Perched majestically atop the hills of Odigram Village in Swat, the Raja Gira Fort stands as a silent witness to centuries of history, embodying the tales of valor, conquest, and the ebb and flow of civilizations.
Raja Gira Castle stands proudly as a testament to the reign of Raja Gira, the last Hindu Shahi king in Swat. Constructed during his rule, the castle bears witness to a rich history and has been a subject of archaeological exploration. Excavated by the Italian mission in 1956 and identified by Aurel Stein, the castle boasted an ingenious underground water supply system, featuring a mud pipeline stretching 500 feet from Manglawar, located 20 km away.
Discovery and Identification of Raja Gira Fort
Built during the reign of Raja Gira, the last Hindu Shahi king in Swat, this fort has etched its place in the annals of time, as a sentinel guarding the rich heritage of the region. Excavated by the Italian mission in 1956 and meticulously identified by the renowned archaeologist Aurel Stein, Raja Gira Fort boasts a strategic location, overlooking the plains of Udigram village.
The fort’s jutting towers and commanding position once ensured absolute control over the city below and the expansive valley, making it a symbol of power and authority. Archaeologists place the fort’s principal phases of occupation between the 7th and 10th centuries, a period of significant historical transitions.
Despite its historical significance, the castle, emblematic of the Hindu Shahi period preceding Muslim influence in Swat, faces neglect and deterioration due to the government’s lack of attention. Perched on a rocky spur overlooking the plains of Udigram village, Raja Gira’s castle, with its distinct towers, once commanded control over the city below and the entire valley.
The tale dates back to the era of Raja Gira fort, believed to have been erected between 870 CE to 1000 CE. Unfortunately, the custodians of the land seem oblivious to the importance of their historical legacy, allowing the corrosion of ancient history to persist unchecked.
This historic stronghold is attributed to Raja Gira, the last Buddhist ruler, situated atop Odigram, approximately 15 kilometers from Mingora city. Recognized as one of the world’s oldest sites governed by the Hindu Shahi Raj, the fort has borne witness to countless tales of battles and transitions.
Over 1,100 years have elapsed since Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi set his sights on conquering the mountainous terrain. The strategic cutting off of water supply from the Swat River to Raja Gira fort marked a turning point. Subsequently, the resilient Buddhist ruler, Raja Gira, faced defeat, and his fortress fell into the hands of Ghaznavi. Amidst the conquest, Ghaznavi commissioned the construction of a mosque in the vicinity—a testament that endures today as the third oldest mosque globally.
The fort, hidden in the folds of time, was rediscovered by an Italian mission in 1956 and subsequently came under government administration. The vast 447-canal land associated with the fort underwent excavation by Georgia Gullini during an extensive process spanning from 1956 to 1962. Gullini’s exploration unraveled the layers of history encapsulated within the fort’s walls, shedding light on a narrative buried in the annals of time.
Udigram, the location of Raja Gira Fort, served as the capital of Swat during the Hindu Shahi period from the 8th to the 10th century. Identified as Ora by Aurel Stein, this city played a pivotal role in shaping the region’s history. Legends intermingle with historical facts as Raja Gira’s fort witnessed the fierce clash between Mahmud of Ghaznavid’s army and the last Buddhist king, ultimately marking the end of Buddhism’s reign in the valley.
Present State and Challenges
The neglect of this historical gem is evident in the crumbling state of its walls, reflecting decades of inadequate conservation efforts. The grandeur of its architecture and the panoramic views it offers captivate visitors, yet complaints persist about governmental neglect. The site provides not only a historical journey but also panoramic vistas of the entire valley.
The grandeur of its architecture, the panoramic views it offers, and the echoes of a bygone era continue to captivate visitors, juxtaposed against the backdrop of neglect.
Echoes of an Epic Clash
The town of Udegram, nestled below the castle, holds its own historical significance. Approximately a thousand years ago, it became the battleground where Mahmud of Ghaznavid clashed with Raja Gira, concluding the Buddhist monarchy’s 1,300-year reign in the valley. Sir Aurel Stein, with meticulous documentation between 1930 and 1938, contributed significantly to our understanding of the site.
The ruins sprawl across the northern slope, offering a commanding view over present-day Udegram and standing as a testament to the rich tapestry of Swat’s history. The nearby ancient city of Ora and Bazira further amplify the historical importance of this region.
Sir Aurel Stein’s meticulous documentation between 1930 and 1938 further enriched our understanding of the site. Raja Gira Fort, with its sprawling ruins and partially man-made terracing, stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of Swat’s history.
As the government grapples with the responsibility of preserving this cultural heritage, the fort remains a symbol of resilience, a silent sentinel inviting visitors to explore the echoes of the past and ponder upon the threads that weave Swat’s rich tapestry of history.