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Keeping one's solemn word of honour

india Updated: Sep 08, 2013 02:29 IST
Renuka Narayanan
Renuka Narayanan
Hindustan Times
Hill of Kites

In these times of unbelief in almost everything, it is sobering to recall a word of honour given in 1459 that has been kept to this day.

Cast your mind back to the burning summer of 1459, to a rocky hill 120 metres high in Marusthal, the Deadlands also known as Marwar.

Flocks of cheel or kites wheeled about in great swoops around this hill, as they do even today, and the solitary human presence in that eyrie was an irascible old hermit, Cheeriyanathji, who had been evicted by a young prince and had issued, in return, a terrible curse.

The curse was that the new citadel that the prince proposed to found on the Hill of Kites would always be in want of water. Nothing could have been worse for a human habitation, especially in that arid region and especially in those times, when a citadel had to be capable of withstanding long sieges.

The young prince had lost his patrimony and had skirmished as an exile in the desert for nearly 15 years, reclaiming scraps of territory bit by bit. His future depended on building a strong fortress as a home base and he decided that he could not be deflected from his purpose by the hermit's curse.

The only solution that tradition offered in those medieval times was to take recourse to the long-lost ancient practice of narbali or human sacrifice.

Thankfully such notions are outlawed by the laws of modern India, but in the 15th century, around that lonely hill-top, the prince looked for a man who would agree to be buried alive in the foundations of the fort (to know more, read The House of Marwar by Dhananjaya Singh).

A deal was struck with a man named Rajiya Bambi. In return for his consent to be buried alive in the foundations of the new fort, the prince promised that Rajiya's family and his descendants would be looked after by the prince and his descendants.

This promise was honoured and Rajiya's descendants live on in the estate awarded to them by that long-ago prince, Rao Jodha. In its janampatri or birthchart, the fort Rao Jodha founded was named Chintamani, after the epic gem. This was changed to Mordhwaj and eventually to Mehrangarh.

It cost Rao Jodha Rs 9 lakh to construct his fort in the 15th century. The other cost, of keeping a word of honour solemnly given, has been kept through all fluctuations of fortune by the Rathores of Jodhpur.

— Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture