Majestic defences

Print edition : December 02, 2011

The hill fort of Pratapgad in Mahabaleshwar, built by the Maratha warrior king Shivaji. - PICTURES COURTESY: MTDC

Maharashtra has an abundance of forts that are now being promoted as holiday destinations.

THERE is perhaps no historical monument that exudes a sense of history as much as a fort does. This can be attributed to the brute force of its architecture and the stories and myths that surround it and even the plain bloodlust it was witness to.

The history of the region that is now Maharashtra was unceasingly violent for centuries. This explains why the region has the maximum number of forts in India. A passage between the north and the south, the volcanic Deccan plateau was a constant witness to violent conquests and defeats. The topography of the land was also ideal for building defences in the form of forts that were impregnable. And 350 or so of them were built.

Today the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) is doing its best to encourage people to visit the forts by providing all facilities and branding them as family holiday destinations. The majestic hill forts in the State include the ones at Daulatabad, Ahmednagar, Shivneri, Rajgad, Raigad, Pratapgad and Panhala.

The climb up the Daulatabad fort is exhausting, yet exhilarating. Finally, at a height of over 183 metres, the hardy tourist can survey the countryside below with a sense of wonder. The fort must have been the most impregnable place in the area at the height of its glory. Adding to its locational advantage are numerous cunning architectural devices.

The Island fort of Murud-Janjira near Mumbai, a popular weekend getaway.-

Most forts around the world were penetrated or invaded because of treachery from within the enemy rarely overcame the defences of a fort. Ancient architects, who seemed to have an astute understanding of military strategy, followed the physical contours of the land in structuring the forts and used a dash of cunning creativity to add ingenious features to them. Daulatabad abounds in such ingenuity. Fort designs concentrate on two aspects invincibility and, failing that, escape. At Daulatabad there is a narrow passage of extreme darkness that has a gradual treacherous slope. When the enemy soldier pursued the fleeing residents through this, boiling oil was poured from an aperture above. The scalded enemy soldier would then race down the sloped floor towards a low window at the end of the passage, only to plunge into the moat 200 feet below where crocodiles awaited him.

The Haathi darwaza,or Elephant gate, at the Ahmednagar fort is another such device. It is a towering outer gate with metal spikes and leads to the moat. Its purpose was to deter elephants, which the enemy used as battering rams.

The fort also has a swinging bridge, or the jhoolta pul, over the moat. Its widely spaced planks for flooring were an ingenious way to prevent enemy battalions from rushing across it. The fort is now under renovation and a budget of Rs.20 crore has been set aside for the landscaping.

The Shivneri fort near Pune was the birthplace of Shivaji.-

The hill fort of Rajgad is well known for its long association with Shivaji. Before it was christened Rajgad, or the fort of kings, by Shivaji, it was known as Murumdeo and was under the Nizamshahi and the Adilshahi rulers. By A.D. 1648, it came under Shivaji's possession. In fact, in A.D. 1659 Shivaji went to meet the Mughal general Afzal Khan from Rajgad. It was his favourite fort and he refused to hand it over to the Mughals even when he had to surrender 23 other forts.

There are many historic forts along the coast too such as those in Murud, Sindhudurg, Suvarnadurg, Vijaydurg, and Jaigad. The island fort of Murud-Janjira, in Murud village in Raigad district, has for long been a popular weekend getaway for Mumbaikars. It is one of the strongest coastal forts in the country and is still in very good shape. Originally, it was a wooden structure built by Koli fishermen (the Kolis were the original inhabitants of Mumbai) in the 15th century. Over the centuries, the fort was dominated by the Nizamshahis and the Siddhis were its last owners.

The sea fort of Sindhudurg is at the southern end of the State. Shivaji took the help of Portuguese experts to construct it in the early 1660s. The fort has a temple dedicated to Shivaji, where the king is depicted without his trademark beard. About 20 Hindu and Muslim families who date their ancestry to the early days of the Sindhudurg fort live within its premises.

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