What exactly is a fort and how is its structure like? How have they been constructed in the past? What are the various kinds of forts that exist? How many forts in totality does one find in Maharashtra? Where does one start and how does one reach to these forts? What historical significance do these forts hold and what is it that one should not miss in their visit to a fort? What is their status quo? Many such questions cloud the mind and many such queries seek attention. To get an answer to all our questions, it is necessary to explore and understand - what a fort is.
One comes across the maximum number of forts in the western parts of Maharashtra, especially in the Sahyadris. Looking at these, one cannot help but ponder over the purpose of constructing the forts on hills or mountain reefs. Probably, the forts presented a temporary place to inhabit during wars and to keep an eye on the enemy’s movements. Also, the natural or man made inaccessibility to these forts made them just rightly protected to dwell and to attack the enemy if time be. Thus, these forts can be looked upon as havens built to safeguard the dynasty and its mark on the pages of history.
It’s the construction site of the fort that decides its type. Though there are various categories of forts, three broad categories are widely popular. These are GiriDurg – the hill forts, JalDurg - the sea fort; usually constructed on a sea shore or those constructed on the islands in the sea and BhuDurg- the forts built on flat lands.
Apart from these, there were Vandurg – the forest forts, GavhraDurg – the cave forts, KardamDurg - the fort is built in a mud or a marshy land, as well as only fortress or fortified buildings are considered as the forts too.
Maharashtra has been ruled by people from outer states and countries and has considerable influence of their construction skills and styles in the making of these forts. One can identify involvement and designing and building skills of non-natives right from the Africans to the Europeans. Most of these forts have been built by the rulers of the Satavahana, Chalukya, Shilahar, Yadav, Kadamb, Bahmani, Mughal, Southern Monarchies, Maratha and Peshwa dynasty. Negros, Portuguese, Dutch and British from as old as two thousand years back have had their contribution in these constructions as well.
Important Parts Of The fort:
The commonest of all - the hill fort is often seen to be divided into four parts. The Ghera, Met, Machi and Balekilla are the main parts of this fort. The ghera is said to be the village near the foothills of the fort, Met is the non-fortified freehold plateau kind of a land between the fort and machi. Machi is the fortified plain land inside the fort and finally the citadel at the pinnacle of the fort is the most protected place on the fort.
Other Places Found On The Fort :
Every building or structure constructed on the fort holds a specific name for each construction. Some of the forts boast of “machi’s”, gates, walls and buildings constructed specifically. These constructions largely alter the importance of respective forts.
The main entrance on the Kingsway constructed to enter the fort is called Mahadarwaza. Some forts have specially designed bastions to protect the Mahadarwaja. Several others are also characterized by a number of doorways one after another in line for safety of the fort. On the inside of this Mahadarwaza, one can find a special cabin made for the guards called as the “devadi”.
Nagarkhaana (The Drum House):
The main entrance of the fort usually had a huge drum house. The opening and closing of the gates were normally accompanied by structured drum beats. On important occasions, a band of these drums often played to celebrate the event.
The fort is often seen to be fortified with safety walls in the area between the “maachi” and the fortress or the citadel. These often had bastions built on them to double the safety.
Bastions were constructed at a certain distance on the fortifications in various shapes. Some took the form of lotus petals while others were found to be semi-circular, triangular or hexagonal in shape. These bastions or towers had cannons mounted on them.
Dhalkathi is a stacked structure designed on the bastion to hold the flag of the dynasty or the fort.
Specially designed cylindrical holes made in the walls or bastions to shoot guns and arrows from are called jangya(embouchures).
Charya or the merlons are the specially carved or petal shaped stones kept on the bastions or the fortified walls. Soldiers could seek refuge behind these stones and open fire on the enemy when needed.
The patrolling lane along or on the fortified walls of the fort for the guards is known as faanji.
Daaru Kothar (Ammunition Store):
The storage room for ammunition and explosives is known is “daaru kothar”. It was often built away at safe distance from human colonies and habitations.
Chor Darwaza (Secret Door/Jib Door):
Apart from the Mahadarwaza, every fort had other small doorways and some chor-darwaza or secret doors too. Most of the times these opened to difficult-to-climb pathways. Cleverly concealed in the fortified walls, these were often used for secret missions or undercover or confidential activities.
Water Cisterns / Ponds / Wells:
There were large tanks, ponds or wells for the purpose to have water stock on the fort. They were well taken care of as the water was an important and limited resource back then on hill tops.
Palaces/Mansions/ Other Buildings:
There were palaces, temples, buildings, etc. built for the important people living on the fort. Some forts have some distinctive buildings with special significance.
Shilekhana (Arsenal / Armoury):
Shilekhana is the place for armours and weapons. Armourers and blacksmiths were diligently appointed to make , mend and sharpen the weapons.
Kadelotachi Jaga (Punishment Point):
Kadelot literally means pushing some off the cliff. It was the most common punishment in that era for treachery. Edge of the cliff or a big rock that protruded from the mountain was often chosen to be the punishment point or the kadelotachi jaga.
During the times of Shivaji, in his fight for Swaraj and Suraaj there was no guarantee that a fort will remain in the possession of the Maratha dynasty for ever. Hence, wasting time, money, and of labour was considered superfluous to build extra buildings and infrastructure than needed. The forts were places meant to counter the enemy and hence, we do not see luxurious edifices or structures on the forts. Common people chose to live in tents, or houses made of clay and dung.
There is a technique to experience the beauty, enormity and significance of a fort. With adequate knowledge, one can visit the fort perceiving the beauty and history in its own unique style.