It is located in Paranda Township, Paranda Taluka, Osmanabad district. The nearest railhead is Kurduwadi Station which is approximately 25Km away by road. It is easily accessible from Solapur and Ahmednagar by road.
A relatively small, but a defensive structure endowed with great strength, this structure is a land fort (Buikot) located on near the flat ground. The first line of defence, the glacis, which we will encounter later, does not exist anymore. It has become a victim of encroachment by locals. We shall examine, in the subsequent parts of the text, the detailed defence architecture of the fort.
The town of Paranda has a more ancient history in comparison with the fort, finding mention in an inscription found at Honnatti village which is located in the Ranebennuru Taluka of Haveri District, North Karnataka. It is dated to the Chalukya Vikrama era 48 which corresponds to 1124CE. The inscription mentions that Simhanadeva (who is identified with the Seuna Yadavas) was governing Seguna Desa, Paliyanda Pratyandaka (modern day Paranda) and the Agrahara (place of residence of Brahmins) of Honnavatti, probably as a feudatory of the Chalukyas of Kalyani (modern day Basava Kalyana in Bidar District of Karnataka).
- The fort first finds mention during the reign of Shihabudin Mahmud Shah (who reigned from 1482CE-1518CE), the Bahamani sultan whose Peshwa (Prime Minister), Nizam-ul-Mulk, in order to strengthen his position at the court, appointed one Makhdum Khan Deccani as the fort commander.
- The Imperial Gazetteer attributed its construction to Khwaja Mahmud Jilani (also known as Mahmud Gawan), prime minister in the Bahamani sultan’s court. There appears to be no other evidence to the contrary regarding the builder.
- The fort remained in the possession of Khan Jahan (the title bestowed on Makhdum Khan Deccani) and his son, Noor Khan, for seventy years, first under the Bahamani sultans and later, its successor state, the Nizamshahis of Ahmednagar until 1554CE. Noor Khan, having incurred the displeasure of Hussein Nizamshah I (1554-1565CE), over his support to one Prince Haidar, his son-in-law (who had married Noor Khan’s daughter) fled the fort, which now passed into the hands of the Nizamshahis. The fort’s strategic importance made it the bone of contention between the Nizamshahis, the Adilshahis of Bijapur and the Qutubshahis of Golconda, though the Nizamshahis retained control over it for the most part.
- With the fall of Ahmednagar to the Mughals in 1600CE, the ruling Nizam, Bahadur Shah, was sent as a prisoner to Gwalior. In the same year, the Nizamshahi kingdom got a new lease of life when Malik Ambar, the Habashi (African from Ethiopia) military commander in the service of the Nizam, along with other court officers, decided to revive the kingdom’s fortunes by installing a 20-year-old prince belonging to Ahmednagar’s royal family, as the new Sultan, with the title of Murtaza Nizam Shah II. The administrative capital was now shifted to Paranda fort.
- The fort remained with the revived Nizamshahi state for the most part before the fort commander, one Aqa Rizwan, probably sensing its imminent collapse in the face of the Mughal invasion of the Deccan, decided to sell it to the Adilshah of Bijapur. It was besieged twice by the Mughals during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan without any success. It was left to his successor, Alamgir Aurangzeb (1658CE-1707CE), to take possession of the fort, which was handed over to the Mughals without a fight by its commander Ghalib, a military governor in the service of the Adilshahi sultan of Bijapur.
- In later times, Paranda finds mention in the war between Sabhaji Bhonsla of Nagpur, and the Peshwa Raghunath Rao in 1774CE, and again in 1795CE, when a battle was fought between the Peshwa Madhavrao II’s forces and the army of the Nizam of Hyderabad (which was marching towards Paranda fort) at Kharda in present-day Ahmednagar district.
Let us now take a close look at the defence architecture of the fort and its relationship with the terrain on which it stands. These features are elaborated as below:
- It was a true land fort. With the advent of gunpowder, artillery & musketry, the structure needed extra defence to protect its occupants.
- The bastions were of increased thickness & semi-circular in shape to increase the space available for defence. Likewise, the merlons were thicker- design features which increased the ability of these structures to withstand gunshots from a cannon.
- The fort has three layers of defence, of which the glacis constitutes its first outermost layer. This term, used in military engineering, refers to an artificial inclination created in medieval forts as a defensive structure. Today, this structure does not exist. The veteran archaeologist, Ghulam Yazdani, who served with the Nizam of Hyderabad and established the Department of Archaeology, mentions its existence in his survey report prepared for the period 1921-1924CE.It was an inclined, artificially created bank (of earth and rubble) structure. At the tip of the glacis was a retaining support wall with a height of 13’, which, along with the glacis, completely encircled the fort. Beyond this wall, there was a clear space of 125-150’, which in military terminology, is known as the covered way (passage). Adjoining the covered way was the moat (Khandaq in local parlance) with scarp and counterscarp at each end. The moat average width was 86’. The moat was filled with water and is visible even today. There is a single entrance to the fort which could be accessed through a drawbridge built over the moat. The drawbridge does not exist any longer. Early cannons had limited flexibility in adjusting the angle of elevation of the barrel and the initial speed required to discharge the projectile (stone ball in this case). Hence their target accuracy would have been limited and a wide margin of error could occur if the parameters mentioned above were not adjusted properly, especially if fired from a great distance. Under these circumstances, the glacis as the first line of defence made sense, since cannon shots would have landed on this structure instead of the curtain wall. The covered passage also protected the glacis from the open country.
The moat or ditch constituted the second line of defence and completely encircled the inner and outer enclosure walls. It was filled with water and its depth ensured that crossing over and attacking the outer enclosure would be a difficult task for the attacker. Its scarp (One of the two faces lining it) was the first enclosure wall. Over it was the drawbridge which, when lowered, gave access to the only entrance located in the North-East corner of the fort.
- The main (first) entrance with asingle semi-circular bastion is barred by an iron clad
gate fitted with spikes & three box machicolations (box type structure protruding from the bastion wall resting on corbels or brackets), which reduced the dead ground (the distance beyond which the attacker is not visible) and enabled the defenders to rain missiles and even pitch on the attackers below. The machicolation is a recurring feature of the inner enclosure bastions.
- Moving further inward, we come to doorway leading into a courtyard, which is a virtual death trap for the attacker due to the depth of defense seen in this area. At the far end, the iron clad second gate with spikes is flanked by the outer enclosure walkway seen in the centre, and a bastion to the right. The outer enclosure bastion on the left is provided with loopholes above its base for firing small cannons. Hence the heavily fortified bastions & walkway carried enough firepower to make the attacker’s progress as difficult as possible.
- We now come to the second gate which is located at the far end of the courtyard and leads to the first enclosure. It (first enclosure) constituted the third line of defense. With the increasing use of gunpowder and musketry, a fausse braye (called Raoni in Hindustani) or outer enclosure was necessary to protect the inner enclosure. The wall of the first enclosure forms the scarp for the moat and is at a lower elevation compared with that of the inner enclosure. Due to the flat terrain, the Raoni completely encloses the inner walls. 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.
- The third gate, leading to the inner enclosure is located in a niche as one crosses the pathway and turns left. To the right, is located a massive, semi-circular bastion which is part of the inner enclosure and has a diameter between 10-11m, which is really huge!
We now enter the inner fort after crossing an archway. We have seen that access to the fort was barred by several gates and restricted open areas in succession which would make it difficult for the attacker to enfilade them (firing from guns and sweeping the area from end to end). The attacker, after negotiating the first gate, had to proceed diagonally on reaching the courtyard, where he would be subject to assault from all sides. If he made it to thesecond gate, he would have to cross the inner courtyard, where he would encounter fire from the guardrooms and the battlements. From the defense perspective, even if the first courtyard fell to the attacker, entrance into the inner enclosure could be barred by closing the third gate. Considering that artillery of this period had its limitations as mentioned above, the fort would have, by virtue of its strong defenses, been impregnable.
The inner enclosure houses many interesting structures which bring the defense and culture of the ruling elite into sharp focus. Let us take a look at some of them below:
- The Jami Masjid or the congregational mosque, probably built when the fort was handed over to the Adilshahis of Bijapur, was the site where people gathered for Friday and Eid prayers. It was a practice of those times to read the Khutbah (public or congregational sermon) in the name of the ruler of the area, and was considered one of the pre-requisites for sovereignty. The ruler reigned as a representative of the Almighty and would therefore have been entitled to this privilege It is enclosed by high walls of chiseled masonry, the surface of which is decorated with bands of artistic carvings. At the top of the wall are ornamental parapets which are also found in the buildings at Bijapur. There are three entrances facing North, West & East. The first two are rather small, but the eastern entrance is the largest of the three and built in the form of a porch. It is entered through an arched doorway. The roof of the porch is vaulted & decorated with circular bands of exquisite carving. The main prayer hall has three aisles which are each divided into 15 bays by pillars. It has a flat topped roof which is divided into a series of square compartments. The pillar and roof design suggest that these might have formed part of a pre-existing religious structure whose main components were retained or re-used to construct the mosque. We have such examples of retention & re-use at the Qutub Minar & Daulatabad sites.
- The Cannon was a critical element of fort defense and it is found in significant numbers in the inner enclosure. The ASI storeroom in the courtyard of the outer enclosure has many samples of stone ball projectiles and small cannons. Gunpowder appears to have come to India from China during the second half of the 13th century CE. A type of rocket with gunpowder as the propellant was adopted in regions north of the Deccan Plateau in the second half of the14th century CE. It was followed by an increase in gunpowder artillery from the middle of 15th century CE after the arrival of the Portuguese in 1498CE and Babur’s invasion of Hindustan in 1526CE. Besides European and North Indian influences, the impact of Ottoman technology for cannon manufacture was significant. Many of the migrants to the Deccan sultanates, specially the Turks and Arabs, had considerable experience in the design and usage of cannons. Cannon technology of the period employed forge welding techniques as one of the methods of fabricating large artillery pieces. Indian blacksmiths were familiar with these techniques and had had a high level of competence by virtue of their long experience in producing large iron objects. The large cannons seen at Paranda are muzzle or front loading type where both the gunpowder charge and the projectile (stone ball) were inserted into the barrel from the front portion of the cannon (muzzle). The basic technique adopted was as follows- Long, flat iron rods were placed longitudinally over a mandrel in order to create the inner surface of the barrel. Next, pre-fabricated iron rings were heated and placed over the rods so that they contracted on cooling and held them (rods) together. The rings were then forge welded to create the complete barrel structure. Continuity between the rings and the smooth finish of the barrel required a high degree of skill on the part of the blacksmiths who created these masterpieces of medieval artillery. More sophisticated techniques of forge welding were also used in their manufacture. One can see these artillery pieces lying on the firing platforms located in the North-West and South facing bastions of the inner enclosure.
Composite Iron-Bronze cannons belonging to a different technology (composite casting) also show up in the list of artillery that the fort has on offer. One of the possible reasons for the emergence of this technology in India was the need to economize on the use of copper (which is the principal constituent of bronze metal), which was relatively expensive, without weakening the cannon barrel. Cannons with the composite technology are seen to have emerged in India in the 17th and 18th centuries. The technology involved the casting over of the wrought iron cannon barrel with bronze in order to impart strength to the barrel. Two of the well-known cannons of this type, the Azdaha Paikar (Dragon body) and Malik-i-Maidan (Master of the battleground) belong to the period when Alamgir Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor, embarked on his Deccan campaign with the objective of establishing Mughal supremacy over the successor states of the Bahamani Sultanate. This period also saw the maximum use of heavy artillery to break fort walls. They were fabricated in 1660CE & 1663CE respectively by the same craftsman-Muhammad Hussein Arab, on the instructions of the Mughal emperor. The Malik-i-Maidan cannon, whose weight is not known, could hurl a stone ball weighing 33.4Kg with a gunpowder charge per shot of 11.1Kg.
Writer- Ganesh Iyer Copy Editor- Alice Agarwal