Located deep in the dense forest of the Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary in the geologically significant tehsil of Bhanpura in West Malwa on the border of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan is the important monument and temple site of the fort of Hinglajgarh. This fort has a rich and glorious ancient history that is marred by the tragic events that occurred during the Mughal invasion.
This fort has a tremendous geographical and strategic advantage as it sits atop a hill, is designed as a semi-circular for almost 10kms, has a trench that is almost 300 feet deep and the Chambal River flowing on two sides of the hill.
Though the present structure is said to have been built about thousand years ago, the ancient inscriptions written in Pali script found here have baffled historians. Historical evidence suggests that the temple of Hinglaj Mata has existed even before the early period of the Mauryas and the fort derives its name from the presiding deity. Locals believe that this temple is one of the fifty-two Shakti Peethas though this is not generally accepted by scholars.
As Hinglaj Mata of Hinglajgarh is considered to be the kuladevi of the Maurya dynasty, it is thought that this temple has been established during the reign of the Mauryas, for an important Shakti Peetha of Hinglaj Mata is located in the province of Balochistan in Pakistan that was previously a part of Akhanda Bharat.
The discovery of ancient images of the Goddess in her myriad forms and the innumerable idols of Gauri found here has added weight to the argument that the temple of Hinglaj Mata is indeed a Shakti Peetha. The number, kind and time period of Gauri idols found here have not been discovered in any other place till date. Besides Gauri idols, the idols of Sapta Matrikas have also been found.
It would appear that from the time tantrism has been inculcated as an intrinsic part of the worship of Divine Mother, sculptors and artisans of Hinglajgarh have been creating exquisite masterpieces of Divine Mother as a Yogini. The sculptures of Divine Mother as Katyayani, Vinayaki, Aparajitha, Bhuvaneshwari and Bagalamukhi and others have been found here. It is evident from the discovery of hundreds of sculptures and idols of unparalleled craftsmanship that Hinglajgarh at one time occupied a seat of prominence in arts and sculpture.
These discoveries have only strengthened the faith and belief of the locals in Hinglaj Mata who throng this place in large numbers. Some of the statues obtained here are seen in the Central Museum of Indore and have made their way to museums abroad.
It is difficult to state authentically when the foundation of this fort was laid and by whom but it would appear that this fort gained importance as a military and strategic outpost during the reign of the Paramara dynasty. Statues found here are said to belong to the 5th to 6th century but historical evidence points to this fort being either renovated or built in the 12th century by the Paramara dynasty. This fort fell into the hands of many dynasties but was never made a capital or a permanent residence. This fort has been mentioned as a haveli in the historical documentation of 1688 of the kings of Chandravat dynasty of Rampura.
Western Malwa region witnessed continuous bloody wars between the Mughals and Mewar kings during the years of 1520 to 1752, a period often remembered for the unspeakable atrocities and acts of inhumanity committed by the invaders who forgot all boundaries of decency. The fort of Hinglajgarh was also an unfortunate victim for several years till the mighty Marathas under the leadership of Punyashlok Ahilyadevi Holkar took charge of this fort in the latter part of the 18th century. Maharani ordered that the fort be restored to its former glory and the ancient temples of Hinglaj Mata and Lord Shiva and the grand Rani Mahal were rebuilt along with some other renovations and new constructions.
The fort underwent extensive reconstruction during the reign of Maharaja Yashwantrao Holkar. Several artisans were employed to renovate this ancient fort and the temple of Hinglaj Mata. The fort currently has four entrances named Patanpol, Surajpol, Katarapol and Mandleshwari dwaar. There is a huge reservoir called Suraj kund near Surajpol which is the only water body near the fort. There are four temples of significance within the complex namely Hinglaj Mata, Lord Shiva, Lord Rama and Lord Hanuman. Besides this one can see the kacheri (court) and the Rani Mahal as well. There is a monument within the fort complex dedicated to Gotri Bhil who was killed in battle.
This fort was at its zenith during the Paramara dynasty and gradually faded into obscurity during the Chandravat reign when the fort was largely abandoned and in ruins. The Marathas are credited with rebuilding the fort and adding to its splendour. The British who took charge of the fort used it as a hunting lodge and a rest house and remained blissfully ignorant of the sanctity of this temple site.
This fort undoubtedly has many secrets which in all probability will never been known to the universe. The uniqueness of the sculptures discovered here will leave even the most exemplary artisan in the world spellbound.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)