Along with Amer Fort and Jaigarh Fort, Nahargarh once formed a strong defence ring for the city. The fort was originally named Sudarshangarh, but it became known as Nahargarh, which means 'abode of tigers'. The popular belief is that Nahar here stands for Nahar Singh Bhomia, whose spirit haunted the place and obstructed construction of the fort. Nahar's spirit was pacified by building a temple in his memory within the fort, which thus became known by his name.
Built mainly in 1734 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the founder of Jaipur, the fort was constructed as a place of retreat on the summit of the ridge above the city. Walls extended over the surrounding hills, forming fortifications that connected this fort to Jaigarh, the fort above the old capital of Amber. Though the fort never came under attack during the course of its history, it did see some historical events, notably the treaties with the Maratha forces who warred with Jaipur in the 18th century. During the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the Europeans of the region, including the British Resident's wife, were moved to Nahargarh fort by the king of Jaipur, Sawai Ram Singh, for their protection.
The fort was extended in 1868 during the reign of Sawai Ram Singh. In 1883-92, a range of palaces was built at Nahargarh by Sawai Madho Singh at a cost of nearly three and a half lakh rupees. The Madhavendra Bhawan, built by Sawai Madho Singh had suites for the queens of Jaipur and at the head was a suite for the king himself. The rooms are linked by corridors and still have some delicate frescos. Nahargarh was also a hunting residence of the Maharajas.
Until April 1944, the Jaipur State government used for its official purposes solar time read from the Samrat Yantra in the Jantar Mantar Observatory, with a gun fired from Nahargarh Fort as the time signal.