Political And Cultural Antecedents Of
The Medieval Fort Of Kalinjar

Author: Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, Ph.D.

Professor, Centre of Advanced Study Department of History. Aligarh Muslim University, India

The celebrated hill fort of Kalinjar [Kalanjar] is situated in the village of Tarahati under the Naraini tahsil around 56 Km. south of Banda in the Bundelkhand region. It stands on an isolated flat-topped hill of the Vindhya Range, which here rises to a height of 244m. above the plain. Constructed on the plateau of the Kalanjar hill, at an altitude of 408m. (1,340 feet), ‘so high that it impedes the progress of the sun at mid-day’ The fort is aligned in an east-west direction, being nearly a mile in length and half a mile in breadth. The fort of Kalinjar is one of the eight famous forts built by Chandela rulers during the end of the 1st and beginning of the 2nd millennium. Situated at the interface of the present day states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh [see Map I], it has served as the great barrier for ambitious invaders/rulers aiming towards the south. Built on strong 25-30 meter wide foundation, the fort has a height of around 30-35 meter with a summit  which is 8 meter wide . 

It has a length of 7.5 km. The material used in its construction is large sand stone and granite pieces put over each other with an occasional use of lime mortar as a cementing material. Along with its strategic importance, the Kalinjar fort has equally been appreciated as a specimen of the art and science of fortification. 

The township of Kalinjar, known as Tarahati is situated at the foot of the hill in the north.It is surrounded with ramparts which were pierced with four gates, of which three survive.The northern gateway, known as Kampta Phatak opens on the Badausa – Kalinjar road, on which is situated the Bela talao. The Panna Phatak, or the western gate divides the Tarahati from the western settlement known as Katra. The third surviving gate is the Rewa Phatak which is situated in the north-western part of Tarahati. The road which passes through it leads to the ‘Sravan’ statue, and a number of tanks, before leading to the second important hill of the region known as Kalinjari or Chhoti Kalinjri.

Inside the township one encounters a number of medieval structures, including certain dilapidated havelis and mosques. According to Fuhrer, several old mosques, dating from the reign of Akbar onwards are in different stages of decay and carry epigraphs inscribed with dates AH 1012 (AD 1603), 1122 (AD 1710), 1131 (AD 1718), and 1155 (AD 1742).  To the south of the township, on the right of the road leading to the fort is the Rathod Mahal said to have been built by Akbar in 1583.

The Kalinjar fort situated on the top of the hill has two entrances, of which the principal one is on the northern side, towards the town while the other is at the south-east angle leading towards Panna. The Northern entrance is guarded by seven different gateways which can be approached by a flight of stone steps most of which have now apparently disappeared. The first gateway situated at some height as one ascends from the township is known as Alam Darwaza. Most of the stairs which once led to this gate are now extant. This gate is square and lofty but plain in construction. It appears to have been constructed during the reign of Aurangzeb. An inscription [Append. Insc.no.81] fixed on the top of gate bears the date AH 1084 [AD 1673]:

Shah Aurangzeb din parvar     shud marammat chun qal’a-i Kalinjar

Chun Muhammad Murad az hukmash     sakht darha muhkam wa khushtar   

Az khirad saal jasta’ash miguft        sad ‘azim chun sad Iskandar

Above this gate there is a steep ascent, chiefly by steps, to the second gate called Ganesha Darwaza, which derives its name from a coarse figure of the elephant god carved towards its right. At a short distance higher up in the bend of the road stands the third gate, named the Chandi Darwaza, which being a double gate with four towers is also known as Chauburji Darwaza, or the ‘gate of the four towers.’ At this gate there are several pilgrim records and inscriptions of various dates. As one enters through this gate, a structure, probably guard-rooms, adorned with Shahjahani cusped – arches, built of rubble covered with lime-mortar, is located.

At some distance from these guard-rooms, the road suddenly loops around 80o. Just below this bend is a small dilapidated gateway known as Balkhandi Mahadeo Darwaza which leads to a shrine of the same name situated around halfway down the hill. 

The fourth gateway known as Budhabhadra is a heavily built structure and possesses only one inscription. The fifth gate or Hanuman Darwaza derives its name from a figure of the monkey-god carved nearby on a slab resting against the rock. There is also a reservoir called Hanumankund as well as a number of stone sculptures and figures carved on the rocks representing Kali, Chandika, Siva and Parvati, Ganesha, the bull Nandi, and the ubiquitous lingam. The sixth gate, constructed of red sand-stone, and thus called the Lal Darwaza, stands near the top of the ascent. To the west of this gate, is the Bhairava Kund where there is a colossal figure of Bhairava cut in the rock. There are also two figures of pilgrims represented carrying water in two vessels fixed at the end of a banghi pole. A short distance leads to the seventh gate, called Bara Darwaza, or the main gate through which one enters the fort. 

Inside the fort one encounters a number of structures which include palaces, temples, tombs, mosques, ponds and water-tanks apart from a large number of sculptural remains [see Map II]. Unfortunately except for the various kunds and temples, the other structures have somehow escaped the notice of the various surveyors of the fort. A survey of the fort reveals at least three secular structures, viz.Raja Aman Singh Palace’ [no.20, Map II], the‘Rani Mahal’ [no.27, Map II], and the ‘Rang Mahal’ [no.28, Map II], which date back to the Bundela period. 

 The Bundela style of architecture had been initiated by Rana Kumbha (1428-68) and had assumed form as early as the middle of the 15th Century in the palace at Chitorgarh. Further progress was made under the Sultans of Mandu who at Chanderi erected a number of buildings distinctive in style which became a model for the architecture of Bundelkhand. According to Brown, this style as it finally developed may be defined as:

‘based on the contemporary productions of the Moslems as these evolved under the Sultans of Delhi, but overlaid with elements of indigenous Indian extraction to suit the taste, mode of living, and traditions of the Rajput rulers…’

As per the traditions of the Bundela style of architecture, the structures are generally square in plan and the exterior, which is multi-storied, encloses a square court-yard. Externally each storey is defined by a wide eave (chhajja) and overhanging balcony and each angle is finished by a graceful cupola (chhatri). Further, arcaded kiosks project from each parapet. Internally these structures are composed of ranges of apartments alternating with open terraces, communication being obtained by means of passages and corridors. The afore-mentioned Bundela structures at Kalinjar are in the same architectural style but are however only two stories in height. 

 Situated towards the southern portion of the fort, the Aman Singh Palace is a structure which, although much separated in time, reminds one of the Major Haramsara [‘Jodhbai Palace’] of Akbar’s palace complex at Fathpur Sikri. Revolving around a centrally located court-yard, this structure is provided with a heavily built and arcaded portal or gate-house containing a deorhi or angled entrance. Foliated arches adorne the porticos on all the four sides of the courtyard. Presently the structure has been converted into a site museum of the various sculptural specimens and members collected from around the fort area.

The Rani Mahal situated in the middle of the fort at some distance to the north of the Aman Singh Palace, is again a double storied building constructed of masonry rubble covered with lime mortar. It is presently in a much dilapidated condition. The battlements and merlons decorating its high walls however are quite interesting. This structure, in its plan and elevation resembles the residential palaces at Amber near Jaipur. The Rang Mahal situated to the north-west is also built on the same traditions. A detailed description of these palaces is possible only after a detailed exploration. It is however interesting to note that secular structures of other periods except the Bundela, do not appear to have survived. Atkinson only reports the debris of some Chandella structure towards the western wall of the fort which was according to him popularly known as the remains of Parmal ki baithaki [Parmal’s court].

There are, however, a large number of water reservoirs (kunds), ponds and tanks (talao) in and around the fort of Kalinjar. Praising the fort, Abul Fazl points out to this fact when he remarks that “springs rise within the fort and there are many tanks”. A look at Map II would reveal that the environs around the fort was dotted with a number of  natural and excavated water bodies which probably helped in collecting the water falling from the slopes of the hill. At least two of them, the Bela talao, situated north of the township, and the Sursuriganga or the Ganga Sagar, situated in the lowlands to the north-east of the fort [see Map II] are man-made. The later is a large irregular shaped tank with steps on three of its sides through which one can descend to the water level. A closer look at the stones used in constructing these steps reveals that a number of them are carved members (pillar shafts?) of some extant structures.

The largest water body in the fort appears to be the Koth tirth [no.19, Map II] located adjacent to the Raja Aman Singh Palace. This quadrangular tank is provided with a flight of steps on all its sides. From the large number of pilgrim’s inscriptions carved on these steps it appears to have been one of the most sacred of the tanks inside the fort. To the north, at some distance is located the Sanichar talao, [no.22, Map II] which, again is quadrangular in shape. The Budhabhadra talao [no.15, Map II] which is almost half the size of the Koth tirth is located towards the eastern side of the fort. The other talao inside the fort are the Talaiyya talao [no.32, Map II], Bijli talao [no.29, Map II], Madar talao and the Ramna (also known as Ram ka katora talao) [no.30, Map II]. All these ponds have been excavated by cutting the rocks to form depressions to hold water.

Among the kunds inside the fort the largest appears to be the Bhairon Kund,[no.10, Map II] situated near the Lal Darwaza (the sixth gateway). Also known as the Khambhor Kund, this reservoir is almost equal to the Budhbhadra talao in length. It has been excavated in the rock and is provided with a series of steps. Five square pillars and an equal number of pilasters support the overhanging lateral stone shafts to form the tank. Another large kund is the Patalganga kund [no.13, Map II] which is a deep water reservoir situated towards the north-east. Among the smaller reservoirs we have the Sita kund [no.12, Map II], Mrigdhara [no.35, Map II], Pandu kund [no.14, Map II], Pani ki Aman [no.16, Map II] and Bhairon ka Jhirka [no.36, Map II].

In the middle of the fort are encountered the ‘muslim’ remains in the shape of a graveyard, two mosques and at least two tombs. The graveyard [no.24, Map II] contains a number of graves which unfortunately do not contain any legends or dates. On the north-western corner of this graveyard is situated the larger of the two afore-mentioned tombs. This tomb [no.25, Map II] is square in plan and is surmounted with a Lodi style dome, which one generally encounters during the reign of Akbar. The western wall of this structure is provided with a mihrab containing an inscription in Persian. On the eastern side of this tomb is a large stone masonry platform. Immediately to the west of this structure, besides the modern path is the smaller tomb [no26, Map II] which architecturally appears to belong to the same tradition as the former. The interior western wall of this tomb is decorated with three pointed arches. Both these tomb structures are constructed of rubble-masonry covered with a thick layer of lime-mortar.

Among the mosques inside the fort, the Islam Shah Mosque [no.21, Map II] is located on the northern bank of the Koth tirth. The western liwan of this mosque is three bayed deep and aisled boad. The flat roof of this structure is supported by crudely carved pillars with square shafts. The western wall is decorated with five blind arches. The mihrab or the middle arch is quite plain. A Persian inscription is inscribed on the pilaster to the left of the mihrab. This mosque can be entered through a gate situated to the east. Simple stone-masonry walls surround the courtyard from all the sides. There appears to have been no riwaq or cloisters around the sides. The second mosque is a qanati (screen) mosque [no.23, Map II] which adjoins the Sanichar talau. Constructed on the south-western corner of this tank, this mosque contains a simple mihrab on top of which is fixed a marble-stone inscribed with the kalima [viz.la ilaha illallah, Muhammadun rasul allah] and ‘nad-i ‘Ali [viz. nad-i ‘Ali yan mazharul ‘ajaib, tajhid hu aunan naka fin nawaib. Kulle hammin wa ghammin sainjali be wilayatika Ya ‘Ali Ya ‘Ali Ya ‘Ali]. 

The most prominent structure in the fort is however the famous Nilkantha Temple [no.34, Map II] situated in the depression in the hill towards the north-western corner. This great lingam temple of Nilakantha, is a masterpiece of architecture. Entrance to the temple is provided by a trabeated entrance gate known as the Parmardideva darwaza [no.33, Map II]. The actual shrine of Nilkantha, containing a large dark-blue lingam about 1.15m high and having three eyes., is situated in a small cave located near a ledge below the ramparts. The long flight of steps leading to this cave temple lined with fine specimen of sculpture carved on the perpendicular rock of the hill. Beautiful figures of river goddesses, Ganga and  Yamuna are carved on the jambs of the door leading to the cave. The façade of the cave once had been very rich, but is now much broken.  The cave temple is fronted with a beautifully carved mandapa which now stands in a dilapidated condition. This mandapa is square in plan and is raised with help of eight stone pillars placed in such a fashion that they once held an octagonal roof. To the right (i.e. south) is a deep rock-cut reservoir known as svargarohana  and to the right of the reservoir in a rock niche, there is a colossal figure of Kala-Bhairava, about 24feet in height and 17 feet broad, standing in about 1.5ft.of water.It is depicted with  18 arms holding various objects like a broad straight sword, axe, shield, a club, a bowl of blood, laddu etc. However a trisul is prominent by its absence. Garlands of skulls, snake ear-rings and a serpent around its neck adorn this image. Besides this statue there is a figure of the goddess Kali, about 3ft.in height.

There are two more colossal images of Bhairon in the fort. One of them is above the Bhairon kund near the Lal Darwaza and is known as Khambhor Bhairon. This figure is about 10 feet in height and is carved about 20ft.above the water level. The third Bhairon image is carved on the rock above the Bhairon ka jhirka in the south-east of the fort near the Panna Gate [no.37, Map II] of the fort. Known as Manduk or Mirke Bhairon, this image is 8 or 9 feet in height.  The usual weapons, and skull-garland adorn these statues. The Manduk Bhairon has a skull head-gear and 10 arms. He is accompanied by his vehicle (vahan), the dog.

The fort of  Kalinjar is a treasure house of a large number of Shaivite sculptures. However some Vaishnavite images are also encountered in this Shaivite stronghold. A devapatta was discovered from the north-western edge of the fort which is built into the south-west face of an arched gate overlooking the Nilkantha Temple. On this tablet is carved a standing figure of Vaikuntha (Vishnu) in high relief. Below the figure is an inscription: “[sr]i ve/vaikunthah…”. He is surrounded by five friezes containing 14 Sivalingas, 9 Durgas, 5 Ganapatis, 12 Adityas, 12 Visnus and some other gods and their consorts. According to Maxwell, this panel contains deities associated both with Vaisnavism and Saivism, thus reducing Vaikuntha figure as a ‘relatively junior deity’, and may represent the ideological pragmatism of the rulers:

“…The Candella image of Vaikuntha was above all a symbol of Candella royalty, from the time of Yasovarman onward. It would therefore have been politically important to establish the Vaikuntha cult on Kalanjar, but this move may well have been resisted by a conservative Saiva priesthood which had been established on the mountain for at least 500 years. In this sensitive situation, a votive plaque representing the Candella Vaikuntha, yet containing Saiva symbolism and attached to an existing temple at Kalanjara, rather than the creation of a separate Vaikuntha shrine on the mountain, was probably the only acceptable solution. The Vaikuntha tablet would thus represent a compromise between political and religious requirements.”

A survey around the Kalinjar hill brought to light two other images of Vishnu. On the bank of Sursuriganga / Ganga sagar talao are two large images of Vishnu carved in a reclining posture. It should also be remarked that in spite of contrary claims in certain Persian accounts (e.g. Hasan Nizami, Tajul Maasir), none of the images found at Kalinjar appear to have been vandalized.

From the literary and epigraphic evidence it appears that long before the fort was erected, ‘the hill was devoted to Hindu worship’. The first literary reference to the hill of Kalinjar is found in the Mahabharata where it is mentioned that:

Atra kalanjaram nama parvatam lokavisrutam tatra devahrade snatva Gosahasraphalam labhet yah snatas tarpayet tara girau kalanjare nrpa svargaloke mahiyeta naro nasti atra samasayah.

Loosely translated it means that at the famed mountain of Kalinjar whoever bathes in the lake of gods, i.e., the sacred lake (devahrada), he acquires the same merit as if he had given away one thousand cows!

The mountain appears in fact to have been a stronghold of Saivism at least since the 5th- 6th Cent.A.D. Among the clay seals discovered by Marshall at Bhita, one depicts a mound of round rocks with a Shivalinga at the top and a wavy line below, bearing the legend in Gupta characters kalanjara-bhattaraka i.e., ‘Lord of Kalanjara’. According to a Chandela inscription this place was known as “the dwelling place of Nilkantha (Lord Shiva)”: nilakanthadhivasam…kalanjarim. A number of epigraphs at the caves and various portions of sculptures at Kalinjar are earlier than the fort and suggest a pre-Chandella antiquity. Atleast ten inscriptions inside the fort belong to a period between 7th and 10th Century [see Appendix, Insc. no.1 - 10]. An inscription, probably dated to 7th Century, on the Chandi Darwaza claims that the ‘house of god Bhadresvara’(i.e. temple) was constructed by a Pandava king named Udayana.[ Append, Insc..no.5]. Another inscription (9th Cent.AD) [Append. Insc.no.10] records the construction of a temple (kirtti) of Shiva on the hill. From another epigraph it appears that by 9th Century AD, the temple of Shiva, probably the Nilkantha Temple, had been established and was being visited by pilgrims.

During the 9th Century, from c.836 AD the area of Kalinjar appears to have been held by the Gurjara-Pratiharas of Qannauj until it was taken by the Rashtrakuta king Krishna III sometime before the mid-10th century. Ultimately, sometime before 954 AD. Kalinjar passed into the hands of the Chandellas, with whom the city and fort of Kalinjar are closely identified. Infact Kalinjar with its strong fortress, Ajaigarh with its palace and Khajuraho with its magnificent temples are usually regarded as the military, civil and religious capitals of the Chandellas.

According to Chandella traditions, the foundations of the fort of Kalinjar were laid by Chandra Varma, an ancestor of the dynasty, who was a contemporary of Prithviraj III, the Chauhan ruler of Delhi. The work at the fort was later carried out by his son and successor, Madana Varma. There is also a legend, quoted by Crooke, regarding the origin of the Chandella dynasty, according to which the birth-place of the Chandellas was Kalinjar itself. According to this legend, the king of Kalinjar once asked his family priest, Mani Ram, the day of the month. The priest replied that it was puranmasi (full moon), although it was amavas (last day of the dark fortnight). When the priest realized his folly, he became quite distressed. His daughter, on learning the plight of her father fervently prayed to the moon, who as a boon, caused a puranmas that night, in order to justify her father. However, as a return of his boon, the moon co-habited with the daughter. The priest on learning this felt quite ashamed of his daughter and threw her out of his house. Ultimately it was in the jungles the hapless daughter delivered a male child. Subsequently, a Rajput, on seeing her plight carried her with him. The priest was so ashamed of this affair that he turned himself into a stone, which came to be worshipped as Maniya Deva. The child became the founder of the Chandella dynasty. 

The epigraphical evidence, however, show that Kalinjar was captured by the Chandellas during the 10th Century  during the reign of Yasovarman, before which it was shifting hands between the Rashtrkutas, Gurjara-Pratiharas and the Chedis. It appears that this hill (or the fort?) was taken from the Kalachuri kings of Chedi by the Chandellas. Yasovarman was succeeded by his son Dhanga (c.950 – c.1008). According to an epigraph, Kalinjar was firmly under his control. The inscription however uses the term ‘as far as Kalanjara’ which means that it was not the capital of Chandellas at this time. In AD.998, however we find Dhanga enjoying the title ‘Kalanjaradhipati’, which might convey the sense that by this year Kalinjar had finally emerged as the capital of the Chandellas.

By AD.978 the ‘rai’ of Kalinjar, Rai Nanda, is mentioned by Firishta as ‘an ally’ of Rai Jaipal, the ruler of Lahore, against the Ghaznavide army. In AD.1008 we find the Rai of Kalinjar, along with the rais of Ujjain, Gwalior, Delhi, and Ajmer ‘entered into a confederacy’ with Anand Pal, the son of Jaipal, against the army of Sultan Mahmud. From the epigraphic sources we know that the rai of Kalinjar between AD.950 and AD.1008 was Dhanga. Dealing with Sultan Mahmud’s invasion of AD.1022, the author of Tabaqat-i Akbari mentions that the fort of Kalinjar had ‘no equal in the whole country of Hindustan for (its) strength and impregnability’. This claim of Nizamuddin is supported by al-Beruni, the contemporary of Sultan Mahmud, when he writes:

“Marching from Kanoj (Kanyakubja) [Qannauj] towards the south-east, on the western side of the Ganges, you come to the realm of   Jajahuti [Jejakabhukti], 30 farsakh from Kanoj. The capital of the country is Kajuraha [Khajuraho]. Between this town and Kanoj there are two of the most famous of the fortresses of India, Gwaliyar [Gwalior/Gopadri] and Kalanjar [Kalinjar].     

    It appears that the Rai of ‘Kajuraha’ whom Sultan Mahmud had to face was Vidyadhara, the son of Ganda (c.AD.1008 – 1017) and the grandson of Dhanga. The Ghaznavide historian Ibn al-Athir records his name as ‘Bida’ and claims that he was ‘the greatest of the rulers of Hind in territory and had the largest (of) armies, and whose territory was named Kajuraha’.  Nizamuddin Ahmad and Firishta however mention the name of the king as ‘Nanda’. However the first Chandella king to be mentioned in the inscriptions found at Kalinjar is Kirttivarman, whose preceptor (guru), Srimurti, was responsible to construct the mandapa at the Nilkantha Temple [see Append. Insc.no.14].  It appears from the diwan of Masud Sa’ad Salman  that Kalinjar, along with Badaun, Qannauj and Malwa, had to bear the brunt of attacks by the later Ghaznavide rulers.  

Twelfth century seems to have been a period of comparative peace. Much constructional activity at Nilkantha Temple is encountered during this period. In 1131 AD during the reign of Madanvarma some individuals of royal family set up the image of the deity Nilkantha, which was sculpted by ‘Lahada son of sutradhara Rama and his brother Lakshmidhara [Append. Insc.no.18]. There are at least two other inscriptions of the same king in the Nilkantha temple [see Append. Insc.no. 16 & 17]. In 1135 AD the image of Narsimha was set up in the same temple [Insc.no.19] by a feudatory (thakkura). Two years later, in 1137 AD was constructed the cell of Gauriprya (i.e.Shiva) in the temple [Insc.no. 21]. 

The 12th Century also witnessed a large number of pilgrimages by feudatories (thakkura, bhattaputras, rajaputras, and rautas) to the shrine of Nilkantha [Insc.nos.33 – 42]. The temple of Nilkantha probably was finally completed during the reign of Parmardideva. An inscription dated 28th October 1201 AD records an eulogy of this king as well as his eulogy for the deity [Insc.no.43]. 

It was ultimately on 27th April 1203 AD, within 18 months of putting up the above mentioned eulogy, that the fort of Kalinjar was wrested from the Chandellas by the Ghurids. A number of contemporary Persian chronicles attest the conquest of Kalinjar by Qutbuddin ‘Aibek. To quote Hasan  Nizami :

“In the year 599 AH [AD.1202-03] Qutbuddin ‘Aibek proceeded to the investment of Kalinjar, on which expedition he was accompanied by the Sahib qiran Shamsud din Altamash (Iltutmish). ‘The accursed Parmar’ [Paramardi deva (1165 – 1203 )], the Rai of Kalinjar, 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 (bin) 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 Diwan or Mahtea by name Aj Deo was not disposed to surrender so easily as his master and gave up his enemies much trouble, until he was compelled to capitulate, in consequence of severe daught having dried up all the reservoirs of water in the fort. On Monday the 20th of Rajab (27April,1203), the garrison, in an extreme state of weakness and distraction, came out of the fort and by compulsion left their native place, and the fort of Kalinjar which was celebrated throughout the world for being as strong as the wall of Sikandar [Alexander] was taken…” 

Firishta also narrates a similar story but adds that it was the minister (Aj Deo) who got the king assassinated. 

In AD.1206 when Qutbuddin Aibek took up control at Delhi, Kalinjar was in Ghurid possession, although the control was quite weak: an epigraph of Trailokyavarman dated AD.1205 mention the latter as parambhattaraka-maharajadhiraja-paramesvara-param mahesvara kalanjaradhipati.  A later   inscription supports this contention when it record:

“[Trailokyavarman] was like Visnu in lifting the earth, emerged in the ocean formed by the streams of  Turushkas.”  

During the reign of Iltutmish, in AD.1233-34, Malik Nusratuddin Taisi, who was the iqtadar of Sultankot and Bayana as well as the shuhna (incharge) of Gwalior fort, was asked to launch an attack on Kalinjar. We are informed that on his approach , the ‘Rai of Kalinjar’, Trailokyavarman,  fled from the place. The whole area was plundered, and an amount of 25 jitals was collected by the Sultanate army.  But then it appears that within a few years the Chandella rulers of Kalinjar had again emerged as a powerful entity and started using the epithet of Kalanjaradhipati (Lord of Kalanjar).  

Sometime at the end of the 13th Century the Fort of Kalinjar passed on from the hand of the Chandellas to those of the Bundelas. It is very difficult to say how long the fort remained under the possession of the Bundela rulers. From an inscription we come to know that the colossal image of Manduk Bhairon was carved in 1375 AD [Insc.no.48]. However by 1540’s it was being held by the Baghela rulers of Gwalior. It was around this time that Humayun attempted to capture this fort. The first attempt appears to have been made in AD 1530 when Humayun besieged Kalinjar. His contact with Kalinjar fort in 1530 is testified by a Persian inscription [Insc.no.67] carved on a rock below the Patalganga. This single line inscription simply notes: “Mohammad Humayun Padshah Ghazi, dated the last day of Rajab ul Murajjab, year 936 (30March 1330 AD)”. This inscription is supported by the account of Gulbadan Bano Begum, who holds that Humayun as a prince launched a campaign against Kalinjar sometime during the last one year of Babur’s reign. Abul Fazl, however, does not mention the Kalinjar expedition of Humayun at the time when Babur was ill, but states that Humayun invested Kalinjar soon after ascending the throne. We know that Humayun ascended the throne in May 1531. Would it then mean that Humayun led two expeditions to Kalinjar as has sometimes been held? Qanungo and Iqtidar Alam Khan have both rightly argued that an expedition in the region of Kalinjar could not have been undertaken in 1531. An explanation of this ‘chronological’ discrepancy of Abul Fazl can be found in another passage given by Abul Fazl. When Babur fell ill, Abul Fazl says

“…he summoned his officers and nobles and making them place the hands of homage to the empire (khilafat) in the hands of Humayun, appointed him heir and successor, placing him on the throne of sovereignty, while he himself lay bedridden at the foot of the throne.”

This passage might help us in comprehending the title ‘Padshah Ghazi’ appended to Humayun’s name in the above cited inscription. It may also explain Abul Fazl’s statement which has led to the impression that Humayun also attacked Kalinjar in 1531 AD. Abul Fazl while mentioning the expedition was probably hinting towards the informal ‘accession’ (i.e. 1530 and not 1531). Whatever the case, the inscription is quite explicit that Humayun was able to achieve his objective in March 1530 and thus had no need to return to Kalinjar in 1531. He is said to have again returned to Kalinjar a second time in 1542.

In AD 1545 when Sher Shah Sur attacked the fort of Kalinjar, then held by Raja Kirat Singh, the Baghela chief of Gwalior, the Bundelas being on good terms with the Raja, assisted him against the Sur army.An intense battle was fought, and the Sur army had to use gunpowder missiles (huqqa). Inspite of the sudden death of Sher Shah in an accident, the combined forces of the Baghelas and the Bundelas were defeated and the fort came under the Sur suzerainty. The body of Sher Shah after his death, was temporarily buried  near the fort of Kalinjar before being shifted to Sasaram. His temporary grave still exists on the small hillock known as Kalanjari towards the east of the fort. From an inscription on the pilaster of the mihrab of the Islamshah Mosque, it appears that the fort was put in the charge of a certain noble named Khan-i Alam and the hill fort was re-named as Sherkoh [Insc.no.76].  

 However, after the death of Islam Shah, the successor of Sher Shah, the Baghela chief, Raja Ram Chand re-occupied Kalinjar with the help of the Bundelas sometime after AD.1550.  

The Mughal conquest of Kalinjar under Akbar took place in AH 977/AD 1569 when on Imperial orders the governor of Manikpur, Majnun Khan Qaqshal laid siege to the fort. Raja Ram Chand Baghel on being surrounded by the Mughal forces and the resultant shortage of water inside the fort surrendered. Majnun Khan Qaqshal was appointed as the first Mughal qile’dar of the Kalinjar by Akbar. In AD.1581-82 we find Shaikh Abul Faiz Faizi, the poet-laureate and the brother of Shaikh Abul Fazl was serving as the sadr of Kalinjar. Ultimately we find that in AD.1604-5 Kalyan Das, the son of Raja Todar Mal was the qile’dar of Kalanjar fort.  Our sources are silent as to who were the other qile’dars of Kalinjar between Majnun Khan Qaqshal and Kalyan Das who died in AH 983/ AD 1575-76.

Under Akbar, Kalinjar formed one of the nine sarkars (districts) of  Suba  Ilahabas (Allahabad). According to Abul Fazl, the sarkar Kalinjar comprised 10 mahals and one dastur ul ‘amal.  These mahals were Kalinjar with its suburbs, Ugasi, Ajaigarh, Sihunda, Simoni, Shadipur, Rasan, Khandeh, Mahoba, and Maudha. Except Rasan, Abul Fazl mentions that each of these mahals was provided with a fort. At Ugasi, Simauni, and Kharelah (Khandah) they were brick forts, whereas those of Sihunda, Shadipur, Mahoba, and Maundha, apart from Kalinjar itself had stone fortresses. Further the total measured land in Sarkar Kalinjar during Akbar’s reign was 508,273 bighas, 12 biswa, while the total revenue of this area was 23,839,470 dams. Our chronicler also mentions the number of troops which were stationed at Kalinjar: 18,100 infantrymen, 1,210 horsemen and 112 elephants.

It is interesting to note that the Mughal sources of Jahangir’s period are largely silent as far as Kalinjar and its fort are concerned. We however are fortunate to have in our possession a collection of private papers from mahal Sihunda which contains a couple of  Jahangir’s  farmans issued in the name of the local officials. The only qil ‘edar  mentioned from the reign of Jahangir is Munis the son of Mihtar Khan who held the rank of  500 zat and 150 sawar. 

In 1628-29, during the reign of Shahjahan we find the mention of Saiyid Ahmad as the qile ‘dar  of  Kalinar fort. In 1630-31 when Saiyid Ahmad proved his worth during the rebellion of Khan-i Jahan Lodhi and imprisoned the latter’s son, the emperor in recognition of his loyalty bestowed upon him the title of Janbaz Khan. Sometime in 1638 Saiyid Ahmad Janbaz Khan was replaced by Abdullah Najm Sani as the qile ‘dar of Kalinjar. He enjoyed this position till 1639-40. 

During the period 1674 -1705 we find that there was a Bundela uprising in the Suba Allahabad. The reign of Aurangzeb saw a loosening in the hold of the Mughals in the region of Kalinjar. The Bundela leader Chhatarsal repeatedly plundered the area around Kalinjar and ultimately occupied it in 1688-89.The inscription of Aurangzeb dated AD.1673 on the Alam Darwaza of the fort thus is earlier than the Bundela uprisings.

Apart from the political history our sources throw some light on the vibrant cultural history of the region. The Baghela rulers of Kalinjar appear to have been great patrons of art of music. Nayak Bakhshu, originally of the Gwalior court appears to have migrated to Kalinjar, where Sultan Bahadur the Gujarati ruler is said to have found him. Abul Fazl in his Ain narrates:

“It is said that Raja Kirat Singh, the governor of the fort possessed six precios treasures, a learned Brahman of saintly life, a youth of great beauty and amiable disposition, a parrot that answers any questions put to it and some say, remembered everything that it heard, a musician named Bakhshu unequalled in the knowledge and practice of his art, and two handmaidens lovely to behold and skilled in song. Sultan Bahadur Gujarati having formed a friendship with the Raja asked him for one of these. The Rajah generously with a provident wisdom sent him Bakshu.

Nayak Bakhshu is credited to have been the creator of dhrupad, which was further developed and refined by Miyan Tansen Gwaliari, who adorned the court of Akbar. According to Faqirullah who compiled a treatise on music and musicians during the reign of Aurangzeb, the invention of dhrupad was brought about by Raja Man Gwaliyari with the coordination of Nayak Bakhshu, and   Nayak Bhinnu. At another place Faqirullah mentions that:

“Nayaka Bakhshu, God’s overwhelming mercy be upon him, has three definitely important innovations to his credit: He mixed Todi with Deskara and named it as Bahaduri (Todi) after Sultan Bahadur Gujrati. Besides this, he created kanhra by letting syama and khambayachi mingle with each other. Another novel creation of his has been a kalyana based on hamir, kalyana and jayanti-kalyana. This kalyana, like kanhra is directly associated with him and called nayaki-kalyana.In succession to him comes Miyan Tansen….

The Sihunda documents also contain much information on the cultural life of the civic population of Sarkar Kalinjar under the Mughals. A number of these documents mention the various classes of the society and the customs (rasmiyat) like rasmiyat puri az mah-i haml ba mah haftum (the ritual performed on the completion of the 7th month of the pregnancy) which includes the worship of the ‘devtan’ (gods) and the chowk geet parastish (devotional singing). We are informed that first the puja is performed and then the ritual of ‘chowk’ is held.  A second social custom which is mentioned is the ‘rasmiyat bar waqt-i twallud tifl ya tiflagi’ (The rituals  of  Childbirth or childhood ceremonies) which included the rasm-i chhati or the ‘sixth day celebrations’ and certain rituals related to the mother of the child. Also mentioned are the rasmiat-i mu tarashi (ritual of the shaving of the child’s hair) performed on completion of the sixth month. The clothes to be worn on this occasion are also mentioned.

The rituals and customs related with such celebrations are also elaborated upon: first the rituals start with the performance of worship before the gods, the lamps (diya) are lighted and the Brahmins give a new dhoti to the child. While sitting on the chowk the worship is conducted. After the conclusion of the puja the geets are sung. Then starts the ritual of making bari (nuggets of pulses) which are prepared in oil; bundiyan (a salted or sweet delicacy) are also prepared Another ritual which finds mention is rasm-i buzurgan .

It thus appears that if in the ancient and early medieval period, the area of Kalinjar was known for its sculptural and architectural traditions, the Mughal period, though full of political changes and travails, saw the people of this region develop a distinct culture of their own which was represented by their patronage to such artistes as Bakhshu and elaborate social costums and rituals which hint towards the Cultural vibrancy of the region.


Prof. Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi
Aligarh Muslim University, India

About Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi is a Professor at Aligarh Muslim University. He was Charles Wallace Fellow 2007, SOAS, London and Visiting Fellow, Maison Des Sciences De L'Homme, Paris in 2008.

He was also Chairman and Coordinator of the Centre for Advanced Studies in History and Coordinator, Musa Dakri Museum, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.

He holds a PhD on the urban middle class in Mughal India from Aligarh Muslim University and his research interests focus on the history and archaeology of mediaeval India, and on the Mughal dynasty in particular. He is the author of Fathpur Sikri Revisited (Oxford, 2013), and History Through Archaeology (2019). He has contributed chapters to books including Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India (Oxford, 2009) and Religion in Indian History (Chennai, 2007) and authored almost 50 papers published in reputed journals. He was also the President of the Medieval India Section of the Indian History Congress during its 2013–2014 session, General President UP History Congress, 2018. He was also chosen Sectional President Bengal Itihas Sansad (2019) and Punjab Historical Conference (2017). Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi is also a Fellow of the Shīʿah Institute since September 2013.

In 2018 he formed a group, Aligarh Society of History and Archeology [ASHA] dedicated to secular and scientific projection of our past.