A sketchy and incoherent picture emerges in the history of the Gwalior fort. It seems to have existed from the time of Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka. The incriptions in Brahmi script found near Datia wherein a tribal chief Damvuka owes his allegience to the emperor. Later the Sungas held sway over the terrain.
The earliest record of the fortress emerges from an inscription in the collapsed Sun temple raised by a Huna king Mihirakula in 525 AD. Later the Tomars took possession of the fortress. Teli Ka Mandir was built by Gurjara-Pratihara kings.
In 1022 AD Mahmud Ghazni attacked the fortress and took control of it. He agreed to lift the seize for a ransom of 35 elephants in return. In 1196 Qutub ud din Aibak laid seize of the fort and reigned till it was captured by Altamush in 1232.
In 1398 the fort came under the control of the Tomars whose distinguished ruler was Maan Singh who constructed many of the existing palaces and monuments. Ibrahim Lodhi captured the fortress in 1516 resulting in the death of Maan Singh.
Mughals controlled the fortress thereafter with Babur, Akbar and Aurangazeb in sequence. Akbar literally converted the place into a prison and he executed his cousin Kamran for rebellion. Aurangazeb too got rid of his brothers and nephew in the Man Mandir palace. After the demise of Aurangazeb the fort was captured by Scindia’s. It later fell into the hands of the British in 1780. Warren Hastings handed over the fort to the Ranas who in turn lost it to the Marathas. The ownership of the fort was shifting between the Scindia’s and British till the sepoy mutiny in 1857. The British once again took possession of the fort in 1858 and handed over rest of the territory to Scindia’s. The Scindia’s continued to rule till Independence.
The fort is built on a rocky hillock named Gopachal. It has an elongated structure spreading over 2.4 kms length wise. A small river Swarnalekha flows in the ravines. The fortress has two gateways and 6 watch towers. The main gateway which is located on the north west is known as Hathi Pul or Elephant Gate. The other gateway is located on the south west corner which is known as Badalgarh. There are two water tanks or reservoir which provided drinking water to the residents of the fort.
Man Mandir Palace : This palace was built by Raja Maan Singh ( 1486-1516 ) for his favourite queen Mrignayani. The palace looks like a painted one due to usage of blue, green and yellow tiles in a geometric fashion. Currently it is used as a museum housing various artefacts belonging the Scindia rule.
Man mandir is a magnificent edifice which seems to be jutting out of the rocky terrain below. Emperor Babur enjoyed his stay in 1528 when he visited this palace. He was impressed with architecture of the massive palace which had painted images of crocodiles, swans, lions, elephants and plantain leaves. He was lavish in praise of the construction of this magnificent palace. The main gate for the entrance to this palace is the Hathi pole or elephant gate.
Man-mandir consists of two portions, one was used as residential palace for the royalty and the other accommodation were for the attendants. The main palace consists of two storeys. There were two underground storeys too. There is a dancing hall for entertaining the royalty. And palace is surrounded by balconies on all sides.
Ventilation was taken care by jalis which had circular and square holes. Subdued light and air used to filter into the rooms which was adequate for Babur. Naryandas describes the arrangement :
Koi Bhonharen An An Bhanti, Tinamahin Jati Andhiyari Rati. ( Many Subterranean chambers were Built. These would remain eternally dark like the night )
There were some ante-chambers built which would remain dark like the night. Below this room was Kesar Kund which acted as a circular reservoir and may have been used as fountain too. There were huge pillars with swings and its description is as follows :
Bane Hindore Kanchan Khamba,
Manahu Upaje Ukati Sayambha.
( There were pillars of gold, hung with swings, as beautiful as Oracles, born of themselves )
Thus Man Mandir is filled with variety of designs of pillars, pilasters, arches, brackets, screen work, roofs and ceilings designed in a unique fashion. Man mandir was once fully built with glazed inlay work on the facade.
Man mandir was also known as Shish Mahal or Chitra Mahal because of the elaborate wall paintings. It is eloquently described by Khargrai in his Gopachal Akyan :
Mandir Eka Karayo Man,
Nam Man Mandir Tihijan,
Mano Idra Bhupa Kau Dham,
Kahoon Na Mandir Tahi Saman.
( King Man Singh built a palace name Man Mandir, it is as fascinating as the house of Indra, without any parallel or peer )
Even in the ruined condition this unique palace seems majestic with its domes all around the terrace, with magnificent towers at the edges, open balconies and colorful façade displaying the grandeur of conception. When the morning sun rays fall on the monument it looks as if a huge vulture is about to take off from the rugged hills.
Gujri Mahal Museum : This palace was used for privacy of the queen Mrignayani. It had a permanent source of water through an aqueduct sourced through the river. Currently it houses the ASI museum with sculptures of Jain and Hindu gods. The replica of frescos from Bagh caves can also be seen here.
Its design and ornamental details were distinct from Man Mandir. It was a large two storeyed palace with crown angles . The facade were inlaid with painted tiles and geometric patterns. The terraces were crowned with smaller projecting domes and it was used as favourite lounge by queen. The palace had siderooms, pavilions in the centre and pillars and lentils were imposing.
Vikram Mahal : This palace is built by Vikramaditya Singh. The size of the palace is measured as 212 x 36 feet. An open hall contains 12 doors or archways and supported by 8 carved ribs. The walls are 4 and 1/2 feet thick and doorways are 6 and 3/4 feet with a height of 7 feet.
There were secret passage which were designed inside the Vikram Mahal which could not be seen or discovered. Babur admired this feature but lamented that both the subsidiary palaces did not match the grandeur of Man Mandir.
Karan Mahal : This mahal is also known as Kirti Mahal or the palace of Raja Kirtisingh, who is referred to as Rai Karan by the moghul authors. The building is double storeyed with one large room, and two smaller rooms on either side. The total palace is measured 200×35 beet.
Inside the Kirti Mahal a Hamam complex is located. On the second floor there is a water channel and the terrace is filled with dome structures. The emblem of two Elephant trying to nibble at baniyan tree leaves is prominent and conveys hidden meaning to the visitors. The baniyan tree represents glory and majestic presence of King Kirtisingh. The elephants convey enemies of the kingdom always trying to threaten the kingdom, in particular the Sultans of Delhi.
The palace of Vikram Singh is connected to Karan Mahal by secret galleries hidden inside the wall. The original structure seems to have been modified by Shah jahan and other moghuls who occupied the palace.
A visit to Gwalior fort gives a feeling that everything contained inside the palaces and monument has been stripped clean leaving behind the shell. The architecture apart from Man mandir palace is very basic and unimpressive in the present state of preservation. The scribbling and writings on the palace walls is so sickening that it leaves bad impression on the minds of the visitors. Hopefully all these will be erased in renovation plan. Probably majority of the antiques and collection have been shifted to the Jai palace of Scindia’s located in the township below the hill. Currently Man mandir is maintained by ASI and other monuments are maintained by state archaeology department, so one has to buy two separate tickets. A sound and light show is conducted in the evening on the portico of Man Mandir palace.
Ack : Photo Abhishek Diwedi, ASI publication on Gwalior Fort,