ohtas … yet another historical landmark of Pakistan built in the 16th century by none other than the mastermind of the Grand Trunk Road - Sher Shah Suri, the then Muslim ruler of India. The fort was built mainly to block re-entry route of the deposed Mughal emperor Humayun who had fled to Iran after his defeat at battle of Chausa, to intimidate the local Ghakkar tribes, who were friends of the Mughal and also as a military base. The work started in 1541 AD and completed in 9 years. There are many estimates in various scripts as far its cost of construction is concerned. Some place it around Rs. 3,425,000, while a Persian script puts the cost of construction and maintaining an army at around Rs. 110,107,975. At one place it says that one gold coin ("Ashraffi") was given for each brick that was placed.
The entrance to Rohtas Fort is through a 20 feet high stone gate leading to yet another gate by a sharp left turn to avoid ramming into the fort by the enemy troops.
Entering the second gate, there is a government owned school, on the wall of which there are two plaques; one describing the history of the area and the fort, and the second showing the history of the school, which was established in 1856.
Rohtas had never taken by storm and has survived intact to the present day. The main fortifications of the fort consist of the massive walls, which extend for more than 4 km and are lined with bastions and pierced by monumental gateways. The fort has 68 bastions and 1956 battlements. Fort walls measure up to 12.5 meters in thickness and up to 18.28 meters in the height. The fort stands on a hill 130 feet above ground and is set on a ridge protected on its southern side by a deep ravine, overlooking Kahan River. The fort's perimeters were designed strategically to utilize the natural ravines, which, together with about a kilometer of the riverside, act as natural moats for the defensive system.
The fort has 12 Gates but Sohail Gate is really has a majestic look. It is named after a saint who is buried just adjacent to the right side of the gate. While peeping outside on the high mountain on the sky line, one can imagine viewing the Tilla Jogian which is attributed the famous love tale HEER RANJHA. It not only provided a panoramic view of the surroundings and the fort, but also the remnants of living area, which had been used by the British as guest rooms later in the 19th century. There are shows the bays located inside the rampart which were once used for spilling molten oil on the intruding enemies - napalm bomb of modern days. It is very important that Rohtas fort ranks 67th in the list of archaeological sites under the patronage of the World Heritage Foundation.
The Citadel building bifurcate the fort from the rest of the fort, indicating beginning of the area for the royalties and chieftains. Interestingly, there is no living quarter in the entire fort. It is said that whenever the royalties visited the fort, the lived in tents. However, later in the Emperor Akbar's times, one his Hindu general Man Singh got himself built a "haveli", known as "man Singh Haveli" of which only a portion remains. Likewise there is a "Rani Mahal" probably for the wife of Man Singh. Above left from Rani
Mahal, the Shah Chandwali Gate is also visible. The myth goes that saint Chandwali worked as a mason and never charged a penny for his labor. In recognition of his services, the gate was named so. The saint is buried just on the side of the gate, where his grave is still present today.
Moving from the Man Singh Haveli downwards, the track bifurcates, one leading to the Shahi Mosque, the Shahi Gate and the Baoli (stepped well) and the other to the Sheeshi Gate and the Langar Khani Gate. Haibat Khan, a trustworthy soldier of Sher Shah built the mosque of white sandstone in 1543 AD, which lies to the west of the fort. There is also a mausoleum, perhaps Habsh Khan, the superintendent of works of Sher Shah.
The Kabuli Gate and the Baoli (Stepped Well): Adjacent to the Shahi Mosque is the Kabuli Gate since the gate is in the direction of Kabul, Afghanistan and sometimes also called the Shahi gate for its closeness to the mosque. Its central arch is 3.15 meters with two bastions on both sides. These are decorated with diamond-shaped brick fret masonry work. The gate also has five battlements. There also is a Baoli with stepped chambers for bath of the royalties. It has 60 steps leading down to the water.
The Sheeshi Gate: Sheeshi Gate is known for the blue glazed tiles which once decorated its entrance from the Langar Khani gate side. Word "sheeshi" is derived from Urdu word "Sheesha" meaning glass. There are two bastions on either side of the gate. The inner portion of the bastions has Islamic calligraphic inscriptions in "Naksh" style. Once can observe the Kahan River and the valley and its approach from Peshawar from one of the bastions. There also is a inscription in Persian on the left of the gate. The inscription gives details of the date of the date of building of the fort. The mention of Islamic year 948 corresponds to 1541 AD. Its translation reads:
This stepped well is awesomely deep located in the area of common soldiers' abode. It has some 148 steps which lead the way to its base, made of natural lime rock. Those with a delicate heart may not feel comfortable looking down to its greater depth from the top retaining wall.
Rohtas Fort or Qila Rohtas is a garrison fort built by the great Afghan king Sher Shah Suri. This fort is about 4 km in circumference and the first example of the successful amalgamation of Pashtun and Hindu architecture in the Indian Subcontinent.
Sher Shah Suri named Qila Rohtas after the famous Rohtasgarh Fort in Shahabad district near Baharkunda, Bihar which he captured from the Raja of Rohtas Hari Krishan Rai in 1539. Rohtasgarh is situated on the upper course of the river Son. It was built by Harish Chandra of the solar dynasty and was named after his son Rohitasva after whom the fort (Rohtasgarh) was named.
Sher Shah constructed Qila Rohtas to block Emperor Humayun's return to India after defeating him in the Battle of Kanauj. This fort lies on the old GT road between the Norths (Afghanistan) to the Plains of Punjab. It blocked the way from Peshawar to Lahore. The other reason was to suppress the local tribe of this region Potohar called Gakhars who were allies of Humayun and refused their allegiance to Sher Shah Suri. The Emperor instructed the local Janjua Rajput tribe to help construct the fort to crush the Gakhars when the latter became openly defiant and persecuting labourers who attended the construction.
The Fort was built by Todar Mal under orders of Sher Shah.
“ Sher Shah threatened to construct such a fort in that country that it should not only effectually restrain the Ghakkars, but also the passage of the Mughals. He therefore himself made a tour through the hills of Girjhák Ninduna [mountains circumjacent], * and finding a fit spot, he laid the foundations of the fort, which he called Rohtás.
Besides that, he sent a large force against Ráí Sárang, the Ghakkar, and not only was the country subdued, and the hill of Balnáth plundered, which was then the residence of the Dárogha of that tract, but the daughter of its chief was taken prisoner, and conducted before Sher Shah, who presented her to Khawás Khán; upon which Ráí Sárang, they relate, sent a quantity of [hemp] blankets and millet to Sher Sháh, with the remark that in such only consisted their raiment and food, besides which they could afford nothing; according to others, he sent a lion's skin and some [arrows] spears, which he said was their only property. With this conduct, however, Sher Sháh was by no means satisfied. Sárang [Sárang's troops] being weakened by [skirmishes] the attacks of the holy warriors, and greatly reduced and straitened, submitted himself in person to Sher Sháh, who ordered him to be flayed alive, and his skin to be filled with straw, and so pay the penalty of his misdeeds.
Sher Sháh issued farmáns to complete the fortifications of Rohtás; but Todar Khatri represented that the Ghakkars, to whom that country belonged, would not allow any one to work for wages; and that they had agreed amongst themselves, upon oath, to expatriate every person that should contravene their wishes. Sher Sháh, in answer, told him [that he should not be allowed to give up that work, which he only wished to do in consequence of his greediness for gold]* that the work did not seem to advance under his superintendence, and that a man who was fond of money, and was alarmed about disbursing it, would never accomplish the king's designs.
Todar, on the reception of this fresh command, fixed first a golden ashrafí as the enormous remuneration for one stone, which induced the [Kakers] Ghakkars to flock to him in such numbers that afterwards a stone was paid with a rupee, and this pay gradually fell to five tankas, till the fortress was completed. ”
Qila Rohtas is situated in a gorge approximately 16 km NW of Jhelum and 7 km from Dina. It was constructed on a hillock where the tiny Kahan River meets another rainy stream called Parnal Khas and turns east towards Tilla Jogian Range. The fort is about 300 feet (91 m) above its surroundings. It is 2660 feet (818 m) above sea level and covers an area of 12.63 acres (51,100 m2).
Qila Rohtas is a garrison fort and could hold a force of up to 30,000 men. Due to its location, massive walls, trap gates and 3 Baolis (stepped wells) it could withstand a major siege although it was never besieged.
Most of the fort was built with ashlar stones collected from its surrounding villages such as Tarraki village. Some parts of the fort were built with bricks.
The fort is irregular in shape and follows the contours of the hill it was constructed on. The fort is exactly 5.2 km in circumference. A 533 metre long wall divides the citadel (for the Chieftain) from other parts of the fort.
The fortification has 68 bastions (towers) at irregular intervals. Out of the 3 Baolis, one of them is in the citadel and the rest are in the other parts of the fort. One of the Gates (Langar Khani) opens into the citadel and is a trap gate because it is in the direct line of fire of the bastions.
The Khwas Khani gate is an example of double walling. A small enclave on the western side is a citadel within a citadel. It is accessible by only one gate and also had a very fine Baoli which suggests that it was meant for the Chief and his family. In this citadel there is a beautiful Mosque called the Shahi Mosque (Not to be confused with the one in Lahore). There are no palaces in the Fort except for a structure built by Raja Man Singh called the Haveli of Man Singh. It is built on the highest point of the citadel.
The work on this fort was started in 1541 with Todar Mal Khatri, the revenue minister in charge of the project. The Gakhars whose area the fort was built on refused to provide labor for this project.
Todar Mal faced with such problems informed Sher Shah about these difficulties who wrote in reply,” I know you for a man of business, understanding and intelligence. I see no work can be expected from you, because you consider money as your friend. When I have commanded you to do a thing you ought not to have cared for money in fixing the rate. Whatever be the expenses shall be borne by my government.”
After receiving this reply, he fixed one red Ashrafi for each slab on the first day. The rate gradually decreased to one Paoli or Bahluli. Because of the boycott the cost of construction was huge. It would have been much lower had it not been for the Ghakkars. The following sources all give slightly different estimates of the cost
Waqiat-i-Jahangiri says the cost was Rs. 34, 25,000. It refers to an engraved stone over the Shishi Gate which reads
“The amount is 16, 10, 00,000 Dams and something more, which is 34, 25,000 Rupees of Hindustan, 120,000 Tumans of Iran or 1,21,75,000 Khanis of Turan”.
According to Tarikh-i-Daudi, its cost is 80,505,002 Dams (Bahlulis).
Choa Sahib (Sikh Shrine outside the fort) ... The choa (the fountain discovered by Guru Nanak) lies outside the fort. Shershah Suri tried to cover it for the use of water by his military. He built the wall around it to take it inside. But every time he tried to cover, the choa miraculously went outside the wall of the fort. He tried 7 times. Finally he gave up. The height of the outer wall varies between 10 and 18 meters. Its thickness varies between 10 and 13 meters. The wall has 2 or 3 terraces and varies in thickness, the maximum being 13 meters near the Mori Gate. The terraces are linked by staircases. The topmost terrace has merlon-shaped battlements. Muskets can be fired from these battlements. Soldiers could also pour molten lead over the walls.
The wall is built in sandstone laid in lime mortar mixed with brick. The gates are in grey ashlar masonry. Some portions have been built using burnt brick.
The Rohtas Fort has the following 12 gates. All of them are built in ashlar stone.
This gate is the best example of masonry in use in the time of Sher Shah. It derives its name from a Saint names Sohail Bukhari buried in the south-western bastion of the gate. Others say that it was names after the Sohail Star which rises on this side of the fort.
It is a double gate rectangular in shape. It is 21.34 meters (70 ft) high, 20.73 meters (68 ft) wide and 15 meters (50 ft) deep. The central archway is 4.72 meters (15 ft) wide. It has an inner and an outer arch which is decorated with beautiful and simple motifs of sunflower. This decoration is repeated in all parts of the Qila.
There are balconies on either side of the central arch. These balconies have a small dome and their sides and bottom are also decorated. Unlike other parts of the Qila which has been built in Afghan-Persian style, the balcony is an example of Hindu architecture. These same balconies can be seen in Haveli Man Singh. There is a small window in the middle of the outer arch. This window is different from the two balconies to either side of the outer arch. It is much simpler that these two balconies.
There are seven merlons on this gate. The bastions are with battlements which have loopholes. These bastions have three levels on the inside. These can be seen if one zooms in the Sohail Gate picture.
The inner side of the gate mirrors the outside but has less decoration. There are no battlements towards the inside and no balconies either. The rooms in the upper storey of this gate have windows that open towards the inside of the Qila. Like the outer arch there is a small window in the middle of the inner arch. The gate now houses a Visitors information center and a Museum set up by the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation.
Shah Chandwali Gate
This gate links the citadel to the main fort. It is named after a Saint Shah Chandwali who refused to get his wages for working on this gate. The saint died while still on work and was buried near the gate. His shrine still stands to this day.
This gate is also a double gate. The outer gate, the entrance of which is from the citadel is 13.3 meters wide and 8.23 meters deep. The inner gate is a simple archway which is 3.66 meters wide.
This gate opens to the west and is named “Kabuli” because it faces Kabul. It is a double gate and its opening is 3.15 meters (10 ft) wide. It has two bastions on each side. The gate has 5 battlements on top and has stairs leading up to it from the outside. On the southern side of the gate is the Shahi (Royal) Mosque because of which many people also call it Shahi (Royal) Darwaza (Gate or Door). There is a Baoli near this gate.
The gate derives its name from the beautiful glazed tiles used to decorate its outer arch. These tiles are the earliest examples of this technique which was later refined in Lahore. These tiles are blue in color.
An inscription on the left side of the gate gives the date of construction of the fort. The inscription is in Persian and is translated as follows In the Hijri Year 948 came the exalted at that time constructed the great fort the emperor is Sher, with long life there is no match to his good fortune it was completed by Shahu Sultan. The Hijri year 948 is 1541 CE.
Langar Khani Gate
It is a double gate 15.25 meters (50 ft) high, 3.5 meters (11.5 ft) wide with a central arched opening. The oouter arch has a small window like the Sohail Gate. The outer opening leads to a Langar Khana (Mess or Canteen). There are two bastions on either side of the gate which have kitchen, stores and a well for water. The opening of this gate is L shaped. As soon as one enters from the outer gate one has to turn right.
This gate is 15.25 meter high and 13.8 meter wide with two bastions on either side. This gates name derives from “Talaq” (divorce). According to a legend, Prince Sabir Suri entered the gate and had an attack of fever which proved fatal. This was regarded as a bad omen and the name became “Talaqi”.
Mori or Kashmiri Gate
The gate opens to the north and faces Kashmir. This gate opens into one chamber which opens into another.
Khwas Khani Gate
This gate is named after one of Sher Shah Suri’s greatest general, Khwas Khan. This was the original entrance to the Qila (Fort) because outside the gate lies the old GT Road.
It is a double gate. The outer gate is 12.8 meter wide (42 ft) and 8 meter (26 ft) deep. This gate has a bastion and a defensive wall on each side. On the bastions canons could be deployed. The inner and outer gates are almost mirror images of each other. The top of the gate has five battlements. All of these have loopholes as well as machicolation. Unlike other gates of this Qila, the inner side of the gate has five battlements.
The inner and outer arches have sunflower motifs like the Sohail Gate. The gate also has a room which has windows opening to the inside and the outside.
It is pertinent to mention here that when the Gakhars refused their allegiance to Sher Shah Suri, he launched an expedition to punish them. This resulted in the capture of the Gakhar chief Sarang Khan and his daughter. Sarang Khan was then killed. His daughter was then married to Sher Shah’s favorite general Khwas Khan.
It is a single gate 9.15 meter high and 6.1 meter deep. This gate faces to the village Gatali Ford(ravine) which is called also Patan Gatiali or Gatiyalian, the important point to cross the River Jhelum for the Kashmir Vally, thus the name.
Tulla Mori Gate
This is an entrance rather than a gate. It is on the eastern side of the fort. It is about 2 meters wide. There is a bastion next to this entrance.
This is a small entrance like the Tulla Mori Gate. It is 2.13 meter wide.
This is a small entrance. There is a bastion next to this gate. There is a Baoli next to this gate. It is called “Sar” because “Sar” means water.
This small mosque is near the Kabuli gate. It has a prayer chamber and a small courtyard. It is the most decorated of the original buildings of the fort. To be ever ready in case of attack, stairs lead directly from the courtyard of this mosque to the top of Kabuli Gate.
The prayer chamber is 19.2 meter long and 7.3 meter deep. It is divided into 3 equal chambers. There are domes from the inside but from the outside no domes can be seen. There is a small room at the end of these three chambers. This room was for the Pesh Imam (Prayer Leader). This room has a small domed roof from the inside but no outer dome. There is no place for ablution (cleaning up before prayers) in the mosque. This mosque is built into the fortification wall i.e. soldiers walked over the mosque's roof. The outer wall of the mosque is the fortification wall itself.
On the outer wall of the mosque are beautiful round designs in which Islamic verses are written inNaqsh script. These verses are surrounded by a Lilly going around the Naqsh script. The Lilly design was later used by Mughals in Tomb of Jahangir, Tomb of Nur Jehan and the Shah Burj Gate in Lahore Fort. The design seems to have been copied from the coins used in that time.
There are 3 Baolis in the fort. These were made by cutting deep into the lime rock. They are
The Main Baoli
It is in the middle of the Fort for soldiers, elephants, horses etc. This Baoli has 148 steps. Each step is 20 cm (8 inches) wide. The upper portion has been cut in stone. It has three arches that span the length of the baoli.
The Shahi Baoli
It is near the Kabuli Gate for the Royal family. It has 60 steps and has small chambers that were used as baths by the Royal family.
Sar Gate Baoli
A small Baoli near the Sar Gate, most likely used by soldiers
The Rani Mahal (Queens’s palace) is near Haveli Man Singh. It is a one storey structure. It originally had four rooms but only room remains standing today. The foundation of the four rooms can still be seen today.
It is not an original part of the fort and is an example of Hindu architecture and built around the same time as the Haveli Man Singh.
The room still standing today is about 20 feet (6.1 m) high and beautifully decorated on the inside and outside. The roof of the dome like room is like a flower. The inside of the roof is decorated with flowers, geometrical patterns and fake windows. The room is about 8 feet (2.4 m) by 8 feet (2.4 m).
This fort is an example of purely “Masculine” architecture. It places function over form. This can be gauged from the fact that the fort originally had no permanent building for living.
These carvings are found on the gate and in the mosque. Most of these are engravings in Arabic and sunflowers.
One of these carvings is inside the Shahi Mosque outside the Pesh Imam's (Prayer leaders) room. The carving is of the word "Allah" (God) in Arabic. The same carving is also done on merlons on top of Shahi Mosque.
The sunflower motif is on each sides of the arches of Shahi Mosque. It is also present in the guard post in between each gate.
Most of these inscriptions are on the Shahi Mosque. On the outer wall of the mosque the “Kalima” is written in beautiful calligraphy on both sides of each arch of the Shahi Mosque. The Naskh script is used.
There is an inscription in Persian on the Shishi gate which gives the date of start of construction. The same inscription is also found over the Talaqi gate.
There are other inscriptions on the Khwas Khani, Langar Khani and Gatali gate.
Glazed tiles … These tiles are found on Shishi gate. This type of tile became extremely popular with the Mughals who further refined them. The tiles on Shishi gate are the earliest example of the usage of these tiles. These tiles were made in Lahore.
Plaster … has been used in the Shahi Mosque.
Machicolations … are small drains that lead from the inside to the walls outside. They are built into the walls and are used by the soldiers on the inside to pour molten lead or other hot liquids on soldiers trying to scale the walls. The Rohtas fort has hundreds of them and each one is beautifully decorated with geometric patterns.
This fort was built in the Afghan-Persian architectural style. Afghans and Persians Kings had been coming to the Indian subcontinent for at least 5 centuries before the construction of this fort. Before the construction of this fort, the combination of these styles had not been harmonious. Qila Rohtas is the earliest example of the successful mixing of these two styles with the Afghan style being more prominent. The elements of Hindu architecture are; Balconies on Sohail Gate … Decorations on Shahi Mosque derived from Hindu architecture … Haveli Man Singh (Pure Hindu architecture) … The elements of Afghan architecture are … Utilitarian construction … Use of stone instead of bricks in building wall … No living quarters … Comparatively less decoration
Sher Shah Suri died before the completion of this magnificent structure. Ten years after Sher Shah’s death and the end of the Suri dynasty, Emperor Humayun returned to rule India for another 15 years.
When Humayun returned the Governor of Rohtas, Tatar Khan Kasi fled. Ironically, Rohtas then became the capital of the Gakhars, the very people it was designed to crush.
This fort was never popular with the Mughals because of its military character. Emperor Akbar stayed here for a single night. Emperor Jahangir rested here for a single night while going to Kashmir for a rest. He said the following about its location
This fort was founded in a cleft and the strength of it cannot be imagined
Emperor Jahangir again stayed here when he was being forced to go to Kabul by Mahabat Khan. Nur Jahan, his beautiful and resourceful wife obtained troops from Lahore and ordered Mahabat Khan to release her husband. Emperor Jahangir then proceeded to Rohtas and held his court here for a while. Then he went onto Kashmir and back to Lahore to die.
The later Mughals seem to have made no use of the fort. The reason is that they were allies of the Gakhars and consequently needed no troops to maintain their hold over this area.
After the takeover of the Punjab by the Sikhs, the Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave the fort to Sardar Mohar Singh who was succeeded by Gurmukh Singh. It was subsequently leased to different people and the last people to manage Rohtas were Raja Fazal Din Khan who joined Sher Singh in rebellion.
Most of the fort is in a very good state of preservation. In the portions that have fallen away (Haveli Man Singh) one can still see some part of the original construction.
The central archway of the Chandwali Gate has been rebuilt recently so that is the only “fake” part of the fort.
World Heritage Site
Qila Rohtas was designated a World Heritage Site in 1997. Here is what the World Heritage list (Document 586) says on page 3 of the report, that this property be inscribed on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria II and IV:
Rohtas Fort is an exceptional example of the Muslim military architecture of central and South Asia, which blends architectural and artistic traditions from Turkey and the Indian sub-continent to create the model for Mughal architecture and its subsequent refinements and adaptations.
Himalayan Wildlife Foundation
The Rohtas Fort Conservation Program was conceived by the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation in 2000 to help protect the sixteenth-century Rohtas Fort near Jhelum, and develop it as a heritage site conforming to international standards of conservation and tourism. It is undertaking the following projects in conjunction with the Royal Norwegian Embassy … Complete restoration of Shah Chandwali Gate … Conservation of Haveli Man Singh …. Conservation of Talaqi Gate and Gatali Gate … Establishment of Sher Shah Suri Museum in upper storey of Sohail Gate …. Improvement of quality of life in Rohtas Fort village
How to visit
From Islamabad … The dual-carriage Grand Trunk Road takes you past Gujar Khan and Sohawa, to the small town of Dina 130 km away. Just past Dina you will drive over a railway overpass, stay to the right of the road and take the first U-turn to drive back towards Dina. After about 100 meters to your left you will find a signpost, which indicates the way towards the road leading to Rohtas Fort which is 8 km away, past the small holy village of Muftian home to the Mufti Tribe. Drive on the road to enter into the fort and keep driving till you reach the parking area.
From Lahore … Drive on G.T road past Gujranwala, Wazirabad and the city of Jhelum. About 10 minutes drive beyond the Jhelum bridge just short of the city of Dina, you will find a signpost to the left directing you to Rohtas Fort.