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Little Known Tales of Mehrangarh Fort – Jodhpur, India

Little Known Tales of Mehrangarh Fort
Jodhpur, India

I had just about joined a Big 4 accounting firm and a week later was the annual off-site (in technical terms – the partner-manager meeting). The off-site was to be held in Jodhpur, an exotic location in the heartland of Rajasthan – this was exciting news for a Bootie.

It was also my first trip to Jodhpur. Never mind the scorching heat of 40 degrees celsius or more, nor the fact that this off-site would be “much work and less play”, I knew that I would somehow manage to explore the Mehrangarh Fort.

Now for some details: This Fort, according to guidebooks, is situated on a rocky cliff, 400 feet above the town on Jodhpur. Its ramparts, which are hewn out of the sandstone rocks, are 130 feet high in some places, a battery of medieval canons protected the fort from outsiders, and in fact these canons still stand to this date.

Close up of the Mehrangarh Fort
Close up of the Mehrangarh Fort
The Fort has seven gateways in all. The palace complex within the fort is constructed around a series of interconnecting courtyards. Successive generations of Maharajas of the Rathod clan have added rooms and extensions. Various palaces, including exclusive palaces for the queens and womenfolk dot the premises.

I struck lucky. My new office, at least when it comes to off-sites, tends to believe in the old adage “All work and no play, makes Jack/Jill a dull boy/girl.” So an afternoon (yep scorching afternoon) was reserved for sightseeing to the Mehrangarh Fort.

I got into a bus, where cheerful Shyam was our guide. Armed with bottles of ice-cold water, we landed at the Fort. Then Shyam announced that elevators would take us up. Elevators in an old and ancient fort, that was so cool – well actually it isn’t, it does take away some romance attached to old forts. But I’d rather use an elevator than trudge up in the scorching heat.

We began our visit from the rooftop of the fort and caught a glimpse of the blue city of Jodhpur. Initially only Brahmins (the highest caste in Hindu society) were allowed to paint their houses blue. Blue keeps away the heat and reflects sunlight off the houses.

The rooftop was ample proof of the battle-scorched history of the Fort. Brightly polished canons were scattered here and there, enough of a photo opportunity for the guys in our group, who aped at being the brave Rajput soldiers.

The Sati Imprints
The Sati Imprints
I was interested in other stuff and this is what caught my fancy. It seems that Rao Jodha, of the Rathod clan, laid the foundation of this fort in May 1459. Now for the gruesome part – A hermit meditated on this plot of land and was requested to move out so that the foundation could be laid. To cut it short, he was forced to move out and as all good hermits worth their salt are prone to do when angry – he cursed this land. Till date, Jodhpur suffers from shortage of water due to this curse.

Wait there is more, to keep this fort safe, a human sacrifice was required (shudder). Shyam coolly informed us that “A man called Raja Ram Medhwal (now guidebooks refer to him as Rajiia) volunteered to lay down his life. He was buried alive in the foundation.” Brrrrr… I asked whether his ghost prowls the area and was met with some nasty glares.

Well, the treasury room in this fort – where all the gold was kept – is constructed right about this site or in more gruesome words, right atop his body. A tiny plaque mentions about the valour of Raja Ram who gave up his life. Raja Ram did stipulate certain conditions – one of them being that his family be bestowed with acres and acres of land and be treated as part of the royal family. This piece of land is now called Raj Bag.

There are lots of interesting things to see in this fort. Several palaces exist within its walls. One of them is the Diwan-e-khas. It is the room where the state affairs were discussed. Not only is the king’s throne housed here, but so is the minister’s chair and eight gaddis (ground level seats) – denoting the eight states. What was even more delightful was that the women folk, sat on the balcony upstairs hidden from view by curtains and lattice work. However, they could hear the proceedings and even give their suggestions. If one hears of sati – where the womenfolk “chose” to burn themselves alive on the funeral pyre of their husbands, this bit of news is quite a contrast.

Outside the Loha Pol or Iron Gate – one of the many gates leading in and out of this Fort, is a wall with the handprints of fifteen royal satis who immolated themselves on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands. Fortunately, this practice is now banned in India.

These handprints are covered with silver foil and I bet these are worshipped till date, as I found vermilion (red auspicious powder) and turmeric powder sprinkled all over, not to mention fresh garlands of flowers on these walls. In fact, in a fine display of Hindu-Muslim unity, this Fort also houses the mazar (burial place) of a brave muslim solider.

The Rang Mahal
The Rang Mahal
The Rang Mahal was the most colourful, laced with mirrors and ornamented with fine mirror work and coloured glasses and gold leaves. Another room – where the girls in our group flocked and let out “oohs and aaahs” was the Jhanki Mahal. Here you can find the royal cradles, which rocked the infants in the royal family to sleep.

There are a few shops in the fort premises. So after picking up trinkets like colourful bangles, we all went back to our hotel for yet another day at the off-site workshops.

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