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The Enchanting Mandu Fort

The historic hill fort of Mandu sits atop the Vindhya range in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh. Designed as a fortified city, Mandu is renowned for its immense size and impressive architecture. It is also famous for the poignant love story of Sultan Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati.

A view of the Bidar Fort

Mandu Fort. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons


The origins of the fort are obscure. A 6th century inscription suggests that Mandu was a flourishing fort-town since ancient times. However, it is unclear who originally built the fort. By the early 14th century, the Paramara dynasty ruled over the region of Malwa, which contained the Mandu Fort. In 1305, the Paramara king Rai Mahalak Dev, was defeated by Alauddin Khalji’s forces. Consequently, the Delhi Sultanate controlled Mandu for over a century.

Dilawar Khan, the governor appointed by the Delhi Sultanate, rebelled and asserted his independent authority over Malwa in 1401. Khan was succeeded by his son Hoshang Shah, who designated Mandu as his capital and named it as Shadiabad or the ‘City of Joy.’ Later, a Minister named Mohammad Khan seized control and established the Khalji dynasty of Mandu in 1436. This dynasty battled the Gujarat Sultanate, the Delhi Sultanate, the Bahmani Sultanate, as well as the Kingdom of Mewar.

In 1531, Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat succeeded in capturing the fort of Mandu. He held onto it for four years, before being defeated by the Mughal emperor Humayun. In 1542, Malwa was taken over by Sher Shah Suri, who appointed a General named Shujaat Khan to administer the region. Shujaat Khan was succeeded by his son Baz Bahadur, who once again assumed independence. Baz Bahadur was a highly accomplished poet and musician. He is remembered for his legendary romance with a beautiful singer named Roopmati. In 1561, Baz Bahadur battled the Mughals and was defeated. As the Mughal forces entered Mandu, Roopmati is said to have consumed a draught of deadly poison.

Following the Mughal conquest, Akbar visited the fortified settlement in 1564 and 1598. Later, Jahangir stayed at Mandu for a brief period. He was accompanied by the English diplomat Thomas Roe who wrote about the visit in detail. In 1625, Prince Khurram took shelter at the fort while rebelling against his father Jahangir. The Marathas briefly established control over Mandu in 1696 and then again in 1709. However, it was only after the Battle of Tirla in 1734 that the Mughal forces at Mandu were decisively defeated by the Marathas.

Subsequently, the fort was largely abandoned and became the abode of tigers and other wild animals. During the colonial period, the Mandu Fort passed into the hands of the Raja of Dhar and served as a hunting spot for Europeans. After independence, the Princely State of Dhar was merged with India. The fort wall and other structures at Mandu are currently under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India.


The fort occupies an entire hill, which is ringed by a battlemented wall measuring 37 kilometers. There are twelve outer gates of the fort, many of which bear inscriptions pertaining to their construction and repair. The Garhi Darwaza (Carriage Gate) forms the main entrance to the fort and lies towards the north. Massive circular bastions flank many of the gates.

One of the most distinctive monuments within the fort is the Hindola Mahal. Built in the 15th century, this T-shaped building consists of a main hall with slanting projections to the side. The hall has six arched openings in either direction and originally possessed a massive vaulted roof that is now lost to the vagaries of time. The palace is named the Hindola (“swing”) Mahal because of its sloped buttresses that make it appear as if the building is tilting from side to side.

A view of the Bidar Fort

Hindola Mahal. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Another striking structure is the Jahaz Mahal or Ship Palace. Located between the Munj and Kapur water tanks, this palace resembles a magnificent ship at sea. A grand staircase, beautiful lotus-shaped pools, and numerous domed pavilions can be found inside this sturdy edifice. The monument was built by Ghiyasuddin Khalji to house his harem of 1500 women. The oldest Indo-Islamic structure at Mandu Fort is Dilawar Khan’s Mosque. The design of this mosque shows considerable influence of Hindu architectural styles, particularly in the ceiling of the prayer hall.

A view of the Bidar Fort

Jahaz Mahal. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Tomb of Hoshang Shah is another stunning Indo-Islamic structure. Built on a square plan, this tomb is topped by a dome that is crowned by a crescent. Well-proportioned arched openings mark three sides of the building while four small dome-shaped turrets rise from each corner. Hoshang Shah’s mausoleum is believed to be the first tomb in India that was constructed entirely out of marble. Shah Jahan sent four of his architects to survey the tomb before constructing the iconic Taj Mahal.

A view of the Bidar Fort

Tomb of Hoshang Shah. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Before his death, Hoshang Shah began building the majestic Jami Masjid at Mandu. The construction was ultimately completed by Mahmud Khalji in 1454 CE. Simple yet grand in its design, this mosque has a huge dome, several arched openings, and a spacious hall lined by jali screens. Attached to the Jami Masjid is a large quadrangle that served as a school or Madrasa. The quadrangle was enclosed by small cells for students with four round towers standing at each corner. The northeastern tower was raised to the height of seven storeys by Mahmud Khalji, to commemorate his triumph over Rana Kumbha of Mewar. Only one storey of the tower survives today.

A view of the Bidar Fort

Jami Masjid. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

A more mature and refined style of architecture can be seen in monuments from the late 15th and early 16th century. The palaces linked to Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati belong to this period. The queen is said to have walked down daily to a pavilion near her palace and watched the Narmada River in the distance. The terraces and pavilions of these two palaces are believed to have been the site of many musical evenings involving Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati.

A view of the Bidar Fort

Rani Roopmati Mahal Pavilion. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Mandu Fort was designed with an intricate water harvesting system. Along with more than 1200 water tanks, several stepwells (baodi), underground channels, indoor cisterns, rooftop reservoirs, pulley systems and interconnected pipes within pillars were used to supply water to each building within the fort. Today, only a few tanks and the main water passages survive, reminding visitors of the ancient knowledge that enabled Mandu to prosper.

A view of the Bidar Fort

Baodi at Mandu Fort. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Featuring in a number of Indian films, the Mandu Fort has become a symbol of eternal love in the popular imagination. The ancient fortress boasts of a fascinating history involving several powerful kingdoms. It is also home to some of the most unique architecture in India.