M B Garde writes, ‘Midway over all towers the giant form of a massive Hindu temple grey with the moss of ages, altogether, the Fort of Gwalior forms one of the most picturesque views in Northern India’. This imposing and elegant fortress is situated on an isolated sandstone hill which is about 300 feet above the ground. Babur describes it as a ‘pearl in the necklace of the castles in Hind’. Though the foundation of this fort is veiled in obscurity, but Garde mentions that the history of this fort goes back to 5th century CE or even earlier. In inscriptions, it is referred as Gopachala, Gopagiri, Gwalikera or Gomanta. In various bardic accounts, the foundation of the fort is attributed to the Kacchawaha king Suraj Sen.
Gwalior had the reputation of an impregnable fort in the northern part of India. Abu Rihan, a companion chronicler of Mahmud of Ghazni, describes the fort of Gwalior and Kalinjar as two of the strongest places in the country. Gwalior withstood a twelve months siege against Iltutmish in 1232 CE. It did not come to the Muslim emperors of Delhi very easily and they got it only in 1518 after two years of siege. Cunningham mentions that Gwalior fort had an advantage of wells and tanks full of water. While the fortress of Kalinjar and Ajaygarh submitted after their wells and tank were dried up but Gwalior did not. There are innumerous tanks and wells inside this fortress and many of these do not dry up any time in a year.
Gates of the Gwalior Fort:
There are three entrances to this fort, two on its west side and one on its east side. The entrances on west were closed at different times for long periods however the eastern entrance was always kept open. This eastern entrance is protected by six gateways, 1) Alamgiri Paur, 2) Badalgarh or Hindola Paur, 3) Bhairon Paur, 4) Ganesh Paur, 5) Lakshman Paur, and 6) Hathiya Paur.
The Alamgiri Paur (gate) is the first gateway you encounter on the ascent to the fort. This gate was constructed by Motamid Khan, the governor of Gwalior, in 1660 CE. He named this gate after the reigning Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb Alamgir. There is an inscription over the arch however it is almost obliterated at present. The wooden gate attached to this gateway was much rotten in 1844 and it was renewed by Alexander Cunningham in the same year.
The Badal Mahal or Hindola Paur is supposedly have been named after Badal Singh, the brother of the Tomar king, Kalyan Mal. Ibrahim Lodi captured the fort in 1518 CE and took away a large brazen bull which was originally enshrined near this gate. He installed that bull near the Baghdad Gate at Delhi. Cunningham mentions that the present name of this gate is Hindola Paur which probably has been derived from a hindola (swing) which used to be existing in front of the gate.
The style of this gateway is very similar to Man Singh Palace hence Cunningham did not hesitate to assign it with Kalyan Mal or his son Man Singh, that is between 1479 and 1516 CE. An iron plate nailed to the wooden gate record the renewal of it by Sayid Alam, the governor, in Hizri year 1058 (1648 CE), during the 22nd regnal year of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
The Bhairon Paur is attributed by the bard Kharg Rai to Bhairon Pal. Bhairon Pal is supposed to one of the earliest traditional Kacchawaha Rajput king. Cunningham does not mind accepting its antiquity as the style of the gateway is very old. However he mentions that it cannot be older than the time of first Muslims in India as the sloping towers of the gate are of early Pathan architecture. Cunningham mentions that it’s another name, Bansor Paur, was derived from a person who occupied this gate during the time of the Marathas rulers. On the jambs, there is a short inscription dated in Saka year 1542 (1485 CE). This gate, however, has not survived the toll of time.
The Ganesh Paur was erected by the Tomar king, Dungar Singh (1424-1454 CE). After passing this gate, on your right is a small mosque built by Motamid Khan after destroying a temple. The original temple was the shrine of Gwalipa, after whom the fortress is received its name. The present Gwalipa temple is situated near this mosque. An inscription over this mosque describes the construction of this mosque. Cunningham mentions that according to the numerical powers, the last three words of this inscription sums to 1075 which would be the Hizri year, corresponding to 1664 CE, in which the temple was destroyed. The inscription reads,
‘In the reign of the great prince Alamgir,
Like the full shining moon, the enlightener of the worlds,
Praise be to God that this happy place,
Was by Motamid Khan completed as an alms.
It was the idol temple of the vile Gwali,
He made it a mosque, like a mansion of paradise,
The Khan of enlightened heart, nay light itself from head to foot,
Displayed the divine light, like that of mid-day,
He closed the idol temple,
Exclamations rose from earth to heaven,
When the light put far away the abode of darkness,
Hatif said “light be blessed”.’
Chaturbhja temple is located on the way to Lakshman Paur from Ganesh Paur. Fazl Ali attributes the Lakshman Paur to Lakshman Pal, the 17th prince of the Kacchwaha clan. Cunningham however does not find this name in other references and hence he suggests that this gateway was probably erected by Vajra Dama on the name of his father, Lakshmana, after the conquest of Gwalior by him in 970 CE. He also suggests another probability that this name might have been derived from Lakshmana Sinha, one of the 20 sons of Raja Vira Sinha Deva, the founder of the Tomar dynasty of Gwalior.
The way beyond the Lakshman Paur is not very steep and face of the rock is carved with various motifs, mostly Hindu. The most imposing of these was an image of Varaha about 15.5 feet in height. However this image is no more there except its outlines, Cunningham suggests that it was chiseled out by the Shaivites. Various other deities are carved on the rock, Shiva with Parvati, Ganesha, Mahishasuramardini, Surya, Kartikeya, Vishnu etc. There is a recumbent lady figure where she is lying over a serpent coil and holding a baby. Cunningham suggests that it could be some Jaina goddess, however it might be the nativity scene from Krishna-lila depicting his birth.
The Hathiya Paur was built by Raja Man Singh (1486-1516 CE). Its name was derived from a life-size elephant statue which formerly stood immediately outside the gate. A mahout and the king himself was shown seated on the back of that elephant. The statue was seen by Babur in 1525 during his visit to Gwalior and he described it as the perfect resemblance of an elephant in his memoirs. This statue was also mentioned by Abul Fazl in 1596 CE. Finch, an English traveler during the reign of Jahangir, also noticed this image and he described it was a curios colossal of an elephant in stone at the top gate. There is no reference of this statue in later records which made Cunningham to suggest that it was probably appropriated by Muzafar Khan who held this fortress from 1628 to 1647 CE.
There are three gates on the north-western entrance communal called as Dhonda gate. This entrance was generally kept closed during the Mughal rule. It was also kept closed during the Maratha rule and British occupancy. However since the second British occupation in 1858, this entrance was again opened for their garrison. Dhondha gate derives its name from an adjacent temple dedicated to Dhondha Deva. Fazl Ali attributed its construction to Dhandher Pal, one of the early Kacchawaha ruler. Badili Das assigns it to Dhandhana and Kharg Rai puts it to Ghanghana, both seems to be corrupted form of Dhandher Pal. An inscription on the rock besides this temple ascribes its construction to Raja Man Singh in Saka year 1552 (1495 CE). Another inscription recorded on this rock on another part of entrance provides date Saka year 1505 (1448 CE) which suggests that the gate was in existence when Man Singh constructed this temple. There are two lions placed inside pillared niches on the outer gate.
The southern-western entrance is called Gargaj Paur, the name is derived from a nearby tank known as Gargaj Baori. This tank is cut out from solid rock and measures 49 feet long and 24 feet broad. This entrance has five gates, all of which were kept closed for long. The middle gateway out of these five gates is built in similar style as that of the outer gate of the Dhondha gate. It also has two stone lions in pillared niches.
Dhonda and Gargaj gates are closed at present, and the western road passes through Urwahi gate instead.