Gingee figures prominently in history of the sub-continent for its sheer size and its defense architecture. The fort is also called Desing Raja Kottai or the fort of the Rajput chieftain Tej Singh. Gingee was the name given by the English to the historic town of Senji, located approximately 160Km from Chennai by road, in Vizhupuram district of Tamil Nadu.
The outer fortification walls of Gingee form a triangle, enclosing the fortified hills of Krishnagiri, Rajagiri & Chakkildurgam. The fortification walls have a perimeter of 13Km and enclose an area of 11 Sqkm. The Rajagiri hill is the strongest of the three forts, with its citadel located on an isolated hill rising vertically from the plain to a height of 800ft. Its a fascinating site for both geologists and visitors, with its magnificent landscape of giant granite boulders strewn as far as the eye can see.
The Rajagiri fort-its outer wall in the foreground.
A many layered history
- 11th Century-14th Century CE– Epigraphic evidence indicates the presence of a local power, the Kadavas, who were subordinate to the Cholas of Tamil country. There is also evidence of rule by the Hoysalas of Mysore, which records the destruction of the establishment of Senji and its ruler, by Vishnuvardhana. The Vijayanagara kings occupied it by the end of 14th century CE. Military governors or Nayakas were appointed to rule over the area.
- 1565 CE- 1649 CE- This phase marks the rise of the Nayakas after the end of the Vijayanagar dynasty. They retained their hold over the area and made considerable modifications to the basic structure, including construction of the triangular outer wall.
- End 1649 CE-1677 CE- Capture of the fort by the Adilshah of Bijapur. Senji renamed Badshahabad. Occupation period- 28 years.
- 1677 CE–1750 CE-Capture of the fort by the Marathas, led by the warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji. City renamed The Maratha occupation lasted for 22 years. Shivaji’s son, Rajaram, faced a challenging task of halting the Mughal advance into the Deccan. In 1691 CE, he withdrew to Senji during the siege of Raigad fort and resisted the Mughal army under Zulfiqar Khan for seven years. The Mughals occupied Senji in February 1698 CE and renamed it Nusratgarh. Daud Khan Panni was named the Nawab of Carnatic. With Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 CE, Daud Khan established his rule at Arcot and took possession of Senji. The fort remained with the Nawabs till the advent of the French.
- September 1750 CE- Capture of Senji by the French. Occupation period-10 years. The fort was captured by the British in 1761 CE.
The semi-historic phase of the fort’s history was shaped by popular narratives. The Telugu and Tamil folk ballads valorize Desing Raja or Tej Singh, from Bundelkhand, who took charge in January 1714 CE after the death of his father, Swaroop Singh, a mansabdar under the Mughals. The folk version is based on a clash involving the Raja and the Nawab of Carnatic over repayment of Swaroop Singh’s debts.
These versions are recounted in a semi-historic account in Tamil by Narayana Pillai who lived in the area in the 19th century CE. In this narrative, Desing Raja proceeded south on hearing about his father’s illness, in late 1713 CE. On his arrival in Gingee, he was told of his father’s demise. The secretary appointed by the Mughals informed him that he could take charge only with the permission of the Mughal Sarkar or from the Nawab. Desing Raja disregarded his advice and refused to pay his debts. After exhausting all his options to make Desing pay, the Nawab started for Ginjee with a large force. The Raja received help from his local ally who dispatched a force of 250 horse headed by Mohabbat Khan. On their arrival at Gingee, Desing prepared to mount his magnificent horse, ready for the battle ahead. He was advised against acting rashly. Ignoring this, he informed his wife of his plans, asking her to protect her honour in case calamity should befall him. He then rode with his small army and Mohabbat Khan in the direction of Arcot, ready to battle the Nawab’s forces. Mohabbat Khan and many horsemen perished in the encounter. A grieving Desing Raja, now alone and outnumbered, killed the Nawab’s commander and rode in the direction of Gingee. The Nawab, determined to capture his opponent alive, advanced towards him on his elephant. In the confusion of the battle, one of the Nawab’s soldiers fired at Desing Raja and mortally wounded him. The Nawab entered the fort on 3rd October 1714 CE, carrying Desing’s body. He was informed by the Raja’s wife of her intention to commit sati on her husband’s funeral pyre. The Nawab arranged for the last rites of the Raja and his friend. The ballad valorizes the Raja, extolls the friendship between Desing Raja and Mohabbat Khan, and honours the Raja’s wife, who preferred to sacrifice herself rather than live.
(To be continued)
Author and Photographs: Ganesh Iyer Web Editor: Kshitija Pande