The ancient city of Narwar is a glorious example of art, culture, heritage and historical ups and downs! Derived from the words nara which means man and vara which means excellent or exemplary, Narwar has been the birthplace of many romantic stories like Raja Nala and Damayanti, Raja Man Singh Tomar and Gujari Rani Mrignayani and Prince Dhola and Princess Maru.
This city used to be called as Nalapura after Raja Nala right up till the 12th century and the fort with its palatial quarters is exactly where Raja Nala gambled and lost all his wealth. Legend has it that when Raja Nala left for the forest along with Damayanti, the Kuladevi decided to lie down at the entrance of the main gateway to protect the treasury and since then, has been called Pasardevi, Goddess of tortoises. In fact, there is a massive statue of Pasardevi that is about 12 feet high and 8 feet wide at the entrance of the main doorway and a trench that is about 7 – 8 feet deep below her two arms. One can hear the distinctive sound of khanna when they drop coins in this hole and hence, it is believed that a great treasure lies beneath. Even today scions of many royal families come to seek her blessings.
Though historians say that the stories of unimaginable gold, precious stones and other valuables hidden in the fort is fairly common, what is unknown to many is that this place was reputed to be a city of tantra–mantra (magic). There is a lot of evidence of tantrism in various parts of the fort.
This historic town in Shivpuri district lies to the east of the Kali Sindh river which surrounds the famous fort of Narwar forming a natural moat. Situated atop a hillock, Narwar fort spreads across 8 sq km on an isolated steep scarp of the Vindhya range at a height of about 500 feet from the ground. The fort of Narwar comes only second in size after the fort of Chittorgarh in Rajasthan but is unfortunately in a state of disrepair.
This fort has been occupied by Kachhwaha Rajputs, Scindias, Sultans of Malwa, Marathas, Mughals and others who made modifications in the style that they favoured. However, the Mughal influence is most visible as they had removed every trace of Hindu culture including the temples that were built inside the fort. This fort has been the centre for Hinduism, Islam and Jainism. The renowned musician of medieval India, Baiju Bawra is said to have adorned the royal court of Raja Man Singh Tomar.
Locals say that both Sikandar Lodhi and his father had tried many times to conquer Gwalior and had failed every time. Finally, the decision was taken to lay siege on the Narwar Fort. This siege went on for eleven months during which Lodhi made many attempts to infiltrate but soon realized that both the morale of his army and their supplies were diminishing.
The food grains were also in short supply inside the fort and so a proposal was worked out. A dancer was offered half the kingdom if she would climb down the fort and pass on a message to the intelligence officer who was waiting outside the fort so that he could then inform Gwalior. The dancer came down the fort in the dead of night using a rope and passed on the message but met with her death while climbing back up as someone cut the rope from inside the fort. However, the message reached Gwalior and Lodhi who was informed that Mewar along with his mighty army were coming to the aid of Raja Man Singh Tomar immediately decided to lift the siege but outraged at his defeat, desecrated temples in the city of Narwar and massacred many innocent people. The dancer who lost her life protecting the fort and its people is revered by locals even today.
The entire fort is divided into four parts namely Majhloka, the middle, Dulha-Ahata, the western portion, Madar-Ahata, the south-eastern section and Gurjar-Ahata, the southern most part. The entrance to Narwar fort is from the east just by the Alamgir Gate previously called as Pisanhari Gate. The original door of the second gate, Saiyidon ka Darwaza is on the verge of collapse but definitely would have impressive when the fort was occupied.
There are eight wells and nine stepwells built in the 8th century at an elevation of 399 feet. It is said that about 1600 panihara (ladies who used to collect water) would fill water in their pots simultaneously. The huge water structure is spread over 390 sq ft and there are ghats that are 30 feet deep.
Some of the monuments and palaces within the fort are Phulwa Mahal, Alhaudal’s arena, Chhip Mahal, Hawa Paur, Rani Mahal, Kacheri Mahal, Koriyon ki Haveli, Ladau Bangla, Chakki Mahal, Rani Damayanti Mahal, Rawa Parewa Mahal, Sunheri Mahal, Ram Janaki Temple and others. What is fascinating is that bath tubs are seen in these palaces that are more than 500 years old with a unique hot and cold-water piping system in place! The courtyards, porches and colonnaded arcades with their interplay of light and shadow and stunning natural beauty in the backdrop are indeed spectacular.
Though the fort’s splendour and architecture are unparalleled, one feels remarkably desolate seeing this grand fort in ruins.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)