When you visit Chittorgarh, which is a two hour ride away from Udaipur, you will find both ends of the road flanked with tour guides who might even follow your car up the winding remains of the fortifications of the Rajput castle.
Legend has it that Queen Rani Padmini of Chittor ( 14th Century A.D.) was so undeniably and exquisitely beautiful that when the invader Allauddin Khilji heard about her, he began a series of furious attacks on Rajput castles with the sole purpose of obtaining her.As a compromise, Rani Padmini’s husband Raja Ratan Singh allowed Allauddin Khilji ONE indirect glimpse of his wife in a mirror which would reflect her while she stood on the opposite bank in a specially constructed quarter in the middle of an artificial lake.
But Khilji was so captivated by her that he had to have her for himself. He kidnapped her husband and held him ransom but Rani Padmini beat him at his own game by sending her soldiers disguised as hand-maidens inside palanquins (which were encased seats carried by footmen and used by royal women while travelling, so that they could be hidden from being looked at by all men). Her soldiers rescued her husband and as a result unleashed the full wrath of Allauddin Khilji onto Chittorgarh.
Rani Padmini and her women committed jauhar (threw themselves into the fire rather than face the oncoming slaughter and rapes of defeat) while Chittorgarh fell.
The other epic story of Chittorgarh raid is the greatest Mughul emperor Akbar‘s attack in 1567-8. Chittorgarh was then under Raja Udai Singh, who founded the beautiful city of Udaipur with its lakes and palaces even as Akbar carried out a continuous raid on Chittorgarh, which was not easy to take.
A few months ago I visited both Udaipur and Chittorgarh. The day we were in Chittorgarh was overcast and a little rainy but teeming with tourists, including a lot of foreigners. Located on a somewhat flattened hilltop, the fort easily has some hundred temples within it.
Also interesting is the Gaumukh reservoir. Gaumukh means cow’s face. This reservoir is where the women would come to bathe. It is connected to their housing quarters by underground passages, which means that the queen and her entourage never had to step outside and be exposed to the lusty glares of the menfolk. To reach this reservoir, you actually need to climb down a lot of stairs. At the bottom of it, half-submerged in water, is a stone in the face of a cow’s mouth which is said to continuously give out a stream of water, probably fed by some richly replenished underground water source. Since us Hindu’s are such firm cow worshipers, we could see that this spot was crowded with people taking dips in the pool and wading through knee-length water for a glimpse of this wonder stone. Amazing, right?
One thing I saw that gave me goosebumps was the fact that many of the idols of Hindu gods and scenes that had been intricately carved into the temple walls and the domes had limbs missing. When we inquired about these, we found that the Muslim raiders had attacked these in the heat of their raiding. If I close my eyes, I cam still imagine six-foot tall barbarian soldiers wielding huge swords running madly through the ruined fort, over the ashes of the womenfolk who had committed suicide, over the gruesome corpses of the Rajputs who had died protecting them and climbing madly onto the domes and slashing out at the Hindu idols in fury. Quite something
Currently reading: Alex Rutherford’s Ruler of the World, the third book in his Empire of the Moghul series. This book concentrates on Akbar (so you can understand that the first one was about Babur and the second about Humayun). I just finished reading the chapter about the attack on Chittorgarh and the accompanying jauhar of the women and children. I couldn’t help picturing the fort in my head.