One of the oldest forts in Gujarat which at its zenith would have been an outstanding example of the grandeur and architecture typical of the Kutch region is the Roha fort located at a little distance from Bhuj. Standing tall at 800 feet on the Roha hill overlooking the vast town of Roha, this centuries-old fort accessed by a flight of roughly cut stone steps has tragedies and fleeting moments of happiness attached to it.
Historical records say that Rao Khengarji I also known as Khengarji Jadeja I, Rao of Kutch who founded the Kingdom of Kutch established the town of Roha and handed it over to his brother, Sahebji. At one time, there were about 52 villages that were a part of this fort making it one of the most influential and powerful jagirs of Kutch. Construction of the Roha Fort was commenced by Rao Khengarji I and additions were made by the successive generations.
Jiyaji who ascended this seat built two huge tanks and his son Thakore Noganji is credited with the completion of this fort in baked bricks and stones in the 18th century. It is believed that this fort became a seat of power after the grandson of Rao Khengarji I’s brother had a dream in which he was instructed by Devi to bring her idol out of the well and build a temple in her honour.
The fort complex had temples, palatial living quarters for the king and queens and even a kotwali and jailhouse! The fort is said to have been abandoned in 1965 and the earthquake of 2001 has ruined most of the fort.
A beautiful temple dedicated to Lord Krishna is seen next to an archway that frames the surrounding hilly area. Like most of the palaces built in this time, the king and queen’s palace was also well-concealed and had a private covered bridge with detailed wooden jaali work. There are exquisitely designed jharokhas that used to be covered with screens still seen in some parts of the fort.
Records show that this fort was adorned with lovely architectural elements of precious and semi-precious metals. Locals say that the Roha Fort had silver doors and brass door handles, cornices and roof detailing. However, very little remains as this place has been looted on many occasions. Historical evidence says that the British took control of this fort and made several modifications on the pretext of renovation.
There are stories that as this was one of the wealthiest provinces in Gujarat, the two tanks built by Jiyaji were filled with gold and silver! This fort however gained infamy when the scion of the Umerkot royal family sought help from Alaud-Dīn Khaljī to overthrow his brother. Alaud-Dīn Khaljī agreed to make him the king in return for the hand of the princess of Umerkot.
This led all the princesses of Umerkot to flee to Abdasa in Kutch. They reached Roha with much difficulty and waited for word from Abda who was in charge of the fort at Roha. Abda immediately dispatched his people to bring all the princesses to the fort but unfortunately, the tired princesses mistook them for the army of Alaud-Dīn Khaljī and gave up their lives. Samadhis were built to honour their chastity, grace and courage and this place has since been called as Sumari Roha.
Sursinhji Takhtasinhji Gohil, also known by his pen name Kalapi is said to have been inspired by the serenity and the diverse flora and fauna of Roha hill very often penning his deep thoughts in his romantic verses.
This place is reminiscent of past glory, affluence and magnificence but now stands desolate in the midst of stunning natural beauty. An intervention by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) will go a long way to protect its heritage.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)