Short History of Kalinjar Fort

by Sir Alexander Cunningham
Oxford University
Founder, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)

Sir Alexander Cunningham ASI

The fort of Kalanjar is one of the most famous places in India. In A.D. 1023, it withstood the army of Mahmud of Ghazni, but was shortly surrendered, and the Raja was received into favour on presenting some highly complimentary verses to the great conqueror.1 In 1545 it held out against the redoubtable Sher Shah, and was not captured until the besiegers had been roused to fury when their king had been mortally wounded by the bursting of a shell in the trenches. In 1812 it repulsed the assault of a British force under Colonel Martindell, but the fort was surrendered on the following morning, as the Raja doubted whether he would be able to withstand a second assault. The terms were very favourable, as he received an estate of equal value in the plain.

Kalanjar is situated 90 miles to the west-south-west of Allahabad, and 60 miles to the north-west of Rewa. The fort stands on an isolated flat-topped hill of the Vindhya range, which here rises to a height of 800 feet above the plain. The lower part of the ascent is tolerably easy, but the middle portion is very steep, while the upper part is nearly perpendicular and quite inaccessible. The main body of the fort, which lies from east to west, is oblong in form, being nearly a mile in length by half a mile in breadth. At the north angle there is a large projecting spur nearly a quarter of a mile square, which overhangs the town ; and on the middle of the southern face there is another projection of about the same size, but triangular in shape. The distance between the extreme points of these two projections is nearly 1 mile. The whole area is therefore considerably less than 1 square mile, while the parapet walls are nearly 4 miles in length.

Kalanjar is often compared with Gwalior, under the belief that the two forts are about the same size. But Gwalior is if mile in length by half a mile in breadth, with a parapet of rather more than 5 miles in extent. Kalanjar, however, has the advantage of Gwalior in height, being upwards of 800 feet above the plain, while Gwalior is under 400 feet. But the water-supply of Gwalior is permanent and good, while that of Kalanjar is uncertain, and has failed on several important occasions.

Kalanjar has been occupied from the most remote times. According to Wilson, it is mentioned in the Vedas as one of the tapasyasthanas, or ( spots adopted to practices of austere devotion." In the Mahabharata it is stated that whoever bathes in the lake of the gods in Kalanjar acquires the same merit as if he had made a gift of 1,000 cows. In the Padma Purana it is named as one of the nine holy places in Northern India. " Renuka, Sukara, Kasi, Kali, Kala, Bateswarah, Kalanjara, Mahakala, Ukhala nava Kirttnah,"—that is, " Renuka (near Agra), Sukara (Soron on the Ganges), Kasi (Benares), Kali, Kala (or Karra on the Ganges), Bateswara (two of the name), Kalanjara, Mahakala (or Ujain), are the nine famous Ukhalas" But all these notices refer solely to the sanctity of the hill as the resort of tapaswis, or holy ascetics. The overhanging rocks afforded shelter to the Rishis, and the rain water percolating through the rocks from above gave them drink. The hills of Asirgarh and Gwalior were similarly occupied by holy ascetics before they were made into fortresses. At the former the famous saint Aswathama gave his name to Aswathamagiri, and at the latter place the holy hermit Gwalipa gave his name to Gwali-awar. But the name of Kalanjaradri, or the hill of Kalanjara, is said to have been derived from Siva himself, who, as Kala, or " Time," causes all things to decay {jar), and who is therefore the destroyer of all things, and the god of death. Tapaswis, or ascetics, of Kalanjara were therefore devoted to the worship of Siva.

The oldest historical mention of Kalanjara as a fortress is in A.D. 1023, when the place was besieged by Mahmud of Ghazni during the reign of the Chandel Raja Ganda Deva. Its erection as a fortress is universally attributed to Chandra Varmma, the traditional founder of the Chandela family. But the inscriptions are silent as to Chandra Varmma, and give Nannuka as the founder of the family. There is, besides, good evidence to show that Kalanjara was a famous fortress even before the rise of the Chandelas. The Kalachuris of Southern India claim descent from a son of Siva, named Krishna, by a Brahmani mother, who slew the king of Kalanjarapura, and afterwards took possession of the (i nine-lakh country of Ddhala Mandala" (or Chedi). Now the Chedis, or Kalachuris, had possession of Dahala Mandala (Tipurra or Tewar on the Narbada) as early as the 6th century, when they came into contact with Mangalisa Chalukya. Their occupation of Kalanjara must, therefore, have occurred some time earlier. I have already suggested that this event may have given rise to the Chedi or Kalachuri era, which, as I have shown, dates from A.D. 249. But the fort of Kalanjara must already have existed for some time before it attracted the notice of the Kalachuri chief Krishna. It seems highly probable, therefore, that the fortress may have been founded at least as early as the beginning of the Christian era.

The actual history of Kalanjara begins in A.D. 1019, when Mahmud of Ghazni advanced to the frontier of the Kalanjara Raja's dominions. The Raja collected a large army of 36,000 horse, 105,000 foot, and 640 elephants to oppose him. The result is thus related by the historian Nizam-ud-din Ahmad:

"When the Sultan approached his camp, he first sent an ambassador, calling upon him to acknowledge fealty and embrace the Muhammadan faith. Nanda refused these conditions, and prepared to fight. Upon this the Sultan reconnoitred Nanda's army from an eminence, and observing its vast numbers, he regretted his having come thither. Prostrating himself before God, he prayed for success and victory. When night came on, great fear and alarm entered the mind of Nanda, and he fled with some of his personal attendants leaving all his baggage and equipments. The next day the Sultan, being apprized of this, rode out on horseback without any escort, and carefully examined the ground. When he was satisfied that there was no ambush and strategical device, he stretched out his hands for plunder and devastation. Immense booty fell into the hands of the Musalmans, and 580 of Nanda's elephants, which were in the neighbouring woods, were taken. The Sultan, loaded with victory and success, returned to Ghazni."

No reason is given by the historian for Mahmud's retirement. Ferishta, however, suggests that Mahmud must have been apprehensive about what might occur in the Punjab and other countries in his rear, and was satisfied with what he had done that year. It seems more probable, however, that Mahmud retired because he was doubtful of the result, and, like a prudent general, he went back to Ghazni to return with a large force.

Accordingly in A.H. 413 (A.D. 1022, or according to Ferishta one year later), Mahmud again undertook an expedition against the territory of Nanda (Ganda Deva). " Having reached the fort of Gwalior, he besieged it. Four days after, the chief of the place sent messengers promising 35 elephants, and solicited protection. The Sultan agreed to the terms, and from thence proceeded to Kalanjar. This is a fort unparalleled in the whole country of Hindustan for its strength. He invested this fort also, and after a while, Nanda, its chief, presented 300 elephants, and sued for peace. As these animals were sent out of the fort without riders, the Sultan ordered the Turks to seize and mount them. The enemy perceiving this was much surprised, and Nanda sent a copy of Hindi verses in praise of the Sultan, who gave it to the learned men of Hind and other poets who were at his court, who all bestowed their admiration upon them. He was much pleased with the compliment, and in return conferred on him the government of 15 forts, besides some other presents. Nanda acknowledged this favour by sending immense riches and jewels to the Sultan, who then victoriously and triumphantly returned to Ghazni."

Kalanjar is not mentioned again until after the occupation of Delhi by the Muhammadans, when Kutb-ud-din Aibak advanced to besiege it. According to the historian Hasan Nizami: "The accursed Parmar, the Rai of Kalanjar, fled into the fort after a desperate resistance in the field, and afterwards surrendered himself, and 'placed the collar of subjection' round his neck, and on his promise of allegiance, was admitted to the same favours as his ancestor had experienced from Mahmud Subuktigin, and engaged to make a payment of tribute and elephants, but he died a natural death before he could execute any of his engagements. His Dewan, or Mahtea, by name Aj Deo, was not disposed to surrender so easily as his master, and gave his enemies much trouble, until he was compelled to capitulate, in consequence of severe drought having dried up all the reservoirs of water in the forts. On Monday, the 20th of Rajab, the garrison, in an extreme state of weakness and distraction, came out of the fort, and by compulsion left their native place empty, and the fort of Kalanjar, which was celebrated throughout the world for being as strong as the wall of Alexander, was taken. The temples were converted into mosques and abodes of goodness, and the ejaculations of the bead-counters and the voices of the summoners to prayer ascended to the highest heaven, and the very name of idolatry was annihilated. Fifty-thousand men came under the collar of slavery, and the plain became black as pitch with Hindus. Elephants and cattle, and countless arms, also became the spoil of the victors."

The full name of this Raja was Paramdrddi Deva but he is usually known even to this day as Parmdl Raja, and to him the downfall of the Chandel dynasty is universally ascribed. According to Ferishta the Raja was assassinated by his minister, who again hoisted the Hindu flag on the fort. But the place was soon reduced by the failure of the spring which supplied the garrison with water.

The government of Kalanjar was entrusted to Hazabbarud-din Hasan Arnal, and the fort thus became a part of the Muhammadan kingdom of Delhi. But it soon fell into the hands of the Hindus, probably during the weak reign of Aram Shah in A.H. 607, as it is related by Minhaj that Iltitmish sent a force against Kalanjar in A.H. 631, when the Raja fled. The army returned with much plunder, but the fort remained in the possession of the Hindus.

Again, in A.H. 645 (A.D, 1247) Minhaj gives an account of a Raja with the mysterious name of Dalaki-Malaki, who occupied a hill fort to the south of the Jumna, who managed to escape from his fort while his women and children fell into the hands of the Muhammadans. Four years later in A.H. 649 (A.D. 1251) the Muhammadan troops from Bayana, Sultankot, Kanauj, and Gwalior were sent to ravage the territories of Kalanjar.

Again, in A.H. 653 (A.D. 1255) Malik Kutlugh Khan, who had married the king's mother, rebelled, and being obliged to fly, took refuge in Kalanjar.

During all this time the fort was in the hands of the Hindus, and so it most probably remained for nearly three centuries more until it was taken by Sher Shah in A.D. 1545. During the strong reign of Ala-ud-din Khilji it might, no doubt, have been taken easily, but that king was too intent upon the plunder of the rich states of Southern India to care for the capture of a fort which had already been plundered by his predecessors. The shortness of Tughlak's reign alone prevented the annexation of Gwalior, Kalanjar, and other similar places. From the time of Muhammad Tughlak, when the Muhammadan dominions began to break up into a number of small states, Kalanjar remained in the quiet possession of the Hindus under the descendants of their old Chandela Rajas.

In A.H. 937 (A.D. 1530), a few months after his accession, Humayun invested Kalanjar, but gave up the siege on the Raja expressing his fealty. In A.H. 952 (A.D. 1545) Sher Shah laid seige to Kalanjar. According to Ahmad Yadgar his reason for attacking the place was because the Raja refused to give up Bir Singh Deo Bundela, who had sought refuge with him. On Friday, the 9th of the 1st Rabia, while standing in the trenches, the king was badly wounded by a shell or rocket, which rebounded from the wall of the fort. On being carried to his tent he gave orders for an immediate assault. The historian Albas Khan says: — " Men came and swarmed out instantly on every side like ants and locusts, and by the time of afternoon prayers captured the fort, putting every one to the sword, and sending all the infidels to hell. About the hour of evening prayers the intelligence of the victory reached Sher Shah, and marks of joy and pleasure appeared on his countenance. Raja Kirat Singh, with 70 men, remained in a house. Kutb Khan the whole night long watched the house in person lest the Raja should escape. Sher Shah said to his sons that none of his nobles need watch the house, so that the Raja escaped out of the house, and the labour and trouble of this long watching was lost. The next day at sunrise, however, they took the Raja alive. On the 10th Rabi-ul-awal, 952 A.H. (May 1545), Sher Shah went from the hostel of this world to rest in the mansion of happiness, and ascended peacefully from the abode of this world to the lofty heavens. The date was discovered in the words azdlash murd " He died from fire.'

When Islam Shah reached the camp at Kalanjar his first act was to order the Raja's execution. In the early part of Akbar's reign the fort of Kalanjar came into the hands of the Baghel chief of Rewa, Raja Ramchandar, who in A.H. 977 (or A.D. 1569) made it over to Akbar. After that it remained for upwards of 120 years in the undisturbed possession of the Mughal kings of Delhi. Towards the end of the reign of Aurangzeb the fort was captured by the bold Bundela chief Chhatrasal. Apparently no attempt was made to recover it, and on the accession of Bahadur Shah in A.D. 1707, the Emperor confirmed Chhatr Sal in all his conquests.

On the death of the Bundela chief his dominions were divided between his sons, and the fort of Kalanjar became part of the state of Panna, under the rule of Raja Hardeo Shah. At the beginning of the present century the fort still belonged nominally to Panna, but was actually in the possession of a family of Brahman brothers named Daryau Singh, Gangadhar, and others. Daryau Singh and Gangadhar were confirmed in their possession by the British Government. But as Daryau presuming on the strength of the fortress, gave shelter to bands of plunderers, and openly defied the British authority it was determined to take Kalanjar from him, and thus to reduce his power of doing mischief. Kalanjar was accordingly invested by Colonel Martindell in 18 12, and, though his assault was repulsed, yet the chiefs were so doubtful of making a successful resistance that they surrendered the fortress the next day on the condition of receiving an estate of equal value in the plain below. Since then Kalanjar remained in the hands of the British Government. At first it was held by a regular garrison, but since the mutiny the walls have been dismantled.

The antiquities of Kalanjar were first noticed by Pogson, but they have since been very fully and ably described by Lieutenant Maisey (now General) in an interesting paper accompanied by numerous illustrations. I can add but little to his account of the antiquities of the place, but I have been fortunate in obtaining several inscriptions, and more especially some early ones, which escaped his notice.

There are two entrances to the fort of Kalanjar, of which the principal is on the north side towards the town, and the other at the south-east angle leading towards Panna. This latter, which is still called the Panna Gate, is now closed. The other entrance is guarded by seven different gates, which, beginning from below, are named as follows :

The number of seven gates suggested to Colonel Pogson that Kalanjar must have been the " seat of solar worship " which he supposed to be confirmed by the name of Ravichitra:

"the former word signifying the sun, and the latter a holy place." But Rava-chitra simply means "sun-spotted ;" and it is further unfortunate for the solar theory that during the Hindu rule there were only six gates, the lowest gate named the Alam Darwaza, having been added during the reign of the Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir.

There is an ascent of about 200 feet up to the lowest gate, which is a battlemented building in the modern Muhammadan style. Over the archway outside there is a rhyming Persian inscription of three lines, recording the constructing of the gate by Muhammad Murad, during the reign of the Emperor Aurangzeb, when it was made as strong as the wall of Alexander.

The date is given in the numerical value  —  60 + 4 + 70 + 900+ 10 + 40= 1084 A.H., or A.D. 1673, in the 15th year of the reign of Aurangzeb Alamgir, after whom the gate received its name of Alam Darwaza. Above this there is a steep ascent, chiefly by steps, to the second gate called the Ganes Darwaza.

At a short distance higher up in the bend of the road stands the third gate, named the Chandi Darwaza. As noted by Lieutenant Maisey, there is, in fact, a double gate, with four towers,. on which account it is also known as the Chau-burji Darwaza or " gate of the Four Towers." At this gateway there are several pilgrims' records of various dates, as given by Lieutenant Maisey, with the following dates : Samvat 1 199, 1572, 1580, and 1600. The latest of these, Samvat 1600, or A.D. 1543, records the final capture of the fort by Sher Shah a mistake of two years. On the rock close by there is a much older inscription of fifteen lines, of the later Gupta period, which appears to have escaped the notice of Lieutenant Maisey. It is very nearly complete, but not in very good order. I can find neither date nor king's name in it.

The fourth gate, named Budha-bhadra Darwaza, is the gate of the " auspicious planet Mars (Budha)." It is also named the Swarga-rokana, or " Heaven-ascending Gate," owing to the stiff climb required to reach it. It possesses only one inscription of a pilgrim, dated in Samvat 1580, or A.D. 1523.

The fifth gate, or Hanuman Darwaza, is so named after a figure of the monkey-god carved on a slab resting against the rock. There is also a reservoir called Hanuman-kund. There are, besides, numerous rock sculptures, which are very much weather-worn. Many, however, are still quite recognizable, such as Mahadeva and Parvati, Ganesa, the Bull Nandi, and the Lingam. Two inscriptions of pilgrims were noticed by Lieutenant Maisey, dated in Samvat 1530 and Samvat 1580. On the ascent beyond there are many weather-worn figures carved on the rock representing Kali, Chandika, and the Lingam. There is also a small cave, or niche, containing a broken figure of Honuman. There are several short inscriptions of pilgrims, with the dates of Samvat 1560 and 1600.

The sixth gate, called the Lal Darwaza, from its red colour, stands near the top of the ascent To the west of this gate, in the Raoni, or faussebraie) immediately above the Bhairavakund, there is a colossal figure of Bhairava cut in the rock. Here also are two figures of pilgrims represented carrying water in the usual manner in two vessels fixed to the end of a Banghi pole. Near one of them there is the following inscription in well-shaped Gupta characters :

— Samddhigata pancha-rnahasabda-Sdmanta Sri Vasanta.

" The illustrious Samanta Vasanta (the possessor of the title of pancha-mahasabdha.,,

The expression of Samddhigata pancha-mahasabda is commonly applied to Sdmantas, or petty chiefs, as I am informed by Pandit Bhagwan Lai Indraji. I take the figure of the water-carrier to represent the Samanta himself.

Carved on the rock outside the Lai Darwaza there is a long inscription of sixteen lines, which is unfortunately too much obliterated to be readable. In the fourth line I see the name of Kdlanjarddri) or the " Hill of Kalanjara." A short ascent leads to the seventh, or uppermost gate, called Bara Darwaza, or the " Main Gate." As it stands now, it is undoubtedly modern, and its late date is confirmed by the only inscription attached to it of Samvat 1691, or A.D. 1634. Inside the fort on the north face are four places of note named Sitakund, Sitasej, Patal Ganga, and Pandu-kund.

Sitasej is a small cave, or recess, containing a stone bed and pillow for the use of a hermit. The Patal Ganga is a large deep well, or reservoir, cut in the rock. The water is deep, and is constantly dripping and trickling from the roof and sides. The oldest inscription found here is of Samvat 1339, or* A.D. 1282. The next is of Samvat 1500, or A.D. 1443; and a third of Samvat 1540, or A.D. 1483. Next comes a record of the Emperor Humayun in Persian, dated in the year A.H. 936, or A.D. 1529-30. The  latest is of Samvat 1640, or A.D. 1583, during the reign of Akbar.

The Pandu-kund is a "shallow circular basin, about 12 feet in diameter," into which the water is constantly trickling from the crevices in the. horizontal strata of rock. This kund is undoubtedly old, as it possesses a short inscription in Gupta characters reading " Manoratha. Near the middle of the east face there is a natural hollow, in the bottom of which has been excavated in the rock a small reservoir with steps all round. This is called the Budhi, or Burhyia Tdl. Its waters are believed to possess very great healing powers, as the leprous Raja Kirat Brim, or Kirtti Varmma, after having bathed in the tank, found himself healed. This Raja is commonly called Krim Koth, or " Krim the leper."

At the south-east angle is situated the Panna, or Bansakar Gate, which is now closed. The latter is the old name, the former having been given since the British occupation. It is covered by a small outwork. There are three gates. There are some pilgrims' records of Samvat 1550 and 1600, and near the Bhairon-ka-Jhirka, or Bhairava's well, there is an old record of Samvat 1 195, or A.D. 1 138, and a single sculpture of a pilgrim carrying two water vessels on a banghi-pole. Above the kund there is a colossal figure of Bhairava carved in the rock. The oldest pilgrim's record is Samvat 1194, or A.D. 1 137. Amongst other figures there is a second watercarrier.

Near the middle of the south face is the Mrig-dhara, or " Antelope's Spring," a small pool in an inner chamber of the rampart into which water is constantly trickling. It

is no doubt supplied, as suggested by Lieutenant Maisey, from the great reservoir of Kot-Tirth on the high ground close by.

Kot-Tirth is a large reservoir, nearly 1oo yards in length, with several flights of steps and many remains of sculpture. Kot-Tirth, or the " Fort-Holy Place," is the chief object of pilgrimage in Kalanjar. In the south-east corner there is said to be a deep hole, and this was probably the original holy pool of the place, which was eventually enlarged to its present size. The Brahmans declare that it is fed by springs ; but as it occupies the highest ground in the fort, and there are no higher hills in the neigbourhood, its only feeders must be the springs of heaven during the rainy season. The name is also written Koti-Tirth, or the " ten million places of Pilgrimage," and Koth-tirth, or " the " Leprosy place of pilgrimage," where lepers are cured by bathing.

The great lingam of Nilakantha is situated in an outwork in the middle of the west face of the fort. The upper gate, leading into the outwork, is attributed to Raja Parma.1, or

Paramardi Deva, who reigned from A.D. 1167 to 1203. There are several inscriptions, but all of the 16th century of the Samvat, being dated respectively in Samvat 1540, 1547, 1557, and 1574. A second gate, which leads into the courtyard of the temple, has no inscription. But on the rock on the right hand of the descent there are numerous small caves and niches, with many statues and several inscriptions which will be noticed presently.

The actual shrine of the Nilakantha lingam is a small cave with the remains of a fine mandapa, or hall in front. The facade of the cave has been very rich, but it is now much broken and hidden by numerous coats of whitewash. On the jambs of the door there are figures of Siva and Parvati with the Ganges and Jumna Rivers. These are of the Gupta period. The pillars of the hall are later, and belong to the time of the Chandels. The roof of the Mandapa is now gone, but most of the pillars and pilasters still remain, forming a square with four on each side, and four in the middle. In roofing, the corners were cut off to form an octagon, as shown in Lieutenant Maisey's plan. 1 The lingam is made of a darkblue stone, 4^ feet high, and has silver eyes. It is at present the chief object of worship at Kalanjar, and, to judge by the pilgrims' records, it has been equally popular for many centuries.

Just outside the Mandapa of Nilakantha there is a deep kundy or rock-cut reservoir, called Swarga Rohina ; and to the right of the kund in a rock recess, or niche, there is a colossal figure of Kal Bhairav, 24 feet in height, standing in 2 feet of water. The sculpture is 17 feet broad. It is mentioned by Abul Fazl as being 18 cubits in height.2 The figure has 18 arms, and is ornamented with the usual garland of skulls, with snake earrings and snake armlets, and a serpent twined round the neck. In the hands are various objects, of which the most prominent are a sword, a bowl of blood, &c. Beside this statue there is a figure of the skeleton goddess Kali, 4 feet in height, which is now standing in water upwards of a foot in depth. The water trickles from above and falls on these figures. Beyond this sculpture there is a closed postern in the wall of the outwork, above which, on the outside, there is an inaccessible cave.

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia.

Courtesy: Reports of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Rewa in 1883-84, and of a Tour in Rewa, Bundelkhand, Malwa, and Gwalior, in 1884-85 by Sir Alexander Cunningham.