Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Narwar Fort - A Fort you can Call your Own

You have seen it in Hollywood movies. A car driving through the summer Arizona desert as mirages appear and road in the distance starts to dance and shimmer in the white heat. This is how you feel as you set out from Jhansi. The destination is Narwar Fort across the state border in Shivpuri district of MP. It is eight in the morning but the haze rising from the searing asphalt is already hurting the eyes. You had experienced the almost 50 degree heat last evening in Jhansi and something similar is expected today. It seems as if earth is going to boil over. But you need to be true to your mission at hand. You have already missed Narwar Fort the last time you were in this general area.

Finally there is a fort that you can call your own. You have just hit upon an interesting tidbit. Narwars are said to be descendants of Chandravanshi King Narhari who belonged to Nauhwars. Nauhwar is a gotra of Jats and according to a popular book on Jat history, Nauhwars are believed to be a ruling clan who ruled over Scythia and Central Asia. Sir Alexander Cunningham, former Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India, considered the Jat people to be the Xanthii (a Scythian tribe) of Scythian stock who he considered very likely called the Zaths (Jats) of early Arab writers. Today, the Nauhwar Khap has 100 villages centered around Nauhjheel. And your ancestral village is about 5 kms from Nauhjheel in Mathura district of UP. This is news that makes you want to add your gotra to your name.
Narwar Fort - View from Karera Road
The NH 76 from Jhansi to Shivpuri is excellent and it speeds away further west to Kota and Udaipur in Rajasthan. What difference five months make in this part of the world. Last time there was dense fog with zero visibility on this road and today it seems that the heat will just melt and vapourise everything. At Karera, you make a right and chance upon another fort up ahead built on a hill. On any other day this would be treated as a bonanza, but on a hot day there is no way you are climbing two forts. So you keep going towards Narwar. The single lane road is newly built and you clock the remaining 40 kms in no time.
Narwar - Tombs and Chattris on top of Hill before Narwar Fort
Zoom View of Tomb on top

Tomb with the Cenotaphs and Quaint Pillars

Just before entering the town of Narwar, on the left you see canopies built high up on the hills. A little ahead, at the ground level there is another tomb with number of graves. The surprise here are the quaint looking never seen before pillars at the head of cenotaphs. These short or pygmy pillars with niches were probably used to light candles and chiraghs. The presence of pillars could indicate that sufi saints are possibly buried here. The tomb here and the tomb on the top are the relics of Muslim rule at Narwar from the times of Iltutmish, and going on to Sikander Lodhi and beyond to the Mughals. Just beyond on the right, above the town rises the fort.

View of Narwar Town

Houses probably belonging to the Nobles in the town of Narwar - View from Narwar Fort
Tavernier in his travelogue describes Narwar "as a large town on the slope of a mountain or a steep scarp of Vindhyan range, above which there is a kind of a fortress, and the whole mountain is surrounded by walls. Most houses in the town are hatched while houses belonging to the wealthy are two storeyed and terraced. In the distance are beautiful tombs." These are the same tombs you see when entering the town.

Father Monserrate, Jesuit priest from Portugal who passed through Narwar on his way to meet Akbar in 1580, describes Narwar: "This district is called after the neighbouring town; its savage inhabitants knowing that they can commit robberies with impunity, are wont to attack travellers from ambush and to carry off their goods as plunder." You are ready to roll over laughing.

The Challenge
You have heard of certain hobbies like paragliding that are extremely hazardous. Fort Climbing never appeared in the Top Dangerous Hobbies list anywhere. But the recent experience is teaching you that fort climbing is no less hazardous. If it was a nasty looking snake and unseen cliff edges at Asirgarh Fort and unsavoury characters at Tughlaqabad Fort, here at Narwar Fort it seems getting sun stroke is a huge possibility and sun strokes are known to kill folks. The Top Dangerous Hobbies List makers need to be informed of this steep dangerous quotient involved in fort climbing.

Narwar Fort - View from the last shady point - Last Chance to Back Out

The initial climb to the fort is the toughest part. It is the most vertical and appears suddenly as soon as you step out of the car. Though it is just ten in the morning the temperature already feels about 45 degrees. A peepul tree just beyond the last line of houses at the base of the fort provides the only shade.  You look up the hill towards the first gate - about 300 metres of incline and 100 steps to get there. You pause to think if you really want to do this and prove the fort climbing dangerous hypothesis right. But you also know there might be no second chance coming this deep into MP. So it is now or never - after all you need to find out what the deal about Nal and Damyanti is. Also, is Narwar or Nalapura the same great city of Padmavati of the Purans which is the scene of Bhuvabhati’s drama of Malati and Madhava? With the cap on and handkerchief tied around the face, head bowed down, you set out under the unforgiving sun and blazing breeze.

Those Steps will definitely kill you

Not even halfway and you are sure it was all a big mistake. Your heart is pounding, lungs seem to have ballooned and close to bursting and all you hear are your gasps of your breath. Slowly the feeling from your legs muscles is fading away. The incline has given way to steps now. Usually you would bound up the stairs in single steps. But now you are stepping twice on each step. The gateway topped with a chattri on right is about 50 steps away. On either side the walls rise. Just getting to the gateway is your immediate goal. It should give you the bragging rights of visiting Narwar Fort. There are some boys sitting under the little shade the gate is offering and watching you labour up the steps bemusedly. And then you throw yourself down on the ground. You remember the boys asking something but you are busy doing more important things - like trying not to die and hoping the heart stops pounding.

It will in the scheme of things if the fortress is also described as we continue our painful ascent. Cunningham describes the fortress as situated in the bend of Sindh river and built on an irregular shaped hill. The fort can be described as the neck, head and bill of a duck. The head or central portion is called Majh Mahal or middle quarter and also Bala Hisar or ‘Citadel” as it commands the view of the entire fort. The neck or northern quarter is called Madar Hata as it contains the shrine of famous saint Shah Madar. The duck’s bill or south-eastern quarter is called Dulha Kot. The whole circuit of the walls is about eight kms. The principal entrance to the fort lies at the hollow forming the duck’s throat. And this is where you have finally struggled to reach.
Alamgir Gate

View of Narwar Town from Alamgir Gate
After few swigs of water, you are able to speak. The boys have just come back after visiting the temple. Soon they leave you behind as they begin their descent under the burning sun. The gate is called Pisanhari Gate. It is said the gate was opened in the morning before the grain mills in the fort above would start grinding. Aurangzeb dismantled the original structure and built the gateway in Mughal style and therefore it is also called Alamgir Gate. The ASI sign says that the gate has been mentioned by William Finch, Tavenier and Cunningham. Is this enough or should you go inside? The boys step into the burning heat leaving you to fend for yourself. 
Looking up into Narwar Fort from Alamgir Darwaza
Wondering what to do next and almost sure that now there will be plain ground and maybe some steps to contend with you look around the bend ahead on the left.  The sight makes you feel sick! About 100 broken steps stare down at you. At the top the steps seem to turn right. You can’t make out what lies ahead.

Moving towards Sayyidon Ka Darwaza
With stone steps and stone walls towering around you, it feels even hotter now. You cannot go back from the gates. If you have made it this far, it deserves another shot. So you are on your way up again. This time the heart does not pound as much, but the gasping breath returns. You corner the turn and expectedly run into a wall - a standard defence feature of forts. This is the spot earmarked for giving reception to the enemy when arrows rained down or if the besieged fort denizens were in good mood boiling oil would be poured. Right now, baking under the sun, boiling oil does not seem too bad.
View from Sayyidon Ka Darwaza

Sayyid Tomb
Possible Temple Fragments
You come to the landing at the top where there is a gate on the left. On the right are built two-storeyed galleries where probably the soldiers and guards camped. A stairway leads up to the top of the bastions. The gate on the left is called Sayyidon ka Darwaza or Peeran Paur.  Just beyond the gate is a white washed tomb with several graves. An inscription says that one of the graves belong to Sher Shah Suri’s fort commander Dilawar Khan (1545) who was a Sayyid. Cunningham thinks that since the gate was repaired by the Sayyids and hence the name. You have seen this across forts: temple members and fragments used to build the later structures and walls. Here just below the ASI sign you can see stones that apparently came from temples.
Narwar Fort - Seduction Continues - Fourth Gate
You have reached the third gate including one at the town level and you are nowhere inside the fort. You still see steps going up on the right of the tomb. This is how the forts seduce you. They show a little with a promise of more and you get reeled in. So what you could be in bed for few days suffering from untold misery.  

Moving Towards Hawa Paur
Hawa Gate - Fifth Gate
More winding steps leave you even more winded. Bastions tower over you with canopies on top. Another gate brings you to Hawa Paur. So far you seem to have just been going around winding stairs protected by high walls and bastions. These are great defense mechanisms: increasingly difficult levels of protection makes the fort that more impregnable. Last time you climbed so many steps was in Daulatabad Fort. But that was a perfect day. January in Aurangabad with a little nip in the air was perfect for fort climbing. It being a Sunday you took your time negotiating the multi level fort and doing your 25 year reprise. But today running on clock on a furnace like day is a bad idea. During rains cool breeze would sooth the people sitting in the pavilion of Hawa Paur. But now it seems a dragon is breathing fire on you.
Hawa Paur at Narwar Fort
Before the Marathas seized Narwar Fort, this gate was called Gaumukhi Darwaza. Daulat Rai Scindia’s Governor Ambaji built Hawa Paur in 1800. Above the Hawa Paur is Udal Vakshi and a 13th century Vishnu Temple. You missed seeing both! But what is not something to scoff at is that you have climbed 360 steps from Alamgiri Darwaza to Hawa Paur.

On the right there is a grilled gate and you think this should do it. Here inside you finally find the caretakers who are taking refuge under the gateway. But up ahead it still does not look good. There are two more vertical flights of stairs to be climbed before you actually enter the fort. You want to call off the visit right here. But then again the ‘what if’ scenario kicks in. You visit every monument thinking it’s the last time you are visiting it and there would not be another chance. Another pause and you begin your final assault on your wobbly legs.
Finally in the fort - Looking down towards Hawa Paur
Finally you are inside the citadel. You have climbed over 400 feet. Just getting to the top is an achievement in itself in this heat. The fort roughly encompasses an area of eight square kms. You will be lucky if you are able to see even a fraction of it. A sign indicates the different buildings on either side. You are not sure if you can do it. But anyway, you start walking to the left.

A rutted path leads to a bunch of buildings here. Some have been recently conserved while others are not in good condition. Since the buildings do not have identification these would comprise of Hawa Paur Mahal and Koriyon ki Haveli. The buildings have the regular Rajput architecture with flat roofs, verandahs around enclosed courtyards and bangla roof canopies on top.

Coming back the same path, this time you turn right. Here there are several structures each leading into the other. As per the sign the buildings this side are called Ladau Bangla, Chhip Mahal, Flour Mill or Chakki Mahal, Phulwa Mahal, Rani Damyanti Mahal, Rawa Parewa Mahal, Kachheri Mahal, Sunheri Mahal, Ram Janaki Temple, Catholic Chapel and Sikander Lodhi Mosque.
Chhip Mahal
Chhip Mahal - View from First Floor
Fountain at Chhip Mahal
You make your way through succession of courtyards with colonnaded arcades. A building of interest is the seemingly newly restored Chhip Mahal. It is a two storeyed building with enclosed courtyard. The courtyard is ringed with shaded verandah.  Above, you can see the facing pillars recycled from dismantled temples. Climbing stairs is painful now. The pillars are similar to be seen in Qutb Complex and they probably belonged to 10th-11th century temples. What happened to the other temple members - they probably went into raising walls of the palaces and the battlements. The first floor provides good view of the buildings in the neighbourhood. Next to the first floor pavilion is a tub or a fountain.  Just the idea of a sprouting fountain and cool breeze flowing is so far fetched on this searing day.

Like Gwalior Fort, Narwar too had several magnificent temples according to Cunningham. But unlike Gwalior, all temples here were destroyed. Sikander Lodhi who camped here for six months undertook wholesale destruction of temples in 1508. The same fate befell the nearby Himmatgarh Fort. A dismayed Cunningham says the destruction at Himmatgarh was so complete that not a single temple member can be seen.
View of Narwar Fort from Chhip Mahal

Narwar Fort - Ladau Bangla

You walk into another courtyard which could be the Ladau Bangla. In the centre there is a newly restored pavilion or a baradari. The pavilion built on a raised platform looks pretty. In the centre of the pavilion there is an enclosure. You just admire it from the periphery of the courtyard under shade. You don’t feel like climbing the four stairs to peep inside the enclosure under the unrelenting sun.

In the neighborhood there are more buildings. Wait a minute: there is this three storey building. To you this is kind of rare. With open space all around, why were multi storeyed buildings built? They almost seem like precursor to the modern apartment blocks. They are apparently completely built of stone with no iron or wood used. This area is known for all stone buildings just like the mother of all stone forts, Datia Fort, some distance away between Jhansi and Gwalior. Datia Fort is a huge edifice of about seven storeys with no wood or iron used.

Pillars possibly used to raise Mandap over Hawan Kund
In the the courtyard are two pillars. These two pillars could be part of group of four pillars used to mount a mandap over a hawan kund. The entire arrangement of the pillars and mandap could be called Yagya Stup. There was a single pillar next to the pavilion in the Ladau Bangla. Another structure in the Narwar town has four pillars. 
Chakki Mahal
In the corner of the Chakki Mahal or Old Flour Mill building is - yes - a grain flour mill. The room looks restored. There are mill stones and a cavity below for collecting the ground flour. You have no idea what provided the power to move the stones - was it manual or animals were used.
Narwar Fort - The large tank Makar Dhwaj is clearly seen in the center
The only Hindu structure, according to Cunningham, is the large tank in the citadel called Makara Dhwaja, probably named after the king who commissioned it. The tank is 300 sqft in area and about 35 feet deep dug out of solid rock.

An interesting feature of the fort is a Roman Catholic cemetery with a Chapel. The grave stones carry dates of around middle 18th century. It is believed that about 300 Bourbons of Aremenian heritage came from Delhi after Nadir Shah’s plunder of 1739. Here in Narwar Fort they built a palace and the chapel. The cemetery came into being with time.

On the road towards Gwalior there is a 23 feet high column bearing inscription containing Tomar dynasty genealogy of Gwalior. Nearby is a large baoli of about 27 feet in diametre.

The history of Narwar is as old as the Mahabharat. Narwar, also known as Nalapur is named after King Nal, a descendant of Kush, son of Ram and is universally acknowledged as the builder of the fortress. Mahabharat mentions the virtuous King Nal and his beautiful queen Damyanti. For sake of brevity, Nala because of a curse decides to abandon Damyanti to keep her away from his curse. Damyanti walks through the forests to reach Chanderi. Chanderi during Mahabharat is mentioned as Chedi ruled by Shishupal.  This area indeed is rich in history that includes several groups of temples at Budhi Chanderi, Kadwaya, Terahi, Mahua and Ranod. It was in these jungles that freedom fighters like Chandrasekhar Azad and Tatya Tope moved around during the freedom struggle. However, King Nal despite all hardships follows the path of righteousness to overcome the influence of Shani Dev, and is able to wrest away his kingdom from his brother Pushkar in a gambling rematch. Nal and Damyanti are reunited and lived happily ever after.

Historically, Narwar was ruled by nine generations of Nagas approximately starting from AD 0 to 225. One of the Naga kings was a contemporary of Samudragupta. With coins found here in Narwar, Gwalior and Mathura, Cunningham proves that Narwar was the kingdom of the Nine Nagas. The Naga kingdom covered Bharatpur, Dholpur, Gwalior, Bundelkhand and stretched to the south upto Narmada. 

From 225 AD to next eight centuries no inscriptions or coins have been found. So Cunningham suggests that Tomaranas ruled from 260 to 310 AD. Harsh Vardhan of Kannauj ruled the area from 607 to 650 AD.
Narwar Fort - View from Hawa Paur
Narwar is also associated with the ancient city of Padmawati. Padmawati is the scene of Bhavabhuti’s drama Malati-Madhava. Bhavbhuti was the court-poet of Yasovarman, King of Kanauj. Bhavabhuti is acclaimed as eminent Sanskrit poet second only to Kalidas who, according to historians, wrote between 700 and 730 AD. Bhavabhuti belonged to Vidarbha and so Narwar has Vakataka connection also. Cunningham says Bhavabhuti poetry is very interesting since it is extremely rare to find description of actual places in Hindu poetry. His descriptions leave no doubt that Nalapura or Narwar was the Puran city of Padmavati.

Cunningham conjectures in ASI Volume II that "Nalapura maybe only a synonym of Padmawati Nagar, as Nala or the ‘water-lily’ is frequently used as an equivalent of Padma or the ‘lotus’."

Bastions tower over Sayyidon Ka Darwaza

View from Saiyadon Ka Darwaza
Seventh and Eighth centuries saw the rise of Rajput dynasties like Tomars of Delhi, Chandellas of Khajuraho and Sisodiyas of Chittaur. Kachhwahas of Gwalior and Narwar came into their own around this time. The Kachhwahas built the hill fort. Next came the Parihars in 1129. The Parihars ruled from Gwalior until 1232 when Iltutmish annexed Gwalior Fort. But the Parihar king escaped and most probably came to Narwar. Narwar was later ruled by Hindu King Chahada Dev who strengthened the fort. In 1252, According to Ferishta, Narwar was put under siege by Nasir-ud-din Mahmud of Delhi, and after immense slaughter the fort was reduced.
Narwar Fort - Entrance from the town
It is possible that in this period the fortress was taken over by Narwarias of Chambal valley. Narwarias get the 'Narwar' word from Narhari, a great Jat warrior. Narwars are descendants of Chandravanshi King Narhari, who belonged to Nauhwar clan. What an interesting fact. Yes, its time to incorporate your gotra Nauhwar in your name!

In late 13th century Narwar came under Alauddin Khilji of Delhi Sultanate and probably continued under the Sultanate until 1493 when it was besieged by Tomar king of Gwalior. Sikander Lodhi captured Narwar in 1506. Later Kacchwahas of Amber got Narwar back by giving away their daughters to the Mughals. In the final years of 18th century Scindias wrested the fort. The last Kacchwaha king Man Singh, gave up Tatya Tope in the aftermath of 1857 thus exacting revenge over the Marathas he hated.
Ramparts of Narwar Fort
Sun is getting fiercer with every passing minute. You know there are more buildings to see just beyond including Sikander Lodhi Mosque, Damayanti Mahal, Allah Udal ka Akhada and cannons. But you are really stretching your luck now. There are about 500 steps to descend under the unforgivable sun. And getting sick while away from home is not pretty.

It is clear that Narwar Fort was almost as majestic as its more popular neighbour Gwalior Fort eighty kms to the north west. The only difference is that Gwalior Fort has the Man Mandir and temples like Saas Bahu and Teli ka Mandir that still survive. Narwar Fort is more heavily protected by the towering walls and bastions while the elongated sharply rising hill gives Gwalior Fort the natural protection. Narwar Fort too had magnificent temples to rival Gwalior Fort but according to Ferishta, Sikander Lodhi levelled the temples and built mosques in their place. Gwalior Fort was a tad lucky. Sikander Lodhi was planning to lay siege to Gwalior Fort, but died in the initial planning stages. Plunder, time and dereliction has ensured that the old splendour is gone but the pride of Narwar Fort is still intact.

Narwar Fort is a complete fort - a challenge to climb, full of surprising features and straddles across eons from Mahabharat to Tatya Tope. And the fort shares your name. It deserves another visit during the rains. Only a full day will do justice to it, so that you can see the filled up tank Makara Dwahaj, the chapel, and the mosques that you missed seeing this time. Come visit Narwar Fort - another hidden gem in the heart of India.

Getting There: Narwar Fort has good connectivity from both Shivpuri MP and Jhansi UP. Narwar is about 45 kms from Shivpuri and 85 kms from Jhansi. On the way from Jhansi, climb the Karera Fort. On the road to Gwalior from Narwar, you can see Himmatgarh Fort. While in Shivpuri, go see Gadhi & Temple at Surwaya. Shivpuri has Madhav National Park and Scindia Chattris; Jhansi of course has fort and Orchha nearby. If you are feeling adventurous then dive deep into Shivpuri and go visit the ancient temples in Kadwaya, Terahi, Mahua and Ranod. Shivpuri can keep you busy for a week!

1. Archaeological Survey of India Volume II 1864-65 by Alexander Cunningham Pages 307-328
2. Bhavabhuti by Vasudev Vishnu Miras - on google books
3. Armenians in India, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day by Mesrovb Jacob Seth
4. http://www.jatland.com/home/Narishyanta

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Trippingg at the Movies - Haider

Haider, the movie is the unlikeliest of places where you could imagine the titular hero explain the meaning of chutzpah. But then trust Vishal Bhardwaj to boldly pull all the stops in the last installment of his trilogy based on Shakespeare’s plays. You do hope the trilogy turns into quadrilogy and beyond. Vishal’s latest power packed film Haider is based on Hamlet which is Shakespeare’s longest play and probably the most powerful, influential and popular in English Literature.

For someone who has not read Hamlet, the film starts on a promising but unhappy premise: a son comes back home to beautiful and dispirited Kashmir to look for his father who has disappeared. You love the relationship between father and son that kindles over poetry sessions. The film is set in 1995 when Kashmir was on a boil and people suspected of militant links allegedly disappeared.

In the role of lifetime, Shahid Kapoor brilliantly plays Haider, who walks in on his mother crooning and his uncle dancing. And thus begins the dark, melancholic, psychotic ride into the unfathomable human relationships where nothing is what it seems. To get the truth out from these murky relationships will destroy lives. The search for his father turns into a brooding and violent tale of revenge.

The film works on different levels. For the first time in Hindi Cinema, we get a deeper view of a beautiful state wracked by violence. This is no longer the state where songs are filmed while hero and heroine throw snow balls at each other. This is the paradise on earth that has kalashnikovs and identification parades. People do not step into the thresholds of their own houses until they are patted down - an exquisite scene where the co-writer makes an appearance. But among the snow covered cold and dark hills are evenings warmed with kahwa and wool thread embroidered bed covers harking back to small pleasures and lost times. Covering everything under a grey shroud are the complex relationships of the revengeful son, sometime grieving sometime enigmatic half widow of a mother, equally baffling politician uncle, loving and supportive love interest and her family.

To add to this, a ghost appears midway in the film, wrenches the film around, turning a confused Haider into a mad man thirsting for revenge. The ghost informs Haider that his father wants him to shoot his uncle in the eyes to avenge his murder. The stage is set to inexorably lead the world surrounding the characters down an explosive abyss.

Hindi Cinema today is in a great phase to be blessed with actors who sear up the screen and in Haider the casting could not have been better where all characters outdo their past performances.

Shahid is back in his Kaminey element as he turns from a college student into a ranting madman bent on revenge while fighting his ghosts. His soliloquy at a road crossing where a bald and manic Shahid rants and reads out the AFSPA in front of hundreds of people will alone fetch him the National Award this year. His psychotic act in the maddening milieu almost looks normal.

Shraddha Kapoor looks ethereal and does a good job. Her last scene is haunting as she unknits a stole she made for her father. Kay Kay Menon as the uncle who gets Haider’s father detained gets behind the skin of the character and makes it look all so effortless. Irrfan Khan as the Ghost kicks the story into a frenzy. With low key dialogues, his eyes and face smolder the screen. Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Haider’s grandfather has some incisive dialogues. Narendra Jha as the sensitive and loving Haider’s father ought to be seen more often. When fathers are often derided on the screen, the father son relationship is beautifully captured.

But its Tabu’s performance that will stay with you for a long time. Playing the complex role of Haider’s mother where one moment she exudes sensuality and in other she turns mysterious. One moment she is vulnerable and the other she is inscrutable. Not just Haider even you are left confused whether to love or hate this woman.

Everything is super about the film. The lilting cinematography; the violin and santoor laced background score; the music - listen to the ‘Bismil’ number and you will be reminded of ‘Ek Hasina Thi’ song from another revenge drama ‘Karz’. The screenplay with the sledgehammer honesty could have only come from someone who lived through the nineties in Kashmir. Vishal has partnered with Basharrat Peer for the screenplay that fills you with unease for its seemingly reality.

You have to doff your hat to Vishal Bhardwaj for bringing another unbelievably beautiful and grand adaptation of the Bard that looks so believable as if it was originally set in Kashmir.

Haider is a brilliant and brave film made by Vishal Bhardwaj that soars triumphantly with chutzpah just as morals and human relationships plumb the depths of despair confounding normal human beings. And therefore to deal with this rotten world the question is: to be or not to be. Now only if chutzpah did not rhyme with AFSPA.