Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fort Janjira, the impregnable sea fort & Revdanda : A Photo Feature

Note: After the Janjeera article there is an additional note and photographs of Revdanda Fort.

The fort of Janjira lies on an island across the fishing villages of Danda- Rajapuri which are the satellite villages of Murud, located in the Raigad district, around 50 kms from Alibaug. It is almost equidistant from both Mumbai and Pune. The route being via Khopoli. Hence the village is more famously known as Murud Janjira.
Murud is a Konkani word which means the place that dosent get flooded, while Janjira is Arabic in origin and derived from the words Jazeera or Jal Jeera which mean an island.
The island previously had a wooden fortification a.k.a Koshtadurg-medhekot (to act as a watchpost against pirates) and was under the control of the local Koli chief Ram Patil (who owed suzereinty to the king of Chaul - Note: Nizamshah captured Rajapuri in 1490, But Ram Patil held the fort against Nizamshah). It is said that Peeram Khan, an commander of the Nizamshahi sultanate of Ahmednagar, apparently captured this fort by deceit and took Ram Patil a prisoner and sent him to his kings court where he was converted to Islam (renamed Eatbarrao). But on returning back, Ram Patil tried recapturing the fort, was captured and killed(1522).
Later the Nizamshahi Sultan Burhan Khan demolished the wooden fortification and replaced it with a solid stone construction. This was in 1538. Forty feet high and around fifteen feet thick stone walls were constructed around the fort. He named the fort Mehroob Jazeera (or Mehrusa Jazeera or the Moon Island in Arabic, also called Damda by the Portuguese).

Malik Ambar,the Abyssynian general of the Nizamshahi sultanate (during the time of Burhan Nizamshah III) appointed his fellow Abyssinians like Siddi Ambar (present day Ethiopians of Arab-African origins, known in these parts as Habshis) as fort keepers of Janjira (1617). These Abyssinians belonged to the Syed clan and came to be known in the Deccan region as the Siddis.
After the fall of the Nizamshahi sultanate, these Siddis took up service with the Adilshahi Sultanate of Bijapur.
It is said that hundreds of cannons guarded the fort of Janjira, besides the temperemental sea . Therefore,  despite many attempts by the Marathas (under Raghunathrao Ballal,Moropant Pingale,Vyankojipant Datto, Lai Patil in the years 1657,1659,1672,1675), the fort remained beyond their reach. Later the Siddis (Sambal,Qasim,Khairat) shifted their loyalties to the Mughals in order to secure their help during a siege by Shivajis navy (under Sarkhel Daulat Khan). Sensing Mughal help to the Siddis, Shivaji thought it prudent to abandon his plan of capturing Janjira.

Earlier, bowing to the pressure from Shivaji, the forts actual Kiledar Siddi Fatahkhan wanted to surrender the fort. But his lieutenants Siddi Sambal,Siddi Qasim and Siddi Khairat rebelled against him, and put him under bars and continued their stoic resistance against the Marathas. Simultaneously they sought help from the mughals, which came in due course and the marathas had to retreat.
Shivaji later built the fort of Padmadurg in close proximity to Janjira, ostensibly to keep a watch on the activities of the Siddis. However, Shivajis Marathas did manage to capture most  of lands of the Siddis, including Danda Rajapuri, but the Janjira fort continued to remain elusive.

During the reign of Ch.Sambhaji (son of Shivaji) attempts to capture Janjira were renewed. There was one such attempt by Kondaji Farzand, an commander of Sambhaji and another after some of the Siddis like Sambal and his nephew Misri fell out with Qasim and joined the forces of Sambhaji. But all those attempts came to a nought.
The Peshwas during the time of Bajirao I and the Maratha admiral Kanhoji Angre did manage to secure the allegiance of the Siddis for some time. But that was because of their own internal differences, whereby Bajirao supported the cause of one against the other.

Later after the British became the absolute rulers of India, the Siddis accepted their suzerainity and continued to rule the region as its Nawabs. In 1948, Indian freedom fighters liberated Janjira and the last Nawab Muhammed Khan had to escape to Bombay (Mumbai).
Thus the fort of Janjira could never be captured by force, neither by the Marathas, nor by the Europeans.
The fort is spread over 22 acres of land. 

The fort has around 22 bastions .

 Surprisingly the fort has two sweet water tanks amidst the saline sea that surrounds the fort.
The main doorway to the fort is gigantic and has Persian inscriptions carved in white stone. It is aptly called the Maha darwaza (the big gate).It is flanked by two bastions and has a nagarkhana above.

There are also some Gajalaxmi carvings, elephant carvings and  a Sharabha carvings on the main doorway.

The carving at the main entrance where a lion (Abyssinian?) is shown lifting elephants (Indian?) in his paws (probably indicating supremacy of the Siddis over the local Indians).

There is one old structure in its premises called Peer Panchayatan which has some old graves, probably of the Siddis themselves.

Then there is an dilapidated structure known as Surulkhan wada or the palace of the Siddis.

The Siddi later shifted his residence in 1885 to a sea facing castle in Murud, which they constructed in a Indo Saracenic style. This structure exists  till date and still serves as a summer home to their descendents.
There also exists an abandoned masjid in the fort, remnants of a hindu temple besides grainery depots and many crumbling structures.

There also exists the balekilla which is the topmost level of the fort.

The fort walls had hundreds of cannons facing out to the sea. In 1969, around 572 cannons were recovered from the fort. Some are still kept there as relics. The most famous of them being the Kalal Bangdi,Chavari and the Landa Kasam.

The fort also had an emergency exit called Darya darwaza, to be used in case of exigencies.

To reach the fort , there are  several row boats that are available from 7am-6pm (barring Friday noon).
The fort of Janjira is today one of the major attractions of Murud and frequented by thousands of tourists every year. There is accommodation available in Murud as also in the villages  lying between Alibaug and Murud.

In the vicinity are also several pristine beaches, sea forts and medieval temples that are an added attraction.

Kashid Beach (36kms from Alibaug on Murud road):

Rameshwar temple, Chaul:

                                          Pic: Siddhivinayak temple at Nandgaon on Alibaug Murud Road

During the summers the heat and humidity levels are very high. 
Yet this dosent deter the tourists from visiting this grand fort. In the monsoons, the water levels do get unpredictable , hence discretion is always advisable. The best time to visit Janjira would be in the winters.

Revdanda fort was a beach facing fort built in 1558 by a Portuguese captain Soj to watch over their trading interests. It is located in lower Chaul, which one comes across on the Alibaug-Murud road (17kms away from Alibaug). During the Portuguese times it was called Santa Maria de Castelo, but the locals called it Revdanda after Revati the spouse of the Yadava king Balrama. 

The Portuguese stoically defended this fort against many invasions namely in 1570-71 and in 1594. It was captured by the marathas (by the Angres, during the time of Nanasaheb Peshwe) in 1740 ( earlier attempt in 1683, during the time of Ch.Sambhajiraje had failed). In 1806 it was ceded to the East India company and remained in brief control of the Angres in 1817.

Revdanda-Chaul (Chenwal in Konkani language) has a history of 2000 years. Chaul (Simul,Champavati were some of its old names) was ruled in the medieval times by kings like Bhoja (12th cen) and Bimbadev (13th cen). Chaul came under Tughluq in the 14th century , the Bahamani sultans in the 15th century, Nizamshahi in 16th century, Portuguese in the 16/17th century (1505 onwards. In 1508, an combined army of Egyptian Mamluks and Gujrat sultanate defeated the Portuguese. The first Portuguese settlements started in 1521 with the permission of Nizamshah), the Marathas in the 18th century and the British in the 19th century. Chaul always remained a major trading port during the rules of all dynasties.

Portuguese inscription: Year of 1577 - symbol of Captain Alexandre D' Souza Freire - of this fortress - that made this fortification - on the beach and on the sea.

There were also other forts in Chaul like Agarkot of the Nizamshah (destroyed by the Portuguese) , Rajkot built by Sambhaji (destroyed by the Angres in 1748) and Korlai (known to the Portuguese as Morro de Chaul or Rock of Chaul) which still exists in the vicinity on a nearby cliff. Korlai was captured by the Portuguse till 1739 until it was seized by the Marathas.

Revdanda had a chapel where St Francis Xaviers delivered one of his earliest sermons in the Indian subcontinent. Revdanda was also the first place in India where Afanasy Nikitin, the first Russian traveller landed .
Today all that remains in Revdanda Fort are Palm and betel nut trees and a dilapidated storeyed structures.

Text and photographs : Abhijit Rajadhyaksha


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