Friday 5 September 2014

The tiger's fortress

This one of Karnataka’s best island fortress and often regarded as the best known not only in India but the world over.
Situated at the junction of two rivers, the fortress was initially built by a local chieftain. However, it achieved renown as one of the most impregnable forts only in the 17th and 18th century.
Today, the ruins of the fort dominate the island and it still stands in all majesty, a tribute to all those who worked hard to make it a formidable bastion of stone, lime and mortar.
 The fort was breached by the British more than 200 years ago. The breach too stands as it was centuries ago, a mute testimony to the treachery of  a handful of people and the determination of the British to stifle out all dissent and opposition, in their bid to make India their own.
This is the fort of Srirangapatna, just a few miles from Mysore and located on the Bangalore-Mysore Road.
The fort is surrounded by the waters of the Cauvery and Paschimavahini and it one of the best known island forts of India. Though the fort is closely associated with Tipu Sultan and his father, Hyder Ali, not many know that they were not the builders of the fort. They only reinforced, strengthened and at some places added to the already existing fort.
The history of the Srirangapatna fort goes back to the 15th century when a local chieftain, Thimanna Hebbar of Nagamangala began construction of a mud wall. The then Vijayanagar Emperor, Deveraya, the second, permitted Hebbar to fortify Srirangapatna. The construction commenced sometime in 1454 and when the Vijayanagar dynasty was decisively defeated by the Muslim Kingdoms of  the Deccan in the Battle of Talikota in 1565, Srirangapatna rose to prominence as one of the strongest forts of a truncated and much decreased (in area and size) of the Vijayanagars.
 The fort was the last frontier of the Vijayanagars and when the last Vijayanagar Viceroy of Srirangapatna province, Tirumala Raya lost a battle to Raja Wodeyar in 1601 (This was the battle of Kesare, which today is part of Mysore), the Wodeyars made Srirangapatna their capital and began ruling from there.
The Wodeyar Kings began strengthening the fort walls and in 1654, Kanteerava  Narasaraj Wodeya, the then ruler of the Mysore, rebuilt it.  More than a century later, Tipu Sultan with the help of French engineers, added to the fort structures and strengthened its defenses.
Tipu went in for a double enclosure fort constructed with massive granite blocks. However, the inside of the fort ramparts are made of mud and rubble masonry.
The Srirangapatna fort is shaped like a triangle, and aligned along the northwestern corner of the island so that the eaters of the Cauvery add to the defence. The rugged riverbed form a natural moat on the north and west of the fort. From the air, the fort looks like an irregular pentagon with a
perimeter of about 4 kilometres.
The double moats on the south and east side of the forts were built by Tipu to deter the enemy from gaining easy access. Crocodiles were let into the moats but today they are rather dry. The moats were 30 feet deep.
The moats around the fort were dug under the personal supervision of the French military engineer, Huben. For Tipu, the moats provided the much needed security for a capital which was constantly under enemy attack.
The main entrance to the island city was from the bridges and gateways on the south and eastern side of the fort. Two important gateways – the Mysore Gate and the Elephant Gate face the Bangalore-Mysore highway..
The ruins of Bangalore and Delhi Gates or the water gate have their own tales to tell. The fort was once ringed by 18 watch towers, interspread with cannons.
It  was from the water gate that the British successfully breached the fort. Unfortunately, for Tipu and his family, this was the only passage for them to access water from around the moat without fearing for crocodiles.
The moat today is facing threat from a different kind. A callous and insensitive administration coupled with man’s greed is spelling ruin to this once grand structure.
Debris from the town and the other areas is being dumped into the moat surrounding the fort. Leftovers from chicken, mutton and fish stalls and other garbage are also being thrown into the moat.
The moat near Cauvery Layout in Srirangapatna is partially buried under debris and the situation is similar on the road that connects Thomas Inman’s dungeon. Weeds have grown in the moat.

Just a little away from the Water Gate is the place where Tipu died, valiantly fighting on till his last breath.