Pristine Glory of Jammu: Historical Bhimgarh Fort, Reasi
The frontier state of Jammu and Kashmir is dotted with massive forts constructed by the Dogra rulers to protect their land from foreign invaders. When it comes to history and architecture, the forts of Kashmir are the best links to the glorious reign of the Dogra rulers and the history of Kashmir on the whole.
There are very few mentions of this state in ancient scriptures. Even in the ones that the state is mentioned in, it is referred to as Durgara. It is believed that the name Durgara is derived from the word ‘durg’ or fort and was in reference to the fort dwellers in the state.
Needless to say, the forts of Jammu and Kashmir are of immense importance even in modern times to understand the history of the state. One such fort is the majestic Bhimgarh Fort which is located in the Raesi district. It is often referred to as the Raesi Fort as well.
One of the most striking features of all the forts in Kashmir is their location. Most of them are built on hilltops and elevated ground to protect the land from an invasion. Besides that, these forts were all surrounded by water. Most of the forts had gushing rivers on three sides at least to offer protection.
Even with the Bhimgarh Fort stands over the waters of the Anji River. The location of this fort made it one of the emergency forts used by the Dogra rulers. The commanding view that the fort offered of the surrounding areas was ideal to perceive and ward off an attack.
Originally the fort was built entirely of clay and mud. Under the rule of Maharaja Rishipal Rana who founded the district of Raesi, the fort was rebuilt completely. This is when it was transformed into the massive stone structure that stands tall even today. The Bhimgarh Fort is believe to be one of the oldest forts in the state. Records show that the Fort was the centre of the Bhimgarh state. This state was established as early as the 8th century by Raja Bhim Dev. So, it is safe to say that the monument has seen many moons and is a testimony to the rich history of the state.
In the year 1817, the fort was renovated by Maharaja Gulab Singh who belonged to the Dogra dynasty. This renovation took almost 30 years to complete. At the end of it, the fort had an impressive entry gate and an additional stone wall around it. This ensured that the fort was less vulnerable to attacks. The stone wall which was almost 50 meters long is one of the most important structural features of the fort even to this day.
With the construction of this fort, the influences of various states in the country are evident. For instance, elaborate Rajasthanu carving can be seen on the primary entry gate. The gate is made entirely from Baluka stones to hold off attacks, even with weapons.
The loopholes in the front wall show that the men who constructed this fort meant serious business. This is where ace archers were positioned to shoot arrows in case of an attack. The entrance also has two idols of Lord Hanuman and Goddess Mahakali.
There is so much more to this fort that its construction and architectural mastery. It was right from this fort that Zorawar Singh, one of the greatest Sikh warriors carried out most of his plans. He was the commandant of the Bhimgarh Fort and was the subordinate of Raja Gulab Singh. Without his leadership, it is impossible to say if the glorious land of Kashmir could have been freed from the Afghans and the Tibetian invaders. So, in every way, the Bhimgarh Fort has witnessed the story of Kashmir from the very beginning.
The fort was used as the royal armory after the death of Maharaja Gulab Singh. It was only during the reign of Maharaja Hari Singh that the British destroyed the armory. Thereafter, the treasury was also shifted to Jammu, leaving behind a fort that once was the seat of the state’s conquests.
Today, the fort is under the jurisdiction of the Archeological Survey of India. In the year 1990, the fort was renovated again by the Vaishno Devi Shrine Board in an attempt to promote tourism. The entire façade was renovated to restore the original glory of the fort. Beautiful pathways and gardens were also added to elevate the charm of this magnificent structure. The Bhimgarh Fort is one of the best-managed monuments in the country, although nestled away on a hilltop, away from the tourists. However those who have visited the monument remain mesmerized by the power that this structure exudes.