Thursday, May 7, 2009

Stories in Stone

The remnants of the mighty fort stand aloft to depict tales of valour and defiance. The magnificent stone edifices are a mute testimony of an era bygone. Built immaculately, with convoluted alleys and mammoth stone walls, the Chitradurga Fort is an architectural marvel and a pride of Karnataka.
Chitradurga was initially called Chitrakaldurga because of the many uniquely shaped rocks strewn across the fort. In Kannada, ‘chitra’ means picture, ‘kallu’ means rock and ‘durga’ means fort. The fort is popularly known as ‘Yelu Suttina Kote’, as there are seven concentric fortifications around it. It is also called ‘Kallina Kote’ (fortress of stone) and ‘Ukkina Kote’ (fortress of steel) as it has survived the test of time.
Chitradurga was ruled by the Rashtrakutas, Chalukyas and Hoysalas. It was the headquarters of the Nayakas who were feudatory chieftains under the Vijayanagara Empire. After multiple attempts, Haider Ali finally conquered Chitradurga and it was later ruled by his successor Tipu Sultan until the British took over.

The sturdy walls of the fort have embrasures which were used by soldiers to place their weapons and launch an attack on the invaders. As you enter the fort, you will see the ‘Enne Kolas’ which are large cauldrons used to store oil. There is an elevated pillared structure called the ‘Bombe Mantapa’ in which the kings are said to have erected sculptures in memory of their favourite elephants and horses. In Kannada, ‘bombe’ means doll and ‘mantapa’ means pavilion. Much of it has been destroyed and all that remains now are a few damaged sculptures. There are two ponds called the ‘Akka Thangiyara Honda’ (sisters’ ponds). Folklore has it that these ponds got the name because two sisters who were married to the king Madakari Nayaka jumped into the ponds after his death.

On top of a hillock is the Hidimbeshwara Temple from which one can get a panoramic view of the hills, the windmills and the town. The Sampige Siddeshwara Temple is a cave temple which gets its name because of the fragrant Michaelia Champaka (known as sampige in Kannada) trees growing on the periphery the temple. The artistically sculpted Hidimbeshwara and Siddeshwara temples have towers resembling a ‘ratha’ or chariot and are called Hidimba Ratha and Bhimana Ratha respectively. The Phalguneshwara Temple, Gopalaswamy Temple and Uchcchangamma Temple are the other prominent temples in the fort.

There is an interesting trivia about two tall structures called the ‘Jokali Kamba’ and the ‘Deepada Kamba’ which are erected in front of the Ekanateshwari Temple. Goddess Ekanateshwari is the family deity of the Nayakas and during the Dasara festivities, it is said that the king would swing from the Jokali Kamba (‘jokali’ means swing and ‘kamba’ means pole) and light the lamps placed on the Deepada Kamba (‘deepa’ means lamp).
No account of Chitradurga will be complete without the mention of the heroics of Onake Obavva, the wife of a guard. According to a legend, Obavva came to ‘Tanniru Kola’ (a cold water spring) to fetch a pot of water while her husband was having lunch. She noticed Haider Ali’s troops trickling into the fort through a small opening in a cave. Not perturbed by what she saw, she picked up an ‘onake’ which a long wooden pestle used to pound grains and bludgeoned the soldiers as they tried to enter the fort. Her husband was shocked to see the bodies of the dead soldiers and the blood stained onake in her hand. Obavva, who was killed by one of the soldiers, remains immortal for her courage and presence of mind. The crevice was named ‘Obavvana Kindi’ in her memory.
Visitors to Chitradurga should look out for Jyothi Raj, a real-life Spiderman! It’s a spectacular sight to watch him climb the towering walls of the fort within seconds.
‘Kothi’ means monkey and Jyothi Raj calls himself Kothi Raj as he considers the monkey to be his guru. His daring stunts leave the spectators awe-struck.
On a clear day, the Hidimbeshwara Temple is a good spot to watch the sunset. The beautifully lit up fort is a spectacular sight at night. The hilly terrain, the precariously positioned boulders and the trekking trails in the fort will interest adventure lovers. Many stories woven around rocks and stones unravel the flambouyant history of Chitradurga. The clean, well-kept monument will be a pleasant surprise for the first time visitor.

Getting there:
The most convenient way of getting to Chitradurga is to drive on NH4 (Bangalore-Pune highway) via Tumkur. NH4 is a part of the ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ highway project. Windmills on either side of the road are the first signs of approaching Chitradurga.
Trains and buses ply between Bangalore and Chitradurga.

This article was published in The Deccan Herald on the 28th of April 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

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