India is a multi-faceted country, and her forts and monuments are a source of pride and honor, as they reflect the architecture and lifestyle of a bygone era. The vision behind fort architecture goes a long way in representing India’s vast, rich and varied cultural history.
In India, the forts of Rajasthan are known to have the finest architecture of all. Rajputs, despite their preoccupation with wars, were great patrons of art and architecture. Among the numerous forts that they built the Amer Fort is one of the most magnificent. The fort is located on the Aravalli Range, which acts as a protective shield to the outer structure of the fort. Located strategically on a forested hilltop (Cheel ka Teel -the hill of the eagles), it is also known as Amer ka Qila. It epitomizes the Giri Parshva Durga style. In this unique architectural style, fortifications and civilian structures are not just limited to the summit of a hill but also extend down the slope to the bottom. Additionally, such forts have a harsh exterior and an inviting interior.
The Amer Fort was built by the Kachwaha Rajputs and acted as their governing seat prior to Jaipur. Started in the 11th century, it took close to 100 years to complete this structure. Among the rulers of the Kachwaha clan, Man Singh I, Mirza Raja Jai Singh I, and Sawai Jai Singh II possessed a great flair for architecture. This is reflected in the spectacular design of the fort. The architecture of Amer Fort can be summed up as a perfect blend of art and nature. The fortifications and palaces inside it were made of red sandstone and white marble. The use of precious stones, mirrors, and intricate carvings were also harmoniously blended into this robust structure.
The history of the Amer Fort is filled with battles. Cannons currently placed inside the fort protected it during sieges. Amongst these, the ‘Annexation of Amer’ is considered to be a pivotal one. This battle began on the 10th of November 1708, when the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah began his march to Amer. He dethroned Maharaja Jai Singh and made Bijai Singh, the brother of Jai Singh the acting governor of Amer. This brought to an end, the sovereign rule of the Rajputs over Amer.
Rajput forts and palaces have a very complex composition. The architecture of Amer Fort is a beautiful blend of both indigenous and Mughal styles. The Palace of Maharaja Man Singh inside the fort complex was constructed in the indigenous style, whereas the later additions made by Mirza Raja Jai Singh I and Sawai Jai Singh II exhibit a more Saracenic influence. This is attributed to the growing connection and cultural exchange between the Rajputs and the Mughals. The architecture of the palaces and other public buildings show a Mughal influence, while the temples were predominantly influenced by the indigenous North Indian style of architecture.
The Amer Fort overlooks an artificially created lake named the Maota Lake. This lake also acted as a defensive embankment as one needed to cross it before encountering the massive walls of the fort. The lake reflects the beautiful image of the fort in its waters. It contains an island at the center named the Kesar Kyari Bagh. The island has a saffron garden, believed to have been built in the 15th century. It is believed that the lake was perhaps the major source of water for the inhabitants of the fort.
Strengthened with several gates, the fort had two important entrances- one from Dalaram’s garden - Suraj Pol and the other from the town side - Chand Pol. The lower terrace of the palace was surrounded by a huge courtyard - Jaleb Chowk which was used by the Royal Army for parades. The Chowk was further surrounded by blocks of buildings. The other two essential gateways of the fort were Singhpol and Ganeshpol. The royal palaces were accessed through the Singhpol which was a double gateway. This gate opened out into the Diwan-i-Aam. Ganesh pol, which is stated to be the most ornate entrance to the palace, lies to the southern side of Diwan-i-Aam. Built by Raja Sawai Jai Singh II, this gateway gave access to the inner court and the principal apartments of the kings. The top of the gateway was mounted by a pavilion called Sohag Mandir, the windows of which were used by the royal ladies to watch the ceremonial functions held in the Diwan-i-Aam.
The Diwan-i-Aam (the hall of public audience) was the contribution of Mirza Raja Jai Singh and was constructed in the north-east part of the court. This hall was used by the king to listen to the grievances of his subjects and also for public meetings and festive celebrations. The Diwan-i-Khas or the hall of private audiences was exclusively used by the royal family and the nobility. The notable segments of the Diwan-i-Khas were the Sheesh Mahal and Jasmandir.
The palace of Man Singh, another important structure was accessed through the terrace of Diwan-i-Khas. Connected to the palace of Raja Man Singh was the biggest edifice built inside the fort, the Zanana Palace. Commissioned by Man Singh, it consisted of a large quadrangle surrounded by a single-story block of buildings, which consisted of living chambers and dalans and was used to house the queens and consorts of the king along with their female attendants.
To the North-East of Amer Fort is another prominent structure, the Jaigarh Fort. The Amer Fort, in fact, has a fascinating association with the latter. The two structures were connected by a two-kilometer-long secret tunnel, located behind the Zanana Palace. The tunnel was built to allow the royal family to escape to the Jaigarh Fort if the Amer Fort was under attack. It is also said that the same secret tunnel was used to carry the treasures of the rulers to the hidden chambers which were built below a huge water tank in the Jaigarh Fort. It is believed that this water tank could store 6 million gallons of water. Legends say that after a successful conquest, Maharaja Man Singh was the last ruler to hide his treasure below this water tank.
The fort complex also houses various temples. The most important among them is the Sila Devi’s Temple also known as the Kali Temple. It was dedicated to Sila Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Kali. The story of the origin of the temple is full of legends and lore. It is believed that before leaving for the Battle of Bengal in 1604, Maharaja Man Singh sought the blessings of Goddess Kali to defeat the Raja of Jessore in Bengal. It is said that the goddess appeared before the king in a dream and instructed him to retrieve her idol from the sea and install it in a temple. This, they say, is how the temple came into existence. Another narrative about the construction of this temple is that the stone which was used to carve out the main deity of the temple was an offering to Man Singh as a token for his victory in the Battle of Bengal. The goddess enshrined in the temple is believed to be the protector of the city of Amer and is honored annually with the sacrifice of a goat or a buffalo.
Another significant temple in the fort is that of Jagat Siroman Ji, a Vaishnavite temple situated at the north-west foot of the fort hill. It was built by Rani Shringarde Kunkavati in memory of her son Kunwar Jagat Singh, who was the eldest son of Man Singh. Another temple of Narsingh Ji was built by Rani Sishodini, the mother of Mirza Raja Jai Singh I (1645).
The Amer Fort exhibits the glory and legacy of the Kachwaha dynasty, which lasted for more than a century. The spectacular architecture of this monument remains unmatched to this day. The Fort stands as a grand reminder of the glory of the Kachwaha Rajputs and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
That palace which was built lofty in the sky,
On the threshold of which kings laid their eye,
Seated on the battlement of which doves now cry,
‘Where is all that glory, and where all who
Built this has passed by?’
- Umar Khayyam
Jaipur and Amber by B.L. Dhama