There is hardly any visitor who is not left astounded by the resplendent Gwalior Fort. Even Babur, an adventurer and the first Mughal Emperor failed to remain immune from the charm of this majestic fort and ended up calling it “the pearl amongst the fortresses of Hind”. Set atop a solitary rocky outcrop of the Vindhyas, it is spread across a staggering 3 square kilometers and rises 36 feet. Though the exact date of construction is shrouded in mystery, the fort (surely not in its present form) finds mention in a Gwalior inscription of Huna chief Mihirkula. The fort is comprised of various monuments that date back as early as the 7th century CE. Undoubtedly, the Gwalior Fort is a wonder in itself.
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History of Gwalior and its eponymous fort:
Since time immemorial, Gwalior has been coveted by emperors and invaders owing to its central location on the ‘Dakshinapatha’, the principal trade route which connected the prosperous kingdoms of northern India to the seaports on the western and southern coasts of the country.
Long ago, Gwalior went by the names of Gopagiri and Gopadri. The names were probably a reference to its early pastoral settlers, who used to rear cows or ‘go’. According to legends, a hermit named Gwalipa had cured a Rajput chieftain, Suraj Sen, of leprosy. Hence, he renamed the city Gwalior out of respect and gratitude for the said sage.
In the ancient era, this region was ruled by the Mauryas, Shungas, Kushanas, and Guptas. However, in all probability, the Fort was built later.
Historically, it was with the victory of Huna chief Mihirkula that the significance of the Gwalior Fort was established. This glorified phase of the Fort continued during the reign of the Gurjara Pratiharas in the 9th century and the Kachhapaghats in the 10th– 11th centuries.
The present scale and grandeur of the Gwalior Fort were achieved thanks to the patronage of the Tomar dynasty in the 14th century. It was under the aegis of Kirti Singh Tomar and Man Singh Tomar that the magnificent edifices inside the Fort were built.
Later, the Mughals used this Fort as a state prison, and among its well-known prisoners were Jahangir’s son Khusrau, Aurangzeb’s brother Murad, Dara Shikho’s eldest son, Aurangzeb’s son Mohammed, and Sikh Guru Hargobind Singh.
In the post-Mughal era, the Fort briefly went under the control of the Jat chiefs of Gohad. This stint was cut short by Mahadji Scindia under whose command the Marathas conquered the Fort in 1765.
Years later, Gwalior became a part of British India after the defeat of the Marathas in the Third Anglo-Maratha War of 1818. Afterward, the Gwalior Fort became embroiled in the Great Mutiny of 1857, during which the legendary Rani of Jhansi laid down her life during the final assault on the Fort.
In the aftermath of the Mutiny, the British handed over the Fort to the Scindias in 1885, and it remained under the Scindia’s control till India’s independence.
Gates of the Gwalior Fort:
The enormity of the Gwalior Fort can easily be deciphered from the large number of gates that it possesses. In total, there are seven gates, named after various mythological figures as well as kings and emperors. First, there is the Alamgiri or Gwalior Gate, built in 1600 CE and named after Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. The Hindola or Badalgarh Gate got its name from Raja Badal Singh Tomar. The credit of Ganesh Gate, which houses a shrine devoted to sage Gwalipa, goes to Raja Dungarendra Singh. Near the Chaturbhuja Temple lies the Lakshmana Gate, named after Raja Lakshman Singh Tomar. The Man Singh Palace can be entered through the Hathi Gate, which was constructed in 1516 CE. The Dhoda Gate was built to commemorate a Tomar prince. At present, the Urvahi Gate is the main entrance to the Gwalior Fort. Moreover, the Bhairon Gate and Hawa Gate, though once existed, did not survive the test of time.
Must-see monuments inside the Gwalior Fort:
The Gwalior Fort is of epic proportions, covering an extensive area and comprised of a host of monuments belonging to different eras. Some of the important ones are listed below:
Sculptures of Jain Tirthankaras:
The rock-cut sculptures of Jain Tirthankaras are primarily found in the Gopachal and Siddhanchal hills. These are sculpted on the steep cliff just below the walls of the Gwalior Fort. Unique in terms of their structure, the statues were sculpted in the 15th century during the reign of the Tomar rulers, Dungarendra Singh and Kirti Singh (both of whom were ardent patrons of Jainism). Later, some of the figures were defaced by the marauding armies of Babur in 1527.
The most stunning among the sculptures are that of the first Tirthankara Adinatha (17 m high and distinguished by the symbol of a bull), the 22nd Tirthankara Neminatha (10 m high and having the symbol of a shell), and the 23rd Tirthankara Parshwanatha (19 m high and characterized by hooded cobra).
Man Singh Palace:
Without an iota of doubt, the Man Singh Palace is certainly the grandest and most stunning section of the Gwalior Fort. This four-storeyed palace (two of the chambers lie underground) was built by Raja Man Singh Tomar, who himself was a connoisseur of art and music.
The remarkable palace is characterized by six colossal cylindrical towers capped with cupolas, corbelled brackets, elaborate lattice-work, and chhatris. It comprises 40 courts and chambers. The entire palace is embellished with vibrant mosaic tiles which depict yellow-striped tigers on a blue base, elephants holding lotus stalks, proud peacocks, and a famous row of yellow ducks on a turquoise background. This décor of enameled tiles bestowed the name of ‘Chit Mandir’ or painted palace to the Man Singh Palace.
The underground chambers were probably used as women’s quarters during the Tomar rule. However, when the Mughals came to power, they used these subterranean chambers as prison cells.
The Museum of Archaeological Survey of India is situated inside a building that dates back to the British era. It houses riveting artifacts collected from Mitaoli, Bateshwar, Padavali, Kherat, Naresar, and Surwaya.
Also known as Karan Mandir, this palace was the handiwork of Raja Kirti Singh Tomar, who completed its construction in 1479 CE. It is a double-storeyed palace with one large room and two smaller rooms on either side. Faint traces of paint and colored tiles decoration are still noticeable here.
Also known as Vikram Mandir, this palace was built in 1516 CE and named after Raja Vikramaditya, son of Raja Man Singh. Legends say that secret passages are hidden inside this palace which connect it to the Man Singh Palace and Kirti Mandir.
The Vikram Mandir has a ‘baradari’ or an open hall mounted by a domed ceiling and another open hall with 12 doorways at its northwestern corner.
Jahangir Mahal & Shah Jahan Mahal:
These two small palaces, though named after two Mughal Emperors, were used as resting places for Mughal troops rather than for royalty.
Chhatri of Bhim Singh Rana and Jauhar Kund:
Located beside the Jahangir Mahal and Shah Jahan Mahal, the chhatri is a memorial tower for Raja Bhim Singh Rana, a Gohad Jat ruler who had briefly captured the Gwalior Fort.
Right in front of the chhatri lies an otherwise nondescript tank called the Jauhar Kund. When the Fort was besieged by Muslim marauders at various points in time, the Rajput women immolated themselves by jumping alive into funeral pyres.
Teli Ka Mandir:
This intriguing temple is one of the loftiest buildings within the premises of the Gwalior Fort. There is hardly any consensus among scholars regarding the origin of this temple’s name. According to the most widely accepted view, during the reign of Mihirbhoja, members of the Teli, or oil merchant community built this unique temple. Others believe that the temple was originally named Telangana Ka Mandir due to the Dravidian influence on its architecture.
Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to pin down the exact date or year of its construction owing to the absence of any records. Scholars have studied its architectural design and the earliest inscriptions and assume that it was built somewhere in the 8th and 9th centuries.
The Teli Ka Mandir is unique in terms of its architectural hybridity. The temple has a ‘valabhi shikhara’ modelled after the Dravidian ‘gopuram’. On the other hand, it is mounted on a Nagara base, a style followed by North Indian temple architecture. In addition, it possesses a vaulted roof inspired by the horseshoe-shaped ‘Chaitya’ windows of Buddhist viharas.
The exterior of the Teli Ka Mandir is ornately adorned with divine and human figures, floral motifs, and animal illustrations. Sadly, the temple suffered damage due to the raids of Qutb-ud-din Aibak and Iltutmish.
Literally translating into the temples of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, the twin temples were built by the Kacchapaghata ruler, Mahipala, in 1093 CE. The temple was originally called Sahasra Bahu Temple as it was dedicated to a thousand-armed form of Lord Vishnu. The present name of Saas-Bahu is actually a distortion of the original name.
The ’Saas’ temple is the larger among the two and set apart by three storeys, an intricately carved lotus ceiling supported by four gargantuan pillars, and an ornately decorated mandapa.
The ‘Bahu’ temple is much smaller in appearance. Dedicated to Shiva, it has a pyramidal roof, an open-sided porch, and an elegantly carved interior.
Located near the Lakshman Gate, this blink-and-you-miss temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It was built in 876 CE. However, this unassuming temple has a profound significance as it houses an inscription that contains one of the earliest known uses of mathematical zero. Thus, by 876 CE, the concept of zero was already widely used in India.
Gurudwara Data Bandi Chhor:
Situated near the Teli Ka Mandir, this gurudwara was constructed to commemorate Guru Hargobind Singh’s incarceration inside the Gwalior Fort by Mughal Emperor Jahangir. The Sikh Guru was imprisoned along with 52 Rajas.
However, Jahangir later decided to release the Sikh Guru, who repeatedly insisted on the release of his royal companions. The emperor, being apprehensive, set forth a condition – only those Rajas who held the Sikh Guru’s shawl while he was leaving would be freed. The Guru cleverly stitched a ‘Chola’ with 52 strings attached to it, one each for the 52 Rajas to hold while he left the Fort. This is how Guru Hargovind Singh received the title of ‘Bandi Chhor’ or liberator of prisoners.
This charming palace was built by Raja Man Singh for his Gujjar queen, Mariganayani. It was built near the Badalgarh Gate. It is a two-storeyed palace with canopied vantage points and open terraces, where music performances were organized for the royal couple. At present, the Gurjari Mahal has been converted into a state-run archaeological museum.
Other places of interest in Gwalior:
Apart from the magnificent Gwalior Fort, Gwalior has a host of other interesting places such as:
Jai Vilas Palace:
The opulent Jai Vilas Palace is the residence of the Scindias, the erstwhile rulers of Gwalior. Originally, this lavish palace was constructed to welcome the then Prince of Wales. It was designed by Lt. Col. Sir Michael Filose and displays a fusion of both Tuscan and Corinthian architectural styles. Although it is still used by the Scindias as their residence, a part of it with 35 rooms has been converted into Jiyaji Rao Scindia Museum.
The Durbar Hall is indisputably the most phenomenal part of the Jai Vilas Palace. Approached by a staircase bedecked with crystal banisters, the Durbar Hall has a ceiling gilded with 56 kgs of gold and decorated with two 12.5 m chandeliers weighing three and a half tonnes each.
In addition, the palace showcases interesting treasures owned by the Scindias such as an Italian glass cradle used for Krishna on the occasion of Janmashtami, a silver train carrying post-dinner brandy and cigars served to guests as it ran on miniature rails on the Banquet Hall table, silver dinner sets and swords once used by Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, and so on.
Also, personal items of Scindia family members are on display such as the bejeweled slippers of Chinkoo Rani, royal portraits and outfits, four-poster beds, etc.
Tomb of Mohammad Ghaus:
Mohammad Ghaus was a 16th-century Sufi saint, belonging to the Shattari order. He was also a prolific master of music. Miah Tansen was one of his foremost disciples. His resting place at Gwalior, located amidst a busy bazaar, is quite a popular tourist destination.
Mohammad Ghaus’s tomb was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Akbar and depicts a synthesis of the Lodhi style of architecture and structural ornamentation peculiar to Gujarat. The mausoleum is a marvelous specimen of delicate craftsmanship. Built with sandstone, it is decorated with lattice or ‘jali’ works on all sides.
Tomb of Tansen:
Mian Tansen, renowned as the ‘Sangeet Samrat’, was a legendary Hindustani Classical musician. He was one of the ‘Navaratnas’ or Nine Gems at Akbar’s court.
His tomb is situated inside the complex of the mausoleum of Mohammad Ghaus, who was also the spiritual teacher of Tansen. Compared to his master’s resting place, Tansen’s tomb is modest.
During the annual Tansen Sangeet Samaroh (Tansen Music Festival), artists flock to Tansen’s tomb to seek his blessings before their performance.
1. How can I reach Gwalior?
Gwalior’s Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia Airport is well-connected with important cities. Gwalior’s rail station is one of the important stations in central India, and therefore you can reach here from any part of India via train.
2. Where can I stay in Gwalior?
Being a popular tourist destination, Gwalior has a wide array of hotels suiting every pocket. We stayed at Neemrana’s Deobagh, a 17th-century heritage hotel.
3. What are the must-try foods of Gwalior?
Gwalior is a haven for foodies. Try Kachori at SS Kachoriwala, Boondi Laddoo at the renowned Bahadura Sweets, Poha at Aggarwal Poha Bhandar, Paneer Jalebi & Kachori at Jodhpur Mishtaan Bhandar, Petha Gilori at Panchiraaj, and Gajaak from Daulaat Ram Gaajak Bhandar.
4. What is the best time to visit Gwalior?
Since Gwalior remains scorching during the summer months, winter is the perfect time for exploring this historic city. Try scheduling your visit between October to February.
5. What are the opening and closing times of Gwalior Fort?
The Gwalior Fort opens its doors at 6 in the morning till 5-30 in the evening.
6. What are the ticket prices of Gwalior Fort?
For Indians, the entry fee is INR 75, and INR 250 for foreigners. You have to pay separately for the camera.
7. Is there any Light and Sound Program at Gwalior Fort?
The Light and Sound Program at Gwalior Fort is held every day in two slots – the Hindi version from 7-30 PM and the English from 8-30 PM. Each session lasts for 45 minutes.
8. What are the nearby destinations that can be visited from Gwalior?