Lord over ruins

I have been to Khajuraho twice now, but never in my wildest dream did I think that I will find something much more unique and fascinating that the world-famous love temple of India! Khajuraho is uniquely linked with another medieval city 56 km away, known as Mahoba, which served as the capital city for the Chandela dynasty of the Bundelkhand till the end of 12th century. It was in the 13th century that with the capture of Mahoba by Qutubuddin Aibak that kingdom moved to the great fortress of Kalinjar. The fact that the new capital came with a temple of Shiva was considered as an auspicious beginning.

Kalinjar, Banda, Uttar Pradesh

March 2022

Pencil and wash drawing of a building inside Kalinjar Fort, Uttar Pradesh by Frederick Charles Maisey (1825-1892) in 1847. Lieutenant Maisey was based at Kalinjar from 1845 to 1847. This image is inscribed: ‘Jan 25th, 1847. In Kallinjur Fort, Bundlecun.’

Kalinjar occupies a very important place of pride in the history of India. Many decisive battles were fought for the possession of this strategically located fort in ancient, medieval and modern times. The invincible fort of Kalinjar was under the Jejakbhukti kingdom in ancient times. The names of this fort have undergone many changes throughout the pages of history. It has gained fame as Kirtinagar in Sat Yuga, Madhyagarh in Treta Yuga, Sinhalgarh in Dwapar Yuga and Kalinjar in Kali Yuga. However, the moral of the story remains the same, as a Ajinkya (one that cannot be won over), Kalinjar is the oldest hill forts in India enjoying a remote yet strategic site on the last spur of the Vindhya Mountains above the Gangetic Valley, on a plateau of 375 m (1,230 feet) high.

The fort of Kalinjar which was celebrated throughout the world for being as strong as the wall of Alexander.

Sir Alexander Cunningham, 1969 P25
View from the top of Kalinjar fort

Kalinjar fort was unparalleled in the whole of Hindustan for strength

Nizamuddin

It was in 1569 AD, when the streak ended with Akbar who won this fort and gifted it to Birbal. After Birbal, this fort came under the Bundel king Chhatrasal. In 1812, this fort became part of the British rule.

The walls of the fort contain several large tanks including the Budha Badra and Kot Tirth; a palace-like Raja Man singh Mahal; many Muslim tombs, as well as relics of the Bundelas and Chaubes. The British left a graveyard which included a monument to Andrew Wauchope, the first Commissioner of Bundlekhand.

Beyond the military prowess, Kalinjar is also a symbol of cultural and religious glory. The site was originally a revered hill shrine, which later underwent numerous fortifications as a result of generations of invaders. This panorama of Kalinjar is marked by a vast wealth of epigraphic material, from pre-Gupta structures to high class sculptures from the Gupta and Chandela period, all spread under the collapsed debris in and around the famous Neelkanth temple.

Kalinjar is one of the strongest and highest forts of Hindustan. Its edifices too were the envy of paradise, its balconies were likewise the envy thereof, its crenelles excelled the constellation plebeians (in Turus) and the depth of its moats was greater than even the very bottom of the earth. The breeze, carrying the clouds trembles to touch its courtyards, and the world covering lightening too genuflects its knee in its depth

Arif Qandhari, Tarikh-I-Akbari (1993)

When you first step on to the ruins of Kalinjar, beyond this sense of lost, you have this brief moment of introspection “It’s just ruins…looks like another waste of time!” You of course can give up! But accompanied with a well-versed guide, you will not be disappointed as you start trailing behind him, down the flight of stairs! It’s like as if the fort is testing your patience, and rewarding you with a bounty of information. It is then you learn that, on a similar hot day in May 1545, Sher Shah Suri died in a gunpowder explosion while besieging Kalinjar. Suri was considered as the most powerful ruler in the Indian subcontinent, who had driven out the Mughals. While the fort subsequently fell to his army, his premature death enabled Humayun to be back in the saddle within a decade of Suri’s passing. It was one of several turning points in Indian history which have been witnessed at Kalinjar. The locals believe that it’s because of the Shiva that lives within the fort.

One of the nine holy places in Northern India. (Renuka, Sukara, Kasi, Kali, Kala, Bateswarah, Kalanjara, Mahakala, Ukhala nava Kirttnah

Padma Purana

The main attraction of the Kalinjar fort is the Neelkanth Temple, built by the Chandela ruler Paramaditya Dev. Within the cave are two large lingams, which seem to have grown organically out of the wall. The Shiva lingam here is of blue stone and has a popular lore associated with it. It is said that during the great churning of the ocean (Amruth-manthan), Shiva drank the poison Hallahal in order to protect the world from its poison, thus turning his throat blue (hence the name Neelkantha). Despite being an omnipotent, the poison was so potent that it causes great irritation and discomfort to the great Lord. As a result, he took refuge in the caves of Kalinjar to soothe his throat. Hence, it is said that even today, the Shivalinga keeps dripping water only from the lower half of the lingam, as if it is still sweating, while rest of the lingam remains dry. The name of the fort also originates from this very source –

‘Kaal’ meaning time and ‘jar’ implying destruction in Sanskrit since Shiva is considered as the destroyer of time.

Interestingly, the priest of the temple has been in-charge of the temple since the time of Chandela dynasty. Currently, the 50th generation of the priest family are still continuing with that trend. Unlike the typical temple priests, they are not from the Brahmin family.

ABODE OF LORD SHIVA….

Kurma Purana

To the religious-minded, the journey to Kalinjar is a pilgrimage – a homage to the abode of Shiva. The massive Mahasadashiva, standing over 20 feet in height, itself is an image that stays with a visitor long after he/she leaves the temple. A fact that I can vouch for because later at night, my friend kept kicking me because of her dreams featuring the statue! Well…. In the meantime, since real-making is the new thing, here is one for you!!!

History and faith come together in a fascinating intermingling at Kalinjar. While historians have been unable to pin down an exact date for the fort’s founding, the faithful describe the hill as a tapshyasthana and a mahatirth – a place for austere devotion since ancient times.

Arjun Kumar

Related (and not-so related) Posts:


Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh

For more history on Chandelas and Kalinja, read this: Kalinjar fort history

5 comments

    • Well I have been to both busy and non-busy season…. Non-busy season like in March, while the weather starts getting harsh, it’s easier to appreciate with less crowd and people hounding you. During the festival time which is held in feb, it’s a completely different experience it feels like the dance festival was completely meant to be celebrated with khajuraho as the backdrop… Oct to Feb is insane though

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    • And if you do go, i will personally recommend one guide who will just change your experience of khajuraho… So do hit me up when you make a plan..!

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