the glories of mewar: impregnable kumbhalgarh and exquisite ranakpur

There was an invincible grandeur associated with the Kingdom of Mewar in Rajasthan, of which Udaipur was the capital. Traits which reflected in not just the larger-than-life personas of its rulers but its impregnable forts and exquisite places of faith too.

Deep in the wooded Aravalli Hills are two such places: Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur. Whilst one is a fort of a king remembered to this day for his valour and indomitable spirit, the other is a temple carved out of marble to give shape to a divine dream, with the blessings of the same king.

The route leading to them is treacherous in parts, cutting through the dark, unlit, uninhabited jungle in the form of a rather worn-out pot-holed narrow road. At others, it rises and falls in tune with the hills, passing tiny hamlets and endless herds of livestock. But the rewards for this journey are priceless.

Come, let me show you Maharana Kumbha’s Mewar. ❤

KUMBHALGARH FORT: A WAR-HERO’S STRONGHOLD WITH 36-KILOMETRE-LONG RAMPARTS

Maharana Kumbha and his fort Kumbhalgarh are the stuff epic stories are made of.

Built atop a 1,100-metre-high hilltop, the UNESCO World Heritage Site contains the world’s second longest continuous wall, after the Great Wall of China. 36 kilometres long and 15-feet broad with seven fortified gates, the ramparts allowed for four horsemen to gallop through it, side-by-side.

Though Mewar’s rulers lived in Chittorgarh, and later Udaipur, it was to Kumbhalgarh Fort they took refuge in. The fort was impregnable; isolated and concealed. Should the fort walls be not high or thick enough, the surrounding hills, forests, wildlife, and rivulets ensured it was impossible to reach, least of all capture.

Maharana Kumbha, the fort’s builder, was a man of many talents and simple tastes. An incredibly brave warrior, wrestler, patron of the arts, poet, and music researcher, he authored a number of manuscripts on music, the most famous being 16,000 couplets on Ragas titled Sangeet Raj.

Under his reign which lasted from 1433 to 1468, the Kingdom of Mewar reached its geographical zenith. Constantly at battle to establish Mewar and extend its boundaries against the Sultans of Gujarat and Malwa, he along with his architect Mandana, either constructed or restored 32 of the 84 forts that stood in Mewar. It would be safe to say he perfected medieval fort design, coming up with various fort design innovations.

Yet the man who never lost a battle and crushed his every enemy was eventually murdered by his own son Uday Singh I.

His fort Kumbhalgarh fared better. Built at one go over 15 years [1443 – 58], its construction was a well thought out move. Maharana Kumbha needed a strategic spot where canons could not reach.

To ensure its residents survived through possible sieges, farms and water reservoirs with ample drinking water were included within the ramparts. Secret tunnels were added for escape should the need arise. And to keep the gods happy, 360 temples were built inside of which 300 were Jain temples, and 60 Hindu temples. Some are still in use.

There are three palaces on the highest hill. The small and compact Kumbha Mahal is the oldest amongst the three. It is where Maharana Kumbha lived and wrote his literary masterpieces when not on the battlefield. Jhalia Ka Malia is where his great great grandson Maharana Pratap, Rajputana’s most famous ruler was born. Badal Mahal, the newest of the lot, is attributed to Maharana Fateh Singh in the turn of the 20th Century.

Scattered across the fort’s expanse are villages of Bhil tribals who have been living inside Kumbhalgarh since Maharana Kumbha’s times, and continue to do so. Maharana Pratap, apparently, made them his ears and eyes. Stationed at times 10 kilometres from the palace, they would pass on messages of the strength of the enemy forces and which direction they were coming from.

The palaces and temples are in ruins now. But the ramparts put up by Maharana Kumbha still snake through the ancient Aravalli Hills, strong and fearless, a reminder of a time when to be a king was to be a warrior-hero.

[Note: Click on an image below to enlarge it and read the caption. Use the arrow keys to navigate through the set.]

RANAKPUR TEMPLE: WHERE A DREAM OF FAITH WAS TURNED INTO POETRY IN MARBLE

It can be hard to decide what is more impressive at the Ranakpur Temple deep in the dense green forests. Its mind-boggling statistics or otherworldly story or serene ambiance.

Spread over 48,000 square feet atop a series of subterranean vaults, one of India’s largest and most important Jain temple complexes dedicated to the Svetambara sect comprises of four temples. These are Chaturmukh/ Chaumukha Temple, Parshvanatha Temple, Neminath Temple, and Surya Temple. All in sparkling white marble.

Chaumukha Temple is the principal temple and houses the main deity Adinath, Jain religion’s first Tirthankara. Four 6-feet-tall figures of him face the four cardinal directions, giving the temple its name.

1,444 intricately carved pillars, 29 halls, and 80 domes held up by 400 columns fill the complex. If that were not enough, no two pillars are identical. Each pillar is decorated with a one-of-its-kind mix of breathtakingly beautiful geometric patterns, scrolls, and celestial beings. Up in the lace-like ceiling 45-feet-above of Chaumukha Temple, marble nymphs play musical instruments, engrossed in their own music.

Apart from the wondrous sculptures mentioned, the temple contains ceiling panels of astounding craftmanship such as the Kalpavriksha, a wish-fulfilling divine tree, and Akichaka, a bearded man with five bodies representing the five elements. Also look out for the carving of Parshvanatha surrounded with a 1,008-headed serpent [above title image] and the Jambudvipa Rachna, a depiction of the earthly part of the Jain cosmos.

Ranakpur Temple’s colossal hand-carved concoction comes with a delightfully charming story of devotion and faith.

According to a copper-plate inscription within the temple complex, the temple dates back to the early-15th Century. It was built by Dharnasha, a wealthy merchant and key minister in the ruler of Mewar, Maharana Kumbha’s court. And from this point on legend takes over.

One night, Dharnasha dreamt of a celestial vehicle. When he woke up next morning, he was determined to build a temple in the shape of this vehicle. He shared his vision with the king who loved the idea, but had one condition. That the temple be named after him.

Dharnasha now had to find someone who could help him in giving shape to his vision. He set out in 1394 on his search, during which he met an eccentric ascetic called Depa. On asking him for help, Depa went deep into meditation for many days, and when he finally resurfaced, he drew a sketch so perfect it was “as if the gods had drawn it themselves.”

Fifty years of intense labour by thousands of craftsmen and sculptors followed this meeting, and finally Ranakpur Temple, as it stands today, was created.

I mentioned ambiance. Lush green cover, chirping birds, soft light streaming through the filigreed marble, and silent pilgrims. The main temple is magnificent, but please don’t limit your visit to just the main shrine. The surrounding temples, albeit deserted and overlooked, are just as lovely, if not as grand.

And as the sun sets, and the priests light diyas [clay lamps] for the evening [there is no electricity in Ranakpur Temple] be ready to be transported to a world where dreams can be turned into reality.

[Note: Click on an image below to enlarge it and read the caption. Use the arrow keys to navigate through the set.]

Travel tips:

  • Getting to Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur: I hired a cab from Rajputana Cabs for the excursion. It is a long drive since the two sites are on different sides of a range of hills and one has to drive around the range to reach them.
  • There’s an excellent multi-lingual audio guide available at Ranakpur Temple for a nominal charge.
  • Recommendation: On the way, do visit Maharana Pratap Museum and Haldighati. The latter is the site of two historical battles fought by the Maharana against Mughal Emperor Akbar.
  • Staying there: I based myself in Madri Haveli in the heart of Udaipur’s Old City.

NOTE:
You may also like to read: 11 Reasons Udaipur Needs to be on Every Travel Bucket List.

[Note: This blog post is part of a series from my 35-day solo and independent road trip through Rajasthan from 17 October to 20 November, 2021. To read more posts in my Rajasthan series, click here.]

8 thoughts on “the glories of mewar: impregnable kumbhalgarh and exquisite ranakpur

  1. ever since I came across your wonderful blog (researching a trip to Bundi stepwells, 2018) I have kept an eye on your travels. You are a great storyteller. Your writing is so lovely and evocative and gets to the heart and soul of these magical places so that you can feel the history. I was lucky enough to visit Ranakpur, and your words and pictures have brought me right back there. I miss India! Thank you : )

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I learned about Kumbhalgarh only after I started my blog and began reading other bloggers’ stories. It’s truly impressive and I think more people outside India should know about it.

    But before I stumbled upon a blog post about Kumbhalgarh, I first learned about a magnificent Jain place of worship called Ranakpur Temple. I still remember being awed when I saw photos of this intricately decorated temple. I hope one day I’ll be able to see it in person.

    Like

Comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.