Chittorgarh (also spelt as Chittaurgarh) is the epitome of Chattari Rajput (a Hindu Kshatriya [Warrior] caste) pride, romance and spirit, for people of Chittor always chose death before surrendering against anyone. It reverberates with history of heroism and sacrifice that is evident from the tales still sung by the bards of Rajasthan. Though it can now be called a ruined citadel there is much more to this huge fort. It is a symbol of all that was brave, true and noble in the glorious Rajput tradition.
It was named Chitrakut after Chitrangada Mori, a Rajput chieftain as inscribed on ancient Mewari coins. The fort is surrounded by a circular wall which has seven huge gates before one can enter the main fort area. Some accounts say that the Mori dynasty was in possession of the fort when Bappa Rawal the founder of the kingdom of Mewar seized Chittor garh (Chittor fort) and made it his capital in 734 AD. Some other accounts say Bappa Rawal received it as a part of the dowry after marriage with the last Solanki princess. After that date his descendants ruled Mewar, which stretched from Gujarat to Ajmer, until the 16th century. Chittor was one of the most contested seats of power in India with probably some of the most glorious battles being fought over its possession. It is famous in the annals of the Mewar Dynasty as its first capital (prior to this, the Guhilots, forerunners of the Mewar Dynasty, ruled from Idar, Bhomat, and Nagda), and renowned in India’s long struggle for freedom. By tradition, it remained the Mewar capital for 834 years. With only brief interruptions, the fort has always remained in possession of the Sisodias of the Guhilot (or Gehlot/Guhila) clan of Rajputs, who descended from Bappa Rawal.
The first attack was by Alauddin Khilji in 1303 AD, who was enamoured by the beauty of Padmini of which he had only heard. Rani Padmini preferred death to abduction and dishonour and committed jauhar (an act of self-immolation by leaping into a large fire) along with all the other ladies of the fort. All the men left the fort in saffron robes to fight the enemy unto death. Chittorgarh was captured in 1303 AD by Ala ud din Khilji, Sultan of Delhi who led a huge army. Elderly people then had the responsibility to raise the children. It was recaptured in 1326 by the young Hammir Singh, a scion of the same Gehlotclan. The dynasty (and clan) fathered by him came to be known by the nameSisodia after the village where he was born.
Rana Kumbha (1433–68) was a versatile man, a brilliant poet, and musician. He built Mewar up to a position of unassailable military strength, building a chain of thirty forts that girdled the kingdom. But, perhaps more important Rana Kumbha was a patron of the arts to rival Lorenzo de’ Medici, and he made Chittorgarh a dazzling cultural center whose fame spread across Hindustan.
By the 16th century, Mewar had become the leading Rajput state. Rana Sangaof Mewar led the combined Rajput forces against the Mughal emperor Babur in 1527, but was defeated at the Battle of Khanua. Later in 1535 Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, besieged the fort, causing immense carnage. It is said that again, as in the case of Jauhar led by Padmini in 1303, all 32,000 men then living in the fort donned the saffron robes of martyrdom and rode out to face certain death in the war, and their women folk committed Jauhar led by Rani Karnawati. The ultimate sacrifice for freedom, Jauhar was again performed for the third time after the Mughal Emperor Akbar captured Chittorgarh in 1568. Then, the capital was moved west to Udaipur, in the foothills of the Aravalli Range, where Rana Udai Singh II (the young heir apparent) had established a residence in 1559. Udaipur remained the capital of Mewar until it acceded to the union of India in 1947, and Chittorgarh gradually lost its political importance.
Chittorgarh is also associated with two very widely known historical figures of India. The first, Meera Bai, is the most famous female Hindu spiritual poetess, whose compositions are still popular throughout North India. Her poems follow the Bhakti tradition and she is considered to be most passionate worshiper of lord Krishna. Folklore says that her love for Krishna was epitomized by her final disappearance in the temple of Krishna in Dwarka. She is believed to have entered the sanctum of the temple in a state of singing ecstasy after which the sanctum doors are believed to have closed on their own. When they were later opened, the sari of Mirabai was seen en-wrapped around the idol of Lord Krishna, symbolizing the culmination of her union with her Lord.
The great Maharana Pratap, son of Rana Udai Singh II, is regarded as a personification of the values Rajputs cherish and die for. He took an oath to spend his life living in the jungles and fighting until he could realize his dream of reconquering Chittorgarh from Akbar (and thus reclaiming the glory of Mewar). It was the dream greatly cherished by Maharana Pratap, and he spent all his life to achieve this goal. He underwent hardships and a life of eating breads made of grass while fighting his lifelong battle. Maharana Pratap is the greatest hero in the eyes of the Rajputs of Mewar. In the absolute dark era of Rajput history, Maharana Pratap alone stood firmly for his honour and dignity, never compromising his honour for safety. With the reputation of a brave man of great character even among his enemies, he died free in 1597.
Chittorgarh remains replete with historic associations and holds a very special place in the hearts of Rajputs, as it was a bastion of the clan at a time when every other stronghold had succumbed to invasion. It is often called as the “Bhaktiaur Shakti ki nagari” (land of devotion and strength). The fort and the city of Chittorgarh also hosts the biggest Rajput festival “Jauhar Mela”. It takes place annually on the anniversary of one of the jauhars, not the one by Padmini which is most famous. This festival is to commemorate the bravery of Rajput ancestors and all three Jauhars which happened at Chittorgarh. A huge number of Rajputs which include the descendants of most of the princely families do a procession to celebrate the Jauhar. The fort at Chittorgarh also contains the ancient and beautiful temple to Goddess Kali called the Kalika Mata Temple.