Thursday, May 10, 2012

Decoding the forts of Maharashtra

Maharashtra, is an ancient state. A state of wealth, a state of knowledge, a state of riches. The riches that its land holds, attracted ill minded people looking to plunder it in past, present and no doubt in future too. In past it was the Islamic sultanates of Delhi, Ahamednagar and Bijapur who took people of Maharashtra for granted, tortured them, plundered them. Later on it was the Britishers who took on the responsibility. All these were met fiercely by the locals who remain to this day immensely proud of their heritage and culture. The Islamic rulers were handed blows by Chhatrapati Shivaji- the first ray of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation. Later on, the Brits feared Marathi speaking people the most for their part in trying to disrupt government functioning. Tilak, Savarkar are just a few of them. But no doubt the inspiration for all Marathi people remains Shivaji Maharaj.

Shivaji Maharaj was an astute leader, who led not by using force, but by using cunning and diplomacy. If anyone has used Krishnaneeti to perfection, then its Maharaj. He knew what his strong points are and used it to full advantage against his opponents.The fleet footed marathas knew every single crack and stone in the impregnable Sahyadri Ranges. They used it to their complete advantage to achieve independence from a tyrannic barbarian blind race of rulers.

Sahyadri is a fierce mountain range. Born out of volcanic eruptions that created the Deccan Plateau, the Sahyadris generally tend to have a gradual slope from the east and a steep slope from the west. Numerous chains of mountains run perpendicular to the Main ridge in the east west direction. These mountains are impregnable. Steep slopes, Jungles beyond imagination, and dotted with hard to capture forts, make the region invincible. Quite how it fell into the hands of fanatics is a question that remains unanswered.

Forts have played a tremendous role in the history of the region. Most forts date back to the Shilaharas, Bhojas and Rashtrakutas. The islamic rule did not see any major fort building in the Sahyadri- infact, most of them were neglected. This was revived by Maharaj. He changed our outlook towards forts. Forts are essential for defensive and counter attacking. A siege to a large fort could last months. Forts provided command over the surrounding area. They kept watch on important routes. Shivaji Maharaj milked his forts to the maximum. He constructed many of his own to the already existing ones, thereby creating a chain of forts spreading from Salher in the north to Panhala-Vishalgad near Kolhapur and had this chain till as far south as Jinji. Sources say that he controlled more than 350 forts in the modern day states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. These were of various types- large ones- such as Raigad, Panhalgad and Jinji. Strategic ones such as Rajgad, Torna, Lohagad, Purandar, Salher etc, and numerous other small ones.

Today, I was trying to pinpoint a few important forts on google earth. While doing so, I realized that these forts always appear in a cluster. There is not a single stand alone fort. Every fort has another fort within 10-12 hours of it(could be 5-6, but 10 considering the difficult terrain). Geographically, the forts are a masterpiece in strategy. They stand guarding well known caravan routes- not one or two, but a chain of them. They stand overlooking potentially important towns. They stand near other strategically important and big forts acting as fall backs should the bigger fort be under attack. More often than not, near these forts are towns that flourished in history, or are rock cut temples and caves, or important religious shrines.

Im taking this opportunity to analyze the defensive importance of forts of Maharashtra, their overall importance as stand alone forts (Only the important ones) and its significance as a cluster of forts. I may need your help in doing so, so any help is more than welcome. You can email me your ideas on me.punekar@gmail.com . Id be more than happy to write on your analysis.

Here, just for starters Im putting up a snapshot of a map from google earth showing the Bhor Ghat near Khandala and the hill forts guarding it. Its well and truly important to control such vital trade routes, and what else to guard it than forts! This is just an attempt to understand the strategies behind fort construction and how Geography was used to make it simpler. If I make any mistake in the subsequent articles which deal with forts, please forgive me, and do correct me wherever possible.


This project will take possibly several years, Im determined to do it. Your help would be great!

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