I like historical fiction, so when I arrived at the Chitradurga Fort; I knew I was stepping into a remarkable historic place. Here the architecture speaks of its time and grandeur, but still yearns for timelessness. Unlike the name Chitradurga, the location is also picturesque with bold rock hills, deep green valley and huge towering boulders in numerous patterns. Seeing at the ruins of the Chitradurga Fort, I recalled the lines said by Martin Luther Jr. “We are not makers of history; we are made by history.”Chitradurga fort was my second solo travel, which just took place. I never planned it as I never got word of this fort before. I was lucky because of the goof-up made on my official travel dates, where I was sanctified with a free day to explore this majestic fort by chance.
It was monsoon in Bangalore; hence the weather was perfect for travelling, but the landscape of Bangalore caught my attention along this trip. Once on the outskirt of Bangalore when you are on Tumkur road, you come to see rocky mountains all around, we know the nature of mountains varies, some are rocky, or dry, some seasonally green, even evergreen or white in that instant. Only the drive till Chitradurga fort I could see hills with boulders, one side, and green mountains with windmills on the other. And at times vast, deep, lush green valley with red soil behind the hillocks, all in one glimpse. I was thoroughly amused by the striking colour variation. Along with this panorama, I was blessed with a cloudy sky, with on & off drizzles, cool breeze & lovely windmills revolving high up.
It’s a 4 hrs drive from Banglore (201.2Km), and the cab I booked had a chatter driver who explained to me the meaning of Chitradurga. As per him, Chitradurga is formed of two Kannada words “Chitra” means picture and “Durga” means fortress. Its locally also known as “Kallina Kote”-Stone Fortress and “Yelusuttina Kote”-Seven circle fort. There is some other name which is metaphorically used “Ukkina Kote”- Steel fort means an impregnable fort. Quite Interesting! One fort with multiple names. Upon arriving at our destination, I purchased a Rs 5 ticket as the fort comes under the archaeological department. As I crossed the iron gates, I could sense the beauty in ruins. Excited to unfold a new chapter of history, I hired a guide to get me around the fort. The guide not only educated me with the exotic history but showcased the strategic and scientific architecture too. An abundance of sculpture and scripted art on the walls and rampart of the fortress clears the root from where the fort derives its name – Chitradurga.
The fort lies amid a valley formed by the Vedavati River, hidden behind a Hillock. The striking feature of the fort is the seven wall of the fort all a circle from ground level till hilltop. These seven wall constitutes the Chinmuladri range. The first level of the fortress can be missed as it’s amidst the Chitradurga town now. From the second level onwards the fort becomes more prominent, but as I trekked upward, I found none of the entry is in a straight line. This means the enemy cannot invade directly in the fortress, and to make it more impregnable, steep stairs were made at each entrance. What caught my attention was a snake inscription at the opening of the fort, right above the moat that surrounds it. That’s been quite contrasting to other sculpture.
Built between 1500 AD and 1800 AD, Chitradurga fort has witnessed a turbulent history starting with the Vijayanagar empire till the Mysore dynasty. This can be experienced through the walls of the fort which is made of burnt bricks, set in mortar, then plastered by a thin layer of cement or lime, and painted. And amidst these strong walls, you can spot tiny spy holes & gun slits for protecting the fort. As you walk along with the fort, you come across multiple watch towers too, as per my guide there were 2000 watchtowers in the fort to guard & keep an eye on the enemy incursions. Damn! That’s a considerable number.
The guide showed me that the seven concentric fortification walls were established with the passage most with a right-angle turn, along with citadel, masjid, warehouses for grains and oil, water reservoirs and ancient temples. The fort had 19 gateways & 18 temples, where the Hidimbeshwara temple is the oldest. The ascent to this temple was difficult as the steps are steep & slippery due to rain. But I managed to the Hidimbeswara temple that displays the tooth of Hidimba. Thither is folklore linked to the hills surrounding the fort, which dates back to the Mahabharata. It is said a man-eating giant named Hidimbasura used to dwell in the Chitradurga hill. During the exile when Pandavas came with their mother Kunti, Bhima had a duel with Hidimba, where Hidimba was defeated. It further expresses that the boulders were part of the arsenal used during that duel. I not sure about the legend, but the panorama view from the Hidimbeswara temple is breathtaking.
The Chitradurga fort is widespread in an expanse of 1500 acres, so I had to walk a lot to explore. Simply thank the lovely weather, it was not tedious at all. My guide further explained the fort was constructed in stages between 11th and 13th century. And several inscriptions of the Chalukyas, the Hoysalas and the Vijaynagar kings have been found in and around the fortress. This inscription traces the fort’s history to the Ashokan period rock edicts, that affirms the rule of Mauryan empire during the reign of the royal dynasties of Rashtrakutas- Chalukyas and Hoysalas. Later the Vijaynagar empire gained control of this region when Nayakas were introduced- who reigned for over 200 years until the last ruler was defeated by Hyder Ali in 1779.
Further Historical linkage has been demonstrated by an archaeological found in the Panchalinga (Five Lingas) cave in the Ankhi Matha area with inscription dated 1284 AD. This attributes the establishment of the Five Lingas, (Aniconic symbols of Lord Shiva), to the Pandavas. Chitradurga fort indeed has a vast historical lineage. While preceding along with the entrances, you can find few structures still intact like the Gunpowder factory. Constructed during Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan’s rule, this gunpowder factory is intact with its grind wheel. The quadruple mill has four large grinders with teeth or slots, which was rotated either by elephants or bullocks. It is called ‘Maddu Bisuva Kallu’, in Kannada, which means “gunpowder grinding stone.” Even the rainwater-harvesting structures were established in a cascade development, which ensured ample storage of water in interconnected reservoirs. And thus the fort was said to never suffer from a water shortage, and they were named after wives of ruler Madakri Nayaka- called Akka Tangiyara Honda. However, she committed suicide by jumping in these tanks when the fort was conquered by Hyder Ali.
By the time I reached the seventh floor, I was exhausted, so I took a seat at the main square. Here I saw a temple called the Ekanatheswari temple, close to it was a tall pillar which was used for hanging swings, which was confirmed by my guide. Just in front of the temple was this beautiful, tall singular pillar Deepstambh, and further ahead a small yet intricate designed step well- both used for worship purpose. These architects are still in sound condition because as we move further in ruins, I saw the mint & treasure houses. While I walk around observing the area, I saw a few small temples & hiding place for the military.
By the time I reached the Hidimbeswara temple, the rain has begun to pour in. Hence I had to hide in the temple where my guide shared another famous legend of Onake Obavva. It is alleged that this lady above was keeping a watch on behalf of his husband, named Kahale Mudda Hanuma, while he was away at lunch. Obavva went to take in water in a pot from a pond, as her husband asked for it. The lake was near the Kindi – secret passage in Kannada, amidst the rocks, halfway up the hill, where she discovered the army trying to enter the fort through the passage. Obavva was not perturbed, instead, killed Hyder Ali’s soldiers with her Onake (a long wooden club meant for pounding paddy grains) which she was carrying with her. She killed soldiers one by one who attempted to get into the fort, & silently removed the dead bodies without creating suspicions. Upon return, Hanuma Obavva’s husband was shocked to see her standing with a bloodstained Onake and several of the enemies’ dead bodies around her. Together they killed most of the soldiers. But Obavva died either due to shock or was killed by the enemy soldiers. Hence the opening in the rocks- was named after her Onake Obavva Kinndi. And the well Tanniru Doni remains as a historical witness for the story. Despite her brave attempt to pull through the fort, did not the work as the battle was lost. Considerably, I wanted to hop down in that secret passage to explore caves & narrow opening, but the queue was long, so I dropped the idea.
Chitradurga fort offer scope for adventure too, you can try climbing the smooth hillocks, which is steep, though few cut grooved in, without any handrail. I observed a few people challenging themselves as they climb up and get down the hillock. Or you can watch out for live acrobats or the monkey man- he generally sits between the 6th or 7th entrance. This gentleman performs for the crowd as he moves up the fort without any support. Known as Kothi Raj, you can watch him act & leave a tip too for the performance.
The architecture and planning of Chitradurga are meticulous and refined. Everything has been carried into account by the architects of that era during construction. Chitradurga fort fits the line read by Eleanor Roosevelt-“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams “. It was a thrilling experience, one must visit beautiful wonder, and you will come back enriched with captivating tales from our rich Indian history.
How to reach :
The nearest airport to Chitradurga is Bangalore or Hubli Airport which is about 197 km and 210Km respectively from Chitradurga. From the airport, one can take KSRTC buses or book a cab.
The Railway station of Chitradurga is situated on a branch line that originates from Chikjajur and has limited train services. However, there is a daily rail service to Bangalore and a weekly service to Mumbai. Travelling south-west, Chikjajur Junction Railway Station is the nearest major railhead.
NH-4 and 13 highway pass through Chitradurga from Bangaluru. KSRTC buses are plies from all districts of Karnataka. Buses are also connected from Maharashtra, TamilNadu, Kerala and Andra.