The Fort and its palaces were built over period of 500 years following the foundation in the mid-15th century. As a result, the varied building styles of many different periods are represented, including the 20th century. The abrupt transition from one era to another, as you progress through the buildings, is one feature that makes a visit so remarkable. The chronology is not always obvious, though, especially as many parts were altered by later rulers, to suit changing tastes and needs.
After the foundation by Rao Jodha in 1459, the first main era of building was the reign of Maldeo (r. 1531-62). Renowned as a valiant warrior and successful commander even as a young prince before his accession, Maldeo suffered at setback in the middle of his reign. In 1544 the fort was captured and held for a year by Delhi forces under Sher Shah Sur. Once he had recovered it, Maldeo set about trying to ensure that such a calamity could never recur. His measures included strengthening the gates and fort walls; building additional outworks at its edges; and making a strong ‘keep’ wall in the highest and central part. He also built palaces, but these were later destroyed when new ones were built.
The second major phase of construction came much later, in the early 18th century, in the reign of Maharaja Ajit Singh (r.1707-24). Both the long gap and the renewed zeal have a historical explanation. Departing from normal practice, Maldeo designated his third son, Chandrasen, as his heir; and Chandrasen’s envious elder brothers sought support from the Mughals in an effort to unseat him.
The result was satisfactory to neither party to the dispute. Having taken the fort from Chandrasen, the Mughals kept it to themselves for the next twenty years. So the disaster that Maldeo had worked so hard to prevent was brought about at the invitation of his own sons.
After the long years of theMughal occupations and Jodhpur rulers’ absences on service, the fort stood in need of modernisation. It is during Maharaja Ajit Singh that the next phase of architectural development took place. Ironically the buildings of Ajit Singh owe much in style to Mughal design, which we may suppose was associated in his mind not with the imperial usurpers, but with the legacy of his fater, Jaswant Singh. Though Ajit Singh’s immediate successors continued his work to some extent, the many palace apartments he constructed seem to have served the following generations well.
The next major phase of palace building within the fort came over a century later, in the reign of Maharaja Takhat Singh (r. 1843-72). The intervening period was dominated by the two long reigns, each of forty years duration, of Maharaja Vijay Singh (r.1752-93) and Maharaja Man Singh (r. 1803-43). Both men were very devout, and devoted their energies as patrons to religious causes and to temple building, not to palaces. Man Singh’s sons predeceased him, so when Man Singh died the throne passed to Takhat Singh, a distant cousin from a collateral branch of the family that had established itself in Idar, in Gujarat. In short, Takhat Singh came in from outside and took over a palace that had not been updated since the early 18th century. He therefore began a new building programme, renovating and altering many of Ajit Singh’s buildings and adding some of his own.
By the turn of the century, the ruler was no longer using the fort as residence. Conditions had changed. British supremacy in India imposed a general peace in India that made the old fortified retreats like Mehrangarh in one sense redundant. It became more fashionable for maharajas to live in new, more Westernised palaces with modern facilities. But when Maharaja Umaid Singh died in 1947, his son and heir, Maharaja Hanwant Singh (r.1947-52), moved out of Umaid Bhawan Palace, to take up residence in the fort. The fourth and final phase of building in the fort was Hanwant Singh’s brief reign.