahabharata if you get the chance. It's an amazing epic. And it tells you all about Bheema :0).

bevE said...

like tomb raider -.-
mana lara croft -.-

posy croft?

bevE said...

you make me wanna go -.-

It felt like I was actually going to someplace that isn't real.

thats how i felt when i went to the british museum when it was in that inbetween of light and dark when there were hardly any people

felt like i stepped into the disney hercules coliseum - granted not as seemingly majestic as most other imaginary places, but you get the point

phoebe said...

i like the phrase "pikchurs taken by my awesome self" xD *giggles*

michelleg said...

cool awesome shots!! i have to admit that i only looked at ur pics.. too lazy to read. =P

does ur camera comes with wide lens?

k0k s3n w4i said...

dr.vishaal bhat: LOL you don't need to pop in everyday. I update once every 3 days or more. the clinic hours are pretty brutal. I can only recall one truly ghastly experience in the entire trip - and now on hindsight, it wasn't all that bad. it's a bit cool, even. will talk abt that ltr. i'll try to locate a good translated versh of the mahabharata :)

beve: the british museum? like the one mentioned in the second Barty book? it didn't really matter how big or how famous a place is, really. what matter is how it makes you feel. posy croft ur head. bevey baggins =d

phoebe: I tot I was referring to myself in the third person :p

michelleg: I already answered the last time u ask, i think. i just have a setting for "wide" in my camera. crops a little off the top and adds a little to the side.
anyhow, it's the sights - not the cameraman :)

michelleg said...

hehe. sorry short term memory loss. thanks. =)