Junagarh Fort

By Sanjeev Nayyar Sanjeev@esamskriti.com | 2013

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An overview of Junagarh Fort Bikaner. The first 13 pics are taken against the rising sun i.e. before 8am. Raja Rai Singh (1571 to 1611) built this impregnable unconquered fort. Unlike most forts which are at a height, top of a hill this one is on ground level. Fort entrance like all temples is facing the east. Fort was built in 1594, took 14 years to make. Various additions were made through 4 centuries. Today it is one of the precious gems of Indian architecture in the midst of Thar Desert.

View of Bikaner Fort viewed from the other side. Extreme right of pic you see a ramp that leads up to Palaces. Fort has a moat that you shall see later. It contains many palaces, pavilion and temples made of red sandstone and marble with kiosks and balconies. Also is Har Mandir the personal temple of the Maharaja of Bikaner i.e. dedicated to Lord Shiva, under renovation when I visited in Feb 2013. The personal deity of the Ranas of Udaipur is Lord Shiva. See pics of that temple known as Eklingji Click here

A close up front view of palace. Red sandstone looks very different when rising sun rays fall on it. In this palace is the Durbar Hall whose pics are a must see, presented in part 2 of fort collection. Fort opens at 10am to 4.30pm. It is very well maintained.

This is the centre portion of the palace with emblem in the centre. Behind the arch like structures is the Durbar Hall. Main palaces are Karan Mahal, Phool Mahal, Anoop Mahal and Badal Mahal. Each one is better than the other, worth a dekho.

Image of Rao Bikaji (1465-1504) who founded the state of Bikaner in the middle of Thar Desert in Vikram Samvat 1545 (1488) with the blessings of Karni Mata. Earlier the neighboring Bhati Chiefs were suspicious of Rao Bika. That was resolved after powerful Bhati Chief of Pugal, gave his daughter in marriage to Rao Bika. Early morning saw number of people who came to feed pigeons. Behind you see clock tower i.e. inside the fort.

Board next to Rao Bikaji statue. He was part of the Rathore clan and son of Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur. In those days this vast tract of desert country was called ''''Jangladesh''''. Route I took was Jodhpur to Nagaur 130 kms, Nagaur to Bikaner 120 kms. Jodhpur is very well connected by road and air with Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur. From Mumbai suggest take Suryanagiri Express, leaves at 1.30pm and reaches at 6.30am so you have the whole day to see. From Mumbai can also take Ranakpur Express that goes to Bikaner.

U see pigeons in garden that houses Rao Bikaji statue. 1st is small red wall, then fort wall, moat that you cannot see and lastly high fort wall. Beyond that is a huge garden which you shall see later. Feeding pigeons has a deeper meaning in Indian tradition. It symbolises a spirit of giving, giving without expecting anything in return. The wise say that expectation is the root cause of all unhappiness. Across the country you see Indians feeding birds.

Right of pic is east facing main entrance known as Karan Pol. Next to it is sun gate or Suraj Pol. At the time of his death in 1504 Rao Bikaji had 3000 villages under his rule. In the 16th century, the ruler of Bikaner became an ally of the Mughals and in 1818 Bikaner became a protectorate of the British empire. Maharaja Ganga Singh (1880-1943) transformed Bikaner from a small principality into one of the premier princely states of India. He promoted the Ganga Canal project which converted large tracts of desert land into farmland. He extended railway lines for easy accessibility.

Moat as taken from main gate. This offered a natural protection against invaders. Fort is in the form of a quadrangle, with perimeter of 1078 yards and has 37 bastions, on the average 40 feet high surrounded by a strong curtain wall, which is encircled by a deep moat 30 feet wide and 20 to 25 feet deep. Note fort had various layers of protection. 1st deep moat, then curtain wall and after that Pols (gates). Each gate was large, strong with heavy wooden doors which had iron plating. They had iron spikes to check elephant charge.

This is what you see as you enter the main gate Karan Pol. 1594 to 2013 i.e. 420 years and the fort is still going strong. Idea of Suraj Pol (sun gate) is to let the first rays of Sun come inside your house. Light in Indian thought is a symbol of knowledge and is associated with wisdom and prosperity.

When one enters into Karan Pol you see some symbolic hands sculpted on a vertically fixed stone slab on the left side. These are SATI hands, reminders of the Royal ladies who committed Sati. Detailed captions are from a booklet that I purchased in Junagarh Fort from those who manage the fort. Credit and copyright lies with them.

Structure i.e. just outside Suraj Pol (sun gate). Stone color looks so nice with the rising sun rays falling on them.

Another part of the palace taken from Suraj Pol. Note the architecture.

After you cross Suraj Pol there is a huge open ground. There is this board that has the history of Junagarh Fort. Informative about an unconquered fort.

At Suraj Pol is a Ganesha temple thus also called Ganesh Pol. Opposite that is a shrine dedicated to Goddess KOTASHRI - the protectoress of the fort. At Suraj Pol are 2 big elephants with riders, missed clicking but here is story. Riders were 2 great generals of Maharana Udai Singhji of Mewar, who fought very bravely during the siege of Chittor Fort. Emperor Akbar was impressed, declared these brave generals be honored by installing their statues on elephants, in front of main gates of forts which were never conquered. This tradition of decorating main gates with temples was adopted from the Jain temples of Rajputana.

Close up of the Royal Emblem of the rulers of Bikaner. State flag of Bikaner has two colors Kesaria and Kasumal (saffron and red). Saffron is symbolic of Karni Mata the presiding deity of Bikaner Royal Family and Saffron symbolises Laxminathji the tutelary deity of the royal family. Centre of flag has title ''Jai Jangaldhar Badhah'' meaning Victory to the King of the Desert.

Outer view of Junagarh Fort. In centre are two canons behind which is a Toran (u shall see close up later). Ground floor is Vikram Vikas Durbar Hall made in 1935 that you shall see later. Today it houses an aeroplane and many palanquins. Fort is 5 storied. Opp this palace is a deep well called Ramsar that I missed seeing. The water of this well is believed to have medicinal value.

Close up of Toran i.e. most commonly found in modern day Gujarat although I did see them in the Jain Temple at Osian and Shiv Temple of Kiradu i.e. near Barmer. The toran dwar (welcome arch) was made to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Maharaja Ganga Singhji''''s reign in 1937.

Locals waiting outside the entrance to the main fort. Stone to make the fort came from Dunmera mines i.e. located 60 kms away.

After you pay entry fee have to walk up this ramp to Zorawar Mahal courtyard. Mistake I made was to enter fort when it opens at 10am, too much of crowd difficult to click pictures. Tourists click and click as u see in this picture. Smarter thing would have been to reach about 11.30 and click in peace.

Before you walk up the ramp on your right is this structure which is one of the many entrances to the palaces. Was unable to click top to bottom so presenting in two parts. This is the lower portion. The next pic is a close up of the intricate work that you see and top portion. Layout is grand, was floored.

Close up of intricate work of top part. Where there is open sky as you see in this picture there is a net to prevent birds from entering, helps in maintenance too.

This is the Zorawar Mahal courtyard that you enter after walking up the ramp. Opposite is family temple of the rulers of Bikaner called Harmandir, a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. There is a 33 cr Gods and Goddess ka Mandir (temple) in which nearly 700 precious idols are stored. Missed seeing that.

This is Karan Mahal (public audience) Chowk. Karan Mahal is the first monument of Bikaner and 2nd oldest in Rajasthan i.e. based on the classic Mughal style, was erected about 1690 by Maharaja Anup Singhji as a memorial monument to his father Raja Karan Singhji. Left of pic see structure with red stone roof i.e. Hawa Mahal. Is located on the top most floor, very breezy hence the name Hawa Mahal although it cannot be compared to a monument with a similar name in Jaipur.

To restrict entry into main mahal area aluminum doors and glass are put. Note ceiling painting. Karan Mahal is covered with rich Rajput elaboration of Mughal style in terms of purity of white marble and stucco designs.

Under Maharaja Gaj Singhji Karan Mahal was provided with throne niche and covered with Mughal painted ornament. The floral moldings of bellied columns between arches, was gilded. Not happy with this pic should have covered the entire carpet which is wow.

The wall and gallery ceilings covered with network of garlands, bouquets, vases and bowls filled with flowers. Note the ceiling.

Ceiling inside Karan Mahal. Impressive to say the least.

You come out of Karan Mahal into a open area where there is a gate to Phool Mahal. Next to its door is this image of Surya Devata or Sun God with his seven horses.

In the same open area at one end end is this Chhatri. I should have taken this pic from one end of the hall so got flooring and ceiling also.

This is ceiling outside side entrance to Phool Mahal.

Entrance to Phool Mahal Ki Sal. It is the oldest part of the palace and was built by Raja Rai Singhji. Its decoration with motifs of trays, flower vases and rose water sprinklers reminds of the decoration popular during the Jehangirian period.

Inside Phool Mahal. Interior walls decorated with stucco work and glass inlay work.

Just behind Phool Mahal is Chander Mahal consisting of small rooms. It is in the form of a crescent and named after Maharani Chand Kanwar, one of the queens of Maharaja Gaj Singhji. Most interesting here is the dadoed paintings that resemble the precious stone inlay work of Agra. Loved this. Two images represent 2 avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu. Left is 3rd avatar Varah or Boar. On right is Narasimha avatar of Lord Vishnu killing Hiranyakashyap, similar scene in Halebidu Temples of Karnataka. To see pics Click here

Walls have images of various Hindu Gods. This is Lord Krishna playing the flute.

Ceiling inside one of the rooms.

Wall paintings on lime plastered walls. This Mahal had me going ga ga, just did not feel like leaving. U need to pay an additional fee of Rs 100/ to see Phool and Chander Mahals.

A corner of Phool Mahal. Painting below, glass work, mirror work and ceiling in red. See close up of ceiling in next pic.

Close up of ceiling in Phool Mahal.

In passage outside Phool Mahal. I was so enamored with this look when actually should have tried to take a front view. Distance in front was less than 2 feet. But loved this side view. Looks majestic.

Next you enter Raj Niwas that has a collection of swords and Mahi Maratib that you see. This was the main insignia of honor conferred upon the Chief Rulers by Muslim Emperors. Grandson of Nau Sher Khan of Iran Khushru Parvez started this tradition. Insignia that you see were carried by the emperor in every procession. This honor was bestowed upon Maharaja Anup Singhji, Gaj Singhji and Ratan Singhji in that order.

Entry to the courtyard of Anup Mahal and Badal Mahal had silver doors originally that you see in this picture. Today silver door kept on side.

Courtyard of Anup and Badal Mahal. Net on top to prevent birds from coming in. As I said earlier best time to go is after 12 when there are fewer people.

This door is made out of akroat (walnut) tree that was got from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Wonderful work.

Right is doors/entrance to Anup Mahal (Privy Council Room) has over elaborate prettiness - the gold vermilion varnished work.

This board is about evolution and development of Golden Works in Anup and Karan Mahal. Do read through interesting.

Inner parts of Anup Mahal. Centre is where King sat. Accents are effected by slightly raising the relief, replacing the vermilion background with a glorifying green, blue and violet, by motifs treated completely in gold and by mirrors and mirrors or glass mosaic. Old and antique carpets adorn the Mahal.

U see the throne where the ruler would sit and entertain most of his foreign guests and highly placed officials.

The richest gift reliefs are found between the arches (as you see) on top of the columns which show leaf work, but by multiplication of the leaves and flowers the impression of a hill covered with jungle is obtained. Guide told us 80 kgs of gold went into the making of Anup Mahal. Today 10 gms cost Rs 30,000/. 80 kgs?

A close up of the gold work in one of the walls. One of the glass mosaic shows Rama and Sita in domed pairlions and surrounded by Laxmana, Hanuman and other Royal followers. Missed this one. Next is Badal Mahal, wish had spent more time there and clicked more pics although the Mahal is very small.

Badal or Sardar Mahal made by Maharaja Sardar Singhji. Wall has beautiful shading of blue and white depicting clouds n lightening. It is a good e.g. of Matheran art from Bikaner. Maharaja''s musical instruments Mayur Veena and Garud Veena are on display, he loved to play Rag Malhar i.e. usually played in the monsoons. Since rainfall is scarce in Bikaner n to create feel of monsoons he got the walls painted like clouds and rain drops. To imitate real rain there is small water tank from which came out small drops of water and then he would play Rag Malhar. This explanation to the Badal Mahal gives you insight into the mind of the then Maharaja - interesting.

Moving to the 1st floor i.e. Hanuman Chowk. This picture shows u how in earlier times, even till late 1960s, people walked on nails, saws used for cutting wood etc.

Table full of nails on which people walked. At Jaisalmer Festival saw a dancer Mansi Singh Panwar who danced on broken glass pieces with about 15 bowls on her head. Is there something in the water of Marwar that enables its people to perform these acts.

Now moved on to next level. The palace is five storeys this is perhaps floor 4. Right white structure with a dome is an old Shiv Mandir. U get to see fort wall, horse stables etc.

View of garden on eastern side, green and well maintained. What I really appreciate about Junagarh Fort is the quality of maintenance - very good. They seem to have kept encroachers away which is a problem in Mehrangarh Fort Jodhpur. Junagarh Fort is a must visit.

Showing this photo for a purpose. Centre of pic top point. When an important announcement had to be made, a person from the Fort would draw the attention of people by banging against a brass plate like we saw in old Hindi movies.

Entrance to Gaj Mandir. Right in front is Tulsi plant i.e. worshipped by Hindus. Gaj Mandir embodies the then known refinements and luxuries of architecture and tasteful decorative arts, lavished on the private apartment of Maharaja Gaj Singhji and his two Chief Queens, Phul Kanwar and Chand Kanwar.

In Gaj Mandir as u enter on your left is Palna or Jhoola. Frame of jhoola has dolls. Earlier dolls used to dance when jhoola was moved. Pic of Lord Krishna kept on jhoola. Laddoo Gopal deity of Baby Krishna is commonly kept in a palna or jhoola and given joyrides as part of devotion/bhakti.

The walls of Gaj Mandir are covered with elaborate Mughal niches and panels enclosed by a framework of marble plaster slabs, which are carved into various Mughal open-work floral designs behind which mirrors have been placed. Note the floral designs. In centre is Maharani''s bedroom. More people need to visit this wonderful fort. Perhaps it has not got the attention it deserves due to lack of air connectivity to Bikaner (airport expected to come up shortly) and attention to Jodhpur n Jaisalmer.

This is Maharaja bedroom. Note the bed is not very long and light. Size is such that Maharaja can carry it on his back, helps in case of a surprise attack. Part 2 of Junagarh Fort covers the Durbar Hall, weapons displayed thereon and Maharaja Ganga Singhji''''s office. Surely worth a look. To see part 2 of Junagarh Fort Click here

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