Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Palghat Fort Legacy

A group of wise men gathered at Palghat gap plateau some 5000 years ago to decide on the problem of ever increasing graveyards in the settlement. The solution to the problem was arrived in a simple manner to cosign the dead body into flames along with elaborate rituals and thereby reducing the need for burial space in the human settlement. Thus the practice too avoided the close kith and kin being in a mourning stage for a prolonged period. The next logical step was to foster the spirit of inter-dependence among people. This obviously lead to the caste system based on the profession chosen among the forerunners. The distinct segment was hunting, collection of forest produce, priestly class, trading community, fishermen, weaving class, etc.

How the hell did I arrive at such an absurd conclusion ? which may sound blasphemy to some skeptics. The research based on Allen’s summation “ unranked socio political relationship are most likely to have characterized far upstream and maritime ends of the network…………………………exchange with forest dwellers was almost certainly reciprocal. Forest produce were most eagerly sought after by foreign traders, but were available in widely separated patches that had to be exploited by people with intimate knowledge of forest terrain ( which is often laid with perils of wild animals, poisonous snakes etc ) This paved way to formation of inter-dependence of human Endeavour fostering barter system and later backed by coinage means of exchange. This was a loose form of federal structure probably where tight vertical control would have been impossible to sustain.Cera or Keralaputra came under the reign of Chandragupta Maurya ( 340 – 290 BC ) with his expansion policy in 300 BC. When the mauryan emperor abdicated the throne in favour of his son Bindusara in 298 BC, he settled in Shravanbelagola and spread the message of Jainism across south India. Karnataka and kerala was the focus of his attention to spread the gospel of the theerthankaras and his guru. His grandson Ashoka the great ( 304 – 232 BC ) adopted Buddhism after the Kalinga war ( 265 BC). He started spreading gospel of Buddha with Ahimsa. How the emperor Ashoka got indoctrinated into Buddhism is another interesting storyline.

In one of his edicts Ashoka states across the mauryan empire I have planted banyan trees for providing shade to men and animals alike. In a distance of eight kosas I have commissioned wells, rest houses and other infrastructure for travelers, piligrims, traders and for the army too. These infrastructural developments have been undertake by other kings of the time too, but not with an intention of spreading Dhamma. My aim is to ensure that people are contented enough to practice the gospel of Buddha. The traces of the ancient trees are found on the highways of Kerala. The remains of Buddhist artifacts point to presence of their domination till the Shaiva sects overtook their domain.

The domain of Vijaynagar empire obviously included the Kerala territory for their rich revenue base in trading. Spices, Sandalwood, Teak and ayurvedic formulations formed the mainstay of trading with the Arabian and European region. Palaghat Gap seems to have been identified as the main stay for a trading centre. The traces of the empire was in the form of building temple. A prominent temple was obviously constructed in the premises of the present Palghat fort along with a bazaar established for trading in front of the temple. This temple was in existence probably till 1766, when Hyder Ali invaded the territory and unleashed a reign of terror. He demolished the temple and modified into a Fortress. The signs of the temple is clearly evident from statues of Ganesha embedded into the wall of the fortress and the gateways and their pillars used for construction of inner citadel. Tipu carried out his own agenda based from this fortress till he occupied the throne at Srirangapatna. After the defeat of Tipu Sultan in 1790 the fortress was temporarily occupied by the Zamorins of Calicut who seemed to have further fortified.


The antecedents of the Palghat fort have not being revealed to the world for sake of maintaining the communal harmony is quite understandable. However the fact and traces of the hindu temple and Kalyana mantap now being converted into a museum courtesy ASI is evidence enough for keen observers. Some historians point towards a jain temple too being present in the temple complex which may have crumbled. A proper carbon dating of the pillars would reveal this fact too. The British have modified the Kalyan mantap into a cosy residential house for one of their generals. The pillars of the mantap have been used to construct the residential quarters, which have subsequently modified into a museum by ASI after it took charge of the Fort in 1925 AD. The main building houses a prison for petty crimes.

The fort is built across an area of around 50 acres with a Rhombus plan covering all angles. There are 8 strategic watch towers, surrounded by a moat filled with water. The land around the fort is beautifully landscaped with greenish turf and plants. There is private garden too which is ticketed. It is well endowed with variety of flora.

One hanuman temple is located near the citadel of the fort with an ugly contraption of corrugated sheet protecting the premises against rain and shine. Probably protecting the heritage of vanquished Vijaynagar emperors. The developments may be treated by historians as encroachment but the fact remains that an ancient temple edifice has been modified by the rulers of the time, to suit their strategic interests. The political pressure to maintain status quo has prevented eviction of the temple priest and their family, probably protecting their livelihood more than heritage.

The fort itself is a beautiful bastion constructed with granite stones which could probably withstand the cannon firing from the enemies. The crocodile infested moats have been designed to protect the fort being besieged from all sides. The inner fortress may have been designed to hold around 1000 soldiers, and the outer area would have housed around 20,000 soldiers living in tents and temporary structures for ready movement of troops.

A palace for the kings seems to have been converted into the present day jail. The harems of the queens seems to have crumbled due to lack of maintenance. If one can stretch their imagination there must have been plenty of spicy foods cooked in the premises and abundance of romantic interludes from the time of Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan, Zamorin and the British.

In all probability the French architects were involved in renovation of the Palghat fort like the Forts in Bellary and Sandur. The positioning of the cannon grooves is well executed and planned by the architects taking the safety factor into consideration. There is a well close to the outer edge of the fort wall for drinking water catering to needs of the soldiers.

Overall the Fort symbolizes the defense strategies of medieval times, combined with ancient trade routes formed by Palghat Gap which was the entry point from Eastern to Western coast. The Tamilakam region obviously gave birth to a separate culture which influenced the kerala coast to a large extent. The destruction of the most important trading centre Kodaganallur during 1341 floods paved way for diversion to Kochi harbour, along with Kozhikode port. The visit to Palghat fort does not tax once pocket because there is no enterance fee levied by ASI, which is heartening. One can spend upto 2 hours comfortably closely observing various facets of the Fort, the inner ramparts and outer garden area along the boundary of the moat.

Palghat fort is located bang in the centre of the city. It can be reached by air through Coimbatore, Calicut and Angamalli airport. By train one can reach Palghat from Chennai, Bangalore, Mangalore and Trivandrum which is covering all the four corridors.

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