Chittorgarh, the awe-inspiring hill fort built on a massive rock, lies 72 miles northeast of Udaipur. It was said that this fort was the key to all of Rajputana, and any conqueror would have to gain control of it first. It is considered by many to be the finest medieval Hindu fort in existence. But more than that, it is cloaked in legends of valor, chivalry and glorious death and occupies a preeminent position in the Rajput psyche.
Chittorgarh was built in the 8th century by Bappa Rawal, the first of the great Sisodia rulers. Between then and 1567 it fell victim to three sieges, which resulted bloody battles that saw the defenders eventually defeated by invaders from Afghanistan. Rather than face slavery at the hands of their captors, the women of the royal families committed Jauhar, a Rajput tradition where the defeated self-immolate rather than face dishonor.
The ascent to the Chittorgarh Fort is by a steep, winding road, defended by seven fortified gateways. Past the Chittorgarh Fort wall is the oldest palace of Chittorgarh, Rana Kumbha’s palace, with its beautiful series of canopied balconies and a stepped outer wall. Opposite this palace lies Kunwar Pade ka Mahal (Crown Prince’s Palace), a wonderful example of early Rajput architecture. Just beyond lies the imposing temple of Vra-ji, built by Rana Kumbha, and, nearby, the temple of Mirabi, the celebrated 16th-century poet-saint.
The real architectural masterpiece at Chittorgarh, however, is Rana Kumbha’s great Vijaystambha (Tower of Victory), built in a Jain revivalist style. It has been restored subsequently, but if you look at the upper stories, you can see the splendidly carved original panels, depicting a variety of Hindu gods and goddesses as well as scenes from the Hindu epic the Ramayana. As you walk south from the Tower of Victory, you come to the Mahasati, the terrace where the maharajas were cremated. Just beyond this lies Gomukh, a large tank, fed by a perennial spring through a rock carved with the face of a cow.
South of the Gomukh tank are the ruins of a row of great mansions, including those of the heroes who defended Chittorgarh-Patta and Jaimal. These two palaces were among the last of the monuments to be built in the fort before its destruction in 1567. Patta’s palace echoes the style of the palace of Rana Kumbha and Kunwar Pade ka Mahal, with a stepped wall and rich decorations. A close look reveals the ornamented blue tiles that once adorned many of the buildings here. Jaimal’s palace, on the other hand, is solid and austere, but displays the perfect symmetry of plan that can be traced back to even the oldest Rajput palaces. Nearby is the Bundi Chief’s palace, with its beautiful old pool, lined with bathing terraces, and beyond it lie the ruins of Chittorgarh’s old Pearl Market.
Toward the south end of the Chittorgarh Fort is Kalika Mata Temple, originally dedicated to Surya, the sun god. It dates back to the 8th century, making it the oldest structure in the fort. Still further south, beyond Chonda’s Palace, lies the palace of Rani Padmini. According to legend, she is said to have been a Sri Lankan princess, so fair and delicate that when she drank water, you could see it pass through her throat! The original palace was a beautiful water palace, a forerunner of the later Jag Mandir and Jag Niwas in Udaipur.