Plan of Rohtas Fort

Click on point of interest in blue to visit that page. The brown line indicates the modern entrance path.
Plan drawn by Timothy M. Ciccone following signposts on-site.

Kabuli Gate Shahi Masjid Talaqi Gate Mori Gate Baoli (Step Well) Tulla Mori Gate Langar Khani Gate Sohail Gate Chandwali Gate Haveli Man Singh West Wall

Rohtas Fort (1541)

Rohtas Fort is a strategic garrison situated near the modern city of Jhelum in north-east Pakistan. It was built by the Afghan king Sher Shah Suri along the so-called "old route" that leads from the north to the Punjab plains, with the intention of stopping the deposed Mughal Emperor Humayan from returning to his former kingdom. Humayan had previously been defeated by Sher Shah Suri at Chausa and fled to Iran, but he was concerned that Humayan's restoration might be possible if he managed to return to the Punjab. Sher Shah Suri's second concern was to punish and defeat the Gakkhar tribes who held control of the valley and were traditional allies of the Mughals.

The fort's name derives from the stronghold at Rotasgarh in Shahabad district which Sher Shah Suri captured from a Hindu prince in 1539. Work on the fort began in 1541 under the supervision of his revenue minister, Todar Mal Khatri. However, the local population of Gakkars were unwilling to work, even as day laborers, and construction quickly stalled. Todar Mal Khatri wrote to Sher Shah Suri of these difficulties and the king responded that his government would bear any expenses for the cost of construction. With this inducement, Todar Mal Khatri was able to raise wages which induced a number of Gakkars to break rank and join in the construction effort. Although the daily pay was reduced several times during the course of construction, it was still sufficient to allow Sher Shah Suri's dream of a fort to come to fruition.

The layout of the fort is roughly triangular and comprises four kilometers of walls, 68 bastions, and about a dozen major gates. The northwest corner of the fort is divided from the rest of the fort by a 530 meter long wall which establishes a separate citadel area that was more heavily fortfied. It also contains several of the remaining architectural relics, including the Shahi Mosque and the Haveli Man Singh (built on the highest spot within the fort). It is also equipped with step wells (baoli) although these are also found in the greater area of the fort to the southeast.

The fort's walls vary in thickness and reach a maximum depth of 12.5 meters near the Mori gate on the north perimeter, whereas their height varies from 10 to 18.3 meters. The primary building material was sandstone course rubble masonry mortared with lime mixed with granular brick powder. The gates are constructed of much stronger ashlar masonry. In many places the walls contain vaulted chambers which were used for storage and other equipment needed by the roughly 30,000 soldiers who could be stationed there.

Sher Shah Suri died before the fort was fully completed and the chief aim of the fort became redundant when Humayan returned to rule the Punjab. In a larger irony, the fort then became the capital of the Gakkars--the very people Sher Shah Suri had aimed to subdue. Even though the fort was under Mughal control from that point onward it was not very popular with the Emperors because it lacked gardens and other grand architecture to which they had become accustomed. It was no longer even a military necessity as the Gakkars remained steadfast Mughal allies. Remilitarization of the fort only began in the waning years of the Mughals when Rajit Singh, the Sikh emperor, took control of the Punjab. An emboldened general Gurmukh Singh Lamba captured the fort from the Ghakhar chief Nur Khan in 1825, and it was later handed to Sardar Mohar Singh and was subsequently leased to others. The final military use of the fort took place when Raja Fazal Din Khan joined Sher Singh in rebellion, though the fort did not see any action.

The fort was added to the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1997.

Location

The approximate location of the fort is 32.964965' N, 73.576357' E (WGS 84 map datum).

Bibliography:

All images copyright 2014 Aown Ali. Email at aownali@gmail.com

Nabi, Khan and Robert Wheeler. Islamic Architecture in South Asia.
  Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Nadiem, Ihsan H. Rohtas: Formidable Fort of Sher Shah.
  Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications, 1995.

Khan, Ahmad Nabi. Islamic Architecture of Pakistan: An Analytical Exposition.
  Islamabad: National Hijra Council, 1990.

Koch, Ebba. Mughal Architecture
  New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Michell, George (editor). Architecture of the Islamic World: Its history and Social Meaning
  London: Thames and Hudson, 1978.

Muhammad Wali Ulla Khan. Jhelum and its Important Monuments
  Karachi: Anjuman Press, 1973.

Mumtaz, Kamil Khan. Architecture in Pakistan.
  Singapore: Concept Media Pte Ltd, 1985.

Rajput, A. B. Architecture in Pakistan
  Karachi: Pakistan Publications, 1963.


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