Forts of Rajasthan – 3: Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur

The story of the Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur begins with a curse.

There was once a King and like all self-respecting kings of his time, he wanted a grand and imposing fort at an impressive location. One day, he came across the location of his dreams — an isolated hill. The King ordered his men to immediately clear the hill of inhabitants and lay the foundations for the construction of the fort.

Only one man lived on the hill — a man considered holy by the local people around and known as Chidiyawale Baba. He was called thus as he took care of birds and fed them and spoke to them. Chidiyawale Baba was so furious at being evicted from the hill that he cursed the King with recurrent drought in his kingdom. Shaken and now contrite, the King went to Chidiyawale Baba to ask for forgiveness and to request him to cancel the curse. The Baba said that words once uttered could not be taken back, but the effect of the curse could be reversed if a selfless sacrifice was offered. In other words, someone had to volunteer to die by being buried alive on the hill.

The King came away dejected as he did not think anyone would volunteer. But that very evening, a man by the name of Rajaram Meghwal presented himself before the King and volunteered for the deed. A relieved (and, I’m sure, delighted) King accepted and on an auspicious day and time and at an auspicious site on the hill, Meghwal was buried alive. Rao Jodha, the King, then laid the foundation to building the Mehrangarh Fort in 1459.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Travel
The memorial of selfless warrior, Rajaram Meghwal, who volunteered to die

It is afternoon on a day in February and I am at Mehrangarh Fort at the site where Meghwal’s memorial plaque marks the spot where he was buried alive, and listening to the audio guide detailing the entire story. I can’t help wondering if Meghwal’s selfless sacrifice was as painless and smooth as the story I had just heard. But the audio guide has no further information to offer, and as I found out later this is not even mentioned in most guidebooks on Mehrangarh.

So to get on with the story of Mehrangarh and my impressions of this grand Fort…

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Travel
The Mehrangarh Fort

Mehrangarh Fort is built on a hillock of rhyolite columns that rises 400 feet above the surrounding plains. The city of Jodhpur grew and developed around the Fort, which has been the headquarters of the Rathore clan that ruled this area for over 5 centuries. Generations of the royal family lived here, sometimes moving out of the Fort, but mostly living within. The Fort has lived through occupation, sieges from neighbouring kingdoms and what not.

Mehrangarh, which means ‘Fort of the Sun’, is over 500 yards long making it one of the largest forts in India. At its highest, the fort rise to 120 feet and at its thickest it is about 70 feet. Yes, it is a formidable fort all around and dominates the landscape. Mehrangarh is built in such a way that it looks like the hillock has sprouted the Fort.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, TravelVisitors to Mehrangarh Fort enter through the Jai Pol, which was built in the 19th century by Maharaja Man Singh. This gate was not the main gate then and was only used as an outer rear gate. The original main gate to the Fort is hardly used and the popular tourist trail actually bypasses that access road. Visitors have the option of going up to the highest level by elevator and then walking back, or doing both the ascent and descent on foot.

I chose the latter option and with an audio guide this turned out to be a good choice. I was able to just wander around and set my pace and basically see what I wanted to or avoid what I didn’t want to. Of course, there were some that I could not escape seeing — like Meghwal’s memorial or the mural of sati handprints at the entrance of one of the inner gates. The audio guide narrated a grim, chilling account of how women commited sati.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Travel
Sati Handprints o

The widowed women would come bedecked in their jewels and finery and pass through the palace doors and fort gates for the last time. As they left, they would leave a vermilion stained hand imprint on the wall for posterity.

A silent procession would follow the women to the temple where they would give away their jewellery and then proceed to the join their dead husbands on the funeral pyre. The women would not scream or cry as the flames burned them alive.

The sati handprints that I saw in Bikaner and Jaisalmer had brought tears to my eyes, but by the time I finished listening to the audio guide, I was crying quite openly. Even though I reasoned to myself that this had happened at a different time, a different context, different social order, different everything, it didn’t change the fact that the women were human beings and were burnt alive. I was quite shaken and had to wait for while to compose myself, before I could continue with the rest of the tour.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, TravelSince the Fort and the various buildings inside were built over 500 years, the architectural styles vary and it’s quite fascinating to see the buildings from different periods existing side by side. The different gates, guardrooms, chowks, palaces, and so on are a visual testament to the building history of the last 5 centuries and the influences that shaped them.

After the Foundation was laid in 1459, the first phase of building activity was during the reign of Maldeo (1531-62). The next phase of major construction happened after 2 centuries during the rule of Maharaja Ajit Singh (1707-24), followed by a phase of construction during the reign of Takhat Singh (1843-72). The final, brief, phase was during Maharaja Hanwant Singh’s rule (1947-52).

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Travel

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, TravelMehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, TravelThe ornately carved palaces hold some of the most stunning treasures that I saw during my trip to various palaces and museums in Rajasthan—silver howdahs, silver and gold palanquins, miniatures, paintings, swords, jewellery boxes, cradles and cribs…

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Travel
Silver Elephant Howdah
Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Travel
A peacock shaped open palanquin
Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Travel
A royal cradle
Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Travel
The Phool Mahal

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, TravelIt is from Mehrangarh Fort that one can see and understand why Jodhpur is called the blue city.

Brahmapuri or the city of brahmins shimmers a startling and enticing view from the Fort. At one point only brahmins could live in Brahmapuri and were also the only community allowed to paint the exteriors of their houses this color.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Travel
The blue Brahmapuri

The blue, so characteristic of Jodhpur, is derived from indigo and acts as a heat and mosquito repellant. But as I found out, Mehrangarh Fort doesn’t just offer views of the blue city of Jodhpur; it has a lot of stunning blue to offer within the Fort complex itself.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Travel
Detail from a painted arch above a doorway at the Chokhelao Mahal
Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Travel
Detail from a painted ceiling at the Khwabgah

Mehrangarh Fort caters to all kinds of tourists and does it rather well without letting anyone feel left out. There are activities like ‘how to tie a turban’ to ‘how to play chess’ to folk music performances to having your palm read, etc. The Fort offers quiet spots for contemplation and fantastic photo-ops for the serious or click-happy photographer. As for those interested in culture, design and history, the Fort offers it all and there can’t be a better place than Mehrangarh. The Fort employees are courteous and polite, but firm with the more ‘exuberant’ tourists. The Fort is clean and there is adequate water and food available. I have no hesitation in saying that this is the best maintained and managed of all the Forts in Rajasthan that I visited in February.

But for once, I did not have the urge to time travel as I normally do when I visit places of historical significance. I was glad to just be a tourist and admire and delight or feel sadness or despair from my 21st century context. If the story of Meghwal’s sacrifice made me uneasy, the sati panel and the story behind it left me deeply saddened and disturbed.  As I walked down to the exit, I stopped at both the sati panel and Meghwal’s memorial plaque and say a little prayer for them.

The sun is setting as I leave Mehrangarh, and never have I felt so thankful to be born in this day and age.

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Forts of Rajasthan Series

62 thoughts on “Forts of Rajasthan – 3: Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur

  1. Sudha,

    I’ve been there twice, and both times we decided to take a local guide. Probably that’s how I missed out on the story of Rajaram Meghwal!I really like this post because of two reasons, one- the way you write, and two – the lovely photos! I wonder why mine dont look half as great…
    Also have you been to Amer Fort in Jaipur?Since you were comparing forts, I think that is also one of the better maintained and tourist friendly forts in Rajasthan.

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    1. Local guides do not talk about Meghwal and guide books (I saw the Blue Guide and the Outlook Traveller Guide) do not mention this tale at all. It is the audio guide, which is authorised by the Mehrangarh Trust, which maintains the Fort, that says this tale. I really don’t know why this tale is not narrated or shared or known. It cannot be a fictitious account as the memorial plaque clearly mentions the date, name, and sacrifice of Rajaram Meghwal.

      I visited Amer Fort as an 11 year old and do not really remember much except being upset with the elephant rides being offered (I hate animals being used for human transportation) for tourists then. I hope to visit Jaipur and the Shekhawati Region soon as there is much of Rajasthan that still needs to be explored.

      Thank you, Monishikha for your lovely words. They made my day 🙂

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  2. Jeez! I got a lump in my throat reading about the Sati thing..its aweful na 😦 and those pictures look amazing..how do you manage to get such details, I wonder 🙂

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    1. Sati is a ‘big’ thing in Rajasthan. Nobody speaks openly against it or for it. And the Sati Mata Temple I saw in Bikaner was downright creepy. I saw so many sati panels and memorial palques that I almost felt that this was Sati tourism 😦

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    1. Thanks, Puru. The Mehrangarh Fort audio-guide is really good and I found it to be much better than that of Udaipur’s City Palace.

      I love audio guides and I find that they always give extra information and tidbits not generally found everywhere. Also one is able to set one’s own pace. I always try to get one wherever I can. One of the best audio guides I experienced was at the Royal Academy of Art’s exhibition on Byzantium Iconography. Even as I write this response to your comment I can hear the soaring church music that accompanied the narration.

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  3. yet another wonderful post, Sudha!!! i didnt know any of these stories, probably because we hired one of the guides there instead of the audio guide. dont even remember if they had audio guides there then. and that concept of sacrifice seems to have been a common factor then. we heard a similar story at kumbhalgarh too.. as to the story of the satis, well, its always a sad one.. btw, have i ever told u that there was a sati in our family too? if not, remind me to tell u the next time we meet 😀

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    1. Local guides are good too as they are the best source of local legends. But I’m glad I took the audio guide for various reasons, one of which was to just shut out the tourist hordes who were there by the dozen. 🙂

      I heard the Kumbhalgarh sacrifice story too, but that was more dramatic and somehow it didn’t affect me as did Meghwal’s story. Maybe my reaction to the sati panel also added to my general feeling about the visit.

      But that said, Mehrangarh Fort is a magnificent fort.

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    1. I stayed clear of the shop as it looked too kitschy. And Jodhpur – Umaid Bhavan and Mehrangarh Fort combined – has the most priceless collection of artefacts 🙂

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  4. Beautifully written, Sudha, as always. The pictures are amazing, and your description too. The fort sounds like a wonderful place that I would like to visit, and I will definitely do whenever I visit Rajasthan. As I have said many times on this blog, I wish history in school was taught the way you write your posts. It would have been so much more fun.

    I felt a chill run down my spine just on reading the description of how the women used to commit Sati in those days. I can imagine what you would have felt on seeing those handprints and being faced with real, concrete evidence of such a gruesome act. 😦 Yes, I am sometimes happy to be born in the 21st century, too.

    I have been reading Indu Sundaresan’s Shadow Princess. The book takes me back to Shah Jahan’s era, and is beautifully written. However, what I always keep thinking throughout my reading is how much of unnecessary sacrifice of innocent lives went behind the building of the throne, sometimes just to satisfy the king’s vanity. It makes me wonder how they can rest at peace knowing the number of humans who have had to lose their lives in order for them to gain hold over the throne they so proudly sit on. Is such vanity really required?

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    1. Thanks, TGND. If sati was bad, the jauhar platform at Chittorgarh was worse and I don’t know how I’m going to write about it, and if I will be able to ever write about it.

      History is boring because it is all about dates and events and the two are never linked. History is always about political history of a particular period and never about art, culture. trade, literature of that same period. History should be about connecting the dots and not about reading the dots. And how better to do it than through travel? 🙂

      I have all of Indu Sundaresan’s books but have yet to read them, It’s part of my monsoon reading project. I think kings operated on a different level altogether and not having experienced monarchy, I doubt if we ever will.

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  5. What a fort. Never been there but need to go. You have created such an excitement around the same. It is painful to learn about the Sati and Johar that happened. God bless Raja Ram mohan Roy. For centuries it is the same story some big shot wants to build a Palace and the poor have to suffer, first a poor guy looses his home and then another looses his life. 😦

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    1. Yes, Prasad. That was my reaction too when I saw it. What. A. Fort. The natural landscape, topography and geology only enhance its physical dominance in the region. And also What . A. Fort. for its story. Actually all the forts that I visited during my Rajasthan Trip were special in their own way and had their own stories — good, bad, ugly.

      First it was a king who usurped land, these days it is someone who behaves like one.

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  6. My favourite fort of Rajasthan .It was a treat to visit it now with your post I have relived the day Thank You. I loved the city too.

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    1. Mehrangarh was your favourite Fort? I’m going to make you change your mind with my post on the Kumbhalgarh Fort 🙂

      And thanks once again for the encouragement, Arnavaz.

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  7. Very nice and detailed report n lovely capture…esp the blue brahmapuri vlg n blue fort interiors…both the stories of the selfless warrior n sati are so heart rending!!

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    1. Welcome to “My Favourite Things” Aditi and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I always used to wonder if the blue city tag for Jodhpur was not a hyped up thing or a marketing ploy. But after having seen the shimmering Brahmapuri, I can say that the nomenclature is more than justified 🙂

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  8. I too feel a great sadness at the human sacrifices and sati/johar that took place then. It makes me wonder at the amazing stoical nature of these women and Meghwal. Am I glad to be born in this era!
    Your pictures and narration captivates the reader’s imagination and we are literally walking alongside with you. Even then, I can never remember the details as vividly.

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  9. Another lovely post! I was mighty impressed with the mammoth fort on our visit. But then I missed out on the Rajaram Meghwal story. Thank you for the snippet. Well! If it was the Sati pratha then, it is rape and acid attacks now. Wonder which is worse…

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    1. As I have mentioned in the post, the Rajaram Meghwal story is not something that local guides talk about or even published guides. It is only the audio guide which is available that talks about the entire legend and asks the listener to stop and look at the plaque. In spite of the orange wall around the plaque, it is quite easy to miss, and if the audio guide had not urged me towards it, I might have missed it too.

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  10. I have visited Mehrangarh fort and i will completely second you in appreciating the grandeur of the royal fort……Do i need to say that your images are mindblowing 🙂

    InkMyTravel

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    1. A warm welcome to my blog, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Glad that you liked the post and the accompanying pictures as well. 🙂

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  11. I so look forward to reading your Rajasthan series, Sudha. As always, another contemplative post. The history you post, makes me think and yes, the sati hand prints make me so sad 😦 I shudder to think, how would it have been to be born as a woman then? 😦 The audio guide was a nice move, I like how it helps you choose your own path and schedule as you wish! I wonder why local guides won’t talk of the sacrifice. And gosh, to be buried alive – I wonder what made him volunteer!

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    1. Thank you, Deepa. When I started writing about my Rajasthan Trip, I never realised I had so much to say. Even though I am the one writing them, I never know how each one of them is going to turn out.

      I always take an audio guide whenever and wherever I can. Apart from the feeling that you are the only one there, it also shuts out the tourist hordes that throng famous monuments 🙂

      Meghwal’s is a mystery. Did he volunteer to die or was he volunteered with a bribe? Who knows.

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  12. Hmm! I am reduced to using the same word – evocative. Btw, I remember reading somewhere that there is a speculation that the Rathores could be offshoots of the Rashtrkutas who rules from Karnataka.

    As for the Sati part – don’t mistake me, I am not in favor of it – but a conquest invariably had other consequences for women like enslavement and concubinage – so it could well be a choice of most if not all women – though death by fire is about the most painful I can think of.

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    1. I have said this in the post that though this had happened at a different time, a different context, different social order, different everything, it didn’t change the fact that the women were human beings and were burnt alive. But why is it that only Kshatriya or Rajput women had to commit sati? Why not women from the other castes? Did they not have to worry about enslavement or concubinage? Are we used to reading a ‘his’tory that has justified sati in a convoluted way?

      The Rathores of Jodhpur are originally from Kannauj, who might have been an off-shoot of the Rashtrakutas. Must say that people really travelled a lot those days. 🙂

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    1. A warm welcome to my blog, Raj, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. The Mehrangarh Fort is one of the most imposing forts I have seen and is definitely a must visit. Hope you enjoy your visit there 🙂

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  13. Wow what a great fort. There are lots of great places to see in India lots of places we never about them but really great… great fort great India. Thanks for writing so good post.

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