The fourth century mud fort Ahhichatragarh, built by the Nagavanshis, was re-built in stone by Mohammed Bahlim, Governor of the Ghaznivites, in the early twelfth century, over the mound of the ancient mud fort. In the middle ages Ahhichatragarh was at different times held by the early Chauhans, Chalukayas, the great Prithviraj Chauhan, Ghazni, Ghori, Iltutmish, Balban, Allauddin Khilji, Hamir Chauhan of Ranthambore, the Khanjada and Lodi Dynasties, Sher Shah Suri and finally, the Mughals. From the great Emperor Akbar's time up to the end of Mughal rule in India, Nagaur alternated between the Rathores of Jodhpur and Bikaner and the Mughals.
At the time of the Merger of the Jodhpur State into the Union of India, Ahhichatragarh was part of the Rathore State and devolved upon the Late Maharaja Hanwant Singh by the Covenant signed between him and the Union of India. Maharaja Hanwant Singh died in 1952, leaving a minor son of four years, the present Maharaja Gaj Singh. Recognised as the Maharaja of Jodhpur by the President of India, he inherited the private properties of the Late Maharaja.
In 1972 having attained majority and taken over his estates, Maharaja Gaj Singh transferred Ahhichatragarh into The H.H Hanwant Singhji Charitable Trust, registered with the Government of Rajasthan on 30th March,1972.
The Ahhichatragarh Fort has since been the property of The H.H Maharaja Hanwant Singhji Charitable Trust, on whose behalf the Mehrangarh Museum Trust manages it, under an agreement between the two Trusts. Nagaur is one of Rajasthan's oldest townships, situated approximately 135 Kms. north of Jodhpur, linking the historical regions of Marwar, Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Shekhawati. The fort is located in the very heart Nagaur and the battlements can be seen from all parts of the city. It is surrounded by urban settlements, important historical monuments and water bodies and is integral to the city.
A rich history and the distinct Rajput-Mughal architecture give the Ahhichatragarh a very special importance amongst India's heritage sites. The architectural significance of the complex lies in its spatial organization and the variety of spaces. The plastered stone buildings in Rajput style have interesting architectural elements like protecting jharokhas, cusped bracket arches, carved stone jaalies, wall paintings of excellent quality and mirror work. The juxtaposition of open, semi-open and enclosed spaces of the palaces and Baradaris are interwoven with flow and stored water systems. Various levels of terraces and strategic view points brilliantly combine security with aesthetics.
Climatic considerations govern the placement of solid and open spaces, which are oriented to the north-west and south-east, offering cool summer breezes and the warm winter sun. The expressions of water in the form of aqueducts, wells, step-wells, underground storages, Hamams or Turkish Baths and Kunds or tanks, are all carefully positioned to enhance the aesthetic and environmental value of adjacent buildings and the intensity of the water system here in unique.
The concept of an individual composite Haveli or apartment for each of the queens in the Ranwas is another interesting feature and the very central role of the Zenana is evidenced in the placement of the Hadi Rani's palace.
The outer defensive walls encircle a raised mound of approximately 370m x 400m. The central royal complex is spread over 200m x 220 m and with the main water tanks and gardens the total built up area is of approximately 53,144 Sqm. The palaces and service buildings are positioned in the middle of the enclosure, approximately six meters higher than the surrounding area of the gates and walls. The battlements are placed well away from the palace complex and do not impose upon them. The palaces have open spaces on all four sides and the water system, gardens, water tanks and open courtyards link the buildings.
Most of the surviving structures in the central complex have been built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a period of intense inter-action between the Rathores and the Mughals. Consequently, while they are predominantly Rajput style, they are distinctly influenced by Islamic architecture. The palaces are mainly double storied except for the Hadi Rani Palace, which is three-tiered. The composite support structure is of load bearing walls and columns at 2.4m to 2.5m on centers; openings are made with cusped bracketed arches and windows are decorated as jharokhas. Extensive wall painting in the Abha and Hadi Rani Mahals or palaces and the mirror work in Akbari Mahal are important embellishments.
Though evidence suggests that the Palace Complex emerged building by building there is a clearly visible harmony between each and the whole; built in the same stone they now even appear similarly aged.
After the Merger of the State in 1949, additions and modifications occurred, when the complex was used by the District Administration and later by the para-military Border Security Force. Many of the large royal spaces were sub-divided or enclosed with temporary partitions and secured with doors and windows. These twentieth century additions and modifications called " later additions" or "interventions" in conservation terminology are going to be removed while implementing the Conservation Project.
Every fortress has its own destiny in which glory and despair alternate. So too with Ahhichatragarh, which has been veiled in obscurity for so many years. Nagaur and the Fort are now being looked at with new perceptions. Instead of their strategic importance as military strong-holds, they have significance in terms of tourism and as a center for the crafts, that will lead to the re-generation of the economy and a greater awareness of the cultural heritage of this region. Whereas the Fort was earlier sought after as a dependable foothold on the trunk routes of Sindh and Multan into the Gangetic plain and Gujarat, it is today a vital link in the desert triangle of Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Jodhpur. The Rajasthan Government Tourism Department have established a nucleus Tourism Complex at Nagaur and are vigorously promoting the ancient Nagaur Cattle Fair, an immensely important and rich cultural event, alongside the better known Pushkar Fair.
Perhaps Ahhichatragarh's moment has arrived.
Restoration and Conservation
In 1985 the Mehrangarh Museum Trust accepted the responsibility of managing the Ahhichatragarh Fort in Nagaur from the owner, The H.H Maharaja Hanwant Singh Religious Trust. Both Trusts were settled and are managed by His Highness The Maharaja Gaj Singh II who, along with the other Trustees, felt that the Mehrangarh Museum Trust having earned its credentials as competent managers of an important heritage site would best serve the interests of the unique twelfth century fortress.
Later, a survey of the Fort was undertaken by students of the School of Architecture, Ahmedabad, under the direction of Prof.Kulbhushan Jain, Architect. This was followed by a more detailed study commissioned by INTACH who were greatly concerned with the condition of the site. INTACH commissioned Prof.Kulbhushan and Mrs.Minakshi Jain to prepare a preliminary report for the conservation and documentation of the main structures.This documentation was the basis on which the Trust prepared it's first application to the Getty Grant Program, California, against which a Project Preparation Grant of US$50,000 was awarded at the end of 1992. With Mrs. Minakshi Jain as the Principal Consultant work then commenced in February,1993. The grant required the Trust to contribute an equal amount which it raised from its own resources.
Happily the Trust was awarded a grant for US$ 2,50,000 for Project Implementation
by the Getty Foundation, again on the pre-condition that a matching contribution
of an equal amount be raised by it.
The principles of conservation applied to the Project were drawn from internationally accepted norms laid down in the Venice and Kathmandu Charters; "The Guidelines for Conservation - a Technical Manual" and the "Management Guidelines for the world's Cultural Heritage Sites" written by Sir Bernard Fielden (England) and Dr. Jukka Jokilehto (Finland), were duly adapted to the context of conservation attitudes in India. A primary objective was the re-vitalization of the entire Fort Complex and not just individual buildings, in a manner that will not only stop further deterioration and project the monument but also breathe life into the whole, creating a center of excellence for education, research and the recreation and enjoyment of future generations; the Trust expects to achieve these objectives without disturbing the historicity of the heritage site and in complete sympathy and sensitivity with the surviving architecture. The Trust fully appreciates that the active participation and involvement of the local public in the future of the fort is essential. It therefore envisages a multi-dimensional approach while planning for adaptive re-use.
The Project was successfully completed in 2002: In the same year it won the UNESCO- Asia Pacific Award of Excellence for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
An Architectural, Paintings and Wall-Paintings Museum.