Forts in the medieval period in Peninsular India were essentially defensive structures girding a settlement or a town. Their location gave the defender a strategic advantage over his adversary, especially if they were constructed on hills with steep slopes. In the case of land forts (also called Buikot in Maharashtra), sturdy walls and massive bastions, along with a moat girding its circumference was the preferred method of defence. The concept of the fort as a key element of defence held its own well into the twentieth century, especially if it commanded the countryside from a great height.
The introduction of gunpowder and the cannon in the late 15th century CE played a key role in modifying the architecture of forts. The first recorded use of gunpowder in the Deccan was when Khwaja Mahmud Jilani (also known as Mahmud Gawan), the chief minister in the court of the Bahamani sultan Muhammad III, used it to undermine the fort walls during his campaign against the Vijayanagar kings in Belgaum.
The following fort’s architecture and engineering reflected the need to have an effective defence against artillery, of which, the cannon was its earliest manifestation. The fort of Naldurg will be the first in the series of land forts, followed by Paranda, Vasai & Senji.
Naldurg Fort – A fusion of mass & strength.
It is located off the Solapur-Hyderabad National Highway in the town of Naldurg, which forms part of Tuljapur Taluka in Osmanabad district. It is easily accessible by road from Solapur & Osmanabad.
Constructed on a knoll (small rounded hill) of basaltic rock, its majestic walls run along the contours of the hill and are presently mostly bounded by the waters of the Bori River.
The fort’s beginnings are quite obscure. It is believed that the structure was constructed by one Nalaraja, after whom the fort is named. We do not find any evidence of the same in texts or inscriptions. Neither is the fort mentioned in the chronicles detailing Muhammad bin Tughluq’s campaigns in the Deccan. There are reasons to believe that there was an existing fortified structure whose evidence is scattered near the outer wall, the bastions and the main entrance. The Bahamanis, who declared their independence from Delhi, took possession of the fort in the years following Delhi’s receding influence in Deccan politics, in the late 14th century CE and rebuilt it.
Thereafter, the fort finds frequent mention in the prolonged dynastic squabbles of the Deccan, due to its location on the frontiers of the Adilshahi state of Bijapur and the Nizamshahi state of Ahmednagar, even attracting the attention of the Qutubshahis of Golconda. The fortifications and the structures of Naldurg owe much of their construction to the Adilshahis of Bijapur. Following the extinction of the Bijapur kingdom in 1686CE by Alamgir Aurangzeb, the fort passed into the hands of the Mughals. Post Aurangzeb’s demise in 1707CE, the process of splintering of the Mughal Empire gained momentum in the Deccan which finally resulted in the emergence of new regional powers; one of them being the Asaf Jahis of Hyderabad, whose founder Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah, the Mughal subedar (Viceroy or Governor) of Deccan established his rule in 1724CE.
The fort now had a new owner, the Nizams of Hyderabad. Thereafter, with the ascendancy of the English East India Company in the first half of the 19th century, Naldurg became the regional headquarters of the British provincial governors, following an agreement with the Nizam in 1853CE, to cede present day Osmanabad district to the British.
An Englishman with multi-faceted talents, Colonel Phillip Meadows Taylor, was one of them. He made the fort his centre of operations in and transacted all matters of state from here. A prolific writer, painter, and an archaeologist, he has left behind some vivid memories of the fort, which he describes thus “Along the crest of the cliff on three sides ran the fortifications, bastions… firmly built of cut and dressed basalt and large enough to carry heavy guns”
Defence principles & engineering techniques, which guided Naldurg’s construction
- The fort is built on the Bori riverfront site on a knoll, as mentioned earlier. To the North & East where the elevation is higher, it is protected by the double meander of the river and by steep slopes of the hill. To the West & the south, a ditch has been excavated in the rock to form a moat (also called Khandaq in local parlance) filled with water. If you visit the fort today, you will observe that the west side moat has been filled up and levelled, though one can still see sections of the embankment revetted with stone. A bridge or causeway across the moat would have been the only connection to the main entrance.
- The importance of ensuring protection through massive masonry constructions is evident in the thickness of the walls & bastions. They were made of an earthen bank packed with rubble, faced (revetted) with dressed stone blocks, using lime mortar to bind them. This was the period when new engines of warfare, the cannon & cannonball, made their appearance. Their construction enabled to use as a firing platform for heavy guns as well as to absorb the impact of cannonballs. The bastions have a small inclination with respect to the ground level and act as a buttress for supporting the massive earthen bank.
- Above the curtain walls and towers, parapets have been adapted for defence by musketry and cannons, with higher and thicker merlons built in stonework or brick and pierced with holes to provide covering fire. Continuous wall walks or chemin-de-ronde along the top of the ramparts have been provided along the outer line of fortifications to enable quicker movement of men and material to any quarter under attack.
- Miniature turrets or box machicolations projecting from the parapet of walls, towers and gates have been built on supporting brackets, with gaps through which various types of missiles could be hurled at the aggressor, thereby reducing the dead ground (the space beyond which the attacker on the ground is not visible to the defender above).
- The fort has two enclosures or fortification lines. The outer enclosure or fausse-braye is at a lower elevation and girds the inner or main enclosure. It has parapets for facilitating movement, as seen above.
- Being a land fort, the gateways have been fortified into one of its strongest defences. Access to the main entrance which is located some distance away from the gateways is through a barbican which projects from the main entrance. The first gate is flanked by two formidable towers (forming part of the outer line of fortifications), whose upper parts are terminated with battlements and box machicolations. This further leads to a second gate marked by the presence of box machicolations above it. A pathway gently climbs up to the inner open courtyard enclosed by thick walls. The aggressor attempting to enter the fort would have to pass through the heavily fortified gates and cross the open courtyard under heavy fire from the guards manning the battlements. Entry into the inner fortified enclosure would be gained through the main entrance (Hurmukh Darwaza) only after negotiating obstacles described above.
Highlights to look out for!
- Most of the bastions are semi-circular in design. Compared to its rectangular counterpart, a semi-circular design offers more room for defence, since the circumference is more than 50% of the horizontal length offered by a rectangular design. This ensures space for deploying a larger number of defenders who can effectively utilize the space between the merlons for attacking the aggressor. Some of the bastions have a circular platform for mounting heavy pieces of artillery. However, one can still find rectangular & polygonal bastions along the outer line of fortifications. One possible reason could be that there was an existing fortified structure with rectangular & polygonal bastions. These were strengthened by increasing their wall thickness and by adding stone revetments.
- The Nau Burz bastion is undeniably one of the fort’s star attractions for its design and sheer ingenuity. A semi-circular bastion is broken up into 9 semi-circular sub-bastions to increase the effective space available for defence. It is flanked by two semi-circular bastions. The bastion is overshadowed by an artillery platform at its rear for mounting very heavy guns. The combination of artillery fire and defenders providing covering fire below to deter the aggressor makes the entire structure an example of solid defence.
- The Uppali Burz, also called the Tehlani Burz, is a solitary, standalone bastion located at the northern end of the fort. Built in 1558CE by Sultan Ali Adil Shah of Bijapur, it commands a complete view of the fort and is the tallest structure within the inner enclosure. It is an elaborate masonry cylinder 27m high, 20m in diameter at the top and is accessed by a steep flight of stairs with 77 steps. The structure is faced with rectangular blocks. Towards the top, above a thin moulding, merlons are introduced for ornamental purposes. There are two circular platforms mounted with two large cannon, which you can still see. One of them is the Magar Toph (cannon so named since its muzzle resembles the jaws of a crocodile). A short, narrow staircase leads to a rectangular guardroom which has large openings in the wall with a good view of the surroundings.
- The Paani Mahal built into the weir (dam) on the Bori River is another fine example of medieval engineering. Built in 1613 BCE during the reign of Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur to ensure an adequate supply of water to the fort complex, it is a solid stone masonry structure with two arched channels, one at each end of the weir. During the dry season, when the water level is below the “spill” level, the spillways do not discharge any water into the pool formed by the weir on the discharge side. During the monsoon season, when the water level breaches the spill mark, it cascades through the channels (spillways) into the pool, creating the effect of a waterfall. This “spill effect” is what draws hordes of visitors to the dam during the rains. The palace (Paani Mahal) which is accessed by a rather steep flight of stairs is a well-ventilated, roomy structure, with a jharoka (balcony) overlooking the pool below. During the rainy season, the water cascading from the spillways is a sight to watch. In one of the rooms is an inscription in Persian which mentions the name of Mir Muhammad Imadin as the architect.
Writer- Ganesh Iyer Copy Editor- Alice Agarwal