Gwalior Fort in Gwalior, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, stands on an isolated rock, overlooking the Gwalior town, and contains a number of historic buildings. It is one of the biggest forts in India and a postage stamp has been issued by the Indian Postal Service to commemorate the importance of this fort. From historical records, it is established that it was built in the 8th century. The fortress and the city have been integral to the history of the kingdoms of North India. It is said that the Mughal Emperor Babur (1483–1531) described it as, "The pearl in the necklace of the forts of Hind". The fort, also given the epithet "Gibraltar of India', provides a panoramic view of the old Gwalior town, which is to its east.
The fort’s history relates to two parts namely, the main fort and the Gurjari Mahal and the Man Mandir palace. The first part was built during the early Tomar rule, while the second part, the Gurjari Mahal (now a Museum) and the palace, was constructed by Raja Man Singh Tomar in the 15th century for his favourite queen, Mrignayani.
Gwalior Fort also occupies a unique place in the human civilization as the place which has the first recorded use of zero ever. Also referred as 'Shunya' in sanskrit, this site is of mathematical interest because of what is written on a tablet recording the establishment of a small 9th century Hindu temple on the eastern side of the plateau (marked by the '0' on the nineteenth century map at the left). By accident, it records the oldest "0" in India for which one can assign a definite date.
The hill fort, conical in shape, is built on a solitary hillock surrounded by other comparable hills in the south east, the south and the south west, which, when seen from a distance of 1–4 miles (1.6–6.4 km), presents the shape of an amphitheatre. A small river, non-perennial in nature, called the Subarnarekha flows close to the palace. The rock formations in the fort hill and in the Gwalior hill ranges consist of ocherous sandstone, overlain by basalt. The rock formations of hill fort though a horizontally placed strata, forms almost a perpendicular precipice. The fort hill (342 feet (104 m) at the highest point) has a length of about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) and an average width of about 300 yards (270 m).
The fort and its premises are well maintained and have many historic monuments, Hindu and Jain temples (of 11 shrines, seven are Hindu temples) and palaces, out of which the famous are the Man Mandir palace, the Gujari Mahal (now an Archeological Museum), the Jahangir Mahal, the Karan Palace and the Shahjahan Mahal.
The fort, which has a striking appearance, has been built on the long, narrow, precipitous hill called Gopachal. The fort spreads over an area of 3 square kilometres (1.2 sq mi). The fort, 35 feet (11 m) in height, is built over massive sandstone rocks. The fort wall is built all along the edge of the hill, though of uniform height, presents an irregular appearance due to the topogarphy of the land over which it has been built. It has two main access gates - one from the North East and the other on the South West. The fort rampart is laid all along the periphery of the hill connected by six towers or bastions. It is approached through the north east through a lengthy access ramp. The main entrance or gate to the fort, called the Hathi Pul (means "elephant gate" as elephants could pass through this gate), is accessed after passing through six other gates. Apart from the Hathi Pul gate to the Palace, there is another large ornate gate, inferred as the Badalgarh Gate. The Man Mandir palace or the citadel is located at the northeast end of the fort. Its construction is dated to the 15th century but refurbished in 1648. The fort precincts also have many monuments such as palaces, temples and water tanks. The water tanks or reservoirs created in the precincts of the fort could provide water supply to a 15,000 strong garrison, which was the estimated requirement of manpower to secure the fort. On the approach from the southern side, intricately carved rock cut temples of 21 Jain thirthankaras are seen set deep into the steep rock faces. One such statue of 40 feet (12 m) height, identified as that of Parswanath, the 23rd Jain thrithankara (or saint), escaped demolition ordered by Babar since he lost control of the fort.
Man Mandir: The Man Mandir is a remarkable Hindu palace built by Man Singh Tomar inside the fort. The palace dominates the east flank of the fort with its impressive façade. Circular towers with domed pavilions are provided at intervals along the fort wall which acts as curtain wall. It is called a 'painted palace' or 'Chit Mandir' since the walls of the southern facade are covered at four levels. The painted effect is provided by the styled tiles in turquoise, green and yellow, which have been laid in "friezes of geometric patterns of geese and crocodiles with entwined tails". The parapet wall of the fort depicts elephants, peacocks and trees. Two inner courts inside the palace are enclosed by a series of apartments all around, which have perforated screens or jalis. The inner courts have an ornately carved facade. They are decorated with carved brackets in the form of lotus petals, friezes on the walls of colourful tiles and with projecting upper balconies. The southern façade, however, depicts figures of elephants, tigers and ducks. Another unique feature of the palace is the Baradari (the celebrated chamber) which is 15 m square in plan and is supported by 12 column with a stone roof and is said to be one of the exquisite palace-halls in the world.
The prison dungeon is also located below this palace where many royal prisoners of the Mughal dynasty were incarcerated and killed.
The palace grounds have witnessed atrocities committed by Mughal emperors. Aurangzeb, initially, imprisoned his brother Murad at this fort and later killed him on the reasons of treason. Fort's name is also tagged to the sati (voluntary burning to death of women of the harem at a funeral pyre) at the 'Jauhar Kund Palace' where sati was performed by the women folk of the royal family when the king of Gwalior was defeated in the year 1232 AD.
Hathi Pool: The Hathi Pol Gate (or Hathiya Paur) is the main gate in the fort leading to the Man Mandir palace built by Man Singh. It is the last gate at the end of a series of seven gates. It is named after a life-sized statue of an elephant (hathi) that once adorned the entrance to the gate. The gate built in stone on the south-east corner of the palace has cylindrical towers. The towers are crowned with cupola domes. Carved parapets link the domes.
Gujari Mahal cum museum: Gujari Mahal, a palace that was built by Raja Man Singh for love of his wife Mrignayani, a Gujar princess, because she demanded a separate palace for herself with regular water supply through an aqueduct structure built from a near by river source called the Rai River. This mahal is well maintained now as it has been converted into an archeological museum. The rare artifacts on display at the museum are the Hindu and Jain sculptures dated to 1st century BC and 2nd century BC, miniature statue of Salabhanjika (shown only by special permission), Terracotta articles and replicas of frescoes seen inBagh Caves.
Teli ka Mandir temple: The Teli-ka-Mandir, or “Oilman’s Temple” or ‘Oil Pressers temple” is inferred to have been built in the eighth century, but eleventh century has also been mentioned. Based on the sculptures and ornamentation in the two temples, Louis Fredric, an archeologist,has inferred that the two are eight century shrines. It is considered the oldest monument in the fort, which presents a unique blend of various Indian architectural styles (fusion of south Indian and North Indian styles) and is called a Brahmanical sanctuary. Basically, it has an unusual configuration: shrine-like in that it has a sanctuary only; no pillared pavilions or mandapa; and a Buddhist barrel-vaulted roof on top of a Hindu mandir. Buddhist architectural influence has been identified on the basis of Chitya type of hall and elegant torana decorations at the entrance gate. It was refurbished in 1881-83 with garden sculpture. In plan, it is a rectangular structure. It has a tower built in masonry, in nagari architectural style with a barrel vaulted roof, 25 metres (82 ft) in height. In the past, the niches in the outer walls had sculptures installed in them but now have horse shoe arch or gavakshas (ventilator openings) with arched motifs, in north Indian architectural style. The gavaksha design, has been compared to trefoil, a honey comb design with a series of receding pointed arches within an arch that allows a "play of light and shadow". The entrance door has a torana or archway with exquisitely sculpted images of river goddesses, romantic couples, foliation decoration and a Garuda. Diamond and lotus designs are seen on the horizontal band at the top of the arch, which is deciphered as an influence from Buddhist period. It was originally dedicated to Vishnu, but later converted to the worship of Siva. The details of the doorway design has been vividly described by an archeologist as:
The combination of vertical and horizontal bands produces a composition of rectangular shapes-all within one large rectangle surmounted by an elaborate honeycomb design of gavaksa motifs. The vertical bands on either side of the door are simple and restrained, and although the figures have been badly damaged, they still retain their graceful, rhythmical form and movement. The small group of dislike objects immediately above the doorway suggest the finial or crown (damalaka) of an Indo-Aryan Shikhara.
The highest monument in the fort is that of the Garuda, dedicated to the Pratihara Vishnu. This structure considered a fusion of Muslim and Indian architecture is seen close to the Teli-ka-Mandir . This is not the Teli ka makdir, But it was the temple of loard shive. The wersiper use to install a Bell Called in Hindi Taali.on full filing the desire. Which again Taali was converted to word as Teli ka mander. Due to ignoramnce of the local people.
Sas-Bahu temple: In the 10th century, with the control of the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty of Gwalior declining, a regional dynasty called the Kachchhapaghatas started wielding power. During their rule they built several monuments, which included two temples known by the name the 'Sas-Bahu temple' (meaning: “mother-in-law and daughter-in-law”); one small and one large (both are seen but in ruins, but the smaller one is more elegant and better preserved) located adjacent to each other. These temples were initially dedicated to Vishnu. An inscription on the larger of the two temples records its building date to 1093 AD. A unique architectural feature of these pyramidal shaped temples built in red sandstone is that they have been raised several stories high solely with the help of beams and pillars, and with no arches having been used for the purpose. The main temple looks dauntingly sturdy. The stylistic smaller Sas-bahu temple is a replica of the larger temple.
There are several other monuments built inside the fort area. These are: the Chhatri of Maharajas Bhim Singh and Bhimtal; the Scindia School (initially an exclusive school for sons of Indian princes and nobles), a renowned institution founded by the late Maratha Maharaja Madho Rao Scindia of Gwalior in 1897; the Gurudwara Data Bandi constrcuted in memory of the sixth Sikh Guru Har Gobind.