Rao Jodha's Mehrangarh Fort is now a museum

moti mahal

New Delhi: It is said that it was on the advice of a hermit that the young Rao Jodha shifted his stronghold from 'Mandore' to the steep rock face on which his fort now stands. Built in 1459, the fort was known as Chintamani in its early days. As time passed the blue and white-washed city of Jodhpur spread below and its name was changed to Mehrangarh.

The near-impregnable height of this rock – traditionally the lair of eagles – must have been one of Rao Jodha's primary considerations, in building his new fort.

Poised on a hill beyond the blue and white-washed city of Jodhpur and standing high above the plains on this isolated rock, the fort covers an area 460 metres in length and 230 metres in width, with walls that vary in height from 6 to 36 metres. Fort Mehrangarh is now considered one of India's best-kept museums and has a steady stream of visitors.

And though the climb up to the fort is extremely steep, many prefer to walk rather than drive up, as vehicles are allowed only as far as the first gate.

There are two main entrance gates to the Fort – 'fateh pol' built by Maharaja Ajit Singh when he recaptured the fort from the Mughals in 1707 and 'jai pol' in 1808, by Maharaja Man Singh – the latter being the entrance more commonly used today. However, in the style of all major forts, there are five other subsidiary gates or barriers. Among the more notable gates is the massive 'loha pol' or "iron gate," which is said to date back to the 15th century.

As one enters the fort, a plaque marks the spot where the original and first entrance was built by Rao Jodha in 1459. A short climb to the 'suraj pol' or 'sun gate,' leads to the courtyard where the white marble 'coronation seat' of all the rulers of Marwar stands in solitary splendour, including Rao Jodha, have been crowned here. The courtyard leads to the 'Moti Mahal' or pearl palace, with its white colonnaded interiors, gilded mirror-work ceilings, and colourful glass panes.

The sunlight filtering in through these panes, throws rainbow colours on the white walls of the 'Diwan-i-Aam.' A Mughal-style throne is displayed here, dating back to the time of Emperor Shah Jahan and is said to have been presented to the young Maharaja Ajit Singh, by emperor Aurangzeb.

The Moti Mahal is also occasionally used for formal ceremonial occasions.

The inner courtyard is part of the 'zenana' or ladies wing and is said to have been built by Raja Sur Singh between 1595 and 1611. Here red sandstone filigree screens, rise on either side covering balconies and windows – ensuring that royal ladies could observe all court activities without being seen by prying eyes. A collection of painted royal palanquins and silver 'howdahs,' many of which have travelled abroad to the many 'Festivals of India.'

On the next level is another courtyard, leading to the ornate sleeping chambers of the rulers. Known as the 'Khwabga Mahal' (palace of dreams), the ruling monarch's bedchamber has a sandalwood ceiling, and ornately painted walls. The ingenious 'cowrie' plastering of the region, created by laboriously rubbing lime plastered walls with seashells, gives the walls a special sheen.

On this level there is a long gallery in part of the zenana section where royal cradles displayed – the most recent one having been used by Maharaja Jaswant Singh.

Displayed in the Sardar Vilas are carved, inlaid and painted doors and windows from various parts of the fort, while at Umaid Vilas, one can see a rare collection of Jodhpur miniatures. These include rare paintings of former rulers, in which the colours and gold embellishment are still as fresh as on the day they were painted.

The 'Shish Mahal' or hall of mirrors, an indispensable part of all palaces and forts of Rajasthan, makes its appearance here as well. The walls of this splendid room, in addition to the thousands of concave mirrors embedded all over, also has some beautifully rendered paintings of the gods of the Hindu Pantheon – Durga, Shiva, Krishna, Brahma, Ganesha, are painted in traditional style, along the walls. The walls of the 'Diwan-i-Khas' (Hall of Private Audience), has been further embellished by Maharaja Jaswant Singh, through painted murals.

At the 'Daulat Khas', an enormous Mughal tent made of red and gold silk brocade covers the entire ceiling. It is said to have belonged to Emperor Shah Jahan, and captured from his son Emperor Aurangzeb, by Maharaja Jaswant Singh I. Below this silken canopy, are displayed decorative items of every day usage at the royal palaces, including silver hookas, betel nut boxes, coin boxes, silver-framed mirrors, carpet weights and ornate wine bottles.

The armoury that one enters next, displays weapons of historical significance. These include a large number of menacing swords, daggers and guns with intricate gold inlay work, jewelled hilts and jade handles, used by the rulers of Marwar. Lending credence to the legends of the martial traits of the rulers of Marwar, is Rao Jodha's sword weighing over three and a half kilograms. The oldest sword on display, however, is said to have belonged to a famous ancestor of the Mughals – Tamerlane! Another sword of magnificent proportions, is known to have been specially made for Mughal Emperor Akbar, and captured by Maharaja Jaswant Singh I, along with many other objects.

There are many other areas at Mehrangarh Fort that deserve mention. For instance there are the ramparts of the fort, on which are displayed a row of cannons, an area that can be viewed but entry is restricted.

There are also innumerable other terraces and royal pavilions where one can easily imagine the reigning monarch relaxing to the plaintive strains of one of the many string instruments, of the region. It is from here that one may get the best views of city of Jodhpur.

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