Rohtas, A Lion’s Fort

Rohras Fort
Overview of the majestic fort.
Dr. Nayyar Hashmey explores now a formidable fort constructed on the orders of a mighty emperor who is known in history as the Lion King of Sur, a king who built roads, rest houses, water wells and established a model of governance which even today’s governments can emulate to turn Pakistan into a truly welfare state.

by Nayyar Hashmey

World over there are magnificent buildings, palaces, monuments and forts raised on the orders of mighty emperors, devout kings and stout rulers. Some built castles, other the gardens and some like Shah Jahan, the fifth emperor in the hierarchy of the great Mughal Empire, built a beautiful monument in the memory of his beloved wife. However, amongst all such kings, rulers and emperors, one man stands tall; he is none else than the great ruler of his times, Farid Khan, most popularly known in history as Sher Shah Suri.
This same Farid Khan ordered the construction of Grand Trunk Road which connected Kabul with Sonargaon in present Bangladesh. In today’s Pakistan, its improved version is the lifeline of our logistics and offers an alternate to our outmoded railways. The credit for this “Jarnaili Sarak” as the locals call it goes to the same “lion”. The road still exists as was built by SherShah Suri, however, there is now a 2-lane fully metalled road which connects Lahore with Peshawar. Not very far from the old Jarnaili Sarak, is the new all carpeted modern motorway which nowadays is a favourite route for motorists travelling between Lahore and Peshawar.
In contrast to other rulers in the subcontinent, Sher Shah ordered constructions which mainly helped alleviate sufferings of common man. In his reign, inns for travelers were built where they could lodge or rest and move on to their next destination. The state paid all expenses for maintenance and other charges for these inns. Though a tough administrator and able general, from his acts of public welfare he looks more as an administrator than a general. In a span of only five years before his untimely death the “great lion” introduced the Rupiah,a precursor of modern Rupee, still a standard monetary unit in the subcontinent.
For administrative purposes, he divided the kingdom into provinces and districts and appointed officers at all levels of administration. Unnecessary taxes were abolished. To prevent the abuse of power he also introduced checks and balance at every level of state administration, but his permanent achievement still remains the building of roads, drinking water facilities and rest houses along those roads. These rest houses also served as mail collection and dispatch centres and thus were part of the kingdom’s postal service. Though a tough ruler yet Sher Shah was a peer of his times. He was father of land reforms including measurements and documentation of property ownerships and land was categorized according to what was cultivated on it. He introduced loans to farmers and at the same time enforced an efficient revenue collection system. One can go on and on about “Sher Badshah’s” contribution to modern methods of governance that didn’t exist before him.
GateEssentially it was Sher Shah’s revolutionary reforms in most important branches of governance that Mughals inherited and used throughout their rule. Much of this was retained by the British too and to a large extent we still use it.
Amongst his principal deeds which he did solely for the defense of his empire, an imposing structure remains unique, the grand Rohtas Fort.
On my way to Rohtas, while leaving Dina, I met Umer, a young Briton of Pakistan origin. I asked him what thoughts he had in mind while pondering over the personality of Farid Khan a.k.a. Sher Shah Suri and this is what he said. “Sher Shah Suri is no doubt one of those great men in history who made it through sheer personal efforts and which are not appreciated enough……despite the fact that he stands head and shoulders above the Mughals by any measure. His achievements are such that he left a lasting mark in history, though his incompetent successors squandered his gains. It is same story every where. After listening to Umer’s short but apt remarks, I moved onward to Rohtas. Previously a much shorter track from Dina to Rohtas was used. However, in rainy season, the small Kahan River was a big obstruction. To obviate Kahan I preferred to take the newly built road which starts from the main GT Road ahead of Dina city (while travelling from Lahore to Jhelum) its about 6 kilometers from this point and is an all year passable road. I reached the majestic Fort at 10.30 a.m. A cool breeze was blowing across Kahan. The very first look on the great fort made me wonderstruck, a truly imposing historical monument which is a blend of Afghan-Persian architectural style in Pakistan.
Langatkhani gate
A portion of fort’s main wall
The fort is a symbol of strength and determination of its builder Sher Shah, who ruled India for only six years (1540-1545 AD) but even though it was a short period in his life, he created many splendors including the grand fort of Rohtas. Today it may look very odd, rather out of the way, to any one visiting Rohtas but the site once had so much of importance and a great strategic value from military point of view. Yet no one will be able to deny the fact that the Kahan gorge, which the fort dominates, was the only practicable route from the mountainous country north of the salt range to the southern plains. The gorge was exploited certainly by the Gakhars and later on by the Mughals
In fact Sher Shah recognized the strategic importance of Rohtas immediately after expelling the Mughal Emperor Humayun in 1542 AD from India. He considered it necessary to take measures against Humayun’s return and his friends, the Gakhars of Rohtas area. After visiting the Jhelum hills, SherShah ordered construction of this great fort. The Gakhars who lived around Rohtas persuaded the people not to allow any raw material such as bricks and stones to the fort site. They also blocked various tracks leading to the site, but Sher Shah declared that any one who brings stone will get a Rupee. People thought that Sher Shah’s men will not honour their commitment but once they tried to supply the stones, they were paid one Rupee for each stone. In this way raw material for the fort was received in abundance as one Rupee was a considerable sum of money at that time. So the gentle but intelligent move of Sher Shah worked its way through the bureaucracy, the state administration to the common folk. All efforts of the Gakhars failed and the fort was completed in 1543 AD.
The fort itself though is not associated with any important historical event, yet is remarkable for its size and massiveness.
Sir Olof Caroe, the last British Governor of the N.W.F.P., and a great scholar of Pakistan’s northern belt, described his first impression of this fort in following words:-

Havili Man Singh

Haveli Raja Maan Singh
“There it stands across a low rocky hill, a few miles north of Jhelum, its great ramparts, growing from the cliff like the wall of China, looking north a sandy stream bed to the low hills of the salt range and beyond them, to the snows of Pir Panjal. The circumference is large enough easily to hold a couple of divisions of troops. As you approach the fort, the crenellations look like ominous rows of helmeted warriors, watching you with disapproval. It is an awe inspiring sight.”
With this accurate composition in mind which Sir Olof Caroe so beautifully tried to relate in words, I read the plaque fixed on Talaqi Gate of the fort.

In 948th year of Alhijra, our king ordered construction of this fort. Our Emperor is a lion. The

whole world trembles at the sight of him. His foes cannot face him and flee away. Rohtas Qila

is a symbol of our Emperor’s greatness. The Qila is built by Shahu Sultan.

Langar khani main gate

Front View of Langar Khani Gate
This plaque fixed on Talaqi Gate (not very far from the Shishi Gate) which too has a replica of this dateline, with same inscriptions. Though contemporary historians wonder as to why two plaques fixed at a very short distance, it seems likely that the builder wanted to record the year of construction as a symbol of the regality of his ruler, the great Emperor Sher Shah Suri, in case one is damaged, broken or destroyed, the second plaque should remain intact to testify the inscribed information. Whatever the reason, the fort of Rohtas is a magnificent example of Muslim military architecture in the area.
The plan of the fort is adapted to suit the terrain and it is defended by a number of deep ravines as well as the river Kahan, which breaks through the low eastern spur of the Tilla range. The fort is about six km in perimeter and surrounded by a massive wall strengthened with 68 bastions. Besides providing strength to the wall, these bastions give a touch of elegance and grandeur to the fort. The wall is usually composed of two or three terraces, varies in thickness at different points the maximum being 36ft near the Mori Gate. These are interlinked with each other by way of stair line and the top most terrace is stylefully laid in the line.
The height of the fortification wall ranges from 30 to 40 ft and a considerable number of galleries have been provided in the thickness of the wall for soldiers and for use as a storage space. The wall is built in sand stone, coarse rubble masonry laid in lime mortar with granular brick grit.

Portion of main WallThough built purely for military purposes, some of its twelve gates are exceptionally fine examples of the architecture of that period. One of these gates, the Sohail Gate guarding the south west wall is in fair condition even today. This gate is an example that illustrates how a feature built for strength could also be made architecturally graceful. As it is more than eighty feet in height so it provides a grand entrance to the magnificent fort complex. Every part of its structure has been carried out in broader and simple manner, each line and plane has a sober and massive elegance while the whole is aesthetically competent.

Within the fort a small town has developed and several thousand people live here. The size of this town can be judged from the fact that there are more than 10 schools and twelve mosques. So much space is available within the fort even today that more than two towns of similar size could be developed. However, the inhabitants of this village have obviously defaced and damaged the original structure of this fort in many places. Many mazars (graves of Muslim holy men) have come up in every nook and corner of this fort, I counted at least five. Some of these were built in shelters in the walls for soldiers. One is built right at the main entrance and is shamefully coloured in green paint and white choona. The only shrine that I could find a historical reference to was Shah Chand Wali’s who was a saint. The Wali worked on the fort construction without taking any compensation and who in my opinion rightly deserves a shrine inside.
Telephone and electric lines run over the walls and a particular area with the most beautiful view of green fields of Tilla Jogian has been converted into an open air toilet. To describe that corner of the fort would turn my stomach over.

Gate 3The fort was named by Sher Shah after the famous Rohtas Garh fort in Shahabad District near Baharkunda in Bihar (India), which he captured from the Raja of Rohtas Hari Krishna Rai in 1539. Rohtas Garh is situated on the upper course of the river Son, 20 37’N and 85 33’ E. It was built by Harish Chandra of Solar dynasty and was named after his son Rohitsava after whom the fort Rohtas Garh was named.

While the towering personality of this Indo Afghan King comes again into my mind, my friend Haroon Mohsini of the University of Toronto describes the saga of this great Afghan in following words.

Gate 4

[Right: The Main Gate]
Babur’s victories at Panipat and Gorga though helped him establish Mughal Rule in India, yet he couldn’t completely annihilate the power of the Afghan chiefs. They were seething with discontent against the newly founded alien rule, and only needed the guidance of one strong personality to coalesce their isolated efforts into an organized resistance against it. This they got in Sher Khan Sur, who effected the revival of the Afghan power and established a glorious, though short lived regime in India by ousting the newly established Mughal authority.
The career of Sher Khan Sur, the hero of Indo-Muslim revival, is as fascinating as that of Babur and not less instructive than that of the great Mughal, Akbar. Farid Khan began his life in an humble way, and, like many other great men in history, had to pass through various trials and vicissitudes of fortune before he rose to prominence by dint of his personal merit. His grandfather, Ibrahim, an Afghan of the Sur tribe, lived near Peshawar and his father’s name was Hasan. Ibrahim migrated with his son to the east in quest of military service in the early part of Buhlul Lodhi’s reign and both first entered the service of Mahabat Khan Sur, jagirdar of the parganas of Hariana and Bakhala in the Punjab, and settled in the pargana of Bajwara or Bejoura. After some time Ibrahim got employment under Jamal Khan Sarang Khani of Hissar Firuza in the Delhi district, who conferred upon Ibrahim some villages in the pargana of Narnaul for the maintenance of forty horsemen in his service. Farid was born probably near Narnaul. He was soon taken to Sasaram by his father, Hasan, who had been granted a jagir there by his master, Umar Khan Sarwahi, when the latter got the governorship of Jaunpur.
Hasan, like the other nobles of his time, was a polygamist, and Farid’s step-mother had predominant influence over him. This made him indifferent to Farid whereupon the latter left home at the age of twenty-two and went to Jaunpur. Thus the Afghan youth was forced into a life of adventure and struggle, which cast his mind and character in a heroic mould. For some time he devoted himself to study. By indefatigable industry and steady application, Farid early attracted the attention of his teachers at Jaunpur and quickly gained an uncommon acquaintance with the Persian language and literature. He was capable of reproducing from memory the Gulistan, Bostan and Sikandar-Nama. Being pleased with this promising youth, Jamal Khan, his father’s patron, effected a reconciliation between him and his father, who allowed him to return to Sasaram and to administer the parganas of Sasaram and Khawaspur. The successful administration of those two places by Farid served to increase his step-mother’s jealousy, and so leaving Sasaram once again he went to Agra.
On the death of his father, Farid took possession of his paternal jagir on the strength of a royal farman, which he had been able to procure at Agra. In 1522 he got into the service of Bahar Khan Lohani, the independent ruler of Bihar, whose favour he soon secured by discharging his duties honestly and assiduously. His master conferred on him the title of Sher Khan for his having shown gallantry by killing a tiger single-handed, and also soon rewarded his ability and faithfulness by appointing him as his deputy and tutor of his minor son, Jalal Khan. But perverse destiny again went against Sher. His enemies poisoned his master’s mind against him, and he was once more deprived of his father’s jagir. “Impressed by the complete success of Mughal arms” and with the prospect of future gain, he now joined Babur’s camp, where he remained from April, 1527, to June, 1528. In return for the valuable services he rendered to Babur in his eastern campaigns, the latter restored Sasaram to him.
Sher soon left the Mughal service and came back to Bihar to become again its deputy governor and guardian of his former pupil, Jalal Khan. While the minor king remained as the nominal ruler of Bihar, Sher became the virtual head of its government. In the course of four years he won over the greater part of the army to his cause and “elevated himself to a state of complete independence”. Meanwhile, the fortress of Chunar, luckily came into his possession. Taj Khan, the Lord of Chunar, was killed by his eldest son, who had risen against his father for his infatuation with a younger wife, Lad Malika. This widow, however, married Sher Khan and gave him the fortress of Chunar. Humayun besieged Chunar in 1531, but Sher Khan had taken no part in the Afghan rising of that year and saved his position by a timely submission to the Mughal invader. The rapid and unexpected rise of Sher at the expense of the Lohani Afghans made the latter and even Jalal Khan, impatient of his control. They tried to get rid of this dictator. The attempt, however, failed owing to his “unusual circumspection”. They then entered into an alliance (Sept., 1533) with Mahmud Shah, the King of Bengal, who was naturally eager to check the rise of Sher, which prejudiced his own prestige and power. But the brave Afghan deputy inflicted a defeat on the allied troops of the Bengal Sultan and the Lohanis at Surajgarh, on the banks of the Kiul River, east of the town of Bihar (1534). The victory at Surajgarh was indeed a turning-point in the career of Sher. “Great as it was as a military achievement, it was greater in its far-reaching political result… But for the victory at Surajgarh, the jagirdar of Sasaram would never have emerged from his obscurity into the arena of politics to run, in spite of himself, a race for the Empire with hereditary crowned heads like Bahadur Shah and Humayun Padshah.” It made him the undisputed ruler of Bihar in fact as well as in name.
Sher had an opportunity to increase his power when Humayun marched against Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. He suddenly invaded Bengal and appeared before its capital, Gaur, not by the usual route through the Taliagarhi passes (near modern Sahebganj), but by another unfrequented and less circuitous one. Mahmud Shah, the weak ruler of Bengal, without making any serious attempt to oppose the Afghan invader, concluded peace with him by paying him a large sum, amounting to thirteen lacs of gold pieces, and by ceding to him a territory extending from Kiul to Sakrigali, ninety miles in length with a breadth of thirty miles. These fresh acquisitions considerably enhanced Sher’s power and prestige, and, after the expulsion of Bahadur Shah of Gujarat to Diu, many of the distinguished Afghan nobles joined their rising leader in the east. Thus strengthened, Sher again invaded Bengal about the middle of October, 1537, with a view to conquering it permanently, and closely besieged the city of Gaur. Humayun, who on his way back from Gujarat and Malwa had been wasting his time at Agra, in his usual fashion, realized the gravity of the Afghan menace in the east rather too late and marched to oppose Sher Khan in the second week of December, 1537. But instead of proceeding straight to Gaur, by which he could have frustrated the designs of Sher Khan in alliance with the Sultan of Bengal, he besieged Chunar. The brave garrison of Sher Khan at Chunar baffled all the attempts of the assailants for six months, while Sher Khan was left free to utilize that time for the reduction of Gaur by April, 1538. Sher Khan had also captured the fortress of Rohtas by questionable means and had sent his family and wealth there. Baffled in Bihar, Humayun turned towards Bengal and entered Gaur in July, 1538. But Sher Khan, cleverly avoiding any open contest with him in Bengal, went to occupy the Mughal territories in Bihar and Jaunpur and plunder the tract as far west as kanauj.
Humayun, who was then whiling away his time in idleness and festivities at Gaur, was disconcerted on hearing of Sher’s activities in the west and left Bengal for Agra before his return should be cut off. But he was opposed on the way, at Chaunsa near Buxar, by Sher Khan and his Afghan followers and suffered a heavy defeat in June, 1539. Most of the Mughal soldiers were drowned or captured; and the life of their unlucky ruler was saved by a water-carrier, who carried him on his water-skin across the Ganges, into which he had recklessly jumped. The victory over the sovereign of Delhi widened the limit of Sher Khan’s ambition and made him the de facto ruler of the territories extending from Kanauj in the west to the hills of Assam and Chittagong in the east and from the Himalayas in the north to the hills of Jharkhand (from Rohtas to Birbhum) and the Bay of Bengal in the south. To legalize what he had gained by the strength of arms and strategy, he now assumed the royal title of Sher Shah and ordered the Khutba to be read and the coins to be struck in his name. Next year Humayun made another attempt to recover his fortune, though he could not secure the co-operation of his brothers in spite of his best attempts. On the 17th May, 1540, the Mughals and the Afghans met again opposite kanauj. The army of Humayun, hopelessly demoralized, half-hearted and badly officered, was severely defeated by the Afghans at the battle of the Ganges or Bilgram, commonly known as the battle of Kanauj, and Humayun just managed to escape. Thus the work of Babur in India was undone, and then sovereignty of Hindustan once more passed to the Afghans. From this time Humayun had to lead the life of a wanderer for about fifteen years. The sons of Babur failed to combine even at such a critical moment, though Humayun went to Lahore and did his best to win them over. Their selfishness triumphed over common interests and Sher Shah was able to extend his authority to the Punjab also. The Afghan ruler marched, with his usual promptitude and vigour, to subdue the warlike hill tribes of the Gakhar country, situated between the upper courses of the Indus and the Jhelum. He ravaged this territory but could not thoroughly reduce the Gakhars, as he had to proceed hurriedly to Bengal in March, 1541, where his deputy had imprudently rebelled against his authority. He dismissed the rebel, “changed the military character of the provincial administration and substituted a completely new mechanism, at once original in principle and efficient in working”. The province was divided into several districts, each of which was to be governed by an officer appointed directly by him and responsible to him alone.
Sher Shah next turned his attention against the Rajputs of the west, who had not yet recovered fully from the blow of Kanauj. Having subjugated Malwa in A.D. 1542, he marched against Puran Mal of Raisin in Central India. After some resistance the garrison of the fort of Raisin capitulated, the Rajputs agreeing to evacuate the fort on condition that they were allowed to pass “unmolested” beyond the frontier of Malwa. But the Afghans fell furiously on the people of the fort as soon as the latter had come outside the walls. To save their wives and children from disgrace, the Rajputs took their lives, and they died to a man, fighting bravely against their formidable foe, in 1543. The Raisin incident has been condemned by several writers as a great blot on the character of Sher Shah.
Sind and Multan were annexed to the Afghan Empire by the governor of Punjab. There remained only one more formidable enemy of Sher Shah to be subdued. He was Maldev, the Rajput ruler of Marwar, a consummate general and energetic ruler, whose territories extended over about 10,000 sq. miles. Instigated by some disaffected Rajput chiefs whose territories had been conquered by Maldev, Sher Khan led an expedition against the Rathor chief in AD 1544. Maldev, on his part, was not unprepared. Considering it inadvisable to risk an open battle with the Rathors in their own country, Sher Shah had recourse to a stratagem. He sent to Maldev a few forged letters, said to have been written to him by the Rajput generals, promising him their help, and thus succeeded in frightening the Rathor ruler, who retreated from the field and took refuge in the fortress of Sivan. In spite of this, the generals of the Rajput army, like Jeta and Kama, with their followers opposed Sher Shah’s army and fought with desperate valour, but only to meet a warrior’s death. Sher Shah won a victory, though at great cost, with the loss of several thousand Afghans on the battlefield and coming near to losing his empire. The Rajputs lost a chance of revival and the path was left open for undisputed Afghan supremacy over Northern India. After this success, Sher Shah reduced to submission the whole region from Ajmer to Abu and marched to besiege the fort of Kalinjar. He succeeded in capturing the fort, but died from an accidental explosion of gunpowder on the 22nd may, 1545.
After listening to Haroon’s recount of the Lion King, my mind flashes back again to Qila Rohtas. The Qila is situated in a gorge on a hillock where the small Kahan River meets another rainy stream called Parnal Khas and turns east towards Tilla Jogian range. The fort is about 300 ft above its surroundings. It is 2660 feet above sea level and covers an area of 12.63 acres. Rohtas Fort was built as 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 the surrounding villages such as Tarraki. 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 upon. A 533 meter long wall divides the citadel (for the Chieftain) from other parts of the fort.
The fortification has 58 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 has also 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 Maan Singh called Haveli Maan Singh. It is built on the highest point of the citadel.
The Tilla Jogian is also a historical place; the Tilla Jogian literally means the hill of the jogis (a hill where ascetics abode). It is the highest point in the salt range at 3200ft. It was visited by Baba Guru Nanak (the founder of the Sikh faith), Emperor Jahangir, Ranjha of the Heer Ranjha folklore, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the warrior king of Punjab, the British and finally by the two times Prime Minister of Pakistan Mian Nawaz Sharif.
The Rohtas Fort has 12 gates each of which is a piece of unique construction.

Sohail Gate

This gate is the best example of architecture in vogue during the reign of Sher Shah Suri. It derives its name from a Muslim saint named Sohail Bukhari who remains buried in the south western bastion of the gate. Others say it is named after the star ‘Sohail” which rests on this side of the fort.
It’s a double gate, rectangular in shape. It is 21.34 meters high, 20.73 meter wide and 15 meters deep. The width of its central archway is 4.78 meter. The gate has an inner and outer arch which is decorated with beautiful motifs of sunflower. Such décor is oft repeated in almost every part of the fort.
There are balconies on either side of the central arch and have a small dome and their sides and bottom are also decorated. Unlike other parts of the fort which have been built in Afghan Persian style, the balcony is an example of Hindu architecture. Similar style balconies can be seen in Haveli Maan Singh too. 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’s much simpler than these two balconies.

Shah Chand Wali Gate

The gate links the citadel to the main fort. Named after the Muslim saint Shah Chad Wali, it is also a double gate. The outer gate, the entrance of which is from the citadel, it is 13.3 maters wide and 8.23 meter deep. The inner gate is a simple archway which is 3.66 meter wide.

Kabuli Gate

The gate opens to the west and is named “Kabuli” as it faces towards Kabul. Also a double gate, it has an opening of 3.15 meter width. The gate has two bastions one each side has 5 battlements on top and stairs leading you in from the outside. On the southern side of the gate is the Shahi Mosque tempting many to call the gate as Shahi Darwaza or Royal Gate. Just close to the gate, a flight of 60 steps leads you down to one of the fort’s Baolis.

Shishi Gate

Facing the Kahan River is the Shishi Gate, taking its name from the beautiful glazed tiles used in the spandrels of the outer arch. The glaze and reflection of the tiles having Persian blue colour, gave it the common name of Shishi Darwaza meaning the Glass Gate. These tiles are the earliest examples of this technique which was later refined by the artisans of Lahore.

Langar Khani Gate

Again a double gate, its 15.25 meter high, 3.5 meter wide with a central arch opening, the outer arch has a small window like the Sohail Gate. The outer opening leads to a Langar Khana (Mess or Canteen). There are two balconies on either side of the gate which have kitchen, store and a well for water. The opening of this gate is L shaped. As soon as you enter from the outer gate, you have to turn right. Though many believe this kitchen (Langar) is the reason for calling this gate as Langar Khana; yet the real reason to name this gate is its position of being a passage between boats anchoring station (pattan) and the fort.

Talaqi Gate

The gate is 15.25 meter with two bastions on either side. The gate derives its name from the word “talaq”. Talaq lierally means divorce but it is also used in the meaning of ‘condemned’. It’s said that the name stands in the memory of the mishap to Sabir Shah Suri, who according to a common story, entered the gate and had a sudden attack of fever. Taking it as an ill omen, the gate got its name.

Gatali Gate

It’s a single gate 9.15 meter high and about 6.1 meter deep. The gate faces the village Gatali ford (ravine) which is also called Patan Gatali or Gatalian, thus the name.

Tilla More Gate

This is an entrance rather than a gate. It is on eastern side of the fort and is about 2 meters wide. There is a bastion next to this entrance.

Pipalwala Gate

This is a small entrance too. It is 2.13 meter wide.

Sar Gate

Again a small entrance; has a small bastion next to the gate. There is also a Baoli next to this gate. It’s named “Sar” because Sar means water.

Kashmiri Gate

On the north stands Kashmiri Gate (facing Kashmir). It’s also called Mori Gate because of its hollow look as of a drain (mori).

Khwas Khani Gate

This gate is named after one of Sher Shah’s greatest General, Khwas Khan. This was the original entrance to the Qila because outside this gate lies the old GT Road. It is a double gate. The outer gate is 12.8 meter wide and 8 meter deep. The gate has a bastion and a defensive wall on each side. On the bastions, cannons 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 loop holes as well as machiolations. Unlike other gates of Rohtas, the inner side of the gate has five battlements.

Other Buildings in the Fort

Shahi Mosque

The small mosque is near the Kabuli Gate. It has a prayer chamber and a small courtyard. It’s the most decorated of all the original buildings in the fort. To be ever ready for an attack from the enemy, stairs lead directly from the courtyard of the mosque to the top of Kabuli Gate. The prayer chamber is 14.2 meter long and 7.3 meter deep. It is divided into 3 equal chambers. These are domes from the inside but from outside no domes can be seen. There is a small room at the end of these tree chambers. This room was meant for the Pesh imam (the prayer leader). The room has a small domed roof from the inside but no outer dome. The mosque is built into the fortification wall. The outer wall of the mosque has beautiful designs of Islamic verses written in Naqsh script. The verses are surrounded by a lily going around the Naqsh script. The lily design was later used by Mughals in Jahangir and Queen Noor Jahan’s tombs and in the Shah Burj Gate of Lahore fort.


There are three baolis in the fort. These were made cutting deep into the lime rock.

The Main Baoli

It is in the middle of the fort, for soldiers, elephants and 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’s near the Kabuli Gate and was meant for the royal family. It has 60 steps and has small chambers that were used as bath by the royal family.

Sar Gate Baoli

A small baoli near Sar Gate, was most likely used by the soldiers.

Haveli Mann Singh

It’s not an original part of the fort and was later added by a general of the Muhghal Emperor Akbar, Raja Maan Singh I of Amber. The general died in1614 so it must have been built between 1550 and 1614. It’s a two storied building constructed with bricks and plastered neatly. Architecturally it has no resemblance to the main construction style of Rohtas Fort. A part of the structure has fallen away. There seems to have been 4 meter square and there are balconies on the outside of the gate. These balconies are similar to the one outside the Sohail Gate. One could see the whole fort from these balconies.
Unlike the main construction of Rohtas Fort which is an example of Indo-Afghan architecture, the haveli is a typical Hindu style construction in the fort complex.

Rani Mahal

Rani Mahal or Queen’s Place is near Haveli Maan Singh. A single storey structure, originally it had four rooms but only one remains today. The foundations of the four rooms can still be seen. Like Haveli it is also a later addition to the main fort and was probably built at the same time when Haveli was built. The room still standing today is about 20 feet 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 8ft by 8ft.

Decorative Features

The fort is an example of purely “masculine” architecture and it places functions over form. This can be gauged from the fact that the fort had no building for living purposes. Even the kings had to live in tents when they came here.

Stone Carvings

The coverings are found on the gate and in the mosque. Most of these are engravings in Arabic and sunflowers.One of such carvings is inside the Shahi Mosque outside the Pesh imam’s room. The carving is of the word “Allah”in Arabic.The stone carving is also done on top of Shahi Mosque. The sunflower motif is on each side of the arches of Shahi Mosque and is also present in the guard post in between each gate.

Calligraphic Inscriptions

Again most of these inscriptions are in the Shahi Mosque. On the outer wall of the mosque the Kalima is written in beautiful calligraphy on both sides of each arch. These inscriptions are in Nuskh script.There is an inscription also in Persian on the Shishi gate which mentions the starting date of construction. The same inscription is also found over the Talaqi Gate.There are inscriptions on the Khawas Khani, Langar Khani and Gatali Gates too.

Glazed Tiles

These tiles are found on Shishi Gate. These types of tiles 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. The tiles were cast in Lahore.


Machiolations are small drains that lead from inside of the walls to the outside. They are built into the walls and are used by the soldiers inside the fort to pour molten lead or other hot liquids on enemy soldiers who could attempt to scale the walls. The Rohtas Fort had hundreds of them and each one is beautifully decorated with geometric patterns.


The fort was built on the Afghan-Persian architectural style. Afghan and Persian kings were coming to the Indian subcontinent for at least 5 centuries before the construction of the fort; however, the combinations of these styles were not harmonious. Rohtas Qila is the earliest example of a successful blending of the two styles but Afghan style is more prominent.

Rohtas under the Mughals and the Sikhs

Sher Shah Suri died before the completion of this colossal yet magnificent structure. Ten years after his death and the end of the Suri dynasty, Mughal Emperor Humayun returned to rule India for another 15 years.
The fort was never popular with the Mughals because of its pure military character. Emperor Akbar stayed here for a single night. His son Jahangir while going to Kashmir also rested here but for a single night. He again stayed here when he was forcibly taken to Kabul by Mahabat khan. Noor Jahan, his intelligent, beautiful, and shrewd wife obtained troops from Lahore and ordered Mahabat Khan to release her husband. On his release, Emperor Jahangir then proceeded to Rohtas and held his court for a while. Then he went on to Kashmir and back to Lahore where he died.
The later Mughals seem to have made no use of the fort. The prime reason being Mughals’ alliance with the Gakhars and hence they didn’t need any troops to maintain their hold over the area.
The Durranis of Afghanistan did feel the importance of Rohtas because Gakhars were equally hostile to them as they were to the Suris. Durrani rulers therefore kept not only a garrison at Rohtas but also had their Governor posted there. They also used this fort as a manual communication grid with their capital Kabul.
The Sikhs held power after the Durranis. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was in camp here when he heard the news that his great general Hari Singh Nalwa had been killed at Jamrud by the great Amir Dost Muhammad Khan – the Kabul suburb of Mina Akbar Khan is named after this great Afghan General. The Maharaja gave the fort to Sardar Mohar Singh, who was succeeded by Gurmukh Singh. Subsequently the fort was leased to different people and the last person to manage Rohtas was Raja Fazal Din Khan who joined Sher Singh in rebellion.
“Rohtas Fort is an outstanding example of early Muslim military architecture in the Indian subcontinent, which contains features from elsewhere in the Islamic world. It also had a profound influence on the development of architectural styles in the Mughal Empire and hence on the European colonial architecture as well. The later made an abundant use of that tradition and most constructions from the British Raj still carry the same blend every where in Pakistan and India”.
Above paragraph stands on page 2 of the report (Document 586) of the World heritage List.
The report further says:-
It is also outstanding by virtue of the refinement and high artistic value of its decorative elements, notably its high – and low relief carvings, its calligraphic inscriptions in marble and sand stones, its plaster decorations and its glazed tiles.
there are no surviving examples of military architecture of this period on the same scale in the subcontinent which survives to the same degree of completeness and conservation. Fatehpur Sikri (India), also on the World Heritage List represents the full Mughal realization of a form and style that owes every thing to its precursor, the great fort of Rohtas.

All Photographs in this article have been taken on site by Nadeem KhawarEmail:

Related posts:

Note: A serialized set of posts  (4 parts ) is also available in July 2008 issue of this e-zine: Please visit:

1. 2. 3. 4.



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20 replies to “Rohtas, A Lion’s Fort

  1. Thanks for such a comprehensive write-up and the beautiful photographs!

    I sincerely hope that the competent authorities will act soon to preserve the fine piece of archaeological heritage that the fort is, for the times to come.

    Meanwhile, the stretch of the GT Road that lies in India has been renamed as ‘Sher Shah Suri Marg’. 🙂

  2. I am plsd to learn that Indian Govt. has renamed the GT Road in India has been renamed Sher Shah Suri Marg. This is indeed commendable that a king who many centuries ago did so many good jobs for the people, which today’s democrats think hunderd times to do. This does not mean that i justify kingdoms in today’s world but just a lesson for all the administrators of today to follow that great king in doing things for the welfare of the people.

    As far as maintenance of ROHTAS Fort is concerned,we are trying our best to apprise concerned authorities in Pakistan to preserve and up keep this wonderful piece of architecture.

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  9. There is historical mistake which should be corrected,during Maharaja Ranjit Singh,the fort was captured by one of his imminent general Sardar Gurmukh Singh Lamba Izazi-i-Sardari,Nirmal Bud,Ujjal Diddar Who was wounded fifteen times.from Gahkar Chief Nur Khan ,father of Fazil Dad Khan in 1825.The fort was handed over to Sardar Mohar Singh by the maharaja due to the interference of Raja Gulab and Dhian Singh,having great influence over the maharaja.Their father Main Kishora Singh was defeated by General Sardar Gurmukh Singh Lamba.Later when Sardar Mohor Singh wanted to retire to Baras against the wishes of Maharaja,the fort and his contingent of seven hundred horses were put under command og General Sardar Gurmukh Singh Lamba.He was of medium stature but due to long command properly addressed by the maharaja as Lammba Sardar.His portrait painting with caption is displayed at Central Museum Lahoreat serial D-40.

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