Sentinals of history

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Maharashtra is home to several majestic forts. Of these, while some impress with their dimensions, others seem to cling on to near-vertical rock faces and many are unrivalled in their lost naval splendour.

A prolific fort-builder, 17th-century Maratha ruler Shivaji harboured more than military affinity towards these commanding structures of stone, brick and mortar. He had once put it into words, thus, “… in (hill) forts not only does the kingdom get its strength but these hill forts are also instrumental in (the) survival, nourishment and well-being of our people, particularly in the wake of (an) attack by our enemy.”

Now, a long-standing demand by fort lovers and heritage activists to include the forts of Maharashtra in the UNESCO World Heritage site list is fast gaining ground. Among these forts are Raigad, Rajgad, Sindhudurg, Jinji, Pratapgarh, Panhala, Vijaydurg and Devgiri.

Saili Palande Datar is an Indologist, who is keenly interested in the status of Maharashtra’s hill forts. She laments the fact that adequate efforts are not being made by the government for the upkeep of these historic structures, most of which are in a dilapidated state. “The Maharashtra government is planning to spend Rs 400 crore to build a statue of Maratha warrior king Shivaji in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Mumbai. How about sparing some money on the much-needed repair and restoration of the forts where Shivaji Maharaj waged his wars and created history?” asks Datar.

Similar concerns have underlined the efforts of Anand Kharde. A member of the Pratapgarh Restoration Committee, Kharde filed a Right to Information query to ascertain the status of forts located in the Sahyadri mountains of Maharashtra in October 2014. “The issue of inclusion of these forts in the UNESCO World Heritage List first came up two years ago. Since then, we have been working to get these forts their rightful place on the world heritage firmament,” says Kharde. “We have been working under the guidance of Dr Rajendra Shende, a former UN diplomat, who has been instrumental in taking up this neglected part of Maharashtra’s history.”

The following are descriptions of five of these fortresses that still stand strong and narrate countless tales of valour, bringing alive a sense of history without parallel. It would be a disservice to history if these majestic structures are not accorded their due.

The Raigad Fort lies 42 km to the southwest of Pune, in the Sahyadris range. Situated in Raigad district, it sits at a height of 4250 feet on a hill called Murumb Devacha Dongar. Formerly known as Murumdev, it was capital of the Hindavi Swarajya (Maratha Kingdom) ruled by Shivaji. The fort has four main sections, namely Padmavati Machee, Sanjivani Machee, Suvela Machee and Ballekilla. From Ballekilla, the fort affords incredible views of the enchanting Sahyadri mountain range. Though in a dilapidated state now, Raigad still commands awe from visitors, with its ramparts standing testimony to a glorious past. Built atop a steep, irregular, wedge-shaped mass of rock, the fort is inaccessible from three sides. After his coronation, Shivaji made the fort his capital in 1674 and later oversaw the expansion of his kingdom from here.
The Raigad Fort lies 42 km to the southwest of Pune, in the Sahyadris range. Situated in Raigad district, it sits at a height of 4250 feet on a hill called Murumb Devacha Dongar. Formerly known as Murumdev, it was capital of the Hindavi Swarajya (Maratha Kingdom) ruled by Shivaji. The fort has four main sections, namely Padmavati Machee, Sanjivani Machee, Suvela Machee and Ballekilla. From Ballekilla, the fort affords incredible views of the enchanting Sahyadri mountain range. Though in a dilapidated state now, Raigad still commands awe from visitors, with its ramparts standing testimony to a glorious past. Built atop a steep, irregular, wedge-shaped mass of rock, the fort is inaccessible from three sides. After his coronation, Shivaji made the fort his capital in 1674 and later oversaw the expansion of his kingdom from here. Photo Courtesy: Nitin Darekar
According to legend, Fort Lohagad, near Pune, is named after Lomesh, a spiritual leader. After the fall of the Bahmani Kingdom (1347-1527), rulers of the Nizamshahi dynasty captured it. In 1670, Shivaji took possession of the fort. Located at a height of 3,400 feet, it is surrounded by a beautiful lake and commands splendid views of the plains that stretch into the distance. Among the many splendid gates of this fort are Hanuman Darwaaja, Narayan Darwaaja, Ganesh Darwaaja and Maha Darwaaja. A big cave outside the fort was used to store grain during the monsoons, revealing the foresight and planning employed by the Maratha rulers. A temple and a tomb form part of the fort premises. One of the most popular tourist attractions near Pune, it makes for an ideal destination for trekkers from the city because of its easy accessibility and lush green surroundings
According to legend, Fort Lohagad, near Pune, is named after Lomesh, a spiritual leader. After the fall of the Bahmani Kingdom (1347-1527), rulers of the Nizamshahi dynasty captured it. In 1670, Shivaji took possession of the fort. Located at a height of 3,400 feet, it is surrounded by a beautiful lake and commands splendid views of the plains that stretch into the distance. Among the many splendid gates of this fort are Hanuman Darwaaja, Narayan Darwaaja, Ganesh Darwaaja and Maha Darwaaja. A big cave outside the fort was used to store grain during the monsoons, revealing the foresight and planning employed by the Maratha rulers. A temple and a tomb form part of the fort premises. One of the most popular tourist attractions near Pune, it makes for an ideal destination for trekkers from the city because of its easy accessibility and lush green surroundings. Photo Courtesy: Rashmi Parab
The Vijaydurg Fort was first built by King Bhoj of the Shilahar dynasty in 1205 and was known as ‘Gheria’. Later, Shivaji took over the fort and named it Vijaydurg. Once called ‘The Gibraltar of the East’, for a long time, it was considered unbreachable. Today, a dilapidated signboard at the entrance relates the fort’s history. The fort stretches out into the sea and a walk inside its precincts is unforgettable. Once a naval base, Vijaydurg Fort is testimony to Maharashtra’s martial supremacy during Shivaji’s reign. It is also one of the two forts of the Maratha kingdom where Shivaji personally hoisted the saffron flag, the other being Torana. About 1.5 km from Vijaydurg, in the Wagjotan Creek, is a naval dock, where Maratha warships were built and repaired. According to naval historians, ships built in this dock were of 500-tonnage capacity
The Vijaydurg Fort was first built by King Bhoj of the Shilahar dynasty in 1205 and was known as ‘Gheria’. Later, Shivaji took over the fort and named it Vijaydurg. Once called ‘The Gibraltar of the East’, for a long time, it was considered unbreachable. Today, a dilapidated signboard at the entrance relates the fort’s history. The fort stretches out into the sea and a walk inside its precincts is unforgettable. Once a naval base, Vijaydurg Fort is testimony to Maharashtra’s martial supremacy during Shivaji’s reign. It is also one of the two forts of the Maratha kingdom where Shivaji personally hoisted the saffron flag, the other being Torana. About 1.5 km from Vijaydurg, in the Wagjotan Creek, is a naval dock, where Maratha warships were built and repaired. According to naval historians, ships built in this dock were of 500-tonnage capacity. Photo Courtesy: Ravi Vaidyanathan
One of the strongest erstwhile marine forts in India, Murud Janjira Fort is built on a mammoth oval rock near the town of Murud, about 165 kms south of Mumbai. The word ‘Janjira’ is a derivative of Jazira, the Arabic word for island. The fort has 19 rounded bastions, which are still intact. Several canons of native and European antiquity are positioned on these bastions. Originally, the fort was a small wooden structure built by a fisherman chief in the late 15th century. It was later captured by Pir Khan, a general of Sultan Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar. The Murud Janjira Fort was strengthened by Malik Ambar, the Abyssinian Siddi regent of Ahmednagar rulers. Despite repeated attempts by the British, the Portuguese and the Marathas, all of them failed to subdue Siddi power. Shivaji’s attempts to capture Janjira Fort also failed.
One of the strongest erstwhile marine forts in India, Murud Janjira Fort is built on a mammoth oval rock near the town of Murud, about 165 kms south of Mumbai. The word ‘Janjira’ is a derivative of Jazira, the Arabic word for island. The fort has 19 rounded bastions, which are still intact. Several canons of native and European antiquity are positioned on these bastions. Originally, the fort was a small wooden structure built by a fisherman chief in the late 15th century. It was later captured by Pir Khan, a general of Sultan Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar. The Murud Janjira Fort was strengthened by Malik Ambar, the Abyssinian Siddi regent of Ahmednagar rulers. Despite repeated attempts by the British, the Portuguese and the Marathas, all of them failed to subdue Siddi power. Shivaji’s attempts to capture Janjira Fort also failed. Photo Courtesy: Shomdev Pal
Panhala literally means ‘the home of serpents’. Panhala Fort is located in Panhala, 20 km northwest of Kolhapur, and overlooks a pass in the Sahyadri mountain range, which was once a major trade route from Bijapur in the interior of Maharashtra to the coastal areas of Konkan. Due to its strategic location, Panhala was the centre of several skirmishes in the Deccan involving the Marathas, the Mughals and the British East India Company, the most notable among these being the Battle of Pavan Khind. It was here that Tarabai, the queen regent of Kolhapur, spent her formative years. In 1659, after Shivaji wrested control of the fort from Bijapur rulers, Panhala was witness to a dramatic siege, which ended with Shivaji’s escape. It was only in 1673 that the Maratha ruler was able to permanently occupy the mountain stronghold
Panhala literally means ‘the home of serpents’. Panhala Fort is located in Panhala, 20 km northwest of Kolhapur, and overlooks a pass in the Sahyadri mountain range, which was once a major trade route from Bijapur in the interior of Maharashtra to the coastal areas of Konkan. Due to its strategic location, Panhala was the centre of several skirmishes in the Deccan involving the Marathas, the Mughals and the British East India Company, the most notable among these being the Battle of Pavan Khind. It was here that Tarabai, the queen regent of Kolhapur, spent her formative years. In 1659, after Shivaji wrested control of the fort from Bijapur rulers, Panhala was witness to a dramatic siege, which ended with Shivaji’s escape. It was only in 1673 that the Maratha ruler was able to permanently occupy the mountain stronghold. Photo Courtesy: Rupesh Jadhav

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