|Part of Tamil Nadu|
|Villupuram District, Tamil Nadu, India|
A panorama of the Gingee fort with the Kalyana Mahal visible just right of centre
|Built||9th century and 13th century|
|Built by||Initially Chola Dynasty and later Vijayanagara Empire|
|Granite Stones and lime mortar|
|Controlled by||Government of Tamil Nadu|
|Events||National Monument (1921)|
Throne on the Krishnagiri , Gingee
Gingee Fort also known as Chenji or Jinji or Senchi in Tamil Nadu, India is one of the few surviving forts in Tamil Nadu, India. It lies in Villupuram District, 160 kilometres (99 mi) from the state capital, Chennai, and is close to the Union Territory of Puducherry. So well fortified was this place that Shivaji ranked it as the "most impregnable fortress in India" and it was called the "Troy of the East" by the British.
Legend and etymology
As per Tamil legend, the tragic tale of Raja Tej Singh, popularly known in Tamil as Thesingu Raasan, is associated with the fort. The true life story of Tej Singh and his general, Mehboob Khan (aka Maavuthukaran), who were friends, has inspired many poems, street plays, and countless other stories. He was the son of Swarup Singh and revolted against the Nawab of Arcot, and was defeated and killed in the war that followed. Though Gingee became a part of the Nawab's territory in 1714, the young and courageous Tej Singh became a legend and his life, love and brave but tragic end were eulogised in various ballads.
The Bijapur Nawabs who held the fort from about 1660 to 1677 AD called it Badshabad, while the Marathas who succeeded them called it Chandry or Chindy. The Mughals, on their capture of the fort in 1698 A.D., named it Nusratgadh in honour of Nawab Zulfiqar Khan Nusrat-Jang, the commander-in-chief of the besieging army. Later, the English and the French called it Gingee or Jinji. The early Madras records of the English give the spelling Chingee or Chengey.
The chief source for the first two hundred years of the history of the place is the "Complete History of the Carnatic Kings" among the Mackenzie manuscripts. According to historian Narayan, a small village called Melacerri, located 3 mi (4.8 km) away from Gingee is called "Old Gingee" has traces of fortifications from about 1200 AD. Ananda Kon of the shepherd community (Konar), accidentally found a treasure in one of the cavities of the Western hill while grazing his sheep. Making himself the head of a small band of warriors, he defeated the petty rulers of the neighbouring villages and built a small fortress on Kamalagiri, which he renamed Anandagiri after himself. The Konar dynasty ruled Gingee from 1190 to 1330 AD, and was succeeded by the chief of a neighbouring place called Kobilingan, who belonged to the Kurumba caste and ascended the throne of Gingee. He was a feudatory of the powerful Cholas. Gingee came into the hands of various ruling dynasties of South India, starting from the Cholas.
Originally the site of a small fort built by the Chola dynasty during the 9th century AD, Gingee Fort was modified by Kurumbar while fighting the Cholas and again by the Vijayanagar empire during the 13th century. The fort was built at a strategic place to fend off any invading armies. It was further strengthened by the Marathas under the leadership of Shivaji in 1677 AD. He recaptured it from the Bijapur sultans who had originally taken control of the fort from the Marathas. During Aurangzeb's campaign in the Deccan, Shivaji's second son who had assumed the throne, Chhatrapati Rajaram, escaped to Ginjee and continued the fight with Moghuls from Ginjee. The Moghuls could not capture the fort for seven years in spite of laying siege. The fort was finally captured in 1698, but not before Chhatrapati Rajaram escaped. It was later passed on to the Carnatic Nawabs who lost it to the French in 1750 before the British finally took control in 1761 despite losing it to Hyder Ali for a brief period. Raja Desinghu ruled Chenji during the 18th century.
The Gingee Fort complex is on three hillocks: Krishnagiri to the north, Rajagiri to the west and Chandrayandurg to the southeast. The three hills together constitute a fort complex, yet each hill contains a separate and self-contained citadel. Connecting them — forming an enormous triangle, a mile from north to south — are 25-metre thick walls, punctuated by bastions and gateways giving access to the protected zones at the heart of the complex.
The first hill, where the main fort is, is called Rajagiri. Originally it was known as Kamalagiri as well as Anandagiri. The fort here is most impregnable. It is about 800 feet (240 m) in height. Its summit is cut off from communication and is surrounded by a deep, natural chasm that is about 10 yards (9.1 m) wide and 20 yards (18 m) deep. To gain entry into the citadel one had to cross the chasm with the help of a small wooden draw bridge which was drawn only after getting a signal from the sentries on the parapets that a friend was approaching.
The naturally strong rock where the fortress is is further strengthened by the construction of embrasure walls and gateways along all possible shelves and precipitous edges. It forms the principal fortification. Seven gates have to be traversed before reaching the citadel. This citadel contains many important buildings apart from the living quarters of the royalty, like the stables, granaries, and meeting halls for the public, temples, mosques, shrines and pavilions jostling each other.
The lower fort consists of the following important monuments:
- Vellore Gate
- Pondicherry Gate: probably improved by the French during their occupation (1751–1761).
- The Prison on top of Pondicherry Gate.
- Royal Battery: probably erected by the French.
- Venkataramanaswami Temple: probably built during the Vijay Nagar period. The original tall, graceful monolithic pillars from the temple are said to have been carried away to Pondicherry by the French and to have been fixed around the Place de la République, near the old pier.
- Pattabhi Ramaswami Temple: architecturally very important.
- Sadatulla Khan’s mosque, contributed by the Nawab of Arcot.
- Chettikulam and Chakrakulam tanks.
- Platform where Raja Desingh’s (the hero of Gingee who fought gloriously with the Nawab of Arcot and died on the battle field). His body is to have been cremated by the order of the Nawab with full honours and in orthodox Hindu style, while his young Rajput wife committed sati.
- A large stone image of Hanuman.
- Prisoner’s well where the prisoners condemned to death were thrown and left to die of starvation.
The inner fort consists of the following important buildings:
- Kalyana Mahal, perhaps the living quarters of the queens.
- The Royal Stables.
- The Royal palace that is in ruin. It has two large slabs of polished stones that had served as bathing platforms for Raja Desingh and his Rani.
- Anaikulam tank
- Shrine of Venugopalaswami, where the sculpture of Lord Krishna playing on his flute is accompanied by two female figures. They are supposed to be his wives, Rukmani and Satyabhama. This is the best piece of sculpture in the place. It is amazing to see that even the top of the fort is well provided with water supply and several wells, sumps and storage tanks are in the fort complex at various levels.
There is a site museum at the entrance of the fort set up by the Archeological Survey of India containing sculptures pertaining to periods and many dynasties that ruled Gingee. There are also guns and cannon balls made of stone, strewn about the fort.
To reach the top one has to undertake a trek for over an hour. School children love to trek to Gingee Fort.
The second important hillock with an imposing citadel is known as Krishnagiri. It is also known as the English Mountain, perhaps because the British residents occupied the fort here, for some time. The Krishnagiri fort lies to the North of Tiruvannamalai road. It is smaller in size and height compared to the Rajagiri fort. A flight of steps of granite stones leads to its top. Another fort connected with Rajagiri with a low rocky ridge is called Chandrayan Durg, Chandragiri or St. George’s Mountain. The military and strategic value of this fort has been relatively less, but it has some interesting buildings of later period.
The third fort for some reason is called Chakkiliya Durg or Chamar Tikri — meaning the fort of the cobblers. It is not known why it had acquired the name. Probably the royal saddlers and military shoemakers had set up their workshops here, as Gingee obviously was a military encampment. There is a smaller and less important fourth hill, the summit of which is also well fortified. There is nothing much left of Chandrayan Durg and Chakkilli Durg. Their flanks are now completely covered with thorny shrubs and stone pieces. However, they provide challenging trekking opportunity to the visitors to Gingee.
The fort consists of three hills, connected by walls enclosing an area of 7 square kilometres (2.7 sq mi). It was built at a height of 800 feet (240 m) and protected by a 80 feet (24 m) wide moat. It had an eight-storeyed Kalyana Mahal (marriage hall), granaries, prison cells, a military gymnasium and a temple dedicated to its presiding Hindu goddess called Chenjiamman. The fortifications contain a sacred pond known as Aanaikulam. The walls of the fort are a mixture of the natural hilly terrain comprising the Krishnagiri, Chakkilidrug and Rajagiri hills, while the gaps were sealed with the main wall that measures 20 metres (66 ft) in thickness. It was thus an impressive sight where the defender could seal himself indefinitely.
Places inside Rajagiri fort
- Kalyana Mahal,
- Mohammed Khan Mosque,
- Elephant tank,
- Servants room and Royal Palace,
- Venugopala Swami Temple
Places atop the Rajagiri fort
- Balaranganathar Temple
- Pond and Mandapa
- Kamalakanni Amman temple - As per Hindu legend, the presiding deity, Kamalkanni is believed to be the widow of demon king Acalamaccuran. Draupadi, a Hindu god, beheaded the hundred heads of the demon and Kamalkanni is believed to ahve protests that she would become a widow. Draupadi explains her similarities that she has no sexual relations, though married. This resulted in the ambiguous kanni suffix.
- Ranganathar Temple
- Bell tower / Watch tower
- Draw Bridge
Places around Rajagiri fort
- Architecture of Jumma Mosque,
- Temple of Seven Maidens,
- Funeral place of Desing Raja,
- Chakkarai Kulam (Tank),
- Anjaneyar Temple,
- Prisoners' well,
- Chetty kulam (Tank),
- Venkataramana Temple,
- Gateway of Pondicherry,
- Sad-Ullah Khan Mosque,
- Gateway of Vellore
- Temples of Lord Shiva and Amman Shrine
Sri Ranganatha temple
Any account of Gingee should include a description of the rock-cut shrine of Singavaram, about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) from the fortress on a fifth hill called Singavaram. It is a unique Vishnu temple. The deity of the shrine is Ranganatha. Ranganatha is seen reclining on the serpent with his head turned to a side. The expression on his face is benign and charming. The Gingee Ranganathan is ranked as one of the most beautiful Vishnu idols anywhere.
The place where the Singavaram rock cut exists seems to have been originally a centre of Jainism. Several small and large Jain rock cuts and monoliths are found around the temple. Gingee, hence, has emerged as an important surviving link of the Tamil Jain tradition. Singavaram hill is visited by Hindu and Jain pilgrims.
According to legend, it is the original image of Ranganatha from the famous Srirangam temple, which was taken away, from Srirangam and hidden in Gingee, for the sake of safety, during the plundering of Srirangam at the hands of the Muslim invader Malik Kafur. Ranganatha is said to have been the tutelary Lord of Gingee and the personal deity (iṣṭa-devatā) of Raja Desingh. There is an underground tunnel that connects the Rajagiri fortress with the temple and is supposed to have been used by Raja Desingh and his queen to visit the temple unobserved. The existence of the tunnel itself is an indicator of the authenticity of the image. The fact that the idol was hidden among the rocks in a discarded Jain rock cut cave and was being worshipped unobserved by the public is enough proof of the idol being a very ancient and important one.
This tunnel is supposed to actually connect two towns, the great and little Gingee, surrounded by a wall. This wall is three 3 miles (4.8 km)in circumference and encloses the two towns and five mountains of rugged rocks on the summit of which were built five strong forts. The fifth mountain is Singavaram hill — in addition to the four already mentioned forts, namely, Rajagiri, Krishnagiri, Chandrayan Durg and Chakkili Durg. According to E. Scott Waring, Great Gingee referred to the whole area including Singavaram, and little Gingee was very likely to be Gingee proper, i.e., the area covered by four other mountains.
There were two towns known as Sheo Gingee (Siva Gingee) and Vishnu Gingee (the latter being regarded by him as a popular and flourishing town) surrounded by walls of considerable circumference. The court of Sheo Gingee was formed into a citadel with basements and battlements and consequently thinly inhabited; Vishnu Gingee was flourishing and the resort of a large number of pilgrims, hence it can with great probability be identified with Singavaram. A visit to Gingee would be incomplete without a visit to Singavaram to see the reclining Vishnu and the Jain rock cuts.
After the fort passed into British hands, it did not see any further action. The fort at Gingee was declared a National Monument in 1921 and was under the Archeological Department. Recently, the Tourism Department of India has tried to popularise this remote and oft-forgotten fort. Gingee today, with its ruined forts, temples and granaries, presents a different picture from the glorious splendor of its bygone days. But the remains of that glorious past speak volumes about the numerous invasions, warfare and bravery that it witnessed. The fort is maintained by the Archeological Department.
- Hiltebeitel, Alt (1991). The cult of Draupadī: Mythologies : from Gingee to Kurukserta, Volume 1. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. ISBN 9788120810006.
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