Situated on the outskirts of the town of Kangra, in the state of Himachal Pradesh, the Kangra Fort is witness to thousands of years of grandeur, invasion, war, wealth, and evolution. This mighty Fort traces its origins to the ancient Trigarta Kingdom, which is mentioned in the Mahabharata epic. It is the largest Fort in the Himalayas and probably the oldest dated Fort in India. Occupying the lower valley of the Beas and its tributaries, it was one of the leading hill stations of Punjab and Himachal earlier.
“You must pass through the gate leg first. Never lead with your head because if there is an enemy on the other side, you might lose your head”. This tip by Tikaraj Aishwarya Katoch (present scion of the Katoch dynasty) indicates the heavy security in the Fort maintained by the kings to protect the unimaginable treasures inside. Though the tales of these treasures are nothing but stories in this ruined Fort now, there was a time when the sanctum sanctorum of the Kangra Fort held unimaginable riches, which were offered to the large idol in the Brijeshwari temple inside the Fort. Perhaps because of these treasures, this colossal Fort has been attacked many times. Almost every ruler has tried to lay control over the Kangra fort, be it an invader or a native ruler.
After Jahangir mercilessly captured the fort in1622, it was Raja Sansar Chand-II who finally succeeded in recovering the ancient Fort of his ancestors from the Mughals in 1789. Ultimately it was handed over to the British and was occupied by them until it was heavily damaged by the earthquake of April 4April 4, 1905. Although it is entirely in ruins now, it was a structure of architectural marvel once. The Kangra fort in itself is a symbol of elegance and royalty.
The Architecture Of Kangra Fort
The entrance of the Kangra fort is through a small courtyard enclosed by two gates known as “Phatak” and are only dated from after the Sikh period, as it appears from an inscription at the entrance. From here onwards, a long and narrow passage leads to the top of the magnificent Fort through the Ahani and Amiri Darwaza, both attributed to Nawab Alif Khan, the first governor of Kangra appointed under the Great Moghuls. After approximately 500 feet from the outer gate, the passage takes a turn at a very sharp angle and passes through the Jahangiri Darwaza, which has the appearance of a Muhammadan building entirely and, judging from its name, would seem to have been raised by Jahangir after his conquest of the Fort in A.D. 1620. A white marble slab bearing a Persian inscription, recovered in two fragments in 1905, originally occupied a recessed panel over the gate. It is, in all probability, a record of Jahangir’s conquest of the Fort.
Though the Fort is mostly in ruins, the royal structure that once stood there can be readily envisaged. In addition to the architectural feat of Kangra fort, it also offers a mesmerizing view from its roof.
History of Kangra Fort
It is said that the Kangra fort was built by Maharaja Susharma Chandra in the Katoch dynasty around 3500 years ago. The Maharaja Shushant Sharma fought alongside the Kauravas in the Battle of Kurukshetra, mentioned in the Mahabharata. After being defeated, he took Trigarta under his control and built the Kangra fort. The Kangra fort housed the temple of Brijeshwari. Therefore it received many valuable gifts and donations from its devotees. It can be easily guessed that this Fort held unimaginable treasures and thus became a common target for other rulers and foreign invaders. The first ruler to attack the Fort was Raja of Kashmir Sreshthha in 470 AD. The first alien invasion of the Fort was by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1009 AD. Following his footsteps came the Turkish Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughluq, and his successor Firoz Shah Tughluq took over after his death.
These foreign invaders attacked the Fort only in the quest for treasures. It is said that Mahmud killed everyone inside the Fort during his invasion and looted wells of wealth out of 21. After 52 failed attempts to recover Kangra Forts from the Turks by Akbar in 1615, it was finally his son Jahangir who captured the Fort in 1620.
In 1758, Ghamand Chand, a successor of the Katochs, was appointed the governor of Jalandhar by Ahmed Shah Abdali. His grandson Sansar Chand strengthened his forces and finally defeated the ruler Saif Ali Khan and recovered the throne of his ancestors in 1789. Sansar Chand proved himself to be a powerful ruler and annexed many kingdoms of the neighboring regions. The defeated kings then asked for help from the Gurkha commander Amar Singh Thapa. The Gurkha troops invaded the Fort and captured it. The defeat forced Maharaja Sansar Chand into an alliance with Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The alliance cost him the Sandhata district and the Kangra fort. The rulers of Kangra could never gain control over the Fort again. They were transferred to the Lahore Darbar. Eventually, the British took control over the Fort after the Sikh war.
The history of Kangra Fort is smeared with wars, blood, deceit, and loots. But the walls of this ancient Fort stood solid and tall until it succumbed to an earthquake on April 4April 4, 1905.