On one of my visits to Varanasi long back, I went to the nearby Chunar Fort by sheer luck. It was my birthday and all I wanted from my parents was to go stare at a Fort’s ruins. Well, they smiled and agreed. They are awesome that way!
On the way, my head was filled with all sorts of fancies thinking of the history of this Fort. Reaching there was an emotional setback. There was absolutely no one around and the Fort was all in ruins. The Fort where once Munshi Premchand taught classes was in ruins. The Fort which still offers the chilling glimpse of its execution room was in ruins. The Fort that has constantly played crucial role in Indian history from centuries was in ruins.
When I shared my Chunar Fort’s pictures with a close friend, he pointed out how the earliest recorded history of the Fort is from 56 B.C. :
It was once said that he who controlled the Chunar Fort controlled the destiny of India. This is because it stands on a rock which is a detached part of the Vindhya Range, at an elevation of 85 metres above sea level. Thus, it is the only place in the plains where a hill commands such a view over the river (which in this case is Ganges). Its rocky face is considered invincible due to its steep slope and even in that case, several crude cylinders were kept to be rolled down in case of an unwarranted attack.
On a hunting trip to the area in 1575, Akbar captured the fort realising its strategic worth to guard both the Ganges as well as major land routes to eastern India. Two centuries later, East India Company attacked and won it in a treaty, for similar strategic reasons. Further down the line, in India’s first Freedom Struggle, The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, this Fort served as the safe ground for artillery and infantry of the British. So much for historic relevance.
This Fort also holds an auspicious place in the religious history of Hinduism owing to it being the place where God appeared in front of a Raja Bali and begged for three feet of land to which the King agreed. As per the legends, the first foot God kept was on the Chunar Fort’s hill.
At the risk of repeating myself, I want to say this. The Fort that has seen the mightiest of rulers fight over it is now in tatters. At this point, even blame games won’t take us anywhere. We travel to other countries and click pictures of quaint monuments with a myriad of hashtags, oblivious to the hidden gems back home. Here is a beautiful quote about Chunar Fort, courtesy of my friend, from the book ‘Land of the Seven Rivers’ by Sanjeev Sanyal:
“A walk through the fort is a walk through Indian history”
Next time you are in or around Chunar, treat yourself to one such walk through the past. It is worth every second of it.