It is one of the most spectacular forts of India with a wall extending 36 kms over the horizon hugging rich forests and embracing over 360 temples and palaces. Today the Kumbhalgarh fort is perhaps the most lasting reminder of the powerful ruler who built it. Immortalized in history thanks to its valorous Maharanas or kings of Mewar like Maharana Pratap, Rana Kumbha, is often not given his due. Not only was this Rana a great builder he was also an erudite scholar and a great warrior.
Maharana Kumbha (Kumbhkaran) was born on Makar Sakranti day to Maharana Mokal and Queen Sobhagaya Devi in 1417 CE. He was just 16 years old when he became the Maharana of Mewar in 1433 CE, following the assassination of his father by his own nobles in a palace conspiracy. He would go on to rule Mewar for the next 35 years.
We know about the life and achievements of Maharana Kumbha from a series of euological inscriptions known as ‘prashastis’. Composed in the form of poetry or ornate prose, the prashastis were generally composed by the court poets and contained genealogies of the rulers and their achievements. The most important inscriptions that tell us about the life of Maharana Kumbha are the Kumbhalgarh Prashasti (1460 CE) in Kumbhalgarh Fort, the Kirti Stambh Prashasti (1460 CE) in Chittorgarh Fort and the Ranpur Prashasti (1439 CE) engraved on the Ranakpur Jain temple.
These records tell us that one of the first acts of Maharana Kumbha after his accession to the throne in 1433 CE was to avenge the death of his late father. With the help of his mentor, Rao Ranmal Rathore of Mandore, a senior nobleman in Mewar court, Maharana Kumbha defeated the conspirators. This was followed by a series of military campaigns to expand the boundaries of Mewar kingdom, which till then comprised of just the Chittorgarh fort and the surrounding villages. By 1439 CE, the borders of the kingdom were extended to Gagron in the east, to Nagaur in the west and from Pokhran in the north, right up to Gujarat in the south. According to the Kirti Stambh and Kumbhalgarh inscriptions, when the principalities of Amber and Ranthambore were attacked by the Sultan of Delhi; Kumbha helped them to regain their kingdoms.
Mewar soon emerged as a vast kingdom that fought a series of successful wars against the powerful Sultanates of Malwa and Gujarat that lay to its east and south. In 1437 and 1454 CE, Sultan Mahmud Khilji of Malwa made several attempts to invade Mewar and capture Chittorgarh, but he was defeated each time. In 1456 CE, a similar attempt by Sultan Ahmad Shah II of Gujarat was foiled. Finally, in the same year, the Sultanates of Malwa and Gujarat signed the ‘Treaty of Champaner’ against Mewar but it was to no avail. They were decisively defeated by the Rana Kumbha’s forces.
Maharana Kumbha’s is best known for the great architectural buildings and fortresses he built. Today, there are around 82 forts in Mewar out of which 32 were constructed by Maharana Kumbha. The main architects behind them were ‘shilpacharya’ or architects Mandan and Jaita.
To keep a strong hold on Mewar’s boundaries Kumbha built the Achalgarh and Vasantgarh forts at Abu in 1452 CE. To protect the north western boundary of the Mewar kingdom, the mighty fort of Kumbhalgarh and a long 36 k.m. wall circling the fort was constructed in 1458 CE. Even today, the Kumbhalgarh fort wall is one of the architectural wonders of India.
Much of what we see at the Chittorgarh fort, was also built during Maharana Kumbha’s reign. He renovated Chittorgarh and constructed the seven successive entrance gates of the fort, which are renowned today. To commemorate his epic victory over Malwa in 1448, Kumbha ordered the construction of the unparalleled (for those times) nine storeys Kirti Stambh popularly known as Vijay Stambha.
Interestingly, as per a 15th century Sanskrit text ‘Ekling Mahatmya’, Maharana Kumbha was polymath well-versed in the Hindu texts including the Vedas, Smritis, Upanishads and grammar. He also had a great interest in literature, music, and drama and composed various texts such as ‘Sangeetraj’, ‘Sood Prabhandh’, ‘Sangeet Ratnakar’, Rasik Priya’ (commentary of Geet Govind in Mewar dialect, originally written in Sanskrit), ‘Kamraj Ratisar Shatak’, ‘Chandi Shatak etc. In addition, he also patronized noted Sanskrit and Jain poets and scholars in his court.
Once peace had been restored to the realm, Maharana Kumbha retired to a peaceful life at Kumbhalgarh, where he lived from 1457 CE to 1468 CE. It was here, while offering prayers at the Mamadev temple in Kumbhalgarh, that he was assassinated in 1468 CE. The assassin was none other than his own son, Udai Singh I, who wanted the throne for himself.
Go to the Kumbhalgarh fort today and you will hear many a tale of Rana Kumbha’s legendary exploits. You can also soak in the brilliance, of what he has left behind!
(With Inputs from Maharana Mewar Foundation – eternalmewar.in)
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