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The Junagarh Fort: A jewel in the crown in the midst of Thar Desert

David Goran

This magnificent post-medieval fort is the creation of sixteen generations of the rulers of Bikaner who played a prominent and glorious role in the history of India.

It was built by the sixth ruler of Bikaner, Raja Rai Singhji, who ruled from 1571 to 1612 AD. He was also an expert in arts and architecture and today the fort is considered one of the most impressive fort complexes in India, famous for its magnificent architecture, design, and decoration.

Located in the city of Bikaner, Rajasthan, India. Photo Credit

Located in the city of Bikaner, Rajasthan, India. Photo Credit

 

One of the few major forts in Rajasthan which is not built on a hilltop. Photo Credit

One of the few major forts in Rajasthan which is not built on a hilltop. Photo Credit

The modern city of Bikaner has developed around this massive structure. Photo Credit

The modern city of Bikaner has developed around this massive structure. Photo Credit

 

The fort was originally called Chintamani (or ‘philosopher’s stone’) but it was renamed to Junagarh (Old Fort) in the early 20th century. Photo Credit

The fort was originally called Chintamani (or ‘philosopher’s stone’) but it was renamed to Junagarh (Old Fort) in the early 20th century. Photo Credit

It was built as a new stronghold on the ruins of an old stone fort built in 1478 by Rao Bika, second son of Maharaja Rao Jodha, as part of the new city of Bikaner he established in 1472.

As the second son of Maharaja Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur city, Bika had no chance of inheriting his father’s throne so he decided to build a kingdom of his own. It was only a century later that Bikaner’s fortunes flourished under Raja Rai Singhji.

The buildings depict a composite culture, manifest in the mix of architectural styles. Photo Credit

The buildings depict a composite culture, manifest in the mix of architectural styles. Photo Credit

 

The old fort was demolished a century after it was built. Photo Credit

The old fort was demolished a century after it was built. Photo Credit

 

The interiors of the palaces are decorated in traditional Rajasthani style and every king built his own separate set of rooms. Photo Credit

The interiors of the palaces are decorated in traditional Rajasthani style and every king built his own separate set of rooms. Photo Credit

 

The fort depicts the grand living style of the Maharajas. Photo Credit

The fort depicts the grand living style of the Maharajas. Photo Credit

 

One of the entrances. Photo Credit

One of the entrances. Photo Credit

 

A view of the palace from the main courtyard. Photo Credit

A view of the palace from the main courtyard. Photo Credit

View of the Private Audience Hall in Anup Mahal. Photo Credit

View of the Private Audience Hall in Anup Mahal. Photo Credit

The fort is surrounded by deep moats and has a total of 986 long walls that have 37 bastions (known as ‘burj’) and it is accessible through two iron Gates (the Karan Parole facing east, and Chand Parole facing west) which were built to counter enemy attacks. Inside the fort there number of huge pavilions, temples, and seven palaces made of red sandstone.

The palaces are known as Phool Mahal (“Flower Palace”), Chandra Mahal, Ganga Mahal, Karan Mahal, Bikaneri Havelies,  Badal Mahal, and Anup Mahal which functioned as the administrative headquarters of the kingdom. Each palace was built by a different ruler over the centuries.

Inside the Phool Mahal. Photo Credit

Inside the Phool Mahal. Photo Credit

 

King’s Bedroom. Photo Credit

King’s Bedroom. Photo Credit

 

Sati hand prints outside the main entrance. Photo Credit

Sati hand prints outside the main entrance. Photo Credit

 

A paradox between medieval military architecture and remarkable interior decoration. Photo Credit

A paradox between medieval military architecture and remarkable interior decoration. Photo Credit

Many of these palaces have been turned into museums that now house a rich collection of jewelry, illuminated manuscripts, decorative wall paintings, arms and weapons, royal costumes, textiles, treaties etc. The wall outside Daulat Pol, one of the other historical gates, has forty-one hand imprints of the royal ladies who committed “Sati“ (self-immolation) on the funeral pyres of their husbands who died in battle. It was a common practice in India before it was banned in 1929.

Read another story from us: Bunratty Castle: the most authentic medieval fortress in Ireland

The fort was attacked several times throughout its history and has defied all the attacks except for one time when Kamaran Mirza, the son of Babur, captured the fort. However, he was unable to retain his hold for more than 24 hours.

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