Leaving behind the bustling temple town of Tiruvannamalai I boarded the local bus to Gingee about 38 km away. The scorching heat of the sun had made me tired.
In front of me stood Rajagiri, the most spectacular of the three boulder strewn hills of Chakkilidurg and Krishnagiri comprising the fort complex of Gingee – described as ‘ Troy of the East ‘ by Father Pimenta, a Portuguese Jeuit priest visiting in 1597. It is such a catchy epithet that I was determined to visit it when the opportunity came. Come it did.
The beginnings of Gingee are steeped in mythology. According to a local legend, Senjii Amman was one of the seven, virgin guardian deities of the village and the place derives its name from her. Recorded history goes back to the 16 th century when Gingee became the seat of Nayaka rulers as a part of the Vijayanagar Empire. Its first king Krishnappa Nayaka later became the founder of the Nayaka rulers of Gingee. Most of the fortifications, structures and temples were built during this period. Maratha ruler Shivaji, further strengthened its defensive system after capturing it in 1677. In 1691 it passed into Mughal rule under Aurangazeb. Soon after, it became a part of the territory of the Nawab of Arcot. After their defeat by the French, Gingee remained briefly under their control before succumbing to the English in 1761. Built by the Chola kings in the 9th century, the fort fell into the hands of successive conquerors. Now, it is in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India
I was moved by the strategic location of the fort rather than its architecture. I was standing at the main gateway of the fort and felt excited that I would be visiting one of the most spectacular forts of India .
The entire fort complex was woven into by a single piece of a thick rampart and guarded by a moat 80 ft wide. The hills were strewn with boulders and rocks hanging onto each other precariously.
View from Tank
Starting with Rajagiri I climbed over the rough granite steps of the hill which stands as tall as 800 feet. I walked past a ruined temple dedicated to Lord Shiva adjoining the sprawling Venkataramana temple with its striking sculptures and carved pillar. At the base of the citadel are hosts of constructions such as palaces, water Tank, gymnasium and Kalyana mahal or the Wind palace. The white pagoda-like spire of the Kalyana Mahal, thought to be the quarters of the
queens, is stunning in its splendor.The sun shone with its angst along the steep gradient of the granite steps. I was amazed at the thought of the tenacity of the people, who cut these granite huge boulders, shaped it to steps and later lay them on this treacherous terrain.
Ranganatha Temple built on the top of the fort was another notable achievement. Built in the Vijayanagara style of architecture ; it is now desolate without any shrine or any worshipper. The temple must have been so famous and busy when the Hindu rulers were holding their sway. All buildings on the top of the fort remain empty and desolate. They have become the abodes of bats which were busily flying here and there. The stench caused by the movement of these bats makes you feel even more nostalgic about the past. There is also a mosque built in the memory of Sad-ud-ullahkhan, a muslim ruler of Gingee, in the outskirts of the Fort.
The history of the fort will not be complete without mentioning about Raja Tej Singh, who was considered as the best ruler of Gingee having his abode at Rajagiri. When Raja Tej Singh died, a funeral was performed within the premises of the fort and his wife is said to have committed Sati on the funeral pyre .The place where Raja Tej Singh's funeral was performed and his wife committed Sati can also be seen within the fort of Gingee. Adjacent to it, in a open area is a small shrine dedicated to Kamalakkini Amman, the only temple in Gingee, which is still active. I washed my face in a nearby waterhole and quenched my thirst.
Mighty Cannon at the top of Hillock overlooking plains
A little climb later I came across a wooden bridge that connects the citadel with the hill, which if lifted up, no one would be able to reach Rajagiri as a 20 m deep chasm separates Rajagiri making it almost impregnable. Rajagiri like the other two hills has been planned to withstand long seizes. It’s inexhaustible supply of water from cool natural spring , two massive granaries, treasury and watch tower made it quite self sufficient. To the south of the watch tower is a canon 4 m long with a circumference of 2 m pointing towards plains.
The cool breeze on the hot day was exhilarating !. From here the view of the twin hill forts seemed like tiny hillocks dotting the landscape. I was spellbound by the view of the cultivated fields and the Muthukadu forest reserve. Leaning against the fort wall I thought that my visit was worthwhile!
Despite all odds that the fort faced it still stands silent and strong as a mute witness to history!