The Fort of Jaisalmer stands majestically on the Trikuta hill and is a living testimony to the pride of the Bhati rulers. Due to its location and appearance it is one of the most magnificent forts that occupies a unique place in the annals of Rajasthan.
The Bhatis originally hailing from the Sialkot area of Punjab established themselves around A.D. 623 at Tannot, 120 km. North-west of Jaisalmer. In 10th Century A.D., Devaraj, a descent of Bhati’s, after defeating Lodra Rajput Nirpabharu established his capital at Lodruva and assumed the title of Maharwal. The town received severe damages twice in the hands of Mahmud of Ghazani in A.D. 1025 and Muhammd Ghori in A.D. 1178 enroute to Gujarat. Having found it not a safe place for the defence, Maharawal Jaisal laid the foundation of a new fort at Jaisalmer in A.D. 1178 by constructing gateway and part of the Fort. The remaining portion of the fort was completed by Rawal Salivahan II, son and successor of Maharawal Jaisal in A.D. 1244.
The fort of Jaisalmer also popularly now known as “Sonar Kila” due to the golden colour of the stone can be seen from miles away before reching teh town. The fort occupying an area of 11.28 hectare stands approximately 50m high on the hill with its huge ramparts that varies from 10 to 25 m in height. There are two parallel walls around in and a retaining wall which has served as a base or pitching wall to restrict the erosion of the slope on the top of which the fort stand. The main fort has two walls running parallel with a variable gap of 2-6 m in between, known as Mori and was purposefully built for the movement of the security guards around the fort. These walls made of solid stone blocks were erected without using any mortar or clay. The entire structure stands valiantly with its 82 bastions at present and each of which is 10m in height. These bastions at regular intervals were provided not only with parapet wall on the top pierced by gun holes, but also embellished with projected arched window-balconies and peep holes. The fort is approached from the north-east corner through four successive gateways viz. Akhai pol, Ganesh pol, Suraj pol and Hawa pol. The Akhai Pol is considered a later addition as it was constructed by Maharawal Akshai Singh (A.D. 1722-62) when the base wall was further extended.
The rulers of Jaisalmer were great patrons of art and architecture. Several beautiful Brahmanical and Jain temples, magnificent palaces, havelis and gateways were built which clearly reflect the skill and dexterity of the stone masons and artistic excellence of the Bhati rulers and still attract the attention of the visitors to a large extent.
Inside the fort there is a cluster of palaces or havelis. Among temples, the Brahmanical temples includes Lakshminaryan temple, Ratneshwar Mahadeva temple, Surya Temple and Chamunda mata temple. Important Jain temples inside the fort are Parasvanath temple, Sambhavanath temple, Shitalanathaji temple, Chandraprabhuji temple, Rishabhadevaji temple, Santinath and Kunthunathaji temple, all datable to 15th century A.D.
The majority of any inhabitants of Jaisalmer are Bhati Rajputs, who take their name from an ancestor named Bhatti, renowned as a warrior when the tribes were located in the Punjab. Shortly after this the clan was driven southwards, and found a refuge in the Indian desert, which was henceforth its home.
The Maharajas of Jaisalmer trace their lineage back to Jaitsimha, a ruler of the Bhati Rajput clan, though Deoraj, a famous prince of the Bhati clan during the 9th century, is esteemed the founder of the Jaisalmer dynasty. With him the title of “Rawal” commenced. “Rawal” means “of the Royal house”. According to legend Deoraj was to marry the daughter of a neighbouring chief. Deoraj’s father and 800 of his family and followers were surprised and massacred at the wedding. Deoraj escaped with the aid of a Brahmin yogi who disguised the prince as a fellow Brahmin. When confronted by the rival chief’s followers hunting for Deoraj, the Brahmin convinced them that the man with him was another Brahmin by eating from the same dish, something no Brahmin holy man would do with someone of another caste. Deoraj and his remaining clan members were able to recover from the loss of so many such that later he built the stronghold of Derawar. Deoraj later captured Laudrava (located about 15 km to the south-east of Jaisalmer) from another Rajput clan and made it his capital.
The major opponents of the Bhati Rajputs were the powerful Rathor clans of Jodhpur and Bikaner. They used to fight battles for the possession of forts and waterholes as from early times the Jaisalmer region had been criss-crossed by camel caravan trade routes which connected northern India and central Asia with the ports of Gujarat on the Arabian Sea coast of India and hence on to Persia and Arabia and Egypt. Jaisalmer’s location made it ideally located as a staging post and for imposing taxes on this trade.