Forts of India Documentary : Kalinjar Fort

Narration by : Prof Pushpesh K. Pant, JNU Delhi
d by: G.S. Channi
Produced by: Doordarshan, Govt of India

Lost in the mists of time, most ancient fort in all Hindustan, unparalleled for its strength and invincibility. It stands on its famous hill, 800 feet up on the last spur of the Vindhya mountains, an awesome embodiment of Hindu power reaching back beyond recorded history to Vedic times. The crenellations of its grey serpentine walls seem to grow out of the very rock, belying in their grim visage the splendour and beauty of sculpture to be found within.

Kalinjar is inextricably linked to the fortunes of the Chandella king of Jijhoti or Bundelkhand. The Raisa, the great epic poem of Chand Bardai, court poet to the Rajput Emperor Prithviraj Chauhan of Delhi, records how his master defeated the Chandellas in 1182, and tells the tale of their creation. At the entrance to Kalinjar’s Neel Kanth Temple, a polished black stone tablet, perhaps 10th-century, declares the Chandella lineage.

Successive Muslim invasions weakened the fort’s defences, and then in 1182 the rival Chandella forces were crushed by the Hindu Chauhan Emperor. In 1203 Kalinjar fell to the Muslim hosts of Qutb-ud-din Aibak, first of Delhi’s slave dynasty, who defeated by siege the last of the Chandel rajas, Parmadideva. The sanctity of Kalinjar was violated. Zealous in their sack and destruction of the infidel fortress, the Muslims laid waste a rich and precious prize, blind to its glories, ignorant of its meaning.

The steep and stony route up to the fort is hard work even for peaceable visitors. Most castles and forts of the ancient world were allied to portents and manifestations of a greater power than man’s. the way to Kalinjar is crossed by seven gates in varying styles, all of them guarded by barbicans of sorts, and seven in allusion to the seven known planets and the stations through which the soul must pass in aspiring to absorption in Brama: the second gate is called Swarg Rohan, the Heaven-ascending Gate.

At the crest, turning from views of farming countryside, crumbling Hindu and Muslim monuments stand side by side on the mile-long plateau where once Chandella armies assembled: chattris and shrines with minarets, the palaces of queens, with jail-work or onion domes and lotus frieze.

Near the Koth Tirth mandir are the ruins of King Aman Singh’s palace; its courtyard, bordered by two rows of peacock arches and once the scene of graceful dancing, is peopled differently now. Princeless stone relics are ranged everywhere, collected from all over the site : beautiful heads; languorous torsos; a dancing Ganesha; Nandi bulls in profusion; a model temple complete with figures like a miniature Khajurao; a reclining Shive – on and on this amazing display of rare and rarely seen sculpture lies like an embodiment of the legend: kal, jar.

From a gateway in the preserved inner curtain wall two flights of steps lead down to Kalinjar’s holiest place, the Neel Kanth Temple of Shiva. There are weathered inscriptions and marvelous rock carvings to be seen on the way down: a toppled figure with the face of Hanuman, a boar incarnation of Vishnu, a superb life-size dancing Ganesha wearing ankle bells, sinuous, pot-bellied and utterly captivating. Outside the sanctuary is an early hexagonal mandapa or pavilion, roofless now but with its exquisite pillars, capitals and mouldings still in place. Inside the cave I the blue stone lingam with silver eyes, object of veneration for more than 1000 years. A carved stone frieze tells stories from Hindu mythology, redolent of a fertile and all-encompassing culture. There is a sense that life holds its breath in this cave; it is very far from earthly things.

A giant Kal Bhairav is cut into the rock face nearby : Shiva in his opposite, destroyer, form, with 18 arms holding a sword, a skull, decorated with snake armlets, and a serpent twining round the neck. A carving of the goddess Kali stands close by; water seeping from a spring runs over both statues, imparting a lifelike glisten to the stony flesh.

Courtesy: G. S. Channi & Gyandev Singh (Doordarshan)