If someone asks me to choose a city that showcase all of India’s brightest colours my first preference would be Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan and the cultural capital of Marwar. Jodhpur’s sky is invariably blue and so are its houses and wetlands. Its palaces and havelies are pink and red, and its women are mostly seen clad with saris or chaniya cholis of florescent hues. And if you are true colour connoisseur, then it is Phul Mahal in Mehrangarh Fort that will drag you to its colour pallet at least more than once in your lifetime.
The isolated hill chosen for the Merhangarh Fort was originally known as Bhaker Chiriya or the birds nest, whereas the name Mehrangarh or Mihirgarh as used earlier is made up of Sanskrit words Mihir (Sun) and Garh (Fort), meaning ‘Fortress of the Sun’.
Rathores who trace their roots to Lord Ram and Sun God came to Marwar from Kannauj, a kingdom in the Gangetic plains. In the 12th century CE, Jayachand, the ruler of Kannauj was defeated by Afghan armies led by Muhammad Ghori. As a result of this event many of Jayachand’s young sons left their ancestral territories in search of new lands. The Rathores are considered to have descended from Kannauj rulers who travelled west and established themselves first in the town of Pali in Marwar.
Starting in the 18th century, the Rathores nurtured in their courts a distinctive culture, expressed in the art, architecture, literature and music, patronized by the maharajas. From this time, Jodhpur fostered a flourishing painting tradition where artists produced thousands of miniature paintings.
In this era, Phul Mahal was commissioned by Maharaja Abhay Singh who used it as Diwan – e- Khas .
In the history of Jodhpur, Maharaja Abhay Singh shares a remarkable similarity with Ashoka. Like Kalinga War that led to transform Ashoka from being a cruel king to an emperor of peace and compassion, the Khijiri massacre had moved Abhay Singh into a saviour of trees.
The story goes: In 1726 CE, Maharaja Abhay Singh granted the estate of Khejrali to Thakur Surat Singh. In 1730 CE, under his order, a minister Giridhar Bhandari led a royal party to the Khejrali village with the instruction of felling some khejri trees that were sacred to the villagers. The trees were to be burned to produce lime for construction of a new palace.
A local woman called Amrita Devi Bishnoi protested against the tree felling because such acts were prohibited by the Bishnoi religion. She was allured for a bribe but she refused and therefore killed along with three of her daughters at the spot. News of the death spread in all 83 Bishnoi villages. It was decided in a meeting that one volunteer from each Bishnoi family would sacrifice his/her life for every tree that was cut down. Older people began hugging the trees that were intended to cut and many more were killed. This development shocked the king who immediately ordered that no more trees should be felling.
Phul Mahal is rendered with colourful glass paintings of exceptional beauty. In the tradition of glass paintings, the Tanjore School in South India is well-known for using bright colours. However in Phul Mahal of Jodhpur pastel hues were preferred.
You also see wall murals that are more attractive than any other Rajput palaces anywhere in India. No one style predominates here. The painters seem to have made striking balances between different moods. The superb decoration of romantic heroes and heroines, raagmalas and scenes from Gita Govinda make them timeless classics.
Some historians believe that the inspiration for Merangarh Fort came from Gwalior Fort, but most art historians do agree that it is an unfair comparison.
For Gwalior Fort read here
Finally in the words of Percy Brown ‘the grandeur and beauty of Mehrangarh Fort cannot be compared with any other forts in Hindustan’.