Background and Construction
As per the signboard put up by the Archaeological Survey of India, an organization of the Government of India, at the entrance of the Bhangarh Fort, no one is allowed to enter the supposedly haunted fort between sunset and sunrise. No animals are allowed to graze in the grounds of the fort after sunset either, and anyone breaking the rules may be subject to strict legal action. Unbelievable but true, the Bhangarh Fort, located on the borders of the Sariska Tiger Reserve in the Aravalli Hill region of the Alwar district of Rajasthan, has such an ill reputation that even the government of the country prohibits anyone from entering the fort after dark. The fort, including its temples, palaces, and numerous other buildings which are located at the foot of the hills, lies 235 kilometers from India’s capital city of Delhi. The fort comprises of 5 entrances, named the Bhoot Bangla (House of Ghosts), the Delhi Gate, the Ajmeri Gate, the Lahori Gate and the Phulbari Gate, respectively. The Bhoot Bangla Gate is the main entrance to the fort, and leads into a complex of Hindu temples dedicated to various Hindu gods and goddesses. The Purohitji Ki Havelis, which were the homes of the city's temple's priests, also lie in this complex. Further inside lies the ruins of the Dancer’s Palace, the ancient market place, and the Jauhari Bazaar and the Gopinath Temple. Finally, at the extreme end of the fort, is the Royal Palace which served as the residence of the royals of the region before the fort was abandoned. The tomb of one of the royals of the fort, King Hari Singh who converted to Islam, is found just outside the gates of the fort.
Rise to Prominence
There is a lot of contradictory data regarding the founder of Bhangarh. However, most reports suggest that Bhangarh was established in 1573 by King Bhagwant Das. He had two sons, the elder son, Man Singh, was the famous General of the great Mughal Emperor, Akbar, and the younger one was Madho Singh. The fort was likely established by Bhagwant Das for his younger son, Madho Singh, who spent his entire life in Bhangarh. He also participated in a number of military campaigns with his father and elder brother. After his death, he was succeeded by his own son, Chhatra Singh, as the next ruler of Bhangarh.
Decline and Abandonment
Just as the establishment of Bhangarh is clouded by contradictory data, very little conclusive evidence exists in regards to its decline and demise either. It is commonly believed that, after Chhatra Singh’s death in 1630, Bhangarh started declining in importance. After the demise of the Mughal Empire in India with the death of Aurangzeb, the rulers of Bhangarh, who were faithful to the Mughals, were defeated by Jai Singh II who captured the fort in 1720. However, for unknown reasons, Bhangarh’s population kept declining, and after a killer famine struck the region sometime around 1783, the entire fort was completely discarded. Today, there is no human habitation in the ruins of Bhangarh, though a small village bearing the same name has developed well outside the boundaries of the fort, and houses around 200 households with a population of around 1,306 individuals.
Dark Legends of Bhangarh Fort
Even though there is lack of sufficient historical evidence regarding Bhangarh’s past, the popularly believed legends and folklore surrounding this mysterious fort tends to somehow make up for the lack of evidence. Two fascinating stories narrate the history of Bhangarh. According to one, an ascetic named Baba Balanath lived inside the fort, and he had built a house within the fort which he did not want to be eclipsed by any other building. He warned the residents of the fort that if any building was tall enough to cast its shadow on his house, he would immediately destroy the entire town, which, of course, as per legend, he did, serving as the reason for the destruction of Bhangarh. The other, more prominent legend is a complex tale based around love, hate, romance, and black magic. According to this legend, an evil wizard fell in love with the beautiful Princess of Bhangarh, Padmavati. Knowing he would never be accepted by the Princess, he devised a wicked plan wherein he tried to trap the Princess by using a love potion. The Princess, who somehow understood the wizard’s trickery, threw the potion onto a boulder. The boulder started to roll down and crushed the wizard under its weight. While dying, the wizard cursed the princess, claiming that the entire town of Bhangarh woud be destroyed, and all those living therein would soon die. As if in compliance with the wizard’s curse, the Bhangarh Fort was soon invaded and sacked by rival armies, and all of the inhabitants, including the royal family and the Princess of Bhangarh, died in this siege. It is believed that the Princess’s spirit was captured by the wizard, and their haunted spirits, together with the spirits of the other dead residents of Bhangarh, haunt the place to this very day. Some reports of missing and dead persons of modern times have also been reported, which has forced the government to strictly restrict entry into the place after dark.
Tourist Significance and Historical Legacy
The Bhangarh Fort is today regarded as the most haunted place in India, and one of the most famous "haunted" places in the world. The spooky reputation of the place manages to attract a large number of tourists to Bhangarh throughout the year. Though tourists are allowed to visit the fort in the daylight hours, the gates of the fort are closed down after dark. There are several rumors suggesting the death and disappearance of people who tend to visit the fort after dark. Those who dare have visited the fort to investigate the haunting of the place, or just to simply capture photographs of the ruins. In this modern, 21st Century world, the Fort of Bhangarh appears to have stopped way back in time, accommodating legends revolving around curses, black magic, evil spirits, love-hate relationships, death, and destruction. The fort and its stories of hauntings reveal how strong human beliefs in folklore and legends can easily mask the rationality of modern science.