On my recent trip to Jaipur, I visited the two famous forts in the nearby city of Amer – the Amer Fort and the Jaigarh Fort. The two forts that are located close to one another rule the skyline of this small city on the Aravali range, one immensely popular among the tourists for its rich architectural style while the other for housing the world’s largest cannon on wheels. Let me take you along for a walk through these twin forts of Amer.
Raja Alan Singh Meena of the Meena clan was known to be the earliest ruler of the region. After defeating the Meena clan the Kachhwaha Rajputs established their capital in Amer. (Read more about the history of the Kachhwaha Rajputs from my previous post on Jaipur.) Raja Kakil Dev was the first Rajput ruler to build his capital in Amer in 1036.
The main construction of the Amer Fort on some pre-existing structure was started by Raja Man Singh I during his reign (1590-1640). Numerous additions and expansion of the fort were done during the reign of Mirza Jai Singh I who was the grandson of Raja Man Singh.
The Jaigarh Fort was also built on an existing fort that was built by its previous rulers. The fort served as the defensive structure for the Amer Fort (also known as Amber Fort). The Jaigarh fort is situated on a cliff known as Cheel ka Teela on the Aravali range overlooking the Amer Fort and the Maota lake giving it the ideal location to serve the purpose.
The network of fortification that runs around the city also connects the two forts from within. The Jaigarh Fort once served as the cannon foundry probably because of the abundance of iron ore in the surrounding region. It was the main artillery production centre of the Rajputs and also the Mughals. It was during the reign of Raja Jai Singh II, the Jaivan Cannon was cast in the foundry here in 1720, utilising the available resources and raw materials.
Jaivan is believed to be the largest cannon in the world, with a length of 31 feet 3 inches weighing 50 tonnes. The cannon was supposed to be pulled by elephants using ropes. The cannon was beautifully decorated with different motifs of elephant, peacock and other auspicious symbols. The cannon was never used in any war. It was once test-fired using 100 kg of gunpowder that covered a distance of 35 km.
A huge central watchtower with the flag of the Kachhwaha dynasty provided an excellent surrounding view and was used to keep a watch on the area. Rainwater harvesting was in practice and channels were made from the reservoirs in the Aravali catchment areas to the underground tanks in the fort to meet the water requirement within the fort. Presently the armoury and the museum beside have some artilleries and pictures of the Royals on display.
The Amer Fort, the popular among the two is known for its elaborate architectural details. An excellent blend of Mughal and Rajput architecture is seen here. This is a four leveled fort with adjacent courtyards. The fort was build of red sandstone and marble. The fort was used as the residence of the royal family before moving their capital to Jaipur.
There is a temple at the entrance of the palace dedicated to Goddess Shila (incarnation of Goddess Durga and an important deity to the family), the deity that Raja Man Singh brought to his capital after his conquest of Jessore (presently in Bangladesh). Since then the Goddess was worshipped with much reverence and dedication. Families of Bengali Brahmin priests continue to live in the fort to date, to look after the daily rituals of worship of the Goddess.
The fort consists of separate sections for the palaces, hammam, kitchens, Diwan-e-Aam and Diwan-e-Khas, spread across different courtyards. The first two courtyards of the fort had structures and pavilions for worship and other gathering and general meetings. While the palaces that were used as the royal residence and the aristocrat meeting room occupied the third and the fourth courtyard. The Sheesh Mahal, Sukh Niwas are among the most richly decorated part of the palace structures. The beautiful garden in the third courtyard is laid in the form of Mughal Gardens.
The Hammam is the Turkish bath used by the royals and was connected to the Sheesh Mahal. There were separate tubs for hot and cold water and there were separate changing and message room adjoining the toilets. The hearth outside the structure was used to heat the water. There were two sets of kitchen one near the Bhojanshala and the other near the Tripoliya gate. The one near the Bhojanshala prepared meals for the royals and their guests while the other was used to prepare food for the staffs.
Diwan-e-Khas is one of the prime attraction of the Amer fort. It was also known as Sheesh mahal because of its elaborate mirror work. It was built by Jai Singh and hence it was also called Jai Mandir. The upper part of the house was known as Jas Mandir with its intricate floral glasswork. The palace was kept cool using curtains made of roots from an aromatic grass known as Khas. The curtains were periodically moistened with water and it acted as an air cooler cooling the air that flew in.
The Mughal styled parterred garden of Char-bagh lies in between the Diwan-e-Khas and the Sukh Niwas. The garden had beautiful ornamental arrangements for flower beds. The Sukh Niwas or the pleasure palace was the Raja’s private apartment with a sandalwood door. The walls were richly decorated with marble inlays. All the palaces had the same cooling system with automated flow of water through the screens woven out of Khas roots and finally draining into the garden beside. After meeting the special guests in Diwan-e-Khas the King used to retire to the comfort of his Sukh Niwas.
Very close to this famous and magnificent fort lies the not so famous small stepwell of the town – Panna Meena ka Kund. There is no documented record of any history of the Panna Meena ka Kund though there are many local legends surrounding the structure and its construction. It is believed to be built during the 16th century.
This is an eight storied structure that was used as a water storage tank by the locals. Amer and the surrounding area lies in the dry region and there has often been serious water scarcity for ages. To meet the water requirement of the locals the Baori was made. Not only did it served the purpose of meeting the water requirements it also provided a place for the local women to socialise while providing a cool shady place for the travelers to rest, in earlier times.
A lot of history packed in the small area of Amer. Visiting historical sites is always a feeling of a different kind, it is not just walking through the structures of the past listening to their corresponding stories. It is a sensation that triggers the flight of imagination to fly away to yesteryears to turn on the fantasy mill and to watch the historic characters walking beside you, leading their normal daily life, completely unaware of your presence. My imaginative mind always takes me to the past and I get lost in the period of the story of the site. The story of the forts of Amer also took me on the periodic journey of the Rajput’s glorious pasts.