The Jodhpur Story

Meharangarh Fort 

Mandore fort was already over a thousand years old and Jodha felt unsafe. A year from his accession Jodha decided to build a new and secure capital on a rocky hill 124 meters high, south of Mandore, called Bhakurcheeria or the ‘mountain of the birds’.  Its lone inhabitant was a hermit – Cheeria Nath, ‘lord of the birds’.  When Jodha’s work force arrived they shattered his peace. The irate hermit cursed him “Jodha, may your citadel always suffer a scarcity of water”.Undeterred, Jodha laid the foundation of his fort on 12th May, 1459 but took some extreme measures to ensure its auspiciousness, giving it a living sacrifice. He buried alive, Rajiya Bambi, assuring him that his family would be taken care of for all time.  Rajiya’s descendants continue to live in Jodhpur on an estate called Raj Bagh.

To Cheeria Nathji, Jodha gave a temple. On a leafy pond, tucked into a shady corner of the gigantic Meherangarh fort is a little temple that looks over the outer walls of the fortress at the bustling old city of Jodhpur below. Jodha also brought with him from Mandore the idol of the four-headed goddess Chamunda Devi. Work on her temple began in 1460 but was completed only three hundred years later in the eighteenth century.  The temple is in worship, where crowds throng during the Navratri and Dussehra celebrations annually.

‘Mehr means the ‘Sun’ in Sanskrit. Meharangarh, is the citadel of the sun and was built at the cost of nine hundred thousand rupees. A monument of burnished red sand stone, a hundred feet high, perched on a perpendicular cliff; it stands four hundred feet above the city.

Originally, the fort was much smaller. Its extremities falling within the second gate today. As the Rathores grew more powerful Mehrangarh, a symbol of their glory and the basis of their strength, expanded. Every ruler left his mark. Mehrangarh's charm is its magnificent blend of different reigns, ages, styles and influences – the story of the Rathores of Jodhpur.

Mehrangarh, Jodha built for his clansmen and Jodhpur, Jodha’s city, at the eastern base of Bhakucheeria for his people. He transferred his capital from Mandore to Jodhpur, a city that came into existence rather reluctantly. In 1459 there were no water bodies of any significance in the area. The fort was under construction and the settlement largely undefended. Jodha’s queen Rani Jasmande took the initiative in solving the water problem by constructing a huge tank at the base of the mountain, now called Rani Sar or Queen’s Lake. A year later another of Jodha's six queens built a baori or step-well in the city, perhaps in the sprit of competition. However, it is only after the serrated edges of Bhakurcheeria assumed the shape of a fortification that people gradually began to migrate to Jodhpur, the new seat of power.

Jodhpur was a walled city with four gates or pols, three of which still stand, although not in good condition. In the north was the Bhagi Pol of which nothing remains; in the south, 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 fairly good shape.

Wealthy Marwari merchants came and built opulent havelis. Brahmins clumped together, artists, charans, ironmongers, masons, carpenters and people of every other profession came in small bands to the new site.  As each category found their niche and built their residences, from the sandy expanse slowly emerged a vibrant city.Jodhpur’s oldest residential area, as old as the fort itself is Brahmpuri, the settlement of the Brahmins.  Their houses packed together along narrow streets and washed blue with indigo to deflect the summer heat and create shade. Later, others too adopted the blue outer façade giving rising to the synonym ‘blue city’.

Jodhpur outgrew her original walls within fifty years of her founder’s death. In 1543 when Sher Shah Suri, usurped the throne of Delhi and announced his intentions of invading Marwar, the nineteenth Rathore, Rao Maldev was compelled to complete the city's fortifications. The walls, which enclosed Jodhpur, were now twenty four thousand feet long, nine feet thick and forty feet high. He built six gates; Chand Pol, which faced west for the moon, was the first one. The other five gates were named after the major Rathore forts they faced. The gates and walls were simple and functional in design. The walls punctuated with platforms and towers for keeping watch and shooting, were ingeniously interrupted with projections so that no elephant charge was possible upon the gates.

Maldev's walls, formidable as they were, 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.   Today these gates stand repaired and painted, but unused because the walled section has merged with the expanded new town to make Jodhpur Rajasthan's second largest city. The walls themselves have vanished. Stone by stone they have been stripped for alternate uses in homes and shops and slums.

Jodhpur remained a walled city till the nineteenth century, when under the influence of the British buildings sprang up beyond the walls, two of which were palaces for the Maharaja: The Raika Bagh Palace with its own little railway station and the Ratnada Palace with its private race course.

The Jubilee courts were designed in 1887 to commemorate the golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria and the British Residents home set in 15 acres of estate were all part of the new developments.

Umaid Bhawan Palace is the last of the great palaces of India and one of the largest residences in the world – set amidst 26 acres of lush gardens. Built by Maharaja Umaid Singh, this golden-yellow sandstone monument was conceived on the grandest possible scale, in the fashionable art deco style of that time and designed by the Edwardian architect Henry Lanchester. After 15 years in construction, the 347 room palace was finally completed in 1943 and is residence of the Jodhpur royal family, but is also part heritage hotel attracting the most elite of the world.  It also houses a small museum open to public on payment.

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