Fort and Palace Architecture

Fort and Palace Architecture

Fort and Palace Architecture

Fort and Palace Architecture

There are many references to forts and fortifications in ancient and medieval literature dating from the Vedic times. In the Ṛgveda, the word pur refers to a large settlement that was protected by fortifications or other means.

The Aitareya Brāhmaṇa refers to the three Agnis (fires) as three forts that prevent the asuras (demons) from disturbing the sacrifice.

Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra gives a detailed account of an ideal fortified city. Durg is the Indian term for ‘fort’, and means ‘difficult to trespass’, signifying the importance of a strategic site, a strong wall, and a moat to make it an impregnable bastion.

There are six types of forts: the dhania durg (desert fort), the Mahi durg (the mud fort), the jala durg (the water fort), the girl durg (hill fort), the vṛkṣa or vana durg (the forest fort) and the Nara Durg (fort protected by men).

India is dotted with forts built by various rulers, such as the Rajputs and then Muslim dynasties. In northern India, fort architecture was a combination of traditional architecture and Central Asian and Persian influences. The South being geographically isolated, its architecture was not influenced to that level and generally retained its styles.

The Rajputs were creative builders and erected some of the most illustrious and impressive forts and palaces. Some of the forts are at Kangra, Rai Pithora, Chittorgarh, Gwalior, Kumbhalgarh, Jaisalmer, Meharangarh, Junagarh, and Amber, Jaigarh, and Shrirangapatnam. These forts and palaces have complex compositions.

The Kangra Fort (Himachal Pradesh) was built by the royal Rajput family of Kangra (the Katoca dynasty) and traces its origins to the ancient Trigarta kingdom mentioned in the Mahābhārata.

It is the largest fort in the Himalayas and probably the oldest dated fort in India. The fort was first mentioned in Alexander the Great’s war records, which would bring it to the 4th century BCE.

Left: Chittorgarh Fort, Right: Vijaya stambha (source: Wikipedia) Chittorgarh, the oldest surviving fort, is said to have been constructed by the Mor kings between the 5th and the 8th centuries and is named after one of them, Chitrangada Mori, as inscribed on the coins of the period.

The fort complex comprises 65 historic built structures, among them four palace complexes, nineteen main temples, four memorials, and twenty functional water bodies. The first hill fort with one main entrance was established in the 5th century and successively fortified until the 12th century.

The second, a more significant defense structure, was constructed in the 15th century during the reign of the Sisodia Rajputs.

Besides the palace complex, located on the highest and most secure terrain to the west of the fort, many of the other significant structures, such as the Kumbha Shyam, Mira Bai, Adi Varah, and Shringar Chauri temples, and the Vijaya stambha (pillar of victory) memorial were constructed in this second phase.

Another important surviving fort is at Gwalior. This fort, bounded by solid walls of sandstone, is sprawled over a hilltop measuring over 2 km in length.

The fort complex includes temples, palaces, and several water tanks. Moreover, the southern path is bounded by intricately carved rock-cut temples of Jain tīrthāṅkars.

The Telī-kā-Mandir the temple follows the Drāviḍa style of architecture, as does the 9th-century Caturbhuj A mandir is an example of a Vaiṣṇavite shrine. The Man Singh Palace is a famous early 16th-century palace built by Raja Man Singh Tomar.


The Kumbhalgarh fort is located on the banks of the Banas River and is the second most important fort after that of Chittorgarh. Both were built under the rule of Rana Kumbha.

The Kumbhalgarh fort is accessed through a series of seven gateways named Aret Pol, Halla Pol, Hanuman Pol, Ram Pol, Vijay Pol, Nimboo Pol, and Bhairon Pol. The fort’s perimeter walls extend to 36 km.

The frontal walls are three meters thick; the ramparts reach a height of 3 to 5 m, reinforced by circular structures. All gates leading toward the palace compound on the western side of the fort are roofed and flanked by additional structures.

There are over 360 temples within the fort, 300 ancient Jain, and the rest are Hindu.

Jaisalmer Fort, built-in 1156 by Rawal Jaisal, a Bhati Rajput ruler, stands on the stark stretches of the great Thar Desert, on the Trikuta Hill. Architecturally, the Jaisalmer fort consists of three layers of wall.

The outer wall (the lowest) is composed of solid stone blocks. From the inner wall, Rajput warriors used to throw boiling water, oil, and massive blocks of rocks at the enemies, when they got trapped between the inner and the middle walls.

Mehrangarh Fort is an architectural marvel that stands proudly on a 125-m-long hill in the historic city of Jodhpur. Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur, started the construction of this fort in the 15th century, but it was completed during the reign of Maharaja Jaswant Singh two centuries later. The fort wall spreads over some 5 km.

The fort is situated 120 m above the city and is enclosed by imposing thick walls. The Jaypol or the gate of victory is the starting point of the fort.

Maharaja Man Singh who ruled Jodhpur in the 19th century used this gate to commemorate his victory over the armies of Jaipur and Bikaner.

Apart from this gate, there are six other gates. The Iron Gate preserves the handprints of the wives of Maharaja Man Singh who immolated themselves

on their husband’s funeral pyre. The area within this fort is covered with spacious courtyards and decorated palaces.

The main palaces of the fort include Motī Mahal (Pearl Palace), Phūl Mahal (Flower Palace), Śīśa Mahal (Mirror Palace), Sileh Khānā, and Daulat Khānā. Some artifacts of the era like musical instruments and royal attire are also
preserved in the palaces.

The Junagarh fort, located in Bikaner, is one of the most impressive fort complexes in India. It was built by Raja Rai Singh in 1588. It is one of those few forts that are not built on a hilltop.

There are 37 red sandstones (Dulmera) and marble inside the premises of the fort, which include palaces with intricately carved windows, beautiful balconies, towers, temples, and pavilions.

The highlights of the fort are the Candra Mahal, decorated beautifully with mirrors, paintings, and carved marble panels, the Phūl Mahal, the Karan Mahal, and the multi-storeyed Anūp Mahal, which was once used as the governance chambers for the rulers.

Gaṅgā Niwās, Dūngar Niwās, Vijai Mahal, and Raṅg Mahal is also fine example of splendid architecture. Amber Fort, is set in a picturesque location, a little away from Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state was built by the Kacchawāha Raja Man Singh in 1592.

Its architectural style is a blend of Hindu and Mughal architecture. Huddling on the hilltop, the fort showcased some unique work of delicate glass mirrors on the walls and ceiling that reflect the golden rays of the sun all over the premises.

The fort is built in red sandstone and white marble. The entrance to the fort is through the Sūraj Pol which opens into the Jaleb Chowk, the main courtyard.

The most prominent structures inside the Amber fort are the Diwān-i-Ām (the hall of public audience) and the Diwān-i-Khās (the Hall of private audience).

The magnificent Jaigarh Fort or ‘victory fort’ was constructed near Jaipur by Sawai Jai Singh in 1726 and is rugged and similar in structural design to the Amber Fort.

The fort is built with thick walls of red sandstone and is spread over a vast range of 3 km in length, with a width of 1 km. The fort houses an enormous 50-ton cannon on wheels known as ‘Jaivana Cannon’ and a huge palace complex. This includes the Laxmī Vilās, Lalit Mandir, and the Vilās Mandir.

In contrast to the complex compositions of forts and palaces built by Rajputs, the Islamic forts and palaces, like Purānā Quilā (‘old fort’) and Lāl Quilā (‘red fort’) in Delhi, tend to be symmetrical. The architecture of these forts is a blend of Islamic, Persian, and Indian styles of architecture.

These were built of sandstone or marble and were endowed with jharokhās (a type of overhanging balcony), chatrīs (elevated, dome-shaped pavilions), chajjās (projecting eaves or cover usually supported on large carved brackets), and jālīs (perforated stone or latticed screen used for ventilation as well as decoration).


The Purāna Quilā was constructed by Humayun and Sher Shah. The walls of the fort rise to a height of 18 m, traverse about 1.5 km, and have three arched gateways: the Humayun Darwāzā, Talāqī Darwāzā, and Barā Darwāzā. All the gates are huge, double-storeyed, and built with red sandstone.

They are flanked by two huge semi-circular bastion towers, decorated with white and colored-marble inlays and blue tiles. They are also replete with ornate overhanging jharokhās (balconies) and are topped by pillared chatrīs (pavilions).

Another important fort is Agra’s majestic Red Fort built by Emperor Akbar. It contains numerous impressive structures like the Jahāngīr Mahal, Khās Mahal, Dīwan-i- Khās, Dīwan-i-Ām, Macchī Bhawan and Motī Masjid. This Agra fort is enclosed by a double battlemented massive wall of red sandstone.

Most of the buildings added later used marble as the chief construction material. Delhi’s Lāl Quilā (Red Fort) and Agra’s Tāj Mahal were built in the mid-17th century by Emperor Shahjahan is the pinnacle of Mughal architectural achievement.

The Lāl Quilā, built of red sandstone is octagonal, with two longer sides on the east and west.
The perimeter of its strong ramparts is about 2.4 km. The Red Fort rises to a height of 33.5 m on the town side and 18 m along the river.

A wide moat surrounds the fort, which was originally connected with the Yamuna and was always filled with water. The two main gateways, known as Lahori Gate and Delhi Gate (so named as they face Lahore and Delhi respectively) are three-story-high and flanked by semi-octagonal towers.

The main entrance to the Lāl Quilā is through the Lahori Gate. Beyond the gate, there is a roofed passage, flanked by arcaded apartments leading to the palaces, known as Chattā Chowk. Some of the main buildings within the fort are the Dīwān-i-Ām (hall of public audience) the Dīwān-i-Khās (hall of the selective audience), the Hamām (bathroom set), the personal mosque of Aurangzeb, Motī Masjid (Pearl Mosque) and Mumtāz Mahal.


Golconda Fort, originally a mud fort founded by the Kākatiyā dynasty of Warangal during the 13th century, was later reconstructed into a massive fort by various Qutb Shahi rulers during the 16th century, on the outskirts of Hyderabad.

The fort, on an isolated granite hill, rises about 120 m above the surrounding plain. The contours of the fort blend with those of the hill. Nowadays the ruins have a desolate majesty amid an arid plain.

The fort has eight gates (darwāzās), the main gate being Fateh Darwāzā (Gate of Victory). The door is 4 m wide and almost 8 m high and studded with steel spikes to protect it from charging elephants.

The fort also includes a palace, a mosque, a parade ground, and an armory among many other buildings. The famous Srirangapatna fort, also called Tipu’s palace, in Mysore, Karnataka, was built in 1537 in Indo-Islamic style. This magnificent fort is considered to be the second toughest fort in India.

It has a palace, Lāl Mahal, which was the then residence of the most audacious king of Mysore, Tipu Sultan. The fort was built on a double-wall defense system and has four entrances, namely Delhi, Bangalore, Mysore, and Water and Elephant gates.

Most of these forts had ingenious water structures designed for harvesting and storage, including step-wells, elaborate reservoirs, and channels. (See module Other Technologies for more details.)

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