By Shona Adhikari
New Delhi, Nov 27 (IANSlife) Devagiri, a seemingly impregnable fort, assumed major importance from the year 1327, when Mohammed-Bin-Tughlak dissatisfied with his existing capital, decided that Delhi lay too far north for his ambition to capture the whole of ‘Hindostan. He decided to move the entire populace of Delhi to Devagiri, 700 miles (1100 km) away.
Without food, many of Tughlak’s subjects perished along the way. Adjusting to life in the Deccan, was also very difficult, eventually forcing the dejected Monarch to abandon his plans for Daulatabad and march his subjects back to Delhi after 17 years.
It was play-write Girish Karnad, whose hugely successful play titled ‘Tughlak’ portrayed this eccentric monarch’s dream of controlling the whole of India, by shifting his capital from Delhi to the Deccan. Tughlaq, the idealistic Sultan of Delhi decided to move his capital from Delhi to Devagiri, 15 kilometers west of Aurangabad. In the play, Tughlak is depicted standing at his Fort in Tughlakabad and is quoted as having said, “Every living soul in Delhi will leave for Daulatabad within a fortnight. Everyone must leave. Not a single light must be seen in the windows of Delhi, not a wisp of smoke must rise from its chimneys. Nothing but an empty graveyard of Delhi will satisfy me now.”
Tughlak’s dream city was abandoned – both literally and figuratively. Very few have the time or the inclination to visit this remotely located fortress. Despite conservation work, the crumbling fort and the buildings tell their own tale of neglect. However, those who visit the Fort, seem to have a special feeling for the place and at some level, may also empathize with this visionary ruler.
Amid calm surroundings, the fortress stands on a 183-meters-high, conical natural granite rock earlier known as Devagiri, or “Hill of the Gods.” During the 12th century AD, Devagiri was the capital of the Yadava dynasty – the Fort’s invulnerability, being the reason for their choice and it became the stronghold of several successive rulers.
The earliest Yadavas had hewn away the irregular face of the conical rock to create a sheer smooth vertical face rising 50 meters high above a moat dug 15 meters into the rockface. A causeway across the moat became the only entry point to the fortress. The outer wall is five kilometers long and had earlier sheltered a large population in a town now completely abandoned. A second wall enclosing an area with a radius of half a kilometer is known as the “Mahakot. As in the nearby Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Buddhism appears to have gained a foothold at Devagiri during the same period. There are at least ten caves dating back to 1st century BC, which were used by successive rulers for housing their staff.
The Yadavas rule between 1183 and 1294 came to a halt when Raja Ramchandra of Devagiri was overcome by Allah-ud-Din (nephew of Sultan Jalal-ud-Din Khilji) who was appointed governor by the Delhi Sultanate. The first Muslim monument within the walls of Devagiri was the Jumma Masjid (Friday Mosque) created by Qutb-ud-Din Khilji in 1318. The city continued to be administered by various governors appointed by the Delhi Sultanate till 1347 when governor Zafar Khan rebelled against the administration and became the first Bahamani Sultan. A victory tower-cum-observation post, known as the “Chand Minar” was built in 1433, and is the second tallest tower in India after the Qutb Minar. It was at this time that the name of the fortress changed from Devagiri to Daulatabad or “the abode of good fortune”.
The Fortress has much to attract visitors who are ready to climb up to the peak, to see the splendid fortification which made it so attractive to successive rulers. Besides the dramatic and unbelievable story of Tughlak, the “Balakot” has a splendid entrance gate leading to the ancient caves. A number of cannons are a testimony to the fort’s impregnability and strategically located to guard the peak, is an enormous cannon made of seven-inch “Panchdhatu” (five metals), locally referred to as “Shree Durga”. All along the way, there are a number of other cannons such as the Ram-headed “storm breaker” and others that look equally menacing. Stout heavily spiked gates, can be seen all along the way, creating effective barriers for the enemy.
A tunnel in the rock face offers the only route to the upper reaches. It is said that at the time of a siege, an iron barrier at the end of the long spiraling tunnel would be heated to such a point, that no one could touch it. Thus successfully pushing back any attackers, who had managed to reach this far. What is most interesting however is that the Fort had been cleverly planned in such a way, that it was possible to live within its walls for long stretches of time. One can also see a large area of storage space for food and a huge water tank, built within the fortified walls that would be able to provide water for an entire army for over six months, in case of a siege.
The “Chinimahal,” a palace named after the decorative ceramic tiles used on the exterior, became the prison of Abul Hasan, the last Qutb Shahi ruler of Golconda – imprisoned there from 1687 to 1700, by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
In the exciting history of Daulatabad, it may be noted that most monarchs who came to power, considered this Fortress a key to the domination of southern India. Nizam-ul-Mulk captured the fort and the city in 1757, breaking Daulatabad’s links with the Nizam Shahi Dynasty of Ahmednagar. However, he was unable to hold out against the wily Maratha forces and it fell once again.
Daulatabad, despite being prized as one of the most coveted forts in the country, never really lived up to its name. Somehow greatness always remained elusive. The Marathas, hung on to power till they were driven out by the British, bringing the curtain down finally, on the colorful past of Devagiri – a great fort, that just missed becoming the capital of India.
(Shona Adhikari is a lifestyle and travel columnist.)