The Fort of Chittor

The Rajputs, a warrior clan, came into prominence in early medieval period. Commitment to warfare is central to Rajput kshatriya culture. Their art and architecture is a product of a society that is dominated by ‘feudal’ clans, linked by ties of blood. It is a society dominated by military aristocracy. The Rajput strongholds, the great forts and palaces, located in the deserts of Rajasthan and in the state of Madhya Pradesh bear witness to the turbulent history of the area. Chittor, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bundi, Kota, Gwalior and later Amber are some of the surviving examples and among them, Chittor is the oldest.

Most Rajput forts are fort-palaces (garh-palaces). Almost invariably the defence features are contiguous with those of the palace, so that the fort and palace combine to form a single structure. Sometimes the fortified palace is contained within a further fortress. The Rajput garh- palaces also had a symbolic function which rivalled their function as dwellings and military retreats. They served as expressions of power and consolidation in the processes of state formation and became symbols of political rivalry.

The fort of Chittor is located in the state of Rajasthan. Chittor or Chittaurgarh was the capital of Mewar under the Guhilas, later called the Sisodia Rajputs (7th- 16thcentury). The rock of Chittor rises about 500 feet above the surrounding plains and is over 3 miles long and half a mile wide. It was taken by the Guhilas in the early 8thcentury and turned into a stronghold. Chittor annals record three sacks that the fortress suffered: the first in 1303 by the armies of Sultan Ala ud-Din Khalji of Delhi (1296 – 1316), the second by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat in 1535, and the third which finally broke the kingdom in 1567 by the Mughal emperor, Akbar. It came back into Rajput hands but henceforth Chittor seized to be the capital, being replaced by Udaipur.

Rana Kumbha’s Palace

Rana Kumbha’s (1433 – 68) Palace is the earliest surviving palace in the complex. The palaces attributed to Bhim and Padmini, victims of Ala ud-Din’s siege are 19thcentury re- creations. However, Rani Padmini’s island retreat shows that there already existed at this early date (c.1300) the idea of a pleasure palace in the middle of a lake. This concept foreshadows the lake-palace of Udaipur, developed to great heights in the architectural tradition of Rajasthan. Rana Kumbha’s palace is situated on the west side of the fort. A mile long from the northern end, it is entered by two gateways to the east. The first gate is the huge Badi Pol and the second is called the Tripolia, a three bayed deep structure. From the gates you enter into a large open space to the south of the palace and to the Darikhana or Sabha, which is a low hypostyle hall (a hall with pillars). This most accessible part of the palace was the public part, serving in all probability as a parade ground and a council chamber. The Sabha hides the main entrance behind in the south facade that leads to the more private areas of the palace.

The northern end structures in the palace are better preserved than the southern. This end is marked by profusion and arrangement of balconies. Each richly carved projecting balcony is a rectangle surmounted by a canopy, which is supported on short columns. The balconies are arranged one above the other, in vertical groups, forming continuous projections from the facade. The top of the wall of this north front represents another Chittor characteristic. This is the rise and fall in short steps of the top, which is not a straight line and appears stepped and uneven. The effect of this stepping is to give the front a varied skyline. This in turn has the effect of looking unsubstantial, as the uneven line cannot have been met by a single roof which would provide it with volume and mass. But this is where the beauty of Chittor architecture lies.

All the structures are made of dressed stone, covered with stucco. The other exterior surface decoration includes broad sculpted bands serving as string courses, and large flower head projections (knobs).

The interior of the palace is generally irregular except for the northwest corner which is regular and self contained. Here a rectangular block is flanked by two towers of three stories each. The stories, comprising single square chambers have since collapsed. The central block consists of two rectangular chambers, one above the other, and a roof terrace on top. In front of the whole apartment is a small chowk (courtyard), from where a short flight of steps enters the apartment. Kanwar Pade ka Mahal or the palace of the heir apparent to the southwest echoes this arrangement as well.

In each of these two palaces, the jali screens (pierced stone latticed screens) on their outer surfaces indicate women’s quarters, which are also marked by a nearby structure that looks like a sentry box. The women were guarded within the palace and the jali screens protected them from the outside, although their quarters were closely integrated with the rest of the palace. Another feature of Rana Kumbha’s palace is a long street, uncovered, running along east-west axis, making it look more like an assemblage of structures rather than a single compact place. The Surya Gokhra at the east end, built of green stone is another edifice, but that was probably built later.

For a greater protection to the palace, and to provide it with larger storage, the whole structure is raised on a vaulted substructure. However, despite the knowledge of arcuate system, the entire edifice is predominantly trabeate in construction with small temple columns. The Hindu/Jain architectural forms that are seen in the use of balconies, the jalis, flower head knobs and temple columns, include other local features like the richly carved brackets and corbels (supports of the balconies) and the eaves (chajjas) as well. In the temples in the adjoining areas, these forms are extensively used. Eclecticism can be seen in the vaulted substructure, in the use of domes, and in the use of small ogee arches in the central kiosk. These seem to have been borrowed from contemporary Provincial Sultanate architectural style at Malwa.

Rana Ratan Singh’s Palace

Next in importance is Rana Ratan Singh’s (1528 – 31) Palace near the north end of the fort, on the west side of the small Ratneshwar Lake. It is same as Kumbha’s but more regular in overall plan. Originally it was a perfect rectangle, enclosed by a single continuous high wall, punctuated by massive towers, one at each corner and in the centre of the longer sides. This regular form is less evident now, because the palace is much ruined and altered. The slightly tapering towers are octagonal in base with string courses and are topped by squat round domes. The interior of the palace was never planned symmetrically, much like Rana Kumbha’s, which is a maze of small apartments. The southern side is the zenana (women’s quarters). The ogee pointed arch introduced in Rana Kumbha’s palace is seen in the gateway at the south of this palace. The palace like Kumbha’s is of rough hewn stone and was at one time covered with stucco.

The last structures to be built at Chittor before the Mughal capitulation are the palaces of Jaimal and Patta, the two heroes of Akbar’s siege (1567). They stand together on the western side of the fort, half a mile to the south of Kumbha’s palace. Inspite of this close proximity they represent different treatment and planning. Patta’s palace is much like Kumbha’s in the plan of the zenana. Like Kanwar Pade Ka Mahal, it has a small fight of steps before the entrance, and follows the same arrangement of rooms. Decoration too is similar, although far richer. Also the north wall is stepped at the top, with an uneven skyline but with a new feature of a staircase that leads from the roof terrace to a high balcony, lending it with a certain charm.

Jaimal’s palace is much more different in conception. It is a rectangular solid block on the exterior. The blank walls have no openings except for a centrally placed door, and are relieved by simple string courses suggesting three stories. The central portion of the main east front is somewhat recessed and the walls have a slight batter, but otherwise there is no deviation from a cuboid form. Lower storey is a large central chamber flanked by four small ones, two on each side. The upper storey is reached by an enclosed staircase on the front of the building. The roof terrace is flanked by two chambers that have vaulted ceilings. Entirely without decoration, though with a coat of plaster like in others, perfect symmetry of plan does not seem to be the norm here either. However, though Jaimal’s palace is the most different of all, it still uses familiar forms. Other structures in the fort include the house of Bhama Shah (c.1560), a quarter of a mile to the north of Kumbha’s.

From the above account, it seems there is a tremendous uniformity of style in the Chittor palaces despite the fact that some of them are separated by almost a century, like the time span between Rana Kumbha’s and Patta’s palace. No significant development seems to have taken place in the intervening years. A deliberate resistance to change can be the only explanation because elsewhere in the contiguous regions there are lively innovations. Later this conservatism is seen at Udaipur as well.

The Chittor style is echoed in nearby palaces at Gwalior and Chanderi with certain modifications. The sources for this early Rajput style at Chittor are not easily decipherable. One obvious precedent is the Indo-Islamic architecture that was practised in the adjoining areas of Rajput ascendancy. The Sultanate of Malwa, with its capital at Mandu (15th and early 16thcenturies) definitely influenced Chittor. This can be discerned in the domes and the ogee shaped arches, which are used in the Jami Masjid (1440) and the Jahaz Mahal (c.1460) at Mandu. The vaulted substructure too could have come from the Indo-Islamic tradition. But the projecting balconies of both the Chittor palaces and the Mandu Hindola Mahal (c.1425) take their forms from the Hindu temple architecture.

But Chittor ultimately is different to Mandu or Delhi. Indo-Islamic architecture is far more plain, emphasis being on the purity of forms while the decorative urge at Chittor is more paramount. Since not many pre-Chittor structures exist, prior to the medieval period, it is difficult to decipher the antecedents of Chittor. At best we can look at contemporary religious architecture or find correspondences with the descriptions of buildings in contemporary literature or as shown in pictorial records.

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