Kalinjar means 'the destroyer of time' in Sanskrit. Kal is time and jar destruction. It is therefore a common belief associated with the Kalinjar hill that Lord Shiva had slain the god of time on it. Since then, the hill has been considered a holy site, casting its shadow across the patches of grasslands as well as the densely forested valley. The natural splendor of the surroundings makes it an ideal place for penance and meditation and, surprisingly, a strange mystique still pervades all over the hill. The scriptures state that the holy place had four different names in the four yugas. In Satyuga it was known as Kirtinagar, in Treta it was Madhyagarh, in Dwapar it was Singhalgarh and now in Kalyuga, it has come to be known as Kalinjar. The hilly peak has several legends attached to it.
Its origin being shrouded in mystery, not much is known as to when and by whom the fort was built on this holy hill, though modern historians conjecture that a Chandela king, Kedar Burman, had it built in the seventh century AD. The fort was a unique monument of its time and had no parallel in any other part of the country in terms of sheer grandeur and artistry.
Its historical background is replete with numerous battle and invasions. The Hindu princes of different dynasties as well as Muslim rulers fought hard to conquer it and the fort continued to pass from one ruler to another. But, except for the Chandelas, no other ruler could reign over it for a long time.
In the year 1812, the British troops marched into Bundelkhand and after a long drawn battle they were able to annex the fort. The British seizure proved to be a great watershed, transferring the legacy of the old aristocracy into the hands of the new bureaucracy of officials who showed their loyalty to British imperialism by damaging the captured fort. The damages caused to the fort can still be seen on its walls and open spaces.
The majesty and grandeur witnessed within its precincts is due to the Chandela rulers' creative imagination, their highly developed aesthetic sense and religious fervor. Though they were great devotees of Lord Shiva, they evinced a great interest in the construction of temples of other deities, too. The massive rock cut sculptures include figures of various gods and goddesses from ancient mythological themes. Wherever the Chandelas had established their reign they left their mark by enriching them with fine works of art, stone images, and sculpture.
The western part of the fort rewards all who take the time to look inside the temple of Neelkanth Mahadev. Each time one peeps through a cave-like opening and glances at an imposing Shivlinga of around five feet, one is awe-struck. The idea has been to use landscape and cave-isolation to set the solemnity of the mood for prayer. Its intrinsic feature is to reflect and refract light in the appropriate seasons, letting in light in winter and darkening to restrict its entry in summer.
Close to the Shivling cave, stand the idols of Bhairava and goddess Parvati, made of black stone. On either side of the gateway, images of numerous gods and goddesses are carved. A number of broken pillars can also be seen at regular distances. On these pillars, it is said, six-storey constructions were raised, but they were demolished later. There are numerous rock-cut sculptures indicating neglect and ravages of time. The vagaries of nature and of man have taken their toll but the remnants indicate a synthesis of several ancient cultures and faiths, the legacy of a glorious past.
Another beautiful sight is the palace of prince Aman Singh. He was the descendant of King Chhatrasal. A number of legends are associated with this Mahal whose big lawns and walls unfold a long history of Chandela culture. Thousands of images made of granite and sandstone have been collected in a museum set up informally. Rich carvings on these images arrest the eye, even though they are broken and have been struck by the ravages of time.
Trimurti images are also many, showing the faces of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Some distance away is carved a massive figure of Vishnu lying in the ocean of milk, enclosed within the coils of the Sheshnag. It presents a unique artistic charm. The presence of images of Lord Mahavira, the god of love Kamadev, Indrani the wife of Indra etc. speaks of influence from diverse cultures and religions. It also leads us to believe that the creation of the Chandela culture was not the handiwork of artists from one region.
The Chandela princes were influenced by the 'Shaiva' cult. Therefore, among the rock-cut and stone images are mostly those of Shiva, Parvati, Nandi and the Shivling. Shiva is seen at times in his dancing posture of tandava and at others in a close embrace with goddess Parvati.
There are numerous other attractions. The Venkat Bihari temple presents a majestic look from the outside though its interiors are decayed now. Persons suffering from skin diseases can take a dip in the 'pond of million tirthas'. The Sita-kund, Pandu-kund, Patal-ganga etc. speak for the Chandelas' taste for the aquatic resorts.
Cemented roads have been built all through the mountainous passage, along which people can conveniently travel to reach the fort. But to discover the real charm and pleasure of adventure, one has to walk along the old beaten track, making way through the rough and rocky terrain of the seven magnificent gates falling in between. Seeing these gates, one truly appreciates the functional relevance of this invincible fort and its strategic defenses.