When I was five, I heard a record of the divine M S Subbalakshmi singing Meera bhajans on my uncle’s gramophone. I was hooked on both MS and Meerabai for life. While in college, I came across James Tod’s classic “Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan,” which perhaps inspired Abanindranath Tagore’s “Raj Kahini.”
In a sense, my visit to Chittorgarh was a bit of a pilgrimage. After all, this fort featured quite heavily in the tales of heroism and sacrifice that are recorded in Tod and Tagore.
Meerabai is fascinating – born into a royal family, married into one as well, she treated the Lord Krishna as her husband. Legends about her are plentiful, and the devotional songs she composed are sung almost daily in India.
Her temple to Krishna is one of the most beautiful structures in Chittor.
Wiki states that ‘Jauhar’ (also spelled ‘jowhar’) was the self-immolation of queens and female royals of the Rajput kingdoms, when facing defeat at the hands of an enemy. It was followed by females and children of the clans in order to avoid capture, enslavement and rape at the hands of invaders.
Chittorgarh has witnessed three occurrences of Jauhar: in 1303 AD, 1535 AD, and 1568 AD. Today, you can’t see the chamber where the Jauhar fires were lit – it’s filled up and a covered with well-manicured cover of green grass.
One of the most famous stories about Chittor is about Rani Padmini, Ala ud din Khilji, and Rana Ratan Singh. The place from which the Delhi Sultan was allowed to see Padmini is still extant – no doubt, millions of young girls in India had visited the palace and imagined themselves to be the beautiful Rani.
I found something quite interesting about Chittorgarh. A staunchly Hindu kingdom, where the rallying cry of soldiers was ‘Har har Mahadev’, the Kirti Stambh is a tower built in the 12th century AD dedicated to Rishabha, the first Tirthankara of the Jain religion. There must have periods of religious tolerance, and indeed amity, in the long history of the fort.
The Vijay Stambha, the Column of Victory, is a huge nine storied tower built in 1440 by Maharana Kumbha to commemorate his victory over the Muslim rulers of Malwa and Gujarat . A beautiful and impressive piece of work, it dominates the fort and the entire surroundings.
I’m now going to reading my copies of Raj Kahini and James Tod. I might go back in the winter, and I’d like to be well prepared.