The Mehrangrah Fortress and its Hindu Connections

Mehrangrah Fortress is one of the largest forts in India covering an area of five square kilometers. Rudyard Kipling described it as being “the creation of angels, fairies and giants”(Bindu 76). This fort recently gained international recognition appearing in Hollywood’s Dark Knight Rises. Located in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, it was built to replace the former fortress of the Rathore dynasty in Mandore, located six miles to the north of Jodhpur. The fortress at Mandore was the capital of Rao Chundra (r. 1384-1428), the grandfather of Rao Jodha, who received the land as part of a dowry. Rao Chundra was the 12th Rathore ruler to oversee the land of Marwar. By the Fifteenth century the fort at Mandore was no longer considered a viable defensive fortress and so the leader of the Rathore clan at the time, Rao Jodha, started construction on the fortress. It was from within the Mehrangrah fortress that Rao’s descendants ruled over the largest of the Rajput kingdoms.

Rao Jodha, one of the 24 sons of Ranmal, set the foundations on May 12, 1459 on a hill Bhakurcheeria, the Mountain of Birds, or Cheeriatunk, the Bird’s Beak. Living in the area at the time was a hermit named Cheeria Nathji, the Lord of the Birds (Bindu 76). The Hermit cursed the citadel to be forever scarce of water. To try to bring good fortune to the fort, Rao Jodha had a man named Rajiya Bambi buried alive in the foundations in exchange for his family’s protection by the Rathores. The Bambi family still lives in Raj Bagh, the land that was given to them by Jodha. It is also said that as many as three other men were buried in the foundations, one in each corner of the fortress, but this is not yet confirmed by historical texts. The Mehrangrah fortress continued to be the home of the Maharaja of Jodhpur until 1943 when he moved to the newly constructed Umaid Bhawan Palace (Sharma 145).

The Rathores are the ruling clan of Jodhpur. The Rathore clan can be further broken down into sub clans such as the Champawat, the Rajput aristocrat’s lineage of Jaipur, Rajasthan (Rudolph 719). Much of the Rajput lineage is known to this day thanks to a diary written, in English, by Thakur Amar Singh. The diary was written from 1898 to 1942 and contains eighty-seven volumes. Each of these volumes in turn has, on average, 900 manuscript pages. The Rathores are part of the Suryavanshi or solar dynasty lineage that are said to descend from Surya (Rani 113). The Suryavanshi also claim to descend from Rama, supposedly another member of Suryavanshi (Ward 164). It is said that the Rathores settled in this area of Marwar to protect the Brahmin priests from cattle-rustling local tribes. There is some doubt to the legitimacy of this information but it is known that protection of the Brahmins was one of the duties of the Rajputs (Welch 333). Perhaps the most famous Rathore is Durgadas (1638-1718) who at one point recaptured Jodhpur from the Mughals. He is also said to have protected Ajith Singh as an infant. He is known for his loyalty, chivalry and courage in his rebellion against the Mughals (Dodwell 303).

Between the years of 1581 and 1672, there were a total of four successive leaders of Marwar who became a type of feudal chiefs for the Mughal Empire of the time. The Mughals or Mogals were Muslims whose leaders were descendants of Genghis Kahn. The Mughals made alliances with much of the warrior nobles, instead of fighting them, which allowed them to gain an empire that stretched over most of modern day Pakistan and India (Robinson 26). There was a brief period that the fort fell under the direct control of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb. After the death of Jaswant Singh there was no direct successor as he had no children but two pregnant wives (Sharma 144). After the death of Aurangzeb, the throne of Marwar once again fell to an Indian Ruler, Jaswant Singh’s son Ajith Singh (Sharma 144).

The new Fort was named Mirihgarh from Sanskrit “Mirih” meaning sun and “Garh” meaning fort. This name has become Mehrangrah because of changes in pronunciation over the centuries. The “Sun Fort” is based on a belief in the Rathores clan’s mystic origins from the sun god Surya. A legend exists that among the people buried in the foundation of the fortress was a Brahmin named Mehran and that the name originated from this priest (Bindu 77). This legend is considerably less likely to explain the origin of the name compared to the idea that the name originated from the Sun fortress (Bindu 77).

Although construction on the fort began in 1459 only a small portion of the known fortress was actually constructed during Rao Jodha’s rule. The fortress was slowly added to for the next 500 years. One of the main results of such a long-term building project, in this case, is the visible change in architecture techniques used over the second half of the 2nd millennium, up to the 19th century, in Rajasthan. Although later rulers often modernized older buildings to match changing needs of the times, there is a noticeable transition of age from one building to another. The major portion of the modern citadel was added during the periods of Maharaja Jaswant Singh (1638-1678) and Ajit Singh (Bindu 76).

There exists a circular path that leads to the palace. It is along this path that the seven gates of Mehrangrah can be found. The first of these gates is Fateh Pol or Victory gate and the final gate being Loha Pol or the Lion Gate. It is outside the Loha Pol that the handprints of women who committed Sati in the wall (Bindu 78). These women were the royal wives and concubines of Maharaja Man Singh who threw themselves on his funeral pyre in 1843 (Sharma 145). The Fetah Pol is heavy spiked gate, built to commemorate the reclaiming of the fort by Ajith in 1707. The next gates include the smaller Gopal Gate and the Bhairon gate that contains large guardrooms. Man Singh built the Jaya Pol after his victory in the war with Jaipur and Bikaner. Rao Maldeo built the Lakhna Pol or Dedh Kangra Pol in the 16th Century. This gate was the one that suffered most of the attack launched by the Jaipur Army in 1807, and in consequence to that it still contains cannon ball hit marks. Another gate is the Amrit Pol which is close to the original entrance of the fort built in 1459. The original entrance was a boulder with a hole small enough that a couple logs could provide a makeshift barrier.

Inside the fortress itself are two temples. The first temple is the Nagnechiji temple, which is located at the edge of the fort complex. This temple contains the Nagnechiji idol, which was brought to the region of Marwar by Rao Dhuhad in the 14th Century, and is the family temple of the Rathores (Ward 165). The other temple inside the fortress is the Chamunda Devi Temple devoted to the goddess Durga. The temple contains an idol of Durga brought to Marwar by Roa Jodha in 1459. Unfortunately an accidental gunpowder explosion in the fort caused the temple and idol to be destroyed in the year 1857. After the temple was again reconstructed by Takhat Singh (1843-73). The Goddess Durga is a warrior goddess known for the killing of demons to maintain the cosmic order. Unlike the other warrior goddess, Kali, Durga conforms to the Brahmanical ideas of womanhood (Foulston 31). In the city of Jodhpur is the Jaswant Thada Cenotaph built in 1899. This building is treated like a temple of Jaswant Singh, and his wives that committed Sati, as Jaswant Singh (r. 1873-95) is treated like a god. He is thought to have possessed unique healing powers throughout his life (Ward 172).


References and Further Recommended Reading

Dodwell, H. H. (1929) The Cambridge History of India: British India 1497-1858. Cambridge: CUP Archive.

Foulston, Lynn, Abbott, Stuart (2009) Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. Sussex: Sussex Academic Press.

Manchanda, Bindu (2006) Forts and Palaces of India: Sentinels of History. p. 77-82. New Delhi: Roli Books.

Rani, Kayita (2007) Royal Rajasthan. p. 112-118. New Holland: New Holland Publishers.

Robinson, F. (2007) The Mughal Dynasties. 57(6), p. 22-29. London: History Today.

Sharma, Anu (2011) Famous Monuments of India. Pinnicle Technology. Delhi: Prashant Publications.

Tillotson, Giles (2011) Mehrangarh: Jodhpur Fort & Palace Museum. Jodhpur: Mehrangarh Museum Trust.

Ward, Philip (1989) Northern India, Rajasthan, Agra, Delhi: A Travel Guide. New Orleans: Pelican Publishing.

Welch, Stuart (1985) India: art and culture, 1300-1900. p. 333-335. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art


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Article Written by Ryan Kung (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content