The fourth of the fifty-two forts conquered by Maharaja Sangram Shah of the Garha Mandla kingdom of Gondwana in the early 16th century is the impregnable Singorgarh Fort situated atop a hillock in Singrampur village in Damoh district. This hill fort is most famous for the valour and martyrdom of the ruling Queen of Gondwana, Rani Durgavati.
Maharaja Sangram Shah conducted the wedding of his son Dalpat Shah with the daughter of Raja Kirti Singh Chandel of Kalinjar, Rani Durgavati in this fort. Following the death of her father-in-law and husband in a span of a few years, Rani Durgavati took the reins of the Gondwana Kingdom. She made Singorgarh as the capital and administered the prosperous kingdom along with her trusted ministers and son, Vir Narayan.
This fort is located in the thickly forested Satpura Range and is said to have been built by Raja Ven Basore and renovated and extended by the Gonds. Due to the lay of the land, hills on all the sides, the cover of the dense woods and innumerable paths through the hills into the fort, enemies found it difficult to approach and attack this fort. The bunkers of the soldiers are difficult to spot and many hidden paths were made to allow the movement of soldiers and the Queen without being seen. The ramparts were fully equipped to watch the enemy movements hidden from sight.
According to the locals, there are many secret passages in this fort designed to confuse invaders and to provide safe passage for the retinue of the king and queen. The construction of these passages is considered to be an architectural marvel. It is said that there are tunnels deep inside the dungeons known only to Rani Durgavati and a handful of her army. One tunnel discovered by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is said to lead to the hill fort of Madan Mahal.
The massive doors and a large part of this fort has been built in the locally available stone that are still standing after all these centuries. The inner palaces and rooms have been designed in such a manner that there is unrestricted flow of air and sunlight even in the deepest parts of the fort.
One can see the ruins of Rani Mahal, Hathi Darwaza and a huge bathing tank built inside the fort. A little distance away from the Hathi Darwaza is the spectacular Singorgarh reservoir which is always filled with water even during the peak summer. It is said that Rani Durgavati used to love to bathe in this tank and so, Dalpat Shah beautified it by filling it with lotuses.
Locals say that there is a well inside this reservoir where the inestimable treasure of Rani Durgavati along with the paras pathar (Philosopher’s Stone) has been hidden. Many people over the years have tried to explore the water in the reservoir but have failed as the depth of the reservoir is deceptive. It has been said that many avaricious people have dug in different parts of the fort to find the treasure only to be met with great misfortune or madness.
Rani Durgavati built many wells, tanks, dharmashalas and maths. The Gondwana Kingdom grew in stature and wealth during her reign drawing the envy of neighbouring kings. This led to many invasions by the Mughal general Bajbahadur who coveted this rich kingdom. However, he faced defeat every time and finally Akbar sent Asaf Khan to annex Singorgarh. Asaf Khan was decisively routed in his first attempt but regrouped and came back with a larger force of more than ten thousand horses and infantry. Rani Durgavati did not have sufficient men with her and quietly left a few men in charge of the fort and made her way to Narai Nala with about five thousand horses and infantry and awaited the arrival of Asaf Khan. This place is located between the rivers of Gour and Narmada.
Asaf Khan reached Singorgarh and captured it easily only to find that Rani Durgavati had made her escape. His army then searched around the thick forest and finally spotted her at Narai Nala. It is at this place that the great battle between Rani Durgavati and the Mughal invader Asaf Khan was fought resulting in her demise. There is a samadhi of Rani Durgavati and her elephant, Sarman at Narai Nala.
Singorgarh Fort is steeped in history, the grandeur of the Gondwana Kingdom and the bravery of Rani Durgavati who chose death over submission and capture by the Mughals. Unfortunately, this place is in a state of disrepair and one has to use their imagination to understand the layout of the fort. This fort is in an isolated part of a dense forest full of wild animals, snakes and others and receives very few visitors. Singorgarh Fort is a protected monument of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)