Rohtas Fort (also called Qila Rohtas) is one of the six World Heritage Sites in Pakistan designated in 1997. The fort is located in a gorge, built purposefully on a small hill 300ft above its surroundings, some 16km northwest of Jhelum city of Punjab in Pakistan. It is so strategically positioned with a commanding view of the old route from the north to the plans of Punjab across the Potoar Plateau. Qila Rohtas is situated some 98 km from Islamabad and 210km from Lahore on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road.
The gigantic Rohtas Fort is an exceptional example of early Muslim military architecture surviving today. It was built by Farid Khan – the “Lion King” of the subcontinent well known as Sher Shah Suri – in the 16th century. The major reason behind the erection of this rampart was to subdue the pro-Mughal Ghakkar tribe and to thwart the possible return of Mughal Emperor Humayun who had fled to Iran after his defeat in the battle of Kanauj at Chaunsa.
Sher Shah Suri was said to have commissioned his architect, Shahu Sultani, to erect an unshakable castle within a span of 3 years. The fort constructed by the architect, however, was way smaller than what Sher Shah Suri had envisioned. Sher Shah Suri, therefore, ordered the architect to be beheaded. But before his orders were materialized, the architect was granted a chance of mercy with the proviso that he rebuilds the fort in two years according to the wishes of Sher Shah Suri. Unfortunately, the Lion King died in a battle in 1545 before he could see the fort completed. His reign lasted barely for six years only and his death quickly lead to fall of his empire.
Humayun returned ten years after the death of Sher Shah Suri and the fort could not serve the purpose it was built for. Tatar Khan Khasi, the then governor of Rohtas Fort, escaped without a battle. Gradually, Rohtas lost its prominence as Humayun’s son Akbar moved to the newly built great fort in Attock in the 1580s. Later, only on their way to Kashmir, Emperor Akbar and his son Jehangir were known to have stayed briefly at Rohtas.
The fort remained in continuous use until 1707 before it was reoccupied under the Durrani and Sikh rulers of the 18th and 19th centuries respectively. Few of the original buildings erected in the inner citadel survive today including the domed tower called Haveli Man Singh, Shahi Mosque, three Baolis, and the Rani Mahal. Some of those constructions may have been added much later than the fort itself was built.
Construction of Rohtas Fort:
The foundation of the fort was laid in 1541 by Sher Shah Suri. It has an irregular shape built on an uneven land following the shapes and forms of the hill it was constructed on. Most of the fort was built with fine ashlar stones collected from nearby villages and some parts were built with bricks. Blended with fine architectural and artistic traditions from Persian and Afghanistan, this imposing historic monument had a deep influence on the development of Mughal architectural style.
The main garrison spreads over an area of 12.63 acres covered by 5.2 km circumference of a robust wall. The complex could house a force of up to 30,000 men at a time. The wall is between 10 to 18 m high and between 10 to 13 m wide supplemented with 68 bastions at irregular intervals for vigilance, and 12 main trap gates with interesting names and stories. There are some 1900 battlements throughout the rampart; muskets fired from those battlements and soldiers poured molten lead over the walls as well. The wall also has three terraces linked with staircases. A 533-meter-long wall divides the main citadel from other parts of the fort. However, there are some significant additions inside the fort some of which are still surviving till date.
Haveli Maan Singh:
Haveli Maan Singh is poised on a fair elevation with a guarding view of the fort and surroundings from its balconies. Although it seems to have originally comprised of four rooms of which only one is existing. The tower is named after one of Akbar’s greatest generals and is the only surviving example of Hindu architecture within the fort. This structure was believed to have built between 1550 and 1614. It is a two-story building constructed with bricks and neatly plastered bearing no resemblance to the Fort itself.
Shahi Mosque and Rani Mahal:
The Shahi Mosque is a small construction with only a prayer chamber and a small courtyard. Inside the fort also existed three Baolis (deep stepped wells) – Main Baoli, the Shahi Baoli, and the Sar Gate Baoli – for self-sufficiency in water and to withstand any major siege. Rani Mahal (Queen’s Palace) is a single-story structure located near Haveli Man Singh. It is also a Hindu architecture built around the same time as the Haveli itself.
Rohtasgarh to Rohtas:
Sher Shah Suri named Qila Rohtas after the famous Rohtasgarh fort in Bihar (now in India) that had been captured by him three years earlier in a battle. Rohtasgarh was named after Rohitasva, the son of Harish Chandra of Solar dynasty who built the fort. It cost a huge amount of money to build Rohtas fort more because of the opposition of local Gakkhars than for the material. Today, neither the successors of Sher Shah Suri nor the Mughal Empire resides in the fort but only an interesting story still survives in the form of this ramshackle structure.
The gates of Qila Rohtas
The Rohtas Fort has 12 gates, all built with dressed and fitted stone.
Sohail Gate provides the best example of masonry in use in the time of Sher Shah. It derived its name from a Saint named Sohail Bukhari, buried in the south-western bastion of the gate.
Shah Chandwali Gate
Named after a Saint Shah Chandwali who refused to get his wages for working on this gate, linking the citadel to the main fort. The saint died while working and had been buried near the gate.
It was named “Kabuli” because it faces Kabul, opens to the west. This is another double gate, its opening measures 3.15 meters (10 feet) wide.
The Shishi Gate derives its name from the beautiful glazed tiles used to decorate its outer arch. Those blue tiles represent the earliest examples of the technique, later refined in Lahore.
Langar Khani Gate
Langar Khani Gate, a double gate, with a central arched opening leading to a Langar Khana (Mess hall or Canteen).
The Gate derives its name from “Talaq” (divorce). Legend says Prince Sabir Suri entering the gate had a fatal attack of fever. It was regarded as a bad omen and therefore its name became “Talaqi.”
Mori or Kashmiri Gate
The Mori or Kashmiri Gate opens to the north, facing Kashmir, hence it’s called Kashmiri Gate.
Khwas Khani Gate
The Khwas Khani Gate had been named after Khwas Khan, one of Sher Shah Suri’s greatest generals.
The Gatali Gate faces toward the village Gatali. It was an important point to cross the River Jhelum for the Kashmir Valley.
Tulla Mori Gate
Tulla Mori Gate serves more like an entrance than a gate. On the eastern side of the fort, it measures two meters wide with a bastion next to the entrance.
Pipalwala Gate, a small entrance like the Tulla Mori Gate.
Sar Gate, called “Sar (water)” because it constitutes a small entrance with a bastion and a Baoli next to it.
Although there has been no harmony in the Persian and Afghan construction styles; Qila Rohtas is an exemplary amalgamation of the two with Afghan style more prominent. There has been a later addition in the form of Hindu Architecture on the Balconies on Sohail Gate, decorations on Shahi Mosque and on the Haveli Man Singh. Its decorative features in the form of stone carvings intricately grace different parts of the building. The calligraphic inscriptions on different parts of the fort, glazed tile work, and fine plasterwork are some of the features describing the dexterity still living today. The combination of artwork is unique and vivid.
Although the fort is surviving today but gradually decaying too. It needs extensive repair and timely maintenance in order to pass the legacy on to next generations. Rohtas Fort loudly speaks of a great history and the legends lived here. It simply doesn’t have to die out mere owing to the negligence. Rohtas Fort is an identity of this country.