From the story of the martial clan, the Rathores who ruled Marwar from Jodhpur till the merger of the Princely States with the Dominion of India in 1949, one must travel further back in time to the year 1194. It was in that year, thousands of miles away in eastern India that the Muslim invader, Shahabuddin Mohammed Ghori, defeated the mighty Jaichand of Kanauj. It was Jaichand’s great-grandson, Sheoji, who rode out to Marwar in 1226, eager for fresh battlefields and glory all his own. And it is Sheoji’s descendants who proudly bear the name, Rathore. In 1226 the principal cities of Marwar were Mandore, today a fifteen minute drive from Jodhpur and Pali, an hour’s drive south; and it was the latter, a rich commercial centre, that Sheoji first conquered. Over the decades the Rathores expanded steadily but it was only in 1395, in the reign of their twelfth ruler, Rao Chunda, that they acquired – not conquered – Mandore.
Mandore is Marwar’s most historic city. Today in ruins, it was the capital of many a great dynasty. Legend has it that Ravana, the Demon King of Lanka who defied Lord Rama himself, married a princess of Mandore, his favourite queen Mandodri. In 1292 the Parihar Rajputs lost Mandore to the Khilji Sultans of Delhi and after that the city remained with the Sultanate of Delhi till 1395. In that year their Governor in Mandore, Aibak Khan, demanded fodder as well as the tax on grain, and this eventually proved to be his undoing. The Parihars, tired of this autocratic man, hatched a plan, which, in ingenuity matched the famous Trojan Horse, and in bravery far surpassed it. Five hundred Parihars smuggled themselves into the fortified city in a hundred cart-loads of grass. These carts were checked randomly and prodded with spears. Some men were pierced but they uttered not a sound and, in fact, even managed to wipe the blood off the spears as they were withdrawn. Then the Parihars fell upon the Muslims. Within an hour Mandore was once again in their hands but the victors realised that defending her was going to be an entirely different problem. It was then that someone suggested a marital alliance be arranged with the young Chunda. Thus did Mandore, the capital of Marwar, come to the Rathores in a dowry.
As the unchallenged rulers of Mandore, Sheoji’s descendants were firmly established as the most powerful clan in the region. And it was left to Chunda’s grandson, Rao Jodha, to secure a place for the Rathores in the annals of India by building one of her most spectacular forts and founding one of her most charming cities. The foundation of this fort was laid on 12 May 1459 by Jodha himself on rocky Bhakurcheeria, only six miles away from Mandore. Perhaps with Cheeria Nathji’s curse ringing in his ears, Jodha had a young man buried alive in it to ensure the new site proved propitious. This man was Rajiya Bambi who was promised that his family and descendants would be looked after by the Rathores. It is a promise that has been honoured and Rajiya’s descendants, who still live in Raj Bagh, Rajiya’s Garden; the estate bequeathed to their ancestor by Jodha, continue to enjoy a special relationship with the Maharaja.
Rao Jodha’s citadel, on which he spent all of nine hundred thousand rupees, was very different from what his descendant, the present Maharaja of Jodhpur, Gaj Singh II, inherited four hundred and ninety three years later in 1952. It was much smaller and of the seven gates at present only one was built by Jodha himself. As the Rathores grew more powerful, Mehrangarh, at once a reflection of their glory and the basis of their strength, expanded. Almost every ruler left his mark and herein lies the fort’s unique beauty, for it is today a magnificent blend of different reigns and ages, styles and influences, compulsions and dreams. Its towering battlements, a hundred and twenty feet high, and stone walls, in places six metres thick, testify to the might of Maldev (1532-1562) in whose reign the Rathores reached the zenith of their power. The palaces, extravagant edifices of peace and prosperity, whisper a thousand secrets; stories of machiavellian intrigues, dazzling riches and royal pleasures under the Mughal umbrella (1583-1739). The main gates, Fateh Pol and Jai Pol, sing of great victories, against the Mughals in 1707 and the Jaipur forces a hundred years later; while the ramparts, fiercely brandishing Maharaja Abhaya Singh’s cannons (1724-1749), proudly proclaim these victories to the world.
People gradually began to migrate to Jodhpur, the new seat of power and potential prosperity in the Thar. Like other medieval cities of consequence, Jodhpur was originally a walled city too, and Jodha’s walled Jodhpur had four Pols or gates, three of which still stand, (though in poor condition). In the north was Bhagi Pol. In the south the Singh Pol, (or The Lion Gate), and in the south-east, the Bhomiaji Ki Ghati Ki Pol. The gateway to the east, the one most travelled by, was the Phoolelao Pol which is still in a fairly good state. Jodha’s capital was small indeed, for these gates stand almost in the shadow of Bhakurcheeria. Today, from the newest parts of this ever expanding city, Mehrangarh is but a ghostly silhouette.
In tribute to the stability and prosperity of her founder’s reign (1438-1488), Jodhpur outgrew her original walls within fifty years of his death. And in 1543 when Sher Shah, the Afghan who usurped the Mughal throne of Delhi for a few years, announced his intentions of invading Marwar, the then Rathore ruler, Rao Maldev, was compelled to complete the city’s fortifications. His walls, which once again embraced Jodhpur, were twenty four thousand feet long, nine feet thick and forty feet high. He built six gates; Chand Pol, which faced west in honour of the Lunar God’s ascent, was the first in that direction. The other five gates were named after the major Rathore forts they faced; Siwanchi Pol (Siwana) in the south, Jalori Pol (Jalore) in the south-east, Sojati Pol (Sojat) in the east, Mertia Pol (Merta) also in the east and Nagauri Pol (Nagaur) in the north-east. The gates and walls were simple and functional in design, the walls punctuated with platforms and towers for keeping watch and shooting.
Maldev’s walls, formidable as Sher Shah found them, were not able to contain Jodhpur for long and except for Chand Pol and Mertia Pol, the other gates were shifted outwards again in the reigns of the brothers, Maharajas Abhaya Singh and Bakhta Singh (1724-1752). Today these gates stand repaired and painted, but unused because the walled section has merged with the new to make Jodhpur Rajasthan’s second largest city. The walls themselves have vanished. Stone by stone they have been stripped to find their way into homes and shops and slums.
The old capital of Mandore was not entirely abandoned. Indeed, right up to 1873. Mandore is where the rulers of Marwar returned to their final rest. The Royal Cenotaphs, built in sandstone on the cremation sites, are impressive and elaborately carved, their unexpected grandeur lifting, momentarily, the tragic air of the public gardens and ruins around them. Surrounded by the hustle and bustle of modern civilization, as is the old city of Mandore, it is interesting to read here that sometimes as many as eighty ladies committed Sati; immolating themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre. These included not only the queens but concubines and even maids and musicians. In 1895 the royal cremation site moved to a hill within half a mile of Mehrangarh, when Maharaja Sardar Singh (1895-1911) had his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II cremated there, fulfilling the latter’s last wishes. The Jaswant Thada Memorial is a splendid shrine in shining white marble and is visible from the fort, and indeed from most parts of the city.
With the birth of Mehrangarh and Jodhpur, the Rathores entered their Golden Age. Their conquests were prolific and the farsighted Jodha settled his brothers and sons in the new lands as the Thakurs or feudal lords. They were quickly absorbed into the social fabric of the country and all of Marwar was now ruled by the Rathore. In 1488 when Jodha died, Rathoree Raj, the Rule of the Rathores, had come of age. Jodha was succeeded by his son Rao Satal (sixteenth Rathore chief) who ruled for only four years but is remembered as one of Marwar’s greatest martyrs and a shining exemplar of Rajput chivalry. He died in 1492 rescuing a hundred and forty village maidens who had been abducted by Muslim invaders. Sadly, for it bespeaks a deterioration of martial spirit, he was the last Rathore ruler to die by the sword. Of the fifteen who preceded him nine died on the battlefield, of them six against Muslim armies; of the twenty one who followed, none.
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