Forts have played an important role in the medieval history of India and
perhaps the world. Just like the medieval kings of Europe who based their
kingdoms around highly secure castles, forts built by chieftains, clans and
rulers served as a defense mechanism against invaders. Many of these forts
fortified households and entities that owed allegiance to the ruler, so it was
almost like a small city of its own. The Archaeological Survey Of India has
numerous forts listed as heritage monuments some which outdo the others. You may
not have heard of these medieval monuments before, but they have played an
equally important role in the functioning of what used to be their domain once
upon a time.
1. Ahilya Fort, Maheswar, Madhya Pradesh
Maheswar is located 91 km from the city of Indore on the northern bank of the
Narmada river. It was once the capital of the Malwa region which was ruled by
the Holkar Dynasty of the Maratha clan for 4000 years. Queen Ahilyabai Holkar
built the fort along the banks of the river Narmada due to her devotion to Shiva
as it was a product of his being. Even today you can see ghats leading down from
the fort where ceremonial rituals are performed.
The fort houses a temple complex fully devoted to Shiva with distinct Maratha
architecture. The queen is remembered for her excellent administrative abilities
and patronage towards cottage industries that flourish today. A room in the fort
houses her collection of idols of Shiva cast in gold and silver. The most
spectacular is the golden swing on which she would seat the idols. Ahilyabai's
court, where she would consult her generals, has been restored and gives an idea
of her life in those days.
Currently the Ahilya Fort is run as a heritage hotel which is still owned by
the descendants of the family. Richard Holkar, the son of the former Maharaja of
Indore, runs the 13 room hotel which offers unique views of Maheswar and the
Narmada river flowing alongside.
2. Kumbhalgarh Fort, Rajasthan
Kumbhalgarh fort was built by Rana Kumbha of Mewar in the 15th century and is
said to resemble the Great Wall of China due to its 36 km long perimeter of
walls. The fort separated Mewar from Marwar and was said to be impenetrable
thereby allowing a safe refuge for Mewar rulers who came under threat. The fort
fell due to a shortage of water and a joint invasion by the Mughals, Raja Man
Singh of Amber, Raja Udai Singh of Marwar and the Mirzas of Gujarat.
The fort complex encloses upon fertile lands of the kingdom as well as 360
temples, 300 of which are Jain. The thick walls of the fort (up to fifteen feet
wide) have seven gateways. Today the fort is a museum and some parts of the
complex are off limits due to the fear of defense mechanisms and traps that may
not have been disabled.
Kumbhalgarh is accessible by road and is 82 km northwest of Udaipur.
3. Daulatabad Fort, Maharashtra
Originally built as the Devgiri Fort by the Yadavas, it was later renamed as
Daulatabad Fort when it came under the possession of Muhamed-bin Tughluq in the
14th century. It is
11 km north-west of Aurangabad and is situated on
an isolated cone-shaped hill rising abruptly from the plain to the height of
about 190 metres. The fortification constitutes three concentric lines of
defensive walls with a large number of bastions. The noteworthy features of the
fort are the moat, the scarp and the subterranean passage, all made of
solid rock. The upper outlet of the passage was filled with an iron grating, on
which a large fire could be used to prevent the progress of the enemy. The Chand
Minar, the Chini Mahal and the Baradari are the important structures within the
4. Bidar Fort, Karnataka
The city of Bidar on the plateau of northern Karnataka was founded by
the Bahmanid Dynasty when they shifted their capital
Bidar Fort was built by 1428 by Ahmed Shah Bahmani and
takes up a high ridge of land which is enclosed by double rings of wall with
nearly five Darwazas.
A part of this castle is partly carved out of bedrock. The fort houses
the ancient city of the Bahamani dynasty along with its palaces, monuments and
structures. Of all, the Rangin Mahal palace is a wonderful monument built in the
16th century by Ali Shah Barid. The main attraction of this Rangin Mahal are the
wooden columns displaying ornate brackets and beams. There is also a walled
garden, Lal Bagh, close to the Rangin Mahal with a central lobe-fringed
5. Narwar Fort, Madhya Pradesh
Built in Rajput style, this fort is perched atop a hill 500 ft above ground
level. It was built by the Kachwaha clan of Rajputs in the 10th century and was
later occupied by other clans, the Mughals and finally the Scindias in the 19th
Today the Narwar fort stands in a dilapidated state but once stood second in
magnificence to the Gwalior fort.
The flat ceilings, fluted columns
and multifoil arches are typical
walls are adorned with bright paint and
Narwar is 122 km from Gwalior.
6. Dhandidhar Fort, Jammu and Kashmir
The Dhandidhar Fort is located 2 km from the district of Rajouri. This
fort offer panoramic views of the verdant valley. The Dhandidhar Fort was
maintained under the supervision of Mian Hathu. Apart from the commanding view
of the entire town, the fort was used to store the food grains that were paid by
the farmers as revenues.
This fort had served the
purpose of defense to the Dogra rulers who easily hid themselves inside this
fort for their safety. The history reveals that the fort was the best place from
where the soldiers carried out their war operations. It worked as a haven to
provide regular training.
7. Warangal Fort, Telangana
The Warangal fort was built in the 13th century by the Kakatiya Dynasty
during the reign of King Ganapatideva. It
was destroyed by the
invaders and as such only the ruins of the fort can be seen. There is a mud wall
of around 20 feet which surrounds the entire fort while the second layer is of
granite. The fort consists of impressive stone gateways which have a height of
around 30 feet. They are carved out of single rock. The gateways are known as
Kirti Torana and consist of beautiful carvings of Lord Vishnu carried by Garuda
and surrounded by attendants.
45 towers in the fort and pillars are
spread over an area of 19 kms. There is a temple of Mother Earth called
Warangal is accessible by road from Hyderabad.
8. Qila Mubarak, Punjab
Qila Mubarak is the oldest fort in India as it is believed to have been built
in 90-110 AD by the Kushana emperor Kanishka. Today it stands near the city of
Bhatinda in Punjab. It is also one of the highest forts in elevation despite
being built with small bricks. Visitors today walk into the same entrance
through which historical figures like Razia Sultana, Prithviraj Chauhan, Sultan
Mahmud and Guru Gobind Singh had once entered.
The fort houses two Gurudwaras and the prison built for Razia Sultana (the
first female Delhi Sultanate ruler) where she was incarcerated by Malik Altunia,
the governor of Bhatinda.
9. Chiktan Fort, Jammu and Kashmir
The Chiktan Fort is located in the Kargil district of Ladakh by the river
Indus. The fort was built in the 16th century and was 9 storeys high.
Unfortunately, today it stands in ruins as just walls and rubble. It gives the
image of a castle with the backdrop of snow capped mountains. The view from the
fort is equally spectacular.
10. Murud Janjira Fort, Maharashtra
This fort is located in the port town of Murud which is 165 km south of
Mumbai on a small island. Originally the fort was a small wooden structure built
by a Koli chief in the late 15th century.
It has a small gate towards the open sea for escape. The fort has 19 rounded
bastions which are still intact. There are many canons of native and European
make rusting on the bastions. Now in ruins, the fort in its heyday had all
necessary facilities, e.g., palaces, quarters for officers, mosque, a big fresh
water tank, etc. On the outer wall of the main gate, there is a sculpture that
depicts a tiger clasping elephants in its claws. This sculpture is difficult to
interpret and appears on many fort-gates in Maharashtra.
11. Bekal Fort, Kerala
Bekal fort is near the Pallikkara village in the Kasargod district and is one
of the best preserved in the southern state.
The fort spreading over
forty acres, has massive walls about 12 meters in height and is built of local
laterite stones. It is a large fort, the wall and ramparts on the sea side being
strong and interspersed by the bastions with openings for guns. The main gate is
towards the east and was protected by bastions. A ditch surrounds the fort on
the land side. The important features of this fort are the tank with its flight
of steps, the opening of the tunnel towards the south, the magazine for keeping
ammunition, and a wide ramp leading to the observation tower.
This tower provides a fascinating view of the surrounding area. From
there one has ample view of all the important places in the vicinity and also
has the strategic significance in ascertaining the safety of the fort. The voids
in the massive laterite walls were used for placing guns.