It’s a hot and dusty day in February and the mid-day sun is relentless as is the perspiration that trickles down my back. And yet, I feel cold and shiver as if some one has walked over my grave.
I am at Chittorgarh Fort, the erstwhile capital of Mewar, and at the site that was once the cremation ground for members of the royal family. The site is also known as the Mahasati Sthal as this is where widowed queens would commit sati. According to the guide, from the vast quantities of ash found at this site, this is also where at least one of the three jauhars — ritualistic mass suicide through immolation committed by women and their young children in the face of certain defeat to Muslim invaders — that Chittorgarh Fort has witnessed happened.
Death before dishonour is a code that all Rajputs — men and women — lived by. While for men this meant dying in battle; for women, this translated into jauhar instead of being captured by the Muslim invaders. Available literature and ballads say that as the jauhar ritual began, the men would dress up in saffron clothes and ride out to fight their final battle and into certain death.
I feel an immense degree of sadness mixed with revulsion as I listen to the guide describing the jauhars. Though my eyes close automatically as if to keep out the horror, my mind conjures of images of this description and devastation. I try to recollect my day at the Fort in an attempt to divert my mind.
I had gone buy tickets for the evening sound and light show at the Palace, only to be told that the show had been cancelled. I was surprised as there was no information posted about this on the board outside the ticket office. When I asked for the reason behind the cancellation, the ticket clerk mumbled something like “a function in the palace”. And when I asked as to why there was no advance information put out, he wouldn’t even look at me. When I asked if the sound and light show would be on the next day, he only gave a non-committal shrug, which could have meant anything. I had to be satisfied with that and leave disappointed.
My second visit was different.
I was back at the City Palace next day morning, this time to explore the areas accessible to a visitor. So, once I had paid for the entrance fee, the museum fee, the camera fee, and the audio guide fee and collected the various tokens, I set off for the palace complex with the hope that this visit would at least take away some of the disappointment of the previous evening.
It is a cool and crisp February morning at the Kumbhalgarh Fort.
The mild warmth of the winter sun and a gentle breeze make it the perfect weather for exploring it, and the mesmerising panoramic vista tempts me to stop now and then and admire the view. The blue haze of the distant mountain ranges, birdsong and the ringing of bells from the various temples within the Fort complex adds to the general sense of peace and calm all around.
Though there is some activity in the settlement below and few early bird tourists like me, it feels like the Kumbhalgarh Fort is all mine, and only mine, to explore. As I stop at one point to look at the view once again, I recall how different the Fort looked the previous evening, when I attended the sound and light show.
The sun was setting when I had arrived at the Kumbhalgarh Fort. I had just enough time to buy the ticket, reach the venue, find a seat and switch off my mobile, when the show began with the rather clichéd, but oh-so-effective, voice-over saying, “Main Kumbhalgarh hoon” [I am Kumbhalgarh], setting the tone for the narration of the story of Kumbhalgarh Fort.