Jaisalmer nicknamed “The Golden city”, is a city in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It lies in the heart of the Thar Desert (great Indian desert). The town stands on a ridge of yellowish sandstone, crowned by a fort, which contains the palace and several ornate Jain temples. Many of the houses and temples are finely sculptured.
The majority of the inhabitants of Jaisalmer are Bhati Rajputs, named for Bhati, who was renowned as a warrior. The ruling family of the erstwhile Jaisalmer State belongs to Bhati Clan of Yadu Rajputs of Chandravanshi (Lunar) race who claim descent from Lord Krishna,the deified hero who ruled at Dwarka. In 1156 Rawal Jaisal, the sixth in succession from Deoraj, founded the fort and city of Jaisalmer, atop Trikuta Hill and began to levy taxes on the camel caravans travelling along the nearby route. Laden with exotic spices and precious silks, these trading caravans were en route to cities like Delhi or Sind, but had to pass directly through Jaisalmer. This strategic location continued to serve Jaisalmer well, as it lay right on the two main routes connecting India with Persia, Egypt and farther west. He later made it his capital as he moved from his former capital at Lodhruva (which is situated about 15 km to the north-west of Jaisalmer). In 1293, the Bhattis so enraged the Sultan of Delhi Ala-ud-din Khilji that his army captured and sacked the fort and city of Jaisalmer, so that for some time it was quite deserted.Some Bhatti’s from the Royal family migrated to Jaisal (Now in Pakistan), a place near to Chiniot Distt and some migrated to Talwandi, now Nankana Sahib in Distt. Nankana Sahib (Punjab, Pakistan) and others settled in Larkana (in Sind, Pakistan)under the name of Bhutto. In Nankana Sahib, the Bhatti Clan can be traced from the lineage of Rai Bhoe and Rai Bular Bhatti. After this there is nothing to record until the time of Rawal Sahal Singh, whose reign marks an epoch in Jaisalmer’s history in that he acknowledged the supremacy of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Following the collapse of the Mughal Empire in the 18th century, Jaisalmer, like the rest of Rajputana, became subservient to the Marathas, until it came under the protection of the British East India Company following the British victory in the Third Anglo-Maratha War. In 1818, the Rawals of Jaisalmer signed a treaty with the British, which protected Jaisalmer from invasion provided it was not the aggressor and guaranteed the royal succession.
The Maharajas of Jaisalmer trace their lineage back to Jaitsimha, a ruler of the Bhati Rajput clan. The major opponents of the Bhati Rajputs were the powerful Rathor clans of Jodhpur and Bikaner. They used to fight battles for the possession of forts, waterholes or cattle. Jaisalmer was positioned strategically and was a halting point along a traditional trade route traversed by the camel caravans of Indian and foreign merchants. The route linked India to Central Asia, Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Africa and the West.
In the 13th century, Jaisalmer escaped direct Turkic conquest due to its geographical situation in the desert region. The Rawals of Jaisalmer agreed to pay an annual tribute to the Turkic Sultans of Delhi. The first siege of Jaisalmer occurred during the reign of Alauddin Khilji, the Turkic Sultan of Delhi. It was provoked by Bhatis’ raid on a caravan filled with treasure. According to local ballads, the Bhatis defended the fort for seven years until the enemy army forces breached the ramparts. Bhatis, facing certain defeat, proclaimed the rite of jauhar. Later, Sultan Ferozshah also besieged Jaisalmer after the rulers of Jaisalmer raided his camp at Anasagar lake near Ajmer. The siege led to another jauhar. Jaitsimha’s son Duda perished in the attack. Duda’s descendants ruled over Jaisalmer for about two centuries. Duda’s descendant Lunakarna had a fight with Humayun when the latter passed through Jaisalmer en route to Ajmer.
On the eve of British Raj in India, Jaisalmer was subservient to the Marathas, until it came under the protection of the British East India Company following the British victory in the Third Anglo-Maratha War. In 1818, the Rawals of Jaisalmer signed a treaty with the British, which protected Jaisalmer from invasion provided it was not the aggressor and guaranteed the royal succession. Jaisalmer was one of the last states to sign a treaty with the British. During the British Raj, Jaisalmer was the seat of a princely state of the same name, ruled by the Bhati clan of Rajputs. The present descendant is Brijraj Singh.
Traditionally, the main source of income was the levies on the caravans. However, the glory of Jaisalmer faded when Bombay emerged as a port and the sea trade replaced the traditional land routes. The partition of India in 1947 lead to closing of all the trade routes on the Indo-Pak border and rendered Jaisalmer a drought-prone desert backwater on the international border. Ironically, skirmishes between India and Pakistan gave Jaisalmer a strategic importance and made it serviceable as an army supply depot. Later, the Rajasthan Canal served to revive the surrounding desert areas. Roads and railroads were then built, knitting the hitherto remote town with the rest of Rajasthan. Later, the Government of Rajasthan decided to promote Jaisalmer as a tourist destination.
While Jaisalmer may always have been remote, it is filled with many artistic structures and monuments of local historical importance. Jaisalmer’s medieval mud fortress and walled township make it a popular tourist destination. The surrounding desolate landscape evidences a stark, austere beauty. Camel safaris through the nearby desert dunes are popular here. Built in 1156 by the Bhati Rajput ruler Jaisal, Jaisalmer Fort is situated on Meru Hill and Named as Trikoot Garh had seen the scene of many battles. Its massive sandstone walls are a tawny lion colour during the day, turning to a magical honey-gold as the sun sets. The famous Indian film director Satyajit Ray wrote a detective novel and later turned it into a film − Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) which was based on this fort. This is a living fort and about a quarter of city’s population still live inside the fort. The main attractions inside the fort are: Raj Mahal (the Royal palace), Jain temples and the Laxminath temple.
Jaisalmer has been enriched by its Jain community, which has adorned the city with beautiful temples, notably the temples dedicated to the 16th Tirthankara, Shantinath, and 23rd Tirthankara, Parshvanath. Jaisalmer also boasts some of the oldest libraries of India which contain rarest of the manuscripts and artefacts of Jain tradition. There are many pilgrimage centres around Jaisalmer such as Lodarva (Lodhruva), Amarsagar, Brahmsar and Pokharan.