Gwalior Fort. Fortress in Madhya Pradesh, India

Gwalior Fort

Fortress in Madhya Pradesh, India

Gwalior Fort Photo © Gyanendrasinghchauhan

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Gwalior Fort

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Gwalior, Madhya
	Pradesh, India
Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India. Photo by east med wanderer
The Gwalior Fort in Madhya Pradesh is one of the largest and best preserved forts in India. Ruled by scores of rulers from more than half a dozen dynasties over the centuries, it has a colorful history, rivaling that of any other fort in the country. While the earliest records of the fort, built on a hill called Gopachal, dates back to the 6th century, the Chaturbhuj Temple dated back to 875 AD and close to the fort, confirms that the fort existed in or before the 8th century. The Guptas, the Hunas, the Prathiharas, the Kachwahas, the Tomars, the Pathans, the Moghuls, the British and the Marathas, all gained possession of the fort from time to time and left indelible landmarks on and within the fort.

Legend and History

The city of Gwalior was founded by the Kachwaha chieftain, Suraj Sen, during the 8th century. He was given water from the Surajkund reservoir, by the hermit Gwalipa (Wikipedia Article), that healed his leprosy. In gratitude, the chieftain named the city ‘Gwalior’, after the hermit.
Suraj Sen, renamed Suhan Pal by the hermit, was told that his progeny will continue to retain power so long as they stuck to the name of Pal. Suraj Sen and his 82 successors ruled from the fort for close to a century until the 84th ruler assumed the name of ‘Tej Karan’ and lost control of the kingdom. The Pratiharas gained control of the kingdom and the fort only to lose it to the Turkic ruler of Delhi, Qutubuddin Aibak, in 1196. The Turkics, in turn, were defeated by Narasima Rao.

The Tomars captured the fort and ruled Gwalior from 1398 AD till 1518 AD. The most notable of the Tomar rulers was Raja Man Singh Tomar, who reigned from the fort for the years of 1486 to 1516. Man Singh, a great lover of art and music, made impressive additions to the fortifications, and built the Man Mandir Palace and the Gujari Mahal (Wikipedia Article), the second construction was for his favorite Gujari queen, Mrignayani.

Ibrahim Lodhi defeated the last Tomar king, Vikramaditya, to capture the Gwalior Fort. His son, Humayun, lost it to Sher Shah Suri of the Suri dynasty. Sher Shah’s son, Islam Shah Suri, shifted his capital from Delhi to Gwalior in 1540. Adil Shah Suri succeeded Islam Shah but was defeated by Hem Chandra Vikramaditya, whom the former had appointed a caretaker of the fort.

The Moghuls starting with Akbar and used the fort as a prison where many of those imprisoned were executed within the fort. Among those killed were Akbar’s cousin, Kamran. Aurangzeb, too, had his brother, and his nephews , Suleman and Sepher, executed in the Man Mandir Palace. Over the next 40 years, the Ranas of the Jats of Gohad (Wikipedia
	Article), occupied the fort on and off, before surrendering it to the Scindias of Maharashtra.

There were frequent conflicts between the Scindias and the British between 1804 and 1844. After the battle of Maharajpur, the Marathas received the fort as a protectorate of the British. Following the Sepoy Mutiny (Wikipedia Article) of 1857 against the British, General Hugh Rose besieged the fort and the valiant Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi was killed by a soldier in the battle that ensued.

Gwalior fort | Gwalior, India
Gwalior fort | Gwalior, India. Photo by Marcus Fornell

The Fort

The Gwalior Fort is built on a narrow and long rocky outcrop of the Vindyan Range. The rock itself is made of ochre colored sandstone and a thick layer of basalt with near-perpendicular sides, making it naturally unassailable. The fort is almost 2.5 kilometers long with an average width of just below a kilometer and overlooks the city of Gwalior. The walls, still standing, of the fort are 11 meter high, and are more than 3 kilometers in length. The impressive fortress prompted the Moghul Emperor Babar to observe it as ‘the pearl in the necklace of Hindi (Indian) forts.

The walls of the fort are 11 meters in height and are connected by six bastions located on the edge of the hill. Viewed from below the hill, the fort appears irregular because of the uneven terrain of the hill. Hati Pul, the main gate of the fort of the two large gates, gets its name from the life size elephant statue that adorned the gate. It was, indeed, used as a mean of access for the elephants of the army. Built in stone, the round cylindrical towers are crowned with cupolas (Wikipedia Article). The cupolas are linked with carved parapets. The towers are crafted with Chinese dragons at the bottom, reflecting the trade relationship that the then-rulers had with the Chinese. The other gate is the Badalgarh Gate.

Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh,
Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India. Photo by east med wanderer

The Buildings

Raja Man Singh Tomar was a great patron of arts, music, and architecture. He left his mark on the ramparts of the Gwalior fort and the two palaces he built, one of them the Man Mandir Palace. A palace is of grand proportions; the double storied building is the main attraction within the fort. The top of the building are battlements constructed in stone lattice work and are crowned with cupolas, finished with colored tiles. The external walls of the palace, with what remains of the blue, yellow, and green tiles, gives one a sense of the grandeur of the building in its prime. The artwork on the walls compliments that on the tiles to create a startling contrast on the rather dull stone.

Though the large rooms on the inside do not reflect their grandiose past, they were once the dancing halls for the women of the palace, with none other than the illustrious Ustad Tansen having played therein. On the outside is the Jauhar pond which had a brass setting, and was the place where the Queens of the vanquished Kings, and the wives of the warriors, committed sati (self-immolation) on the pyres of their husbands. Underneath the palace floor are the dungeons where prisoners were incarcerated. The Moghuls put them to good use, with Emperor Jehangir imprisoning Guru Hargobind Singh, the sixth Sikh Guru, and hundreds of his supporters. Akbar had his brother and cousins assassinated in the palace.

Gujari Mahal Museum, formerly a palace, was also built by Raja Man Singh, exclusively for his rather rebellious and favorite queen, the Gujar princess, Mrignayani. The palace is supplied with water through an aqueduct from the nearby Rai River, as desired by the queen. Converted into a museum, Hindu and Jain sculptures are displayed along with rare artifacts, miniature statues, and terracotta items in the famous Bagh Caves.

Teli ka Mandir (the Temple of Oilmen) was a sanctuary for Brahmins (Hindu priests) and was built in the 8th century. It is the oldest standing structure in the fort and was refurbished in the late 19th century. A mixture of the architectural styles of the North and the Dravidian styles of the South, it contains a shrine and a barrel vaulted roof with distinct Buddhist designs on a Hindu temple structure. Initially devoted to Lord Vishnu, it is now dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The Garuda Monument is a mix of Moghul and Indian architecture, Saas-Bahu temples were built in red sandstone with Vikram Mahal, Karn Mahal and Chatri of Bhim Singh Rana being some of the other structures that are of historical significance and are aesthetically striking. Within the fort is the mausoleum of the 16th century, Sufi Saint Ghous Mohammed and the tomb of Milan Tansen, a great vocalist and one of the ‘Nine Gems’ in the court of Akbar the Great.

The fort also has the Scindia School, one of the most famous schools in India, catering to the offspring of royal lineages, which was founded in 1897 by Madhav Rao Scindia, and the Gurdwara Datta Bandi within its precincts. Within the fort, are eleven temples dedicated to Gautama Buddha (Wikipedia
	Article) and the sages of Jainism. At the foot of the hill, on which the fort is built, is the idol of Lord Parshvanath. At 14 meter and carved from a single stone, it is the largest in the world.

Indian visitors and those of nearby countries are charged ₨ 5 ($0.08) as entry fee while foreigners are charged ₨ 100 ($1.60). Children below 15 years of age are let in free, regardless of the country they come from. Every evening, a film showcasing the history of the fort is shown, both in Hindi and in English, narrated by the Indian film idol, Amitabh Bacchan.


Being an old city, Gwalior has many places of interest for a visitor. The Pandavali Monuments near Morena and the Shastrabahu Temple at the Kankadmad Fort were built during the Kachwaha reign. Gurudwara Data Bandi Chood, built entirely from marble and colored glass, the Sun temple built by the industrial group of Birla, the Jain rock-cut sculptures, and the Tomb of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi are all places of interest.

The city, as a railway junction, is well connected with all major cities in India by rail and by road. It is 123 kilometers from Agra, 321 kilometers from Delhi and 1,086 kilometers from Mumbai by road. The airport connects Gwalior with Delhi, Bhopal, Mumbai, Agra, Indore, and Jabalpur. Taxis are available upon request.

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Author: jackmartis. Last updated: Aug 22, 2014


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