Gwalior Fort – History, Palaces, Temples, and Stories

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Gwalior had much more to offer than I thought! Because every time we google about Gwalior fort, the facade of the Gwalior fort is what we see. What is behind that wall of the Gwalior fort was something I never imagined. There are nearly six palaces, four to five temples, ponds and gardens inside! It is usual to see one main palace and then one for the queen plus a harem. But here is a fort filled with palaces! Mostly because Gwalior fort passed on hands from Sens to Tomars to Mughals to British to Marathas to Scindia and each one either destroyed a portion of it or made some modifications or built an entirely new palace! And most of the honour goes to Man Singh Tomar. I particularly loved the love story of Man Singh Tomar and Mrignayni 🙂 Because otherwise there were so many wars fought, lives lost and Jauhar too. So Gwalior fort is filled with too many stories to share.. And here I am to take you around the fort.

View of Gwalior Fort
View of Gwalior Fort

I was at the fort as early as 8 am. Gwalior Fort is on a hilltop, it is a hill fort. If you have a lot of patience, you can walk up to the fort leading to the Hathi Pol Gate. This is the gate through which elephants used to move. This was one of the last gates added to the fort and it has two huge elephant sculptures perched on top of the gates to welcome you. Since this is the way used by elephants, there are no steps and a gradual ascent to the hill. So if you want to hike on cold mornings then this is one of the options. I and hiking are far apart so hired an auto and went up straight to the gates of the fort. The first to come on the way is Assi Khamba Ki Baori. As the name states it is a stepwell and looks more like a parliament inside with round structure and 80 pillars supporting it. From outside also it looks like some administrative office and so I missed peeping in! Many are gonna miss this spot. Especially if you are taking the Hathi pol gate, this Assi Khamba Ki Baori is away from the palace. You have to walk a little. So quite easy to miss. Inside the stepwell are multiple chambers, probably used as a changing place or maybe for the queens to take bath too. From here on a guide noticed the perplexed face of mine and he offered his services and I readily accepted it. I don’t remember what was the guide charges I gave. The story as narrated by him.

Assi Khamba Ki Baori
Assi Khamba Ki Baori

Around the 3rd century there resided a local king by name Suraj Sen. Suraj Sen was affected by leprosy and he goes to a sage by name Gwalipa asking for a cure. And the sage offers him water from a sacred tank and the king gets cured immediately. In honor of the sage, the king constructs the Gwalior fort. Not the current facade but a simpler fort. Gwalipa also bestows the title “Pal” upon the king and tells him, as long as his successors also hold the title, the fort would belong to the King. From then on it is Suraj Sen Pal and the next 83 kings also bear the title Pal. But the 84th king tries to break this rule and names himself Tej Karan, that’s about it. The fort is no longer theirs. I guess they lost it to the Huna empire. The sacred tank is called Suraj Kund and is found inside the Gwalior Fort. Suraj Kund though if you look now does not look anything sacred about it.

Suraj Kund
Suraj Kund

History of Gwalior Fort

Nobody really seems to know exactly when the fort was built. Since Suraj Sen Pal is from the 3rd century, it is roughly believed that the Gwalior fort must have been in existence from before the 10th century. Isn’t it funny that there are no records as to when such a fort was built but then the story of Gwalipa is still alive 🙂 That is pretty much how stories in India stay afloat. After the Huna empire, it was briefly under the rule of Chandelas. But the majority of the period and the most prominent period is that of Tomars. Man Singh Tomar! He ruled the place for nearly 30 years. Raja Man Singh Tomar built the lengthy Gwalior fort wall, the Man Singh Palace, the Gujari Mahal, and many more temples too. He was killed by the Delhi Sultanate and the fort fell in the hands of the Delhi Sultanate. Within a decade Mughal emperor, Babur captures the fort from Ibrahim Lodhi. The Mughals lose it and then gain it. And Akbar decides to use the fort as a prison for political prisoners. Can you imagine that? This magnificent fort which flourished under the Tomars turns into a spot for the prisoners. The underground part of the palace is actually gloomy! One of the prominent prisoners held here was Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru. After the fall of Aurangazeb, the Maratha king Mahadaji Shinde captures the fort. This is also a very short period as the Britishers are already here and the fort falls to the British East India Company. The Anglo – Maratha war keeps going back and forth and when the Britishers had majority control over India they no longer required Gwalior Fort. So they let the Scindias rule Gwalior and hold the fort up until India’s independence. So there are palaces built by Mughals, a Gurudwara built by the Sikhs and a place by Scindias too. With these pointers in mind, let us look at the magnificent Gwalior Fort and the various structures that it consists of.

Gwalior fort walls
Walking around Gwalior forts

Gwalior Fort Wall

It was past 8 am but the December cold was still lingering and the fog was settling over the Gwalior fort. The guide was waiting for us to take a snap or two and move into the palace. But the Gwalior fort wall looks so stunning that I wanted to walk back and forth multiple times. Wonder at the architecture! Wonder at the colours on the wall. Wonder at the tiles still intact on the wall. I mean, imagine all the invasions it has gone through and still some of those coloured tiles are intact. How beautiful it would have been in the past with everything in its full glory. It is said that Babur stood in front of the Gwalior fort and called it, “the pearl amongst the fortresses of Hind“. And I would completely agree with it. Standing 300ft above the ground level on top of Gopachal hill, most of the fort wall runs along the cliff with deep gorges on its side. This strategic placement of the fort on top of the hill helps to keep an eye on the Gwalior city beneath and also look out for any incoming enemy attack. It is one of the reasons why the fort passed on many hands as the empires can strategically place themselves here and prevent them from being attacked or conquered. For the same reasons, Gwalior Fort is also called as Gibraltor of India.

color tiled gwalior fort
The color tiled walls of Gwalior Fort. Note the ducks on top

Man Mandir / Man Singh Palace

This is the best palace inside the Gwalior fort. Man Mandir was built by Raja Man Singh Tomar in 1508 AD for his queens. It is truly an architectural marvel. Not because of the size of it but the richness in carvings. Sandstone always gives you the best opportunity to make intricate carvings and it is pretty evident to see here. From jaali latticework so many techniques can be seen in the rooms of the Man Singh Palace. Between all the beautiful work, you will be suddenly amused to see colored tiles of plantain leaves and yellow rubber duckies. There are 4 stories of the Man Mandir palace and two of them are in the underground. The top two floors have an open courtyard, music hall, king and queen rooms. Most of the rooms have jaali work with small windows for the ladies of the palace to sit and watch.

man singh palace gwalior
Elaborate durbar of Man Singh Palace.

The two storeys of the palace are underground. I kind of don’t know why they had to do it! Cos it is actually claustrophobic and spooky. The steps to reach the underground are steep and narrow. You reach a place which is said to be Jhulaghar. There is a well in the middle and columns around, apparently, there were swings laid here and the ladies would come down to play in the swing and cool off near the well. The well is called as Kesar Kund or apparently the bathing place. The strategically placed windows for light and cross ventilation for air all is a clever plan. But imagine a pond in the open space with swings around the trees and the trees are blooming in spring! But the king thought the underground is the best place to have this setup. God only knows what was running in his mind! But aptly this place turned into a prison during the Mughal era.

  • underground gwalior fort
  • kesar kund

Once you step out of Man Mandir a series of other palaces are lined up. Though it shows 5 more different palaces, they are not as elaborate as the Man Singh Palace. And they stand adjacent to each other. It is like you stand in the middle of a square corridor, to the left one palace, opposite Jahangir palace, to the right another palace, etc. And these are just places or rooms with pillars, not much intricate carvings or things to be amused.

Some more Gwalior Fort Images

man singh palace bedroom
Man Singh Palace
  • palace entrance
  • pillars man mandir mahal
man singh palace darbar
Could have been music hall or temple. Look at the windows for the royal ladies to watch the proceedings.
lattice work mann mandir
The upper floors of Mann Mandir Mahal looking into the courtyard. Note the small window amidst jhaali work
Hathi Pol Gate
The other side of Hathi Pol Gate

Vikram Palace

Vikramaditya was the son of Man Singh Tomar and he built a palace for himself next to the Man Mandir. Very simple palace. There is a Baradari in the middle with rooms on either side. Baradari is like the open door corridor architecture meant for air and light. And then a single story on top. It is also said to have hosted a Shiva temple but the Mughals destroyed it. So now we can just see a Shiva Lingam in the open and people seem to walk in and do pooja to God.

Vikram Mahal Gwalior
Vikram Mahal Gwalior

Jahangir Mahal

Jahangir Mahal was originally built by Sher Shah. But Jehangir restored the palace and used it during his visits to the Gwalior fort hence it gets the name Jahangir Mahal.

Jahangir mahal gwalior fort
Jahangir mahal inside Gwalior fort

Shahjahan Mahal

Opposite to Jahangir Mahal is Shahjahan Mahal built by himself. And it all actually looks like one big corridor. Or a continuation of Jahangir Mahal runs into the Shahjahan Mahal. One can see the change in architecture here. The Mughal influence and less to no lattice work.

Shahjahan mahal gwalior fort
Shahjahan mahal gwalior fort
One of the rooms of Gwalior Fort

Masjid

With the Mughal invasion and the Mughal kings staying here we need a Masjid for them to pray right. So there is a masjid standing along with these palaces too.

masjid gwalior fort
Masjid opposite Jahangir Mahal

Bhim Singh Rana ki Chhatri

From here on the fort actually gets deserted. The entry fee to the Gwalior fort is less. So all the lovers decide to find secretive chambers in the fort around here! Bhim Singh Rana briefly occupied the fort between the Mughals and Maratha rule. He was killed during the war between the Jats and Marathas and so Bhim Singh Rana’s cenotaph lies on one corner of the fort.

Jauhar Kund

Jauhar is when the ladies of the royal family decide to self immolate or die when their king has been captured by the enemy. Done mostly to protect themselves from the invader. Not to land in the hands of the invader as slaves or get raped. So they do this. And here right before the Bhim Singh Rana ki Chhatri is a tank which is marked as Jauhar Kund. So when Man Singh Tomar was killed, his queens and other ladies (said to be around 1000 of them) did johar here. Such were the lives of the royal ladies. Either you get to swing in the jhula or jump into the fire :/

Bhim Singh Rana ki Chhatri jauhar kund
Jauhar Kund in the front with Bhim Singh Rana ki Chhatri standing behind

Karan Mahal

Karan Mahal was constructed by Kirti Singh, the second ruler of the Tomar Dynasty. This mahal was constructed sometime in 1480 – 1486. Kirthi Singh was also known as Karan Singh and hence the palace gets the name Karan Mahal. Karan Mahal is kind of in a dilapidated state but it is one of the first palaces and so we can spot a darabar hall, a prison, a hamam and similar things around. It is a two storey building and you can walk up and check out the whole palace.

karan mahal
Karan Mahal inside Gwalior Fort
karan mahal Gwalior fort
Karan Mahal

Gujari Mahal View Point

As you walk through the palaces of the hill you come to a spot from where you can see the Gujari Mahal. This is the best part of the story that I want to talk about. The love story of Raja Man Singh Tomar and Mrignayani, a Gujar princess. When Raja Man Singh Tomar went on a hunting expedition, he comes across a Gujar girl called Ninni! You might have heard stories of how men tame the buffaloes to impress and marry girls, here the story is the other way round. The Gujjar girl was seen handling two buffaloes which were fighting and got their horns tangled in the fight. She is seen untangling the horns of two mighty buffaloes and the king is super carried away with her beauty, bravery and valor. He asks her to become her queen and she places three conditions to come along with him to Gwalior.

  • Gujars are not Kshatriyas but farmers, so her first condition is to be treated with equal status like that of his other queens.
  • Second is that she will accompany the king wherever he goes, that would be for hunting or to the court or to the battlefield.
  • Third condition is she asks for water to be supplied from the river Rai that runs through her village as she believes that attributes to her beauty and strength.

The smitten Man Singh names the Gujjar princess as Mrignanyani which means eyes like that of a deer (gazelle to be precise). Since it was difficult to get the water system up to the hill fort, he builds the palace on the foothills and it is called the Gujari Mahal. The water pipes run all the way from her village to the palace. From the Gwalior Fort, there is a separate path that leads to the Gujari Mahal. So every time he comes back to the fort or leaves the fort he uses this path, stops by the Mahal and then proceeds. Mrignayani was the ninth queen of Man Singh Tomar. She did not wear the ghoonghat (the veil to hide your face) and would accompany Man Singh to the battlefield. She also learned music from Haridas and the king and queen sat together and enjoyed music shows. Needless to say, she earned the wrath of the other eight queens.

Gujari Mahal
Gujari Mahal as seen from the Gwalior fort

Chaturbhuj temple aka Zero Temple

Walking down the Hathi Pol gate you will find the placard directing you to the Chaturbhuj temple. The temple is almost in ruins. It is a Vishnu temple. The notable fact though is that there is a plaque here with an inscription of “0”. This is considered to be one of the first representations of zero. It is said that while numerals 1-9 existed, zero was always told as nothing, void, empty or in our language “shunya”. But this is the first representation of zero and it makes life and maths lot easier with the introduction of zero. So India is the country to introduce “zero” to the world 🙂

Chaturbhuj zero temple gwalior
Way to Zero Temple inside Gwalior Fort

These are the monuments and places that you can walk around Gwalior Fort and cover. There are many more temples like the rock-cut Jain temples of Gopachal hills, Sas Bahu Temple, Teli ka mandir and few more attractions which are within the fort complex but cannot be covered by foot. I am writing this as a separate post cos it definitely needs all that attention.

Around Gwalior Fort
Walking around Gwalior Fort

Facts about Gwalior Fort

  • Gwalior Fort is called “Gibraltor of India” because of its massive wall standing on the cliff of a hill. The defensive mechanism is so thoughtful that heavy machines and animals cannot easily climb up this hill.
  • The fort was used more as a prison and many kings were executed here.
  • The walls of the fort are made of solid sandstone. It rises to a height of 35 feet and runs a length of 2.5km.
  • The entry fee to Gwalior fort is 25 rs for adults, 40 INR for children and 250 INR for foreigners. This ticket holds good for all the monuments within the Gwalior fort. Gujari palace has a separate entrance ticket.
  • The Gwalior Fort is open from morning 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
  • The sound and light show happens twice. The show in the Hindi language is at 7:30 pm and in English, it is at 8:30 pm. I did not attend the sound and light show so am not sure how worth it is. Charges are extra. Online information says 100 INR.
  • The little yellow bus leaves from Madhya Pradesh Tourism office in the morning. The bus needs a minimum eight passengers to start the tour. The tour starts from the Tansen Residency hotel (the MP Tourism office is located inside the hotel). It is a half-day tour and covers Jai Villas palace as well as Gwalior Fort. It is not really a hop on hop off bus kind. But a bus that you can join for the sightseeing.

More about how to reach Gwalior, where to stay in Gwalior, you can find it in this Gwalior City guide – Gwalior Travel Guide

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