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Mehrangarh Fort Jodhpur

In 1458, secure in his dominion, Jodha became the fifteenth Rathore ruler. The Raj Tilak or formal anointment of the prince, necessary because it vests in the man divinity, was performed by his elder brother Akhairaj, Ranmal's rightful heir who renounced his claim in favor of his younger brother because the latter had reconquered every inch of Marwar himself..

Within a year of his accession Rao Jodha decided to build a new capital. The fort in Mandore, already over a thousand years old, was no longer considered strong and safe. In doing so he bequeathed to India one of her greatest forts and most beautiful cities.

The foundation of this fort was laid on 12th May,1459 by Jodha himself on a rocky hill six miles south of Mandore. The hill, a hundred and twenty meters high, was known as Bhakurcheeria, the Mountain of Birds, or Cheeriatunk, the Bird's Beak. Its lone human occupant at the time was an old hermit called Cheeria Nathji, the Lord of the Birds.( Even today the fort is home to thousands of birds, particularly the Cheel or Kite, the sacred bird of the Rathores.)

Auspicious though the day, it was not a smooth beginning for Jodha because the disturbed hermit left his cave cursing the invaders of his solitary world. His curse, impossible to forget even today, "Jodha! May your citadel ever suffer a scarcity of water!" A terrible curse anywhere, in Marwar heralding doom itself. Undeterred Jodha continued with his construction but he did take some measures to appease the gods. Besides building a house for Cheeria Nathji in his new city he also constructed a temple in the fort very near the cave the hermit used for meditation. The cave and temple together with a pond in front form an enchanting spot today. And over five hundred years later fresh flowers are still placed every morning in the temple to placate the irate hermit...

Jodha then took the extreme step to ensure the new site proved propitious; he buried a man alive in the foundations. The man was Rajiya Bambi (Meghwal) and he was promised that in return his family would forever more be looked after by the Rathores. It was a promise that has been honored and Rajiya's descendants continue to enjoy a special relationship with the Maharaja. A proud family they still live in Raj Bagh, Rajiya's Garden, the estate bequeathed by Jodha.

Rajiya's fate is an established fact of history but there are sources, albeit less reliable, which record three other human sacrifices in the foundations of Jodha's fort. Four in all, one for each corner if these sources are to be believed. Of the three one is held to be Rajiya's son and another a Brahmin named Mehran, both improbable choices. It seems unlikely that Jodha would pick two men from the same family and a Hidu king sacrificing a Brahmin or priest does not ring quite true.

The controversy remains alive because these sources claim that Jodha named his new fort after Mehran. Today the fort is indeed called Mehrangarh, Mehran's Fort, and it has been for some time, but the origin of this name remains a mystery. Did Mehran really exist and was he offered to the gods? For the present these are secrets trapped in the depths of Bhakurcheeria. On the other hand the answer may, in fact, be quite simple; Mehr is a Rajasthani word for the Sun and it is not at all unlikely that the Rathores, who claim descent from the Sun, would name their first citadel in His honor.

Whatever Jodha named his fort, a citadel on which he spent all of rupees nine hundred thousand, it was very different from what the present Maharaja of Jodhpur, Gaj Singh II, inherited four hundred and ninety three years later. To begin with, it was much, much smaller; the extremities of the original fortress fall within the second gate today. As the Rathores grew more powerful Mehrangarh, at once a symbol of their glory and the basis of their strength, expanded. Every ruler left his mark and therein lies Mehrangarh's beauty, for it is today a magnificent blend of different reigns and ages, styles and influences, compulsions and dreams...  

Its towering battlements, a hundred and twenty feet high, and stern walls, in places six meters thick, testify to the strength of Rao Maldev (1532-1562) in whose reign the Rathores reached the zenith of their power. The palaces, extravagant and exquisite edifices of peace and prosperity, whisper a thousand secrets; of machiavellian intrigues, dazzling riches and decadent pleasures under the imperial Mughal umbrella (1582-1739). The main gates, Fateh Pol and Jai Pol, sing of great victories, against the Mughals in 1707 and the Jaipur forces a hundred years later; while the lofty ramparts, fiercely brandishing Maharaja Abhaya Singh's (1724-1749) war trophies, proclaim them to the world...

Mehrangarh has never, not even once, been taken in a siege. Invincible and mighty, inspiring awe, admiration, envy and fear in friend and foe alike, Mehrangarh is the very spirit of the Rathores. Indeed, no historian, no white-whiskered royal retainer, no chronicle, no ballad, no poem can rival the Citadel of the Sun in bringing alive the story of the Rathores of Jodhpur. Every mile-stone in their adventure, every triumph, every act of courage is immortalized here in stone and mortar, marble and metal. The palaces, lavished with delicate friezes, record successful campaigns; cart-loads of war booty and caravans laden with imperial favor. The cenotaphs recount stirring tales of valor and sacrifice; cannon-ball marks on the walls speak of repulsed enemies; the hand-prints, tiny and graceful on the portals, weep in remembrance of faithful queens lost to the flames of Sati...

As a historian Mehrangarh is superior in other respects too. Unbiased, delighting in wickedness, relishing scandal, sharing secrets...Did not the prince Jaswant Singh (1873-1895) throw his mistress out of this very window because she was really his father's and the latter had just entered the room? Was it not from these ramparts that Maharaja Maan Singh (1803-1843) had his Prime Minister dashed to the ground four hundred feet below? Is this not the foul chamber where Maharaja Ajit Singh (1678-1724) was murdered by his son? Was it not from this balcony that Rao Ganga (1515-1532), reveling in an opium heightened cool breeze, fell to his death? Or was he pushed by his son, the great Maldev (1532-1562)

(Excerpt from 'The House of Marwar' by Dhananajaya Singh. Roli Books 1994)

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