[BANNER - FORT OF THE MONTH]
The forts of Maharashtra present us with a rich and romantic diversity of site, function, history, architectural style and cultural heritage, each, with a wide range. At one end of the broad spectrum is the mighty mountain fort of Salher, the highest in the entire Deccan, guarding its northwest border with the Dangs. Then comes the massive Gond tribal fort of Narnala in the Vidarbha Satpudas, north of Akola, on the southern edge of the thickly wooded Chandan valley of the present Melghat Tiger project. The prestige of the central position of the spectrum is keenly contested by the awfully intricate and imposing land-cum-hill fort of Deogiri in Marathwada and of course the Royal Capital fort of Raigad growing organically out of the spurs of cliffs of the Talkonkan ranges enhancing the beauty of their rugged picturesque landscape. To the other end of the colourful spectrum is the breathtaking island site of Sindhudurga, the natural skyline of the Arabian sea multiplying its already immense antiquarian architectural splendour. Further the territories comprised within the boundaries of Maharashtra are richly crowded with forts like Purandar, Harishchandragad, Ankai, Shivneri just to mention a few, of immense antiquarian, architectural and archaeological interest.
Most of these strongholds are in a state of decay, with ancient walls, since long razed to the ground and practically denuded of all early monuments, just mounds of desolate riuns. Though many of them, now exist just for namesake and still further several of them do not exist even for that. a few are so well preserved as to retain most of their medieval distinctive defense features, practically intact.
Many forts are still of difficult access, being perched up on the summits of precipitous hills even 2,000 feet above the surrounding country, and as such have not lost the forbidding aspect of military strongholds, still apparently impregnable.
Even if the exact nature and character of the buried monuments is not known, the ruins occassionally are so imposing that they give an unmistakable notion of the grandeur and the majesty, these places once must have known. For instance, the fort gateways have obviously suffered the maximum damage from all possible causes, such as sieges, re-fortification, neglect, weathering, vandalism and what not ! But in spite of that, though stripped of their decorations of gold, silver and precious stones, a few of them even today retain ample evidence of their past glory. The ruins do not merely reverberate with the memories of the past, the decayed fortifications also enhance the picturesqueness of the rugged hills.
These fascinating remains still provide evidence, of not only man's expression of power, or the privilige of his ruler but also their constant sense of threat, their helplessness and the inborn need for their protection as well as their freedom. This eternal theme of powerlessness of man and his desire for freedom has found a most precise expression in Franz Kaffiza's work, 'Castle', in which he describes the man who wants to get in touch with the mysterious inhabitants of a castle, who are supposed to tell him what to do and show him his place in the world.
Sahyadri - the cradle of Liberty
According to historians, geography constitutes the permanent basis of the history of a region. The historical evolution of Western Deccan i.e. today's Maharashtra, and it's people more than amply bear out this truth. If India, Southof Tapi was never subjugated by the alien powers, in the sense in which northern India was, it was undoubtedly due to it's geography dominated by the Sahyadris. The geopolitical importance of such mountain ranges and their rugged environment was immense.
First, they nourished a resolute, courageous, enduring, darting and audacious spirit among their inhabitants.
Secondly, they offered strongholds and fastnesses, well surrounded by forests to which these natives could retreat whenever they were pressed by the enemy. Specially in the former times, even just a couple of centuries back, the scene, the scene around these hills was far different. It was either a barren wilderness or there grew a thick belt of undergrowth infested by wild beasts. Today, where the roads and railways run, no means of passage existed, save steep pathways mostly for footmen and a few, for pack animals, little known to outsiders. This offered a tactical advantage to the natives inured to elusive warfare and a logistical nightmare to the invading aliens.
Thirdly, and perhaps the most important, these mountain ranges lay between fertile countries. Such a terrain could be the best campaigning ground which proved superior to weapon power. Grant Duff, the English historian of the Marathas wrote, 'There is probably no stronger country in the world than the Deccan from the military defense point of view'. The Sahyadri mountain ranges offered immense political advantage and truly served as the cradle of great virtues and liberty.
The marked feature of the scenery of the Deccan plateau is the landscapes characterised by flat topped summits, terraced flanks and precipitious slopes, all caused by the action of sun and rain, of centuries of millenia. These flat topped natural scarps rising above lower slopes which were then thickly wooded and surrounded by broken and uneven terrain were in themselves difficult enough to ascend. In many of these hills, a sheer precipice of black basalt over 500 to 600 feet high ran almost all year around, which in itself constituted sufficient defence and needed minimum of any artificial defense, to make them deserve the name stronghold. The word 'Fort' originated from the French word 'Fortis' which means strength, and in that sense, the Sahyadri hills were quite strongly fortified by nature. Even in Indian languages they could aptly deserve the name Durg, which originates from the Sanskrit word 'Durgamam'. 'Durgamam' means inaccessible.
[BANNER - FORT OF THE MONTH]