Rohtas – A Lion’s Fort [2 of 4]

A portion of Fort's Main Wall
A portion of Fort’s Main Wall



by Nayyar  Hashmey



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, Sher Shah 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.

Front View, Langar Khan gate

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:-

“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.

This plaque fixed on Talaqi Gate (not very far from the Shishi Gate) which too has 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.

Front View Gate No. 3

Though 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 stomachover.


Next: Rohtas: Part III

Pages 1 2 3 4

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  1. When I see a grand structure like that from kingdoms of yore, still standing strong, even while bridges and buildings constructed much later collapse, I am reminded of the kind of honesty with which people did their work during those times as compared to the corruption of the present. 🙂

  2. Ya Hursharan,

    This is th very idea of my post on Sher Shah Suri and the imposing fort he ordered to be constructed in Rohtas. Our leaders do continuously need to be reminded of emultaing such leaders, such statesmen and such rulers who can change the lot of their people in the given situation and in shortest possible period. Suri’s is a typical example of “Where there is a will, there isway”

  3. I have to say this site is awesome!! wow.. thanks so much.. you are doing a great job man!! very very informative.. and thanks for the detailed stuff!

  4. Thanks Kamran for appreciating our efforts. We are bringing some more reports on Pakistan heritage in our coming issues and am sure you will like them too.

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