Ancient monuments are full of wisdom, for they have been filled with what they have seen and heard for hundreds of years.Mehmet Murat Ildan
Nestled in the heart of Punjab stands a remarkable testament to the region’s rich historical heritage Qila Mubarak, Bhatinda. This awe-inspiring fortress has witnessed centuries of triumphs, tragedies, and the passage of time. Let us embark on a mystical journey through the annals of history and explore the captivating tales woven within the walls of this magnificent stronghold.
Majestically situated in the heart of the city, stands tall and proud, Qila Mubarak. It can also be called the ‘Harbinger’ of India due to its strategic location, the way from Multan towards Delhi was through the city of Bhatinda. The fort was commissioned by Raj Dab between 90-110 AD and was then also known as ‘Tabar-e- Hind’ or ‘The Gateway of India’.
Before delving into the history of the fort, let’s talk about its architecture. Qila Mubarak is a boat-shaped fort that resembles a ship standing high amidst deserts. Fittingly so, because once upon a time Bhatinda was surrounded by stretches of sand dunes. It is situated on elevated ground, with 32 small and 4 large bastions at its 4 corners. This almost 1800 years old fort occupies 15 acres of a sprawling complex and is more than 100 feet high. The structure was originally made of thin red bricks but over the past few years, several bastions of the fort have collapsed and are under renovation.
The fort has only one entrance, on the eastern face. The gateway itself is a three-story structure with engravings of Mughal figures. The massive doors are spiked and flanked by two major bastions on either side. Atop one of these bastions is the Rani Mahal, where Razia Sultan was imprisoned. The fort has a main hall, attached side rooms, and balconies. The inner section of Qila Mubarak is called ‘Qila Androon’, the rulers of the Patiala Dynasty resided here. Other apartments are – ‘Moti Palace’, ‘Raj Mata Palace’ (Queen Mother’s palace), ‘Sheesh Mahal’ (Mirror Palace), ‘Jail Mahal’ where Royal prisoners were kept, the Palace of the Moon, and ‘Rang Mahal’. Recreational areas include ‘Bagh Għar’ or garden house and Putli Ghar (Puppet house). Apart from having a historical significance, the Qila is also an architectural marvel having an underground sewage system and a ‘cool room’ which has connecting tunnels to bring a cool breeze in scorching summers. The royal kitchen or ‘Lassi Khana’ was used to prepare meals for about 35000 people every day.
Qila Mubarak stands as a testament to the colorful history of the region. Its occupants were from varied cultures and left their indelible marks on its face in the form of architecture, as many additions were made to the original structure as it changed hands over the cause of time. In the 11th century, Mahmud Ghaznavi captured the fort. Later, Muhammad Ghori took control of the fort and handed it over to Malik Jaiyudin -Taluqi but was won over by Prithvi Raj Chauhan in the battle of Tarain. However, in 1192 AD, Qutub-ud-din Aibak defeated Chauhan and gained control over this Qila.
Qila Mubarak also served as the jail chamber of the first and only woman to have ruled Hindustan, Razia Sultana. It is said that Ikhtiyar-ud-din Altunia, the then governor of Bhatinda, captured and imprisoned Razia in this fort when she had come to Bhatinda to suppress a revolt against herself. Some say she committed suicide by jumping, from one of the balconies of the ‘Razia fort’ where she was jailed. Records prove otherwise, as it is a proven fact that she and Altunia married as per a royal treaty and were subsequently killed near Kaithal (now Haryana) in an uprising against them. A legend goes that even now visions of Razia Sultan can be seen meandering through the windows and balconies of ‘Rani Mahal’.
Razia’s demise (1240 AD) coincided with the disappearance of the river ‘Ghaggar’ which was an important source of water for this region. As the area became barren, the fort was lost in obscurity and became a palace of ghosts. Only in 1754, under Maharaja Ala Singh, the fort was inhabited again. Going back in time, it is said that in 1706 AD, Guru Gobind Singhji visited Qila Mubarak and on people’s request freed the town from a demon who disturbed them by feeding it with a bull. Also, local people complained to the Guru about the scarcity of water in the region and he promised them to take away the draught from Bhatinda with him to the South. Thus, to commemorate his visit, a Gurudwara was built within the premises in later years by the erstwhile Maharaja of Patiala. This holy shrine came to be known as Shri Qila Mubarak Sahib and the fort is often referred to as ‘Gobindgarh’.
It is said that the ceilings of Qila Mubarak vibrate as thousands of tourists flock by every day. Maybe it invites its visitors to step into its time capsule to travel back in history in order to unravel the vibrant mysteries of Punjab, leaving an indelible mark on their hearts and minds.
Qila Mubarak is not merely a fortress of brick and mortar, it serves as a glorious. a reminder of the past. Being the oldest fort in India, it stands as a symbol of resilience. Having withstood the ravages of time, invasions, and political upheavals, it indeed serves as a reminder of one glorious past and is a source of immense pride.