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Learning from Sheopur Fort, Madhya Pradesh, India – The Challenges and the Approach

Sheopur Fort, located in Sheopur town in the northern part of Madhya Pradesh, is an important element of the local history of the region. The fort was built at the highest altitude, on a mud hillock adjacent to River Seep. Two separate fortified enclosures define the character of the fort. Forming the public realm is the outer fortification, which covers an approximate area of 120 acres, and houses the settlement. This fortification wall is studded with strong bastions, merlon shaped parapets, and beautiful gateways. The inner fortification comprises the palatial, recreational, and landscaped spaces—this is considered the private realm since these spaces were restricted to the rulers of the fort. A moat running along the periphery of the outer fortification provides another layer of defense. Most parts of the moat are now dried and covered with land used for cultivation. River Seep, on the south of the fort, was a feeder to this moat. The varied architectural styles of the fort complex depict the different sensibilities and styles of the various rulers from the sixteenth to twentieth century. While charbagh, opposite the Narsingh Mahal, illustrates the regional adaptation of Mughal landscape, the jharokhas and bangaldaar roofs at Gujari Mahal reflect Rajput architecture. Regionally adapted Diwan-e-Aam and Darbar Hall, through the intricate lattice work on the jharokhas, reveal the architectural flavor of the Scindias of Gwalior. Darbar Hall currently houses a museum showcasing the rich culture and lifestyle of the Sahariya community, a primitive tribe of the region. The fort is located on a mud mound and faces serious threat with many areas of the fortification showing structural distress. The fort complex has been subjected to neglect and misuse, which has accelerated the decay. Moti Mahal, built on the southern side of the fort complex on the edge of the hillock, is one example of this case. During the condition assessment survey of the structures, historic water channels and drains were identified which were clogged and redundant. This has resulted in soil subsidence and the subsequent partial collapse of the structure. Thus, our priority is to rectify the historic drainage channels along with other necessary consolidation work. The recommended intervention is to carefully dismantle Moti Mahal and a detailed methodology has been devised. This intervention will be helpful in maintaining the integrity of the fort complex and extend the longevity of the monument. WMF has partnered with the government of Madhya Pradesh’s Department of Culture to develop a sustainable management program for continued conservation and maintenance of the state’s heritage sites.