Built in 1156 AD, Jaisalmer Fort remains, despite many attacks by invaders over the centuries, a living enclave of humanity. Jaisalmer, located 558 kilometers west of the state capital Jaipur and 283 km west of Jodhpur, was once a major western entry point on the “Silk Route” for traders from Egypt and Persia, and enjoyed economic prosperity by levying taxes on the traders when they passed though the region. After the partition of India in 1947, it shared a border with Pakistan and all trade routes ceased to exist, so it is largely dependent upon tourism. It also houses a large Indian military presence due to its proximity to Pakistan. This ensures that the main roads are maintained in a high state of repair at all times, making the drive from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer a very pleasant one.
OLIVIER BERNIER in his 1992 article in the New York times wrote “DESERTS and their mirages have long inspired poets: the pitiless sun reflected by the burning sand, the golden city shimmering on a hill are compelling images, as are the long lines of swaying camels. Occasionally, however, the fantasy proves to be real: that is the case of Jaisalmer, once a major stop for the caravans that crossed the Indian state of Rajasthan, and now a magically beautiful survivor of the past”.
The fort was built in 1156 by the Rajput king Rawal Jaisal of the Bhatti dynasty, on a site that he chose on the advice of a wise local hermit who told him that the Hindu deity Krishna had praised the location as a strategic spot as mentioned in the epic poem the Mahabharata, and that a fort built there would be almost invisible to the king’s enemies.
Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest forts in the world. It is situated in Jaisalmer city in Rajasthan, India on Trikuta Hill, in the Thar Desert. Its golden yellow sandstone walls act as a camouflage in the yellow desert as predicted by the hermit. It is also known as the Sonar Quila (Golden Fortress). The location was popularized in a film by the celebrated Bengali director Satyajit Ray, named Sonar Kella, released in 1974.
Major battles in Jaisalmer
In 1293 the Bhattis raided a caravan bearing treasure that belonged to the mughal Emperor Ala-ud-din Khilji. Enraged by this incident and also the Bhattis’ support for the family of Pratihar King of Mandore when Khilji had attacked Mandore, the Emperor attacked the fort in 1294, laying siege for 7 years, finally breaching the walls and winning the battle. This triggered all the Rajput royal women to commit the rite of jauhar (self immolation on burning pyres) while their men continued to fight to the death in an associated rite called saka. The second major attack occurred in the year 14 CE during the reign of Ferozshah Tuglaq, also triggering jauhar, but there was not enough time to build the pyre, hence the Rajput men slit the throats of their women and children. A scholarly discussion of these ancient rites is available in this book by Peter Mayer on Suicide and Society in India.
The connection with Akbar the Great:
Of Akbar’s many Hindu wives, one was the daughter of Rawal Har Rai of Jaisalmer, mentioned in this book the Royal Mughal Ladies by Soma Mukherjee.
Here are some images from the interior of the fort and surrounding areas: