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History Amid Ruins

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Published in Sunday Herald Travel on June 15, 2014

A land of brave Rajputs who fought invaders for centuries, Chittorgarh in Rajasthan has a rich history marred by blood and strife. Sudha Madhavan goes back in time amidst its architectural wonders…

Chittorgarh is about 125 km from Udaipur and is a place not to be missed at any cost. There are buses that ply and a comfortable ride by taxi also comes within affordable limits. The fort itself covers an area of about 12 sq km.

The Palace of Rana Kumbha is magnificent and covers a wide area spanning different levels. Intricately carved pillars and temple structures are a marvel to behold. The Keerthi Stambh and the Vijay Stambh are exquisitely beautiful and are almost completely intact.

Compared to this architecture, the Rani Padmini Mahal is a tad plain (at least in its present condition), though the rose garden outside dazzled with large winter roses. The Jal Mahal in the centre of the lake outside is not approachable now and must have been built for the queen to retire in her privacy.

History of bloodshed

It is said that Rana Ratan Singh let Allah-ud-din Khilji (who had heard high praise of her beauty) view the legendary beauty of his queen Padmini through her reflection in a mirror and Allah-ud-din Khilji, in his desire to possess her, attacked Chittor. The Rana’s men promised to arrange a clandestine meeting and under the guise of her attendants, the soldiers in a secret ambush attacked Khilji’s army and were able to thwart his plans and he was forced to withdraw. This angered him no end and he led a massive army the second time and laid siege to the fort of Chittor.

As time passed, the rations inside the fort dried up. The Rana’s men, their women and children started dying of hunger. The men decided to come out and face the enemy and die heroically in battle rather than die a cowardly death of hunger and desperation. This was known as the saka, ie. a conscious and heroic giving up of life fighting, and in such a situation the women committed the jauhar to avoid falling into the hands of the marauding and plundering men, to save their honour. They, along with their children, immolated themselves by leaping into flames before the enemy could lay hands on them.

In her determination to save her honour, Rani Padmini committed jauhar along with her maids.

We learnt that jauhar had been committed twice upon Akbar’s attack on Chittor as well. We saw the “Jauhar Sthal” and could not but shudder as we visualised the women of youth, beauty and vitality willingly consign themselves to the leaping flames in utter despair. The details shook us to the core and the mental image did not leave us for many days after.

History can shock you at times. But then Rajput men and women had always been famed for their fearlessness and courage.

As we move on, we are rewarded with viewing the Meera Mandir. The temple where Meera in her devotion to Lord Krishna is said to have spent almost her entire existence singing bhajans and dancing with ghunghroos twined round her ankles, begging and cajoling her lord to grant darshan to her.

Born into the royal house of Mewar, in the village of Chauraki , in the year 1497 AD, Meera was married at an early age to Raja Bhoj, the eldest son of Rana Sanga. Her devotion to Lord Krishna formed at a tender age and grew into an all encompassing bhakti and passion as she grew older.

The family she married into (to whom she proved to be an embarrassment) was irked by her utter disregard of conventions and her firm refusal to worship the family deity Durga, in favour of Lord Krishna. She refused to associate herself with the royal conventions, the wealth and riches and the attire befitting her status. She spent her time writing verses of immense beauty, pathos and longing for her Lord, worshipping his idol and dancing with her ektara, pleading with him to present himself and come to her rescue.

Legend of Meerabai

Upon the death of her husband fighting the Mughal forces, the family’s victimisation of her increased and she is said to have escaped to Brindavan. She is supposed to have become one with her chosen deity Krishna, in Dwarka. In her short lifetime spanning 49 years, she had composed verses and poems numbering 1,200 to 1500.

It was in this Meera Mandir that the poison she was given to drink by the Rana is supposed to have turned to nectar! One of the foremost figures of the Bhakti cult, Meera’s bhajans continue to thrill with their moving faith and fragrant love and innocence. Her words, “jith bole uth baithoon, jo deve so khaoon…jith bole uth soun…beche tho bik jaoon…” can melt the hardest of hearts and could have been born only out of a thought that had no identity apart from her lord and clamoured to become one with him.

Some of these verses are there for the visitors to see, though I felt they should be given a more enduring form by inscriptions on marble. There is now an enchanting marble statue of Meera (with her manjeera and ektara) at the foot of a smiling Lord Krishna playing his flute.

As we leave, we are mystified by the coarsely rounded tops of some of the beautiful structures and are told that are the ‘khandit’ temples where the Muslim invaders slashed the tops and vandalised the sanctorum. Hence, no worship or puja is performed there as they are considered desecrated. Just goes to show what the ‘Rajputs of Mewar’ must have suffered at the hands of the invaders.

A deeply moving experience!

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