‘Tipu Jayanti’ was celebrated amongst much controversy in Karnataka this month. Tipu’s legacy is being debated by historians, leveraged by politicians, resented by Melkote Iyengars, the Kodavas and the Mangalorean Catholics. Then of course came the suggestion from Girish Karnad (loved watching his ‘The Dreams of Tipu Sultan’. Catch it sometime if you haven’t done it yet), who, while addressing the Tipu Jayanti celebrations, made the suggestion that the Kempegowda International Airport should be named after Tipu Sultan. He said that Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan were responsible for the current boundaries of Karnataka. This led to further controversy… etc. etc.
Fort story – Why now?
The thought of writing this post was triggered by all of this hullabaloo but has nothing to do with the controversy per se. It is about the fact that surprisingly, only a few years ago I came to know that Tipu’s birth place was in Devanahalli and promptly visited the place. While the place has been marked and preserved by ASI, in my decades of living and working in Bangalore, I was completely ignorant of this historical fact! I can safely say that most of my friends and colleagues do not know of the fact and have never been there. Despite it being just a few hours from town, on a much traversed road (10kms before airport).
Fort way – close enough
On your way to the KIA airport, around 35Kms from Bengaluru, look to your right on the NH7. You can see the Devanahalli fort. And towards the south west of the fort is a fairly rundown marker with the mention that ‘Tipu Sultan was born here’. It is said that Fatima Fakhr-Un-Nisa gave birth in a carriage, in a camp that was set right outside the fort by Hyder Ali. He was at that time in a battle in Andhra Pradesh.
Tipu’s birth place – right there!
Tipu was born here in 1750. It is now a small enclosure with pillars, stone tablet and a square top. The area around this place, also known as Khas Bagh has banana, tamarind and mango plantations. Tipu later tried to change the name of this area to Yousufabad – the place of the finest man. However, this name did not stick and continued to be known as Devanahalli.
Temples galore – in and around
Past this small monument is the main entrance of the fort. Unlike most of the forts, even those within the Bangalore district (Ramanagaram, Savandurga, Makalidurga etc.) this fort is not built atop a hill but on flat ground. It is also known as a living fort as still there are people living inside the fort walls. There are also a number of temples (about 6 of them) within this fort town. Amongst these the Venugopalaswamy temple facing the main town road could be worth a visit. Built in the Vijayanagara style, it has depictions of Ramayana on it’s walls and has sculptures that are said to be comparable to the temples of Belur and Halebidu. The fort is called Kote by the locals. The town of Devanahalli has grown into the fort.
Fort history – bite size
Built by a chieftain Mallabaire Gowda in 1501 (ancestor of Kempe Gowda), it remained with his descendants until in 1749 Nanjarajaiah of Mysore attacked and occupied it. Malla Baire Gowda also founded the towns of Doddaballapur, Chikkaballapur and Devanahalli. It was with the Mysore Wadiyars when Hyder Ali, a commander in the Mysore army fought and occupied it. It was passed on to Tipu from Hyder. During the Anglo-Mysore war, Lord Cornwallis took possession of the fort. Now, ASI has declared it a protected monument.
Fort facts – enjoy!
The fort is spread over an area of about 20 acres and it is mostly the walls that are remaining. The ramparts are almost 20 feet wide and there are circular bastions with gun slits. Hyder Ali is said to have reinforced the old structure. The granite base is several meters thick with stone walls and brick and mortar battlements. The sight of Nandi hills and town on either side of the walls of fort make for interesting viewing.
If you look carefully, you will find that the ramparts still show motifs inspired by nature – creepers, flowers, vines and leaves. You will also see small channels along the inner fort walls that allowed water to drain out of the ramparts, reducing seepage into the structure. Traces of Surkhi, a mixture of powdered bricks and lime – traditionally used for water-proofing, can also be seen on the floors of bastions and ramparts. The fortification is veneered with dressed masonry. It is roughly oval in shape and there are around 12 semi-circular bastions with gun-slits. The usual fort – features of moat, guard rooms, watch tower, small winding entrance, safe house for high-ranking official/king are also located inside, though not clearly marked and are in ruins.
Fort-y tales – coming up soon
During my travels, I love walking around unknown towns to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the place with the locals. Devanahalli fort is a treat for such a jaunt. Forts and castles are my all-time favourite places to visit in any city. More than palaces, stately homes and museums. There’s an element of intrigue in these walled spaces! My imaginations take me through the emotions of siege and strategy. I look at the moats and imagine them filled with snakes and crocodiles lying in wait for the enemy, hidden draw bridges, gates with giant spikes to prevent elephants from easily knocking them down, multiple false entrances to confuse the enemy army. Hidey-holes for watchmen, guns and canons slits, food-water storages for long drawn battles, as if to see which side blinks first, tunnels through which unsuspecting necks can be hacked off the enemy’s body or roofs with holes through which hot oil can be poured upon and wells where war -widows would self-immolate.
All kinds of forts existed in ancient India – from Human fort (defended by large number of warriors), Earthen fort (surrounded by fens, quick sand and built with earthen walls), Forest fort (surrounded by dense forests), Hill fort (located on a hill’s flat surface), Desert fort (in the midst of a vast expanse of arid zone), Water fort (surrounded by natural water bodies, sea or river).With the advent of Muslims and introduction of artillery, the forts in medieval India showed changes in both design and material, similar to western forts. Within them, the Hindu style was with lintel and the Mughal style with an arch. Forts in India usually had high gates to allow elephants (Devanahalli fort’s entrance is relatively small as it was to allow horses only). The walls look much higher outside than they are actually on the inside. There are many reports that speak of practice of burying humans, dead or alive in the foundation of the fort walls, with the belief that the ghosts of these people would offer protection from evil spirits.
When the British came in, as the East India Company, they built trading posts and constructed forts along the coasts. The design and construction continued to become more complex and stronger and today we can see most of them surviving in some form or the other. For that was the point of building them.