Gwalior Fort - History, Palaces, Temples, and Stories

Gwalior Fort – History, Palaces, Temples, and Stories

Did you know how the Gwalior Fort came into existence? Well, not many know! Here is a short history lesson and many more exciting pieces of information about the Gwalior Fort.

Gwalior had much more to offer than I thought! 

The pride of Gwalior, the Gwalior Fort, is so splendid that it deserves an entire blog post of its own. So here it is. There is just so much to see in Gwalior!

Google images mostly show the facade of the Gwalior Fort. However, in reality, the Fort houses nearly six palaces, four to five temples, ponds, and gardens inside! It is usual to see one main palace and then one for the queen plus a harem.

But here is a Fort filled with many palaces! It might be because Gwalior Fort passed on hands from Sens to Tomars to Mughals to British to Marathas to Scindia, and each one of them either destroyed a portion of it or built an entirely new palace! 

Most of the credit for its grandeur goes to Man Singh Tomar, the brave ruler of Gwalior in the fifteenth century. 

The Fort is filled with stories of valour, loss, and sacrifice—Jauhar. 

However, of all the stories, I particularly admire the love story of Man Singh Tomar and Mrignayni. More of that later in the post. 

Let us start our journey around the Fort of Gwalior.

View of Gwalior Fort
View of Gwalior Fort

I was at the Fort as early as 8 am. Gwalior Fort is on a hilltop. 

If you have a lot of patience, you can walk up to the Fort leading to the Hathi Pol Gate. This is the gate through which elephants used to move in the by-gone era. It has two colossal elephant sculptures perched on top of the gates to welcome you. Since this is the way used by elephants, there are no steps and a gradual ascent to the hill. 

So if you want to hike on cold mornings, then this is one of the options. Unfortunately, hiking and I are far apart, so I hired an auto to reach the Fort. 

The first stop on the way is Assi Khamba Ki Baori. It is slightly away from the Hathi. People might even miss it. It looked like an administrative building, so I did not peep inside it. As the name suggests, it is a stepwell and looks more like a parliament with 80 pillars supporting it.

You have to walk quite a bit. Inside the stepwell are multiple chambers, probably used as a changing place or maybe for the queens to take a bath.

A guide noticed the perplexed face of mine and offered his services, and I readily accepted it. I don't remember how much the guide charged.

Assi Khamba Ki Baori
Assi Khamba Ki Baori

Following is a story/myth as narrated by him.

Around the 3rd century, there resided a local king by the name of Suraj Sen. Suraj Sen was affected by leprosy, and so he went to a sage named Gwalipa, asking him for a cure. The sage offered him water from a sacred tank, and the King got cured miraculously. In honour of the sage, the King constructed the Gwalior Fort. 

Gwalipa also gave the title of 'Pal' and granted him the boon that so long as his successors also hold this title, the Fort would belong to the King.

From then on, Suraj Sen Pal and the next 83 kings also bore the title of 'Pal.' After that, the 84th king tried to break this rule and named himself Tej Karan. Well, that was the end of the dynasty!

 The Fort is no longer theirs! I guess they lost it to the Huna empire. 
There is also a sacred tank which is called Suraj Kund and is found inside the Gwalior Fort. Honestly, it does not seem that sacred!

Suraj Kund
Suraj Kund

History of Gwalior Fort

Nobody seems to know exactly when the Fort was built!

Since Suraj Sen Pal hails from the 3rd century, it is roughly believed that the Gwalior Fort must have been in existence from before the 10th century.

Isn't it funny that there are no records as to when such a Fort was built, but then the story of Gwalipa is still alive! That is how most of the fascinating ancient stories in India remain looming in the air.

After the Huna empire, it was briefly under the rule of Chandelas. But the majority of the period and the most prominent period is that of Tomars.

Man Singh Tomar—you must have heard the name! He ruled the place for nearly 30 years. Raja Man Singh Tomar built the lengthy Gwalior Fort wall, the Man Singh Palace, the Gujari Mahal, and many more temples. 

The then Sultan of Delhi killed him, and the fort fell in the hands of the Delhi Sultanate. Within a decade, Mughal emperor Babur captured the Fort from Ibrahim Lodhi. The Mughals lost it and then gained it again. Later, Akbar decided to use the Fort as a prison for political prisoners. Unimaginable!

This magnificent Fort, which flourished under the Tomars, turned into a spot for the prisoners. The underground part is rather very gloomy! One of the prominent prisoners held here was Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru. 

After the fall of Aurangazeb, the Maratha king Mahadaji Shinde captured the Fort. The British East India Company soon took the Fort away from him. The Anglo-Maratha war kept going back and Forth, and when the Britishers had significant control over India, they let the Scindias rule Gwalior and acquire the Fort.

So there are palaces built by Mughals, a Gurudwara built by Sikhs, and a palace by Scindias too in the magnificent Fort.

Gwalior fort walls
Walking around Gwalior forts

Gwalior Fort Wall

It was well past 8:00 am, but the December cold was still lingering, and a thick fog was settling over the Gwalior Fort. The guide was waiting for us to take a snap or two and move into the palace. But the Gwalior Fort wall looks so stunning that I wanted to walk back and forth multiple times. 

What a splendid architecture it indeed is! 

The Fort, adorned with beautiful colourful tiles, still stands strong even after withstanding so many invasions over the years. How lovely it would have been in the past with everything in its full glory!

It is said that Babur stood in front of the Gwalior Fort and called it "the pearl amongst the Fortresses of Hind". 

Standing 300 feet above the ground level on top of Gopachal hill, most of the Fort wall runs along the cliff with deep gorges on its side.

This strategic placement of the Fort on top of the hill helps keep an eye on the Gwalior city beneath and look out for any incoming enemy attack.

It is one reason why the Fort was preferred by so many rulers, as the rulers could strategically place themselves here and prevent themselves from being attacked. 
For the same reasons, Gwalior Fort is also called as Gibraltor of India.

color tiled gwalior fort
The color tiled walls of Gwalior Fort. Note the ducks on top

Man Mandir / Man Singh Palace

This is hands-down the best palace inside the Gwalior Fort!

Raja Man Singh Tomar built the Man Mandir in 1508 AD for his queens. It is truly an architectural marvel, not only due to its size but also because of the richness in its carvings. There is a marvellous tile work depicting cute ducks and plantain leaves.

Sandstone always gives you the best opportunity to make intricate carvings, and it is pretty evident here. 

So many techniques can be seen in the Man Singh Palace rooms, like detailed jaali latticework. You will be suddenly amused to see coloured tiles of plantain leaves and yellow rubber duckies between all this beautiful work.

man singh palace gwalior
Elaborate durbar of Man Singh Palace.

There are four stories of the Man Mandir Palace, and two of them are underground. The top two floors have an open courtyard, music hall, King and Queen rooms. Most of the rooms have jaali work with small windows for the ladies of the palace to sit and watch.

The other two stories are underground and are somewhat claustrophobic and haunting. The steps to reach the underground are steep and narrow. You reach a place which is called Jhulaghar. There is a well in the middle and columns around it. 

Apparently, there were swings here, and the ladies would come down to play in the swing and relax near the well. The well is called Kesar Kund. The strategically placed windows for light and cross ventilation for air all is a clever plan. 

Imagine a pond in the open space with swings around trees that are blooming in the spring! It would have been so lovely, but instead, the king thought of having it underground! No one knows what passed his mind that he came up with this idea!

  • underground gwalior fort
  • kesar kund

Once you step out of Man Mandir, a series of other palaces are lined up just adjacent to each other. Though it houses five more different palaces, they are not as striking as the Man Singh Palace. And they stand adjacent to each other and do not have many elaborate features.

Some more Gwalior Fort Images

man singh palace bedroom
Man Singh Palace
  • palace entrance
  • pillars man mandir mahal
man singh palace darbar
Could have been music hall or temple. Look at the windows for the royal ladies to watch the proceedings.
lattice work mann mandir
The upper floors of Mann Mandir Mahal looking into the courtyard. Note the small window amidst jhaali work
Hathi Pol Gate
The other side of Hathi Pol Gate

Vikram Palace

Vikramaditya was Man Singh Tomar's son, and he built a palace for himself next to the Man Mandir. It is a very basic yet beautiful palace. There is a Baradari (a pavilion with twelve doors) in the middle, with rooms on either side. Baradari has an open door corridor architecture meant for air and light. 

Then there is a single story on top. It is said that it hosted a Shiva temple, but the Mughals destroyed it. So now we can only see a Shiva Lingam in the open, and people seem to walk in and make offerings to God.

Vikram Mahal Gwalior
Vikram Mahal Gwalior

Jahangir Mahal

Sher Shah originally built Jahangir Mahal. However, it was Jehangir who restored the palace and used it during his visits to the Gwalior Fort; hence it gets the name —Jahangir Mahal.

Jahangir mahal gwalior fort
Jahangir mahal inside Gwalior fort

Shahjahan Mahal

Situated just opposite to the Jahangir Mahal is the Shahjahan Mahal built by himself. It resembles one big corridor. A single continuation of Jahangir Mahal runs into the Shahjahan Mahal. One can see the change in architecture here. There is less to no latticework.

Shahjahan mahal gwalior fort
Shahjahan mahal gwalior fort
One of the rooms of Gwalior Fort

Masjid

With the Mughal invasion and the Mughal kings staying here for a long time, they needed a Masjid for them to pray right. So there is a lovely masjid amongst the palaces.

masjid gwalior fort
Masjid opposite Jahangir Mahal

Bhim Singh Rana ki Chhatri

From here on, the Fort starts getting deserted. The Gwalior Fort's entry fee is less. So all the lovers find safe and comfortable hiding here! Bhim Singh Rana briefly occupied the Fort, between the Mughals and Maratha rule. 

He was killed during the war between the Jats and Marathas. His cenotaph lies on one corner of the Fort.

Jauhar Kund

We all know of the evil practice of Jauhar that was once practised in India. 

Jauhar is a traditional belief which the ladies of the royal family had to adhere to. Herein, they had to self-immolate themselves when the enemy captured their husbands and kings. This was done mostly to protect them from the barbarous invaders so as not to get raped. 

Right before the Bhim Singh Rana ki Chhatri is a tank which is marked as Jauhar Kund. So when Man Singh Tomar was killed, his queens and other ladies (said to be around 1000) committed Jauhar here. 

Imagine! On the one hand, you get all the riches of the world, and on the other, you have to sacrifice your life for the men in your life! Alas!

Bhim Singh Rana ki Chhatri jauhar kund
Jauhar Kund in the front with Bhim Singh Rana ki Chhatri standing behind

Karan Mahal

Karan Mahal was constructed by Kirti Singh, the second ruler of the Tomar Dynasty, sometime in 1480 - 1486. Kirthi Singh was also known as Karan Singh, and hence the palace gets the name, Karan Mahal. It is one of the first palaces to be built.

Karan Mahal is a two-storeyed building. We can spot a Darbar Hall, a Prison, a Hamam (royal bath), and similar things around. 

One can go on the top floor for a proper view of the place around it. It is in a little dilapidated state and needs immediate attention.

karan mahal
Karan Mahal inside Gwalior Fort
karan mahal Gwalior fort
Karan Mahal

Gujari Mahal View Point

As you walk through the majestic palaces of the hill, you come to a spot from where you can see the Gujari Mahal. This is the best part of the story that I wanted to talk about—the love story of Raja Man Singh Tomar and Mrignayani, a Gujar princess. *violins playing in the background*

Once, when Raja Man Singh Tomar went on a hunting expedition, he came across a Gujar girl called Ninni! You might have heard stories of how men tame the buffaloes to impress and marry girls. Well, this time, the story is the other way round. Here, the Gujjar girl was seen handling two buffaloes fighting and got their horns tangled in the fight. 

The King saw Ninni untangling two mighty buffaloes' horns and was carried away with her beauty and bravery. 

He immediately asked her to become his queen. She placed three conditions before accepting his proposal.

  • Firstly, Gujars are not Kshatriyas but farmers; so her first condition was to be treated with equal status as his other queens.
  • Secondly, she would accompany the King wherever he goes, be it for hunting or the courts or the battlefields.
  • Thirdly, she asked that water for her be supplied from the river Rai that runs through her village as she believed that it was the key to her beauty and strength.

The smitten Man Singh happily agreed to all the wishes, and thus Ninni became the ninth queen of Man Singh Tomar. He named the Gujjar princess— Mrignanyani —which means eyes like that of a deer (gazelle, to be precise).

Since it was difficult to get the water system up to the Hill Fort, he built the palace on the foothills and called it the Gujari Mahal. The water pipes run all the way from her village to the palace.

Mrignayani did not wear the 'Ghoonghat' (the veil to hide one's face) and accompanied Man Singh to the battlefields. She also learned music from Haridas, and the King and queen sat together and enjoyed music shows. 

Needless to say, she earned the wrath of the other eight queens!

Gujari Mahal
Gujari Mahal as seen from the Gwalior fort

Chaturbhuj temple aka Zero Temple

Walking down the Hathi Pol gate, you will find the placard directing you to the Chaturbhuj temple, a Vishnu temple. 

One notable feature is that there is a plaque here with an inscription of "0". This is considered to be one of the first representations of zero. It is said that while numerals 1-9 existed, zero was always told as nothing, void, empty, or in our language "shunya." 

This is the first representation of zero, and it makes life and maths a lot easier. Sadly, the Temple is in ruins now.

Chaturbhuj zero temple gwalior
Way to Zero Temple inside Gwalior Fort

These are the monuments and places that you will find within or around Gwalior Fort itself. 

There are many more temples in Gwalior, like the rock-cut Jain temples of Gopachal hills, Sas Bahu Temple, Teli ka Mandir, and few more attractions within the Fort complex be covered by foot. Thus, I am writing them in a separate post because it needs all that attention it deserves.

Around Gwalior Fort
Walking around Gwalior Fort

Facts about Gwalior Fort

  • Gwalior Fort is called "Gibraltor of India" because of its massive wall standing on the cliff of a hill. The defensive mechanism is so thoughtful that heavy machines and animals cannot easily climb up this hill.
  • The fort was used more as a prison and many kings were executed here.
  • The walls of the fort are made of solid sandstone. It rises to a height of 35 feet and runs a length of 2.5km.
  • The entry fee to Gwalior fort is 25 rs for adults, 40 INR for children and 250 INR for foreigners. This ticket holds good for all the monuments within the Gwalior fort. Gujari palace has a separate entrance ticket.
  • The Gwalior Fort is open from morning 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
  • The sound and light show happens twice. The show in the Hindi language is at 7:30 pm and in English, it is at 8:30 pm. I did not attend the sound and light show so am not sure how worth it is. Charges are extra. Online information says 100 INR.
  • The little yellow bus leaves from Madhya Pradesh Tourism office in the morning. The bus needs a minimum eight passengers to start the tour. The tour starts from the Tansen Residency hotel (the MP Tourism office is located inside the hotel). It is a half-day tour and covers Jai Villas palace as well as Gwalior Fort. It is not really a hop on hop off bus kind. But a bus that you can join for the sightseeing.

More about how to reach Gwalior, where to stay in Gwalior, you can find it in this Gwalior City guide - Gwalior Travel Guide

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