Its name means the 'fort of triumph', and it's a symbol of the courage and culture of the Sikhs. Qila Mubarak, the only fort built by a Sikh ruler, has withstood many attacks in its over 200-year history but is today fighting a losing battle - against government apathy. A peek into the interiors of Qila Mubarak, Patiala town's royal fort, by a television documentary series has highlighted how the fort is being neglected. Instead of letting in only the admiring tourist, the complex houses several government offices, including a forensic laboratory.
"The only fort built by the Sikhs is in danger because of the state government's apathy. We are going to lose it soon. It is not only ironical but tragic that the state government is blind to the imperilled Patiala fort that was once the pride of entire Punjab," leading theatre personality Gurcharan Singh Chani, who has prepared a documentary series on the leading forts in India for Doordarshan with his son Gyandev, told IANS.
The foundation of the fort was laid by founder of Patiala dynasty Ala Singh in 1763. It was completed by his grandson and successor Maharaja Amar Singh, but historians differ over the exact year.
The Patiala chiefs, who opposed the Muslim rule as guerrilla fighters, founded a state in the 1760s. Ahmad Shah Abdali, the Afghan ruler after Nadir Shah, conferred the title Raja on Ala Singh.
Built on level ground, which now stands in a crowded area right in the middle of Patiala town, 80 km from Chandigarh, the fort is classified as a 'Nara Durg' - a citadel defended primarily by brave soldiers because it is not protected by any natural armour like mountains, forest or water body.
Ala Singh wanted a sophisticated fort on the plains, one that was strong enough to repulse a fierce Maratha attack in 1794. Initially built as a mud-fort, Qila Mubarak was later built with bricks. The fort housed the palace of the royal family of Patiala at one stage.
The rulers of Patiala had reached an understanding with the British in the 18th and 19th centuries to keep Maharaja Ranjit Singh at bay.
However, today, the fort complex houses offices of 10 government departments, a testimony to the shocking neglect by the authorities. Even the state forensic sciences department has its office and laboratory, where chemicals are used freely to conduct tests on human organs as part of criminal investigations, inside the Qila Mubarak complex.
"Ranvas (a portion of the fort complex), which has beautiful paintings, is being used as state forensic laboratory," Kavita Singh, an art historian from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said in the documentary. "The first time I went to Patiala, a number of government offices were functioning over there. Here was a beautiful structure filled with amazing paintings, architecturally very interesting and doubly significant because it is in Punjab unlike Rajasthan, where there are so many forts which have good architectural qualities. I remember going there and seeing a wall, where there were beautiful, delicate paintings...and a nail is driven right through the painting and a calendar hung on that nail," she recalls.
The buildings inside the fort reflect a blend of Rajasthani, Pahari and Mughal cultures.
"The style of Patiala is greatly influenced by Rajasthan. A number of arts and crafts bear the imprint of Rajasthan. It was the painters of Alwar and some from Jaipur who came to work here in Patiala," noted art historian B.N. Goswani said.
"Sheesh Mahal is a beautiful hall in the Qila Andaroon palace in the fort, in the image of Mughal style. The rulers here were particularly fond of walls decorated with small and large mirrors. Hundreds of reflections on an individual created a bewildering effect. A single source of light could dazzlingly light up the area to make it look like Diwali," he added.
The main gate of the fort is all but lost in the hustle and bustle of the crowded and popular Adalat Bazaar.
"The beautiful carvings on stone are invisible. One cannot even notice the small towers and windows with petite balconies jutting out. It is matter of great regret that such a beautiful fort has suffered from neglect and stands crumbling in a shamefully ruined state," Chani said.