'Forts are the very basis of a kingdom.
Forts themselves are the kingdom, forts are the origin of the
kingdom, forts are the real treasure of the kingdom, forts are the
basis of an army, forts are the wealth of the kingdom, forts are our
best form of defence.'
Aadnyaapatra, by Ramchandra Pant
Amatya, chief minister of Rani Tarabai.
The English word 'fort' is derived from the Latin
word 'fortis' meaning strong.
Forts were a primary defence mechanism in Maharashtra against enemy
invasions, and had been so since ancient times. They are known in the local
language as 'killa' (or 'qila' in Urdu). They were naturally and
artificially protected human settlements, guarded by elements such
as hills, forests, the desert, the sea, and man-made stone
structures that formed a kind of armour around them.
One of the early reference to forts in the subcontinent
occurs in the ancient political treatise, 'Arthashastra' by
Kautilya, whereby Kautilya classifies the forts as Jal durg (water
forts), Giri durg (mountain forts), Vana durg (forest forts), Dhanu
durg (arid/desert forts located in conditions which are devoid of a
ready water supply), Mahi durg (brick forts), and Nar durg (human forts),
not to mention the ancient cities in kingdoms such as Mathura, Magadha,
and so on which were also mentioned as being fortified settlements. The social treatise,
'Manusmriti' by Manu, also describes the advantages and disadvantages
of different classifications of fort.
Due to its peculiar topography, Maharashtra has
always revelled in different forms of fort constructions. Its
structures and architectural designs have differed depending upon
their region and location, whether these are on the plains, coastal areas, hilly terrain or
in the dense forests.
The forts in Maharashtra were constructed
from the point at which some of the early ruling dynasties (and their
vassals) held power, such as the Satvahanas, the Rashtrakutas, the Kadambas, the Chalukyas, the Yadavas, the Afghans, the Bahmanis, the Gonds in Berar, the sultanates of Ahmednagar, Bijapur and Berar, the Siddis, the
Europeans (British, Portuguese), and last but not the least the
The Marathas gave tremendous importance to
forts as they were their
strongest defence against marauding invaders. Due to the
inherent hilly terrain of the Sahyadri range, most of their forts
belonged to the 'hill' category. These forts protected the army and
the wealth of the kings and housed virtually an entire village inside the
The gates to Shivneri fort, one of Maharashtra's hill forts
Traditionally the Forts in Maharashtra were of the
These forts were constructed on the
high hills and made from stone cut from those very mountains.
The high altitudes made these forts daunting for the enemy. In the
vernacular Marathi language they were called 'Giri Durg' ('giri'
means the mountain and 'durg' is the term for a fort), such as those
Raigad, Rajgad, Purandar, Sinhagad, Pratapgad, Shivneri, Rajmachi,
and so on.
These forts were created on the plains. In Marathi they
were called 'Bhuikot' (Durg), and examples include Chakan fort, Bahadurgad, Solapur
fort, Ahmednagar fort, and so on.
These forts were created in the middle of the sea and
protected by its vicious waves. In Marathi they were called 'Jal
Durg', and examples include Janjeera, Sindhudurg, and Padmadurg.
These forts were created amidst dense jungle,
protected by the heavy tree cover, along with reptiles and wild animals. They were the
'Vana Durg', and Javali is one such example.
These were formations created as a direct result of
human warfare, and encampments often resembled
forts. These were the 'Nar Durg'.
Barring the last of these, which is a type of field
fortification, the rest are all of a permanent nature.
A crude plan of a fort, showing the typical location of the
Janjira fort is on the western coast, and remained undefeated by
Dutch and East India Company attacks
Forts in Maharashtra were often a combination of
land and sea forts, such as Vijaydurg, or mostly hill and forest/land
forts, such as Daulatabad, etc.
The forts in Maharashtra were not as picturesque or
aesthetic as their
northern counterparts but were the most practical option available under the
The hill forts are most common in Maharashtra and
scattered all around the Sahyadri mountains. They are located at
short distances from each other and were accessed by crossing a
couple of mountains. If a fort was captured by the enemy, this
allowed the king and his officials to escape
and easily reach the next fort.
Hill forts were constructed from stones carved
out of the very mountains, and were attached (depending
upon the design) with the
help of lime, rubble, gravel, stones, bricks (used mainly in land
forts or smaller forts), molten metal and sand. Lime or mortar was ground
on the fort itself (in what were called the 'Chunyaachya ghaani', 'chuna' being the term for lime), with the help of a roller passing
though a circular channel. At several places the stones appear
to be jointed by male and female connectors devoid of any use of mortar.
Together they produce a construction that has lasted for centuries.
Some of the main features of a typical hill fort
'Ghera' or the outermost boundary that encompassed
not only the main
fort but the many villages in its vicinity.
'Chowkis' or outposts were present near to forts to warn people
within of any impending danger, keep a check on travellers,
etc. Besides these there were 'mets' (smaller outposts) midway
between the outposts and the
fort, manned by locals and tribal people such as the Kolis, Ramoshis,
and Maangs who
were familiar with the surroundings and could even maintain a vigil
'Kada' or the vertical portion of the fort and the most difficult
spot to scale. History mentions Tanaji Malusare, a commandant of
Shivaji's forces who climbed the hill fort at Sinhagad from the 'Dongiri
kada' because the other entrances were heavily guarded.
'Tat Bandi' or the high stone walls of the fort. They comprise the
rampart with a running parapet, strengthened by the fort's walls with
the 'charyaa' (merlons) and 'jangyaa' (embrasures) punctuated within
them. The semi-circular merlons (a crenel between two merlons)
provided cover for the guards and the embrasures that pierced the merlons
supplied a view of the enemy below. There were even
machicolations made and used for pouring hot oil over attackers or throwing stones at
them from within the apertures.
In cases where the walls were made of wood (as in
European or American forts) these were termed 'medhekots'. Around
the fort's walls, any weeds or plants were removed or burnt off so that enemy soldiers
could not use
them to climb the fort. Away from the walls, thick vegetation was encouraged so that a
contingent of soldiers could be hidden away there to launch the first attack on
any approaching enemy troops.
'Buruj' or bastions were built adjoining the fort's
walls and also served to strengthen them. They were semi-circular turret-like extensions of the fort's walls
which protruded on the outside.
They also served as watch towers or bases for firing cannon, such as
Naldurg which has around 113 bastions.
'Mahadarwaza' was the main entrance (gate) of the
fort, built large enough for an elephant to pass through. It
generally had huge wooden (and metal) gates with rows and columns
of long iron spikes affixed in order to prevent a enemy elephant or a
wooden rammer from forcing open the gates. There were often more
than two to three entrances one after the other at short distances (such
Pune darwaza at Sinhagad).
Lohgad fort is another of the great many hill forts founded by
Thousands of stone steps took one onto the mahadarwaza,
such as at Raigad which was
built 869 metres (2,851 feet) above sea level and has around 1,500 stone steps
leading to the fort.
Some 'Pedhis' or smaller forts had these
nagarkhanas (drum houses
also used as administrative offices and watch posts. If the attention of
people below the fort was sought, then these nagars/drums were
often sounded). They were built right over the mahadarwaza, as seen in the
Shanivar wada, the peshwa's citadel in Pune.
The walls surrounding the gates usually had mythological figurines
of Gandabherund (the two headed eagle), Sharabha (half bird, half beast) or
those of Hatti (elephant), Vyaal (tigers), or Sarp (serpents) carved on
'Dindi darwaza' or the wicket gate was small enough to let one man
pass through and was built within the main gate. It could be opened
and shut to let through small amounts of human traffic without opening the main
'Bhuyaar' or secret tunnels provided a escape route
for the nobles
and their families in case the fort fell to the enemy.
'Gomukhi dwar rachana' (cow mouth gate formation)
was a special formation of bastions including the ones flanking the
main entrance gates. The bastions often numbered more than one and
were built in the form of a cow's mouth, hence the name. The pathway
was curved to prevent a direct frontal attack. The idea was that if the
enemy attacked the main gate, then the gate could be defended from
the front as well as the rear as a view of the main entrance was
also made possible from the adjoining bastion. A fine example of the Gomukhi dwar rachana is at
the fort of Raigad.
'Maachi' was the vast expanse of open ground
which could be found after entry
from the gate had been achieved. There used to be residential quarters
offices built on these maachis. The periphery of this maachi was
always fortified by high walls, such as Sanjeevani maachi on the fort
A close-up of one of Singahad's bastions
'Raj sadar' or the official quarters of the fort's
commander (or the
king) was also the place for discussing important official matters.
Naturally, the tallest building in the fort was the 'Raj mandir',
belonged to the king and served as his residential quarters. Besides
the Raj sadar and Raj mandir there used to be the 'khalbatkhaanaa'
(the place for secret or strategic discussions), the 'bandigruha' (prisons),
(the edges of the fort from where traitors and convicts were thrown to
their death), temples, mosques, churches, samadhis, centotaphs, tombs, veergals (hero
stones in memory of slain warriors), smaller residential
quarters, clerical and administrative offices, toilets, etc.
'Ambaarkhaana' was the storehouse for consumables,
the granary, such as the ambarkhana at Panhala fort which has three store houses named Ganga, Jamuna
and Saraswati. Ganga is the largest one at 10.7 metres (35 feet) high and covering
947.6 square metres (10,200 square feet) with a capacity to store 50,000 maunds
of grain (one maund = 40kgs).
'Toffkhaanaa' was the place in which to store gunpowder. It was a water-tight
place to prevent moisture from making the gunpowder damp and rendering it
'Ghodyaachya paagaa/ashwa shaalaa' were the horse
stables in the fort (the same name was used for elephant stables; 'Hattishaala').
'Paanyaachya taakyaa' were the water
reservoirs which provided the water
supply for the fort's occupants, such as the Ganga Jamuna water cisterns at
'Baalekilla' was the pinnacle point (the
place at the highest
altitude) in the fort. It was fortified so as to be a fort within a
fort. In case the enemy did manage to enter the fort, the Baalekilla became the last point
'Khandak' or moats were used in land forts. These were deep, wide
trenches dug around the periphery of the fort, and were filled either with
water, spikes or thorny shrubs (or even crocodiles and poisonous
reptiles) which could provide a defence for the fort from an oblivious
enemy. Access to the fort was made possible by a drawbridge that
over crossed this trench, and Ahmednagar fort has a moat that is 24
metres (80 feet) wide
and six metres (20 feet) deep.
Another view of part of Lohgad fort
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Maratha king,
clearly understood the importance of forts. He laid more emphasis on forts than land below
them and ensured that his forts were always in
the possession of the king.
Shivaji ensured that each fort had between two to three top-ranking officers (besides the killedar or fort keeper),
all of whom were of different castes: the Maratha 'Sarnobat' (for
guarding the fort), the Brahmin 'Sabnis' (for general administration), and the Kayastha
'Karkhanis' (for maintaining
the accounts and the treasury). These officers were to be of equal
rank, just in case one of them was corrupt and conspired to hand over the fort
to the enemy.
Moreover, officers always competed with each other to provide a
better administration within the king's jurisdiction, thereby improving the
overall administration in the fort. The posts were never hereditary,
so one had to rise through the hierarchy to gain one of them. No officers who were related to one
another were given command of forts in that were in close proximity
to one another.
An adequate number of craftsmen including masons, carpenters, cobblers, blacksmiths,
and tailors were also kept in the fort
in addition to soldiers and other officials. There were also
priests present, in the shape of the 'vaidya' (practitioners
of ayurveda, the Indian science of medicine) and others in the fort.
Access to the fort was kept as difficult as
possible by planting trees and shrubs, which even provided cover for
guards or army contingents placed below the fort. If a hill fort had
another hill in very close proximity, then another fort would also
be raised there and both would serve in conjunction with one
another, such as the twin forts of Purandar gad and Vajragad, or
Lohagad and Visapur gad. Damaged bastions or walls were repaired
The main gates of the fort were always opened and closed at fixed
times and exceptions were made for no one except perhaps the king. A
strict vigil was always maintained in and around the fort.
Discipline was always paramount and there was no scope for any
relaxation of the rules. Shivaji spent a considerable part of his
revenue on the upkeep of his forts.
In his own words, 'the forts ought to be so
impregnable that even if Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb fights for a year
to conquer one fort, then to capture the total three hundred and
sixty forts in Maharashtra, it should take him three hundred and
sixty years (which was humanly impossible)'.
Purandar is a fine example of a hill fort in India
Raigad fort is another fine example of a hill fort in Maharashtra
Bhosale, Pravin - Durg Darshan (in
Tendulkar, Mahesh - Katha Durgaanchya (Sahyadri
Publishers, in Marthi)
Sir Jadunath Sarkar - Shivaji and his Times
(Orient Blackswan publishers)