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Kumbhalgarh Fort: A study in defense strategies

Posted by
on November 30, 2016 at 04:03 PM

© Courtesy of Internet Sources / Riddhi Shah

Mesmerising in its appeal, Rajasthan is a state of India synonymous to terms like royalty, majesty and grace. With beautiful palaces and forts, it is a narrative of the legends of the bygone era of the great Rajputs. As evident by the splendid and articulate architecture of almost every city of the Rajasthan, the rulers were meticulous builders. They have successfully constructed some of the most memorable and impressive forts and palaces of the country that have stood the test of time against unsympathetic desert winds and harsh sun. They have even managed to withstand numerous sieges and captivities. Open to the public to witness the grandeur of India’s history, many of them have even been transformed into heritage hotels. Upholding the glory of the imperial past of Rajasthan, some of the palaces and forts till date are living testimonies of their charisma and magnificence. One such forth in the Mewar district of Rajasthan is the Kumbhalgarh Fort. 

The fort’s construction has many interesting stories associated with it. It is said that Rana Kumbha, couldn’t construct the fort for some reason. By night fall, everything constructed in the day time would fall off. He was advised by a saint to sacrifice a volunteering human life to get over this obstacle. One spiritual sage agreed to do it and after that the fort was completed without any hindrance. The fort has served as a place of refuge to the rulers of Mewar at challenging times. The fort sheltered King Udai who found the city of Udaipur in his childhood when his older brother Vikramaditya was killed by Banbir for the throne. His nanny, Panna Dhai, put her own son in the cradle in place of king Udai Singh and let Banbir think he killed the ruler of Mewar. Udai Singh was safely transported to Kumbhalgarh fort. The fort has a sentimental significance for the people of Mewar as it was the birthplace of Udai Singh’s son, Maharana Pratap. 

© Courtesy of internet sources

Second most important fort of the Mewar district after Chittorgarh, the fort is situated 84 kms north of Udaipur. Set amidst the wilderness of present day Kumbhalgarh National Park and embraced in the Aravali mountain ranges, the peak of the fort offers picturesque birds eye views of the surroundings. The fort was built by Rana Kumbha in the 15th century AD on the site of an older palace developed by a Jain prince Samprati in 2nd century BC. This is the reason why the fort of Kumbhalgarh has close to 300 Jain temples even though the rulers of Mewar weren’t Jain followers. Apart from the Jain temples, the complex has 60 Hindu temples including Ganesh temple, Neelkanth Mahadev temple, Pitalia temple and Vedi temple. Other important monuments within the fort walls are Badal mahal, Kumbha mahal, step wells and reservoirs.

© Courtesy of Riddhi Shah

The wall of the fort stretches upto 36 kilometres and occupies an area of 12 square kilometres. Surrounded by the Aravalis and a national park, with fertile land for cultivation and a good amount of water supply, the fort was self-sufficient in all respect. A small village resides within its walls today. The fort has been able to withstand protracted siege and has been claimed to be invincible. It is said that nobody could breach the defenses of the fort by warfare. The combined forces of Mughal, Amber and Marwar, also couldn’t conquer the fort with their army strength. It took poisoning of drinking water system for them to take over the fort. It is believed that Akbar later returned the fort to its rulers. Let us take a look at all the features that made this fort impossible to subjugate. 

© Courtesy of Riddhi Shah

1. Location and topography

The fort has been strategically placed nestled in the Aravalis, encircled by thirteen mountains, at a height of 1087m from the sea level, in a way that makes it difficult to spot from surrounding mountains. The inaccessibility and hostility of the topography are major contributors to the invincibility of the fort. The location is at the border of Marwar and Mewar and thus a commanding position between the kingdoms of Udaipur and Jodhpur.

© Courtesy of internet sources

2. Fortification wall

Kumbhalgarh fort is surrounded by a mammoth fortification wall which is approximately 32 kilometres long. Its circumference is 10 kilo metres and the width of the wall varies from 15 to 25 feet. It is mentioned in the various books of history that eight horses could run on this wall side-by-side. This wall is second longest in the world after the 'Great Wall of China'. The brilliance of the wall construction lies in the fact that it doesn’t follow a straight path but meanders through mountain cliffs and valleys, with steep ascends and descends throughout its length. Almost 700 years later the wall is still intact and unbroken.

© Courtesy of Riddhi Shah

3. Windows designed to attack

The entire length of the inner wall is designed with openings that are tapering such that they are narrow from the outside and broad from the inside. So soldiers could be shielded by these walls and aim at the enemy troop through these openings without being spot from the outside. 

© Courtesy of Riddhi Shah

4. Slopes and steep turns

The fort like any other fort has a lot of ramps. The total walk up the hill from the base is 3 kilometres. These ramps take very sharp turns. This was intentionally done to make it difficult for big army elephants and horses to climb up hill. It would be an arduous task for the attacking force to quickly climb up and turn along the ramps, thereby buying time for the defending forces.

© Courtesy of internet sources

5. Watch towers and gates

The fort has a total of seven huge and imposing gates that stand like lookouts, guarding all the possible approaches and seven ramparts that are strengthened by rounded bastions and immense watch towers. These extra reinforcements made this an impenetrable mountain fortress.

© Courtesy of Riddhi Shah

6. Traps

It is believed that the fort had a good number of traps set up at different places to mislead the enemy force once they managed to breach the wall and enter the fort. So even if any army managed to break through the security of the massive outer and inner walls, traps set at various places made it impossible for the fort to be raided.

© Courtesy of Riddhi Shah

7. Doors designed to defend

Like we see at many palaces and forts, ancient doors are colossal and robust. So if one had to break it down, human force would be inadequate and strength of elephants would be required. Consequently, at many places within the fort, sturdy doors are built and reinforced with spokes throughout the surface to hurt anything banged against it.

© Courtesy of Riddhi Shah

8. Gates and turning skewed

Within the fort, many gates are positioned at turning of the road. One can observe that the roads don’t turn at right angle but are slightly skewed. The reason is not that they didn’t have the technology to do a perfectly right angle road, but to block the site of the enemy army and take them by surprise at every turn. 

© Courtesy of Riddhi Shah

9. Narrow passages and short doors

The Rajputs of the time had a good height of close to 7 feet yet the doors were designed to be roughly 5 feet high and passages were wide enough for just one person to walk. These cramped passages slowed down enemy army, if they were successful enough to enter the fort and the moment they bend to pass through the short doors, defending army could cut of their heads.

© Courtesy of Riddhi Shah

Built with scrupulous planning, careful considerations and extreme detailing, the fort of Kumbhalgarh is unparalleled and unconquered in the state of Rajasthan. Today the fort as a whole in its entirety, including fortification walls, palace complexes, group of temples devoted to different sects and faiths, water bodies and other structures, material of constructions, its shape and design, is well preserved and intact. The entire fort and wall especially, is a great example of architecture genius of the Rajput Era.

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