We started for the Chitradurga Fort at 5 AM. As we neared the fort we passed through two huge gates – apparently the fort has 7 levels of fortification (hence the name “aelu suttina kote” in kannada) and each of this gate is the entrance into a level of fortification. The old city of Chitradurga is located within the first two levels of fortification. Hence, in reality we enter the third level of fortifications when we enter the actual Fort entrance that is maintained by the Archaeological survey of India.
(This is the same emblem which is shown at the beginning of the famous kannada song “Haavina Dwesha” from the film “Naagarahaavu”).
Origins of the Fort: The Chitradurga region has been in existence much before the Vijayanagara empire (1300 AD), governed by local chieftains called “Nayakas”. One such Chieftain by name Timmanna Nayaka rose to the rank of governor of Chitradurga under the Vijayanagara empire as a reward for his excellence in military achievements; this fort was built by him in 1562 AD. After the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire, in the later part of 16th century, the Chitradurga Nayakas proclaimed independence from the remnants of Vijayanagara Empire. The lack of any powerful kingdom resulted in chronic regional warfare among the different Nayakas of the central Karnataka region. This regional warfare was to prevail for another 200 years, after which the situation for Chitradurga worsened – with the Marathas and Hyder Ali of Mysore vying for control of central Karnataka. Eventually, Hyder Ali, after a series clashes in 1760s and 1770s, was able to take the fort in 1779. Much of the fortification has been done by Hyder Ali’s successor Tipu Sultan who had acknowledged the strategic importance of Chitradurga in central Karnataka. Later, after the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799, which marked the end of the 4th Mysore War between British and Tipu Sultan, Chitradurga was acceded to the British and the Mysore Kingdom was recreated under the Wodeyars. Chitradurga Fort, for a brief duration of time was also garrisoned by British troops, but it is believed that the changes brought about by the British in the Fortification is minimal.
For the first 100-200 metres the path (with heavily fortified walls on both sides) twists and turns in a way similar to that of a serpent. This, I can imagine to be a defense strategy against fast advancing enemy forces. As we moved ahead we turned left to visit the “Grinding Stone” – four massive grinding stones are kept at the corners of a stone-walled pit, here they used to crush Gun powder using Buffaloes for turning the stones.
From this elevation the view of the Windmills against the backdrop of the rising Sun was a sight to behold.
We passed through what appeared like another level of fortification; its difficult to distinguish the different levels of fortification after the 3rd level as the fortifications seldom run for the entire length and always use the already existing boulders as natural fortifications. Even though it might have been possible for some enemy soldiers to climb the boulders to get to the top, its not something an entire army could have done, definitely not the cavalry and the elephants. Considering this, the fort could have been well defended.
We visited the Sampige Siddeshwara Temple, which lies at the foot of a hill (on which “tuppada kola” (Ghee tank) is located). Though the presence of clear footholds makes it a considerably easy climb to “tuppada kola”, it is rather steep at places where one might have to use all four limbs. This path is known to be trodden by horses during the time of “Nayakas”. I would have believed it if there was any purpose for a Horse to climb this mound which has only a tank supposedly to store Ghee. The view from top is quite good, we could see the fortifications below and the city of Chitradurga beyond the hill.
Sampige Siddeshwara Temple can be seen in the middle, just below the mound with trees growing out of it. “tuppada kola” is situated on top of the mound seen on the right. We can even see the path leading to the tank.
We descended “tuppada kola” from the other side taking us towards Gopalswamy “honda” (tank).
Path leading to Gopalswamy Honda
We passed a path bisecting two lakes, the two lakes which are known as “akka thangi honda” (sister lakes), reportedly named after the two wives (sisters) of Madhakari Nayaka. These were the lakes where his wives supposedly ended their lives.
Across the tank is the Palace complex, which not many tourist or locals venture into.
This place is filled with Warehouses and Granaries, all mud structures, which are slowly melting with each monsoon. The storage facilities present here are a clear indication of the preparedness of the Fort to withstand a siege.
The only thing left to visit was “Obavvana Kindi”. Which arguably is the most famous place in the fort.
Before proceeding any further let me narrate the story about Obavva.
Obavva was the wife of a guard of the watch tower in Chitradurga fort. During the reign of Madakari Nayaka IV, the city of Chitradurga was besieged by the troops of Hyder Ali. Hyder Ali, from his spy network had come to know of a secret entrance into the fort. The guard on duty of the watch tower – Obavva’s husband, was on his usual break to eat food at his home, and, he had assigned his wife to guard while he was away. Obavva, during her watch, noticed soldiers entering the fort from the crack (secret entrance), without getting perturbed, she swung into action by positioning herself next to the crevice which was just big enough for one soldier to crawl through, with an “Onake” (pestle) in her hand. She killed each soldier as his head appeared out of the crack and dragged the body towards the wall. She had killed many soldiers by the time her husband and others came to her aid. “Onake-Obavva’s” bravery and quick-thinking saved the fort that day.
Being the sceptic that I am, this incident would have been more believable (for me) if the proper year in which this incident was recorded. As there were three wars fought between Madakari Nayaka and Hyder Ali, two of which were won by Madakari Nayaka. At least there should have been information regarding which of these wars Obavva’s courage came needful.
On a different note, I had been inside the above mentioned crevice, and also crawled out the same way Hyder Ali’s soldier would have supposedly crawled out to their death. When I was still stuck half-way in the crack, crawling out, I cranked my neck and looked up imagining “Obavva” standing “Onake” in hand, I would not have had any chance.
Statue of Madhakari Nayaka on the main streets of Chitradurga.