Gwalior Fort is the identity of Gwalior city. It is the highest fortification in Asia. Gwalior Fort or Gwalior Qila is a hill fort built on a hill called Gopachal hill in the Gwalior city. It is marked for the second oldest record of zero there in one of the temples on this hill fort.
It has been a platform for great political drama in the history. Gwalior has a long history. starting from the rule of pal dynasty over Gwalior in the 3rd century till hold of British and Scindhias.
The present-day fort consists of a defensive structure and two main palaces, Gujari Mahal and Man Mandir, built by Man Singh Tomar (reigned 1486-1516 CE). The Gujari Mahal palace was built for Queen Mrignayani. It is now an archaeological museum. The second oldest record of “zero” in the world was found in a small temple, which is located on the way to the top. The inscription is around 1500 years old.
The word Gwalior is derived from one of the Hindu words for the saint, Gwalipa.
The fort is built on an outcrop of Vindhyan sandstone on a solitary rocky hill called Gopachal. This feature is long, thin, and steep. The geology of the Gwalior range rock formations is ochre coloured sandstone covered with basalt. There is a horizontal stratum, 342 feet (104 m) at its highest point (length 1.5 miles (2.4 km) and average width 1,000 yards (910 m)). The stratum forms a near-perpendicular precipice. A small river, the Swarnrekha, flows close to the palace
The fort has its existence since the 10th century, but few inscriptions and records found inside the Gwalior fort campus indicates its existence since the 6th century.
The antiquity of Gwalior goes back to prehistoric times, shown by a number of Stone Age artifacts found at Gupteshwar, 3 km west of Gwalior. In the early historical period, this area was inhabited by Mauryas, Sungas, and Kushanas which is evidenced by the discovery of brick structures, terracottas, metal objects and a variety of potsherds ranging from BC 600 to AD 600. In BC 600, the region was ruled by the Nandas of Pataliputra and in AD 100 it was under the domain of a Naga king who ruled from Pawaya (Ancient Padmabati). The region also holds the Besnagar Buddhist remains, which range from the 3rd century B.C. to the 5th or 6th Century A.D. In the 6th century Gwalior fort came into the hands of the Huns.
Suraj Sen, a Kachhwaha Rajput Prince, was responsible for building much of the Gwalior fort as we know it today. Rajput rule continued till 1196 when Qutub-ud-Din Aibak took the fort for Sultan Muhammed Ghori. Gwalior’s golden age started with the entry of the Tomars. The most illustrious among them was Raja Man Singh, who built the magnificent Man Mandir Palace and the Gujari Mahal. His famous Queen Mrignayani, who lived in Gujari Mahal, was associated with the Gwalior school of music. Raja Man Singh died in 1517 and soon afterward Ibrahim Lodhi of Delhi was in possession of the fort. It subsequently became a stronghold for the Mughals during Akbar’s reign, as well as a political prison. Suleman Shikoh and Sipihi Shikoh (Dara’s sons) and Sultan Muhammad (Aurangzeb’s son), died in prison here. With the rise of the Marathas, especially the Peshwas in Pune, Malwa came under Maratha rule. Peshwa Baji Rao was forced to return south but he appointed as agents three young men who were rising to fame as soldiers in his own service: Ranoji Scindia, Malhar Rao Holkar, and Udaji Pawar. They were entrusted with the collection of Chauth and Sardeshmukhi in the Malwa districts. For their own remuneration, they were to take half of the Mokassa, the remaining 65% of the revenue.
In this role as a representative of King Shahu, Ranoji Scindia first came to prominence in central India and later founded the Scindia dynasty. The Scindias, who descended from an ancient Kshatriya family, are one of the 96 kulas or clans into which all pure Marathas are divided. The original name of the family appears to have been Sendrak from which the name Scindia has been derived. Members of the family had risen to royal notice during the time of the Bahmani kings in the Deccan, as well as holding command in Aurangzeb’s army. Savitrabai, a daughter of the house, was even married to Shahu. Ranoji belonged to a younger branch of the house and was brought up as the playmate of Baji Rao, the Peshwa’s son. He later served in the Peshwa’s army, and by his military qualities rapidly rose to the front. So rapidly indeed that he was still a young man when he was appointed as an agent in Malwa.
The fort and its premises are well maintained and house many historic monuments including palaces, temples and water tanks. There are also a number of palaces (mahal) including the Man Mandir, the Gujari, the Jahangir, the Karan, and the Shah Jahan. The fort covers an area of 3 square kilometers (1.2 sq mi) and rises 35 feet (11 m). Its rampart is built around the edge of the hill, connected by six bastions or towers. The profile of the fort has an irregular appearance due to the undulating ground beneath.
There are two gates; one on the northeast side with a long access ramp and the other on the southwest. The main entrance is the ornate Elephant gate (Hathi Pul). The other is the Badalgarh Gate. The Man Mandir palace or citadel is located at the northeast end of the fort. It was built in the 15th century and refurbished in 1648. The water tanks or reservoirs of the fort could provide water to a 15,000 strong garrison, the number required to secure the fort.
Siddhachal Jain Temple Caves were built in 7th to 15th century. There are eleven Jain temples inside Gwalior fort dedicated to the Jain Tirthankaras. On the southern side are 21 temples cut into the rock with intricately carved of the Tirthankaras. Tallest Idol is the image of Rishabhanatha or Adinatha. The 1st Tirthankara is 58 feet 4 inches (17.78 m) high.
Temple near Urwai Gate
The entire area of Gwalior fort is divided into five groups namely Urvahi, North West, North East, South West, and the South East areas. In the Urvahi area, 24 idols of Tirthankar in the padmasana posture, 40 in the kayotsarga posture and around 840 idols carved on the walls and pillars are present. The largest idol is a 58 feet 4 inches high idol of Adinathaoutside the Urvahi gate and a 35 feet high idol of Suparshvanatha in the Padmasana in Paththar-ki Bavadi (stone tank) area.
There are around 1500 idols on the Gopachal Hill, which includes the size from 6 inches to 57 feet in height. All the idols are carved by cutting the hilly rocks (rock carving) and are very artistic. Most of the idols were built in 1341-1479, during the period of King Dungar Singh and Keerti Singh of Tomar dynasty.
Here is a very beautiful and miraculous[weasel words] colossus of Bhagwan Parsvanath in padmasan posture 42 feet in height & 30 feet in breadth. It is said that in 1527, Mughal emperor Babar after occupying the fort ordered his soldiers to break the idols when soldiers stroked on the thumb, a miracle was seen and invaders were compelled to run away. In the period of Mughals, the idols were destroyed, broken fragments of those idols are spread here and there in the fort.
The main colossus of this Kshetra is Parsvanatha’s, 42 feet high and 30 feet wide. Together with the place of precept by Bhagwan Parsvanath. This is also the place where Shri 1008 Supratishtha Kevali attained nirvana. There are 26 Jain Temples more on this hill.
Mughal Invasion: In 1527, Babar army attacked Gwalior Fort and de-faced these statues. In spite of invasion, the early Jaina sculptures of Gwalior have survived in fairly good condition so that their former splendor is not lost.
Teli ka Mandir
The Teli ka Mandir is a Hindu temple built by the Pratihara emperor Mihira Bhoja.
It is the oldest part of the fort and has a blend of the south and north Indian architectural styles. Within the rectangular structure is a shrine with no pillared pavilions (mandapa) and a South Indian barrel-vaulted roof on top. It has a masonry tower in the North Indian Nagari architectural style with a barrel vaulted roof 25 meters (82 ft) in height. The niches in the outer walls once housed statues but now have chandrashalas (horseshoe arches) ventilator openings in the north Indian style. The chandrashala has been compared to the trefoil, a honeycomb design with a series of receding pointed arches within an arch. The entrance door has a torana or archway with sculpted images of river goddesses, romantic couples, foliation decoration, and a Garuda. The vertical bands on either side of the door are decorated in a simple fashion with figures that are now badly damaged. Above the door are a small groupings of discs representing the finial (damalaka) of a Shikhara. The temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu, destroyed during a Muslim invasion, restored into a Shiva temple by installing a linga while keeping the Vaishnava motifs such as the Garuda. It was refurbished between 1881 and 1883.
Close to the Teli ka Mandir temple is the Garuda monument, dedicated to Vishnu, is the highest in the fort. It has a mixture of Muslim and Indian architecture. The word Teli comes from the Hindu word Taali a bell used in worship.
The Sas-Bahu Temple was built in 1092-93 by the Kachchhapaghata dynasty. Dedicated to Vishnu, it is pyramidal in shape, built of red sandstone with several stories of beams and pillars but no arches.
Gurdwara Data Bandi Chhor
Gurdwara Data Bandi Chhor was built at the place where 6th Sikh Guru Hargobind Sahib was arrested and held captive by Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1609 at the age of 14 years on the pretext that the fine imposed on his father, 5th Sikh Guru Arjan had not been paid by the Sikhs and Guru Hargobind. According to Surjit Singh Gandhi, 52 Rajas who were imprisoned in the fort as hostages for “millions of rupees” and for opposing the Mughal empire were dismayed as they were losing a spiritual mentor. On getting released Guru Hargobind requested the Rajas to be freed along with him as well. Jahangir allowed Guru Hargobind to free as many rajas he could as long as they are holding on to the guru while leaving the prison. Guru Sahib got a special gown stitched which had 52 hems. As Guru Hargobind left the fort, all the captive kings caught the hems of the cloak and came out along with him.
The Man Mandir palace was built by the King of Tomar Dynasty – Maharaja Man Singh in the 15th century for his favorite queen, Mrignayani. Man Mandir is often referred to as a Painted Palace because the painted effect of the Man Mandir Palace is due to the use of styled tiles of turquoise, green and yellow used extensively in a geometric pattern.
The Hathi Pol gate (or Hathiya Paur), located on the southeast, leads to the Man Mandir Palace. It is the last of a series of seven gates. It is named for a life-sized statue of an elephant (Hathi) that once adorned the gate. The gate was built in stone with cylindrical towers crowned with cupola domes. Carved parapets link the domes.
The Karan Mahal is another significant monument at Gwalior Fort. The Karn Mahal was built by the second king of the Tomar dynasty, Kirti Singh. He was also known as Karn Singh, hence the name of the palace.
The Vikram Mahal (also known as the Vikram mandir, as it once hosted a temple of Shiva) was built by Vikramaditya Singh, the elder son of Maharaja Mansingh. He was a devotee of Shiva. The temple was destroyed during the Mughal period but now has been re-established in the front open space of the Vikram Mahal.
Chhatri of Bhim Singh Rana
This chhatri (cupola or domed shaped pavilion) was built as a memorial to Bhim Singh Rana (1707-1756), a ruler of Gohad state. It was built by his successor, Chhatra Singh. Bhim Singh occupied Gwalior fort in 1740 when the Mughal Satrap, Ali Khan, surrendered. In 1754, Bhim Singh built a Bhimtal (a lake) as a monument at the fort. Chhatra Singh built the memorial chhatri near the Bhimtal.
The Gujari Mahal now a museum was built by Raja Man Singh Tomar for his wife Mrignayani, a Gujar princess. She demanded a separate palace for herself with a regular water supply through an aqueduct from the nearby Rai River. The palace has been converted into an archaeological museum. Rare artifacts at the museum include Hindu and Jain sculptures dated to the 1st and 2nd centuries BC; miniature statue of Salabhanjika; terracotta items and replicas of frescoes seen in the Bagh Caves.
There are several other monuments built inside the fort area. These include the Scindia School (an exclusive school for the sons of Indian princes and nobles) that was founded by Madho Rao Scindia in 1897.