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Junagarh Fort

Junagarh Fort is a fort in the city of Bikaner, Rajasthan, India. The fort was originally called Chintamani and was renamed Junagarh or "Old Fort" in the early 20th century when the ruling family moved to Lalgarh Palace outside the fort limits. It is one of the few major forts in Rajasthan which is not built on a hilltop. The modern city of Bikaner has developed around the fort. The fort complex was built under the supervision of Karan Chand, the Prime Minister of Raja Rai Singh, the sixth ruler of Bikaner, who ruled from 1571 to 1611 AD. Construction of the walls and associated moat commenced in 1589 and was completed in 1594. It was built outside the original fort of the city, about 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) from the city centre. Some remnants of the old fort are preserved near the Lakshmi Narayan temple. Historical records reveal that despite the repeated attacks by enemies to capture the fort, it was not taken, except for a lone one-day occupation by Kamran Mirza. Kamran was the second son of the Mughal Emperor Babur who attacked Bikaner in 1534, which was then ruled by Rao Jait Singh. The 5.28 hectares large fort precinct is studded with palaces, temples and pavilions. These buildings depict a composite culture, manifest in the mix of architectural styles. The 5.28 hectares large fort precinct is studded with palaces, temples and pavilions. These buildings depict a composite culture, manifest in the mix of architectural styles. Junagarh fort is located in the arid region of the Thar desert of Rajasthan bordered on the northwest by the Aravalli range, a range of mountains in western India. Part of the desert area is in Bikaner city, which is one of the three desert triangle cities; the other two cities are Jaisalmer and Jodhpur. The name of the place where Bikaner city with its forts was established was then known as Jungladesh. Before the present Junagarh Fort was built, an old stone fort existed in the city. This fort was built in 1478 by Rao Bika who established the city of Bikaner in 1472. Rao Bika was the second son of Maharaja Rao Jodha of the Rathor clan, the founder of Jodhpur city. He conquered the large arid lands to the northern region of Rajasthan to set up his domain. As the second son of Jodha he had no chance of inheriting his father’s territory of Jodhpur or to the title of Maharaja. He, therefore, reconciled and decided to build his own kingdom at Bikaner at the place then called "Jungladesh". Bikaner, though a partly of the Thar Desert, was considered an oasis on the trade route between Central Asia and the Gujarat coast since it had adequate spring water sources. Bika’s name was thus tagged to the Bikaner city as well as to the then state of Bikaner (“the settlement of Bika”) that he established. The history of Bikaner and the fort within it thus start with Bika. It was only about 100 years later that Bikaner’s fortunes flourished under Raja Rai Singhji, the sixth ruler of Bikaner, who ruled from 1571 to 1611. During the Mughal Empire’s rule in the country, he accepted the suzerainty of the Mughals and held a high position of an army general in the court of Emperor Akbar and his son Emperor Jahangir. His successful war exploits by way of winning half of Mewar kingdom won him accolades and rewards from the Mughal emperors. He was gifted the jagirs (lands) of Gujarat and Burhanpur. With the large revenue earned from these jagirs, he built the Junagarh fort on a plain land, which has an average elevation of 760 feet (230 m). The formal foundation ceremony for the fort was held on 17 February 1589 and the fort was completed on 17 January 1594. Raja Rai Singhji, was an expert in arts and architecture and the knowledge that he acquired during his several sojourns to several countries are amply reflected in the numerous monuments he built in the Junagarh fort. Thus the fort, a composite structure, became an outstanding example of architecture and a unique centre of art, amidst the Thar desert. Karan Singh who ruled from 1631 to 1639, under the suzerainty of the Mughals, built the Karan Mahal palace. Later rulers added more floors and decorations to this Mahal. Anup Singh, who ruled from 1669–98, made substantial additions to the fort complex, with new palaces and the Zenana quarter (royal dwelling for females). He refurbished the Karan Mahal with a Diwan-i-Am (public audience hall) and called it the Anup Mahal. Gaj Singh who ruled from 1746 to 1787 refurbished the Chandra Mahal (the Moon palace). Following him, Surat Singh ruled from 1787 to 1828 and he lavishly decorated the audience hall (see picture in info box) with glass and lively paintwork. Dungar Singh who reigned from 1872 to 1887 built the Badal Mahal (the weather palace) named so in view of a painting of falling rain and clouds (a rare event in arid Bikaner). Ganga Singh who ruled from 1887 to 1943 built the Ganga Niwas Palace, which has towers at the entrance patio. This palace was designed by Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob. Ganga Singh’s son Sadul Singh succeeded his father in 1943 but acceded to the Union of India in 1949. He died in 1950. Bikaner came under the suzerainty of the British Raj under a treaty of paramountcy signed in 1818, where after the Maharajas of Bikaner invested heavily on refurbishing their Junagarh fort. However, during the 18th century, before this treaty was signed, there was internecine war between rulers of Bikaner and Jodhpur and also amongst other Thakur, which was put down by the British troops. It is reported that during the attack by Jodhpur army, of the two entrances to the fort (one in the east and the other in the west), the eastern entrance and the southern rampart were damaged; marks of cannonballs fired are seen on the southern façade of the fort. Ganga Singh was the best-known king among the Rajasthan princes. A favourite of the British Raj, he earned the title of Knight Commander of the Star of India. He served as a member of the Imperial War Cabinet, represented the country at the Imperial First World War Conferences and the British Empire at the Versailles Peace Conference and was aware of the shift of fortunes in the World War II but died in 1943, before the war was won by the allies. His contribution to the building activity in Junagarh involved separate halls for public and private audience in the Ganga Mahal and a durbar hall for formal functions. The hall where he held his Golden Jubilee as a ruler of Bikaner is now a museum. He also got a new palace - north of Junagarh fort - designed and built by Swinton, the third of the new palaces built in Bikaner and named it Lalgarh Palace in the name of his father and shifted his residence from Junagarh fort to this palace in 1902. The royal family still lives in a special suite in the Lalgarh palace, which they have converted into a heritage hotel. The museum within the fort called the Junagarh Fort Museum was established in 1961 by Maharaja Dr.Karni Singhji under the control of "Maharaja Rai Singhji Trust". The Museum exhibits Sanskrit and Persian manuscripts, miniature paintings, jewels, royal costumes, farmans (royal orders), portrait galleries, costumes, headgear and dresses of gods’ idols, enamelware, silver, palanquins, howdahs and war drums. The museum also displays armoury that consists of one of the assorted collection of post medieval arms.


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