( In continuation of my series on Mewar, I examine the rise of the Sisodias, and the advent of the Ranas.)
In my previous post, I had taken a look at the early history of Mewar, and how Bappa Rawal, played a role in the founding of the kingdom. Post Bappa Rawal, not much is really known about the successive rulers, though there was Bhatribhat I, who formed a loose confederation of sorts with other Rajput rulers. The last ruler Allat Singh was forced to move to Ahar, in the mid 10th century, abandoning Chittorgarh. Ahar now located in the Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh, served as the capital of the Gehlot rulers from 971 AD to 1172 AD. However constant Muslim invasions, meant the last ruler at Ahar, Kshem Singh had to move his capital to Dungarpur in Rajasthan.
The actual royal lineage of Dungarpur was established by Mahup, the elder son of the 12th century Mewar ruler Karan Singh. Apparently Mahup was disinherited by his father, and took refuge with his mother, who belonged to the Bagar clan of Chauhan. Mahup took the title of Maharawal, and fought many a battle with the Bhil tribals there, to establish his position. Incidentally Dungarpur is believed to have been named after a Bhil chieftain, assassinated by Mahup’s successor Rawal Bir Singh in the 14th century. One of the more famous rulers of Chittorgarh was Rawal Ratan Singh, a brave and valiant warrior, whose wife was the legendary Padmini. Drawn by her beauty, the Delhi Sultan Allaudin Khilji led a long drawn out seige of Chittorgarh. Faced with imminent defeat, Padmini and other women in Ratan Singh’s harem committed Jauhar, the first ever one, rather than submit to a life of slavery in the Sultanate harem.
Rana Hammir in a way began the next phase of Rajput rule of Mewar with Chittorgarh as the capital that started in 1326 and ended in 1568, when Rana Udai Singh II, had to flee after Akbar occupied the fort. Hammir’s ancestor was Laksha Singh, a very distant clan relative of Rawal Ratan Singh, who fought during the siege of Chittorgarh by Allauddin Khilji. Of his 9 sons, 7 of them perished in the siege of Chittorgarh, including Laksha himself. Hammir was the only child of Ari, the eldest son of Laksha and Urmila. Both hsi father and grandfather had died during the siege of Chittorgarh, and Hammir grew up under the care of his uncle, Ajay Singh, one of the few sons of Laksha, who survived the carnage at Chittorgarh. Hammir showed his prowess at an early age, when he killed a notorious bandit Munja in that region, and his uncle knew he was bestowed with leadership qualities.Hammir got married to Songari, the daughter of Maldeo, the ruler of Jalore, who had sided with Allaudin Khilji in the siege of Chittorgarh. Hammir later overthrow his father in law, and took the title of Rana. The dynasty came to be known as Sisodia after the village near Nathdwara to which Laksha Singh belonged.
Rana Hammir ruled till 1364, and he was succeeded by his son Kshetra Singh, who conquered Mandalgarh and Ajmer in his rule. Kheta was succeeded by his son Lakha who conquered several territories from Delhi and in 1421 was succeeded by his son Mokhal.Mokhal was assassinated by his own brothers Chacha and Mera in 1433, who whoever had to flee, with the mood of people against them. And thus ascended Rana Kumbha to the throne, who would become one of the greatest rulers of Mewar. A giant of a personality, both physically and metaphorically, Rana Kumbha would stride like a colossus during the 15th century, one of the fiercest opponents of the Delhi Sultanate. Along with Kapilendra Deva in Kalinga, Deva Raya II in Vijayanagara and Man Singh Tomar in Gwalior, he would be one of the great Hindu kings, who presented a serious challenge to the Delhi Sultanate, and managed to check it’s advances. Kumbha initially had good support from Ranmal Rathore of Mandore. His main battles though would be against Mahmud Khilji the Malwa Sultan who laid siege to Chittorgarh, multiple times. In Nov 1442, Khilji laid siege and captured Pangarh and Chaumuha and encamped there. In the summer of 1443, Rana Kumbha attacked the Sultan’s camp forcing him to retreat to Mandu. The Sultan again made an attempt to capture Chittorgarh in 1443 but was again forced to retreat, by a spirited counter attack from Rana Kumbha. The Sultan again made a final attempt in 1446 at Mandalgarh along with the Sultan of Gujarat, Ahmad Shah, but had to taste defeat again. For the next decade, the Malwa Sultan, did not attack Chittorgarh again.
In order to commemorate his victory over the combined forces of Malwa and Gujarat, Rana Kumbha ordered the construction of the Vijay Stambh at Chittorgarh fort. Built partly of red sandstone and white marble, the Vijay Stambh or the Tower of Victory is one of the most iconic structures in India. At a height of 37.19 m and 9 stories tall, the tower has numerous images of Hindu gods and goddesses engraved on it. Standing on a 10 feet high pedestal, each story has an opening and balconies, and a staircase inside winding through the central chamber. Sutradhar Jaita assisted by his 3 sons Napa, Puja, and Poma was the main architect, of this imposing structure, and the sculpture was by Sompura Brahmins from Patan in Gujarat. There are around 157 narrow steps leading to the top, from where you get a great view of Chittorgarh fort, and the surrounding Arravalis.
Great Wall of India
The construction of the fort began in 1443, and legend goes that initially, the walls crumbled as soon as the sun set. A spiritual guru advised Kumbha that only a voluntary human sacrifice could remove the curse on it. He advised that a temple should be built on the spot where the head fell, while the fort should be built at where the body fell. For a long time no one came forward, until one soldier volunteered to do so, and today the main gate of the fortress Hanuman Pol contains a shrine in memory of the sacrifice.
While its altitude and the towering Aravalli peaks make it invincible enough, what makes it virtually impregnable are the walls around the fort. Stretching 36 km, with a thickness of 15 km, the formidable walls around Kumbhalgarh constitute one of the toughest defenses ever to penetrate. Unlike the Great Wall of China, the wall at Kumbalgarh is does not follow a straight pattern, but has steep ascents and descents at many points where it cuts through cliffs and valleys. Even after 700 years the walls at Kumbhalgarh still stand strong; a testimony to the architectural excellence of the Rajput era. Seven huge imposing gates stand around the fort, named Pole-Aret, Hanuman (the main gate,) Ram, Vijay, Nimboo, and Bhairon. Within the temple there are around 300 Jain temples and 60 Hindu temples.
Another challenge Rana Kumbha faced was the kingdom of Nagaur, whose ruler Firoz Khan passed away around 1454. Firoz’s son Shams Khan sought the help of Kumbha against his uncle Mujahid Khan, who had usurped the throne. However on becoming the ruler after overthrowing Mujahid with help of Kumbha, Shams took the help of Qutubuddin the Sultan of Gujarat to strengthen his own position. This led to a conflict, in which Kumbha attacked Shams Khan, captured Nagaur, and also Khandela, Sakhambari. Shams Khan in alliance with Qutubuddin and the Malwa Sultan, Khilji, signed the treaty of Champaner, and launched an attack on Kumbha. Qutubuddin captured Sirohi, Mt.Abu and advanced to Kumbhalgarh. However with Kumbalgarh holding out, he could not proceed till Chittorgarh. In the meantime Khilji captured Ajmer and Mandalgarh, and taking advantage of this, Rao Jodha, captured Mandore. Kumbha had to counter this multi-pronged assault and succeeded in recapturing most of the forts back.
Apart from being a great warrior, Kumbha was also a fine patron of arts, he himself was a great writer. His reign was known as Mewar’s Golden Age for the patronage he gave to writers, sculptors, artistes and poets. Kumbha himself wrote Samgita Raja, Sangita Ratnakara, Rasika Priya a commentary on the Gita Govinda, Sudaprabandha and Kamaraja Ratisara. The scholars Atri and his son Mahesha, Kahana Vyasa who wrote the Ekalinga Mahatya were during his time. Apart from Kumbhalgarh and Vijay Stambha, he also built the Trailokya Jain temple at Ranakpur, Kumbhasvami, Adivarsha temples at Chittor and Shantinatha Jain temple. Sadly he was killed by his own son Uday Singh I, but his legacy would however to continue inspire Mewar.