The Kittur Fort as we see now lies in total ruins. All that remain to this great legacy are some dilapidated walls and a lot of history.
The Kittur Fort is located around 30kms from the city of Belgaum,Karnataka state. One has to take the national highway and after an half our journey, turn left towards the town of Kittur.
On entering the town, one is greeted by the majestic statue of Rani Chennamma the legendery Dowager Queen of Kittur who challenged the might of the colonial British empire way back in the nineteenth century.
She was the second wife of the king Mallasaraja of Kittur, who impressed with her beauty and daunting spirit had fallen in love with her and made her his second Queen.
The Kittur dynasty was established by two brothers, Hiremallashetty and Chickamallashetty of Sagar,Shimoga district, who were in the service of Sultan Adilshah. In 1586 AD, the sultan conferred the regions of Kittur and its adjoining areas, as a jagir to the brothers.
Initially their capital was Sampagaon, but during the rule of Mudimallapa Desai their sixth ruler, the capital was changed to Kittur.He constructed this grand fort of Kittur including a large palace that acted as his residence. But it was under the eleventh ruler Mallasaraja that Kittur came to be called as the welfare state.
The news of the prosperity of Kittur state had reached the ears of the Maratha Peshwa Bajirao II , and he wanted to annex this small kingdom to his dominion.
He therefore invited Mallasaraja to meet him and then treacherously imprisoned Mallasaraja, who later died in Maratha captivity.
Shivalinga Rudrasaraja, the son of Mallasaraja became the subsequent king under the regency of his stepmother Rani Chenamma.
By then the Maratha empire had collapsed and the British were in power.
Rani Chenamma had adopted her stepson Shivalingappa and was ruling on his behalf, something which the British East India company had found unacceptable.
The British were always looking to interfere in the affairs of the princely states . As was the earlier practice, if a ruler had no heirs, they would adopt someone to succeed them. But the British abolished this practice and used such oppurtunities to annex the kingdoms to their provinces.
Rani Chennamma was one of the early rulers who protested against this law which she found very unjust and a gross breach of trust.
She therefore challenged the British might and as a result of which, Thackeray, the British collector of Dharwad, marched against Kittur on 22nd Oct, 1824.
But the Rani and her valliant forces thwarted this attack and routed the British army.
Her bodyguard Amatur Ballapa even killed the collector,Thackeray in battle.
But the victory proved shortlived. The British, incensed after their initial defeat, attacked in a couple of months,this time with a larger force and captured the fort of Kittur.
They held the Queen Chennamma in captivity at the fort of Bailhongal, where she was to languish for five long years.
Meanwhile, Chennammas aide,Sangolli Rayanna had kept on the heroic struggle against the British. But as fate would have it,his own kins betrayed him to the British , and he was executed in 1829.
Immediately after this incident, the Queen too, apparently disheartened, lost the will to live and she breathed her last in prison on 2nd February 1829.
During the war at Kittur, the British virtually destroyed the fort. However a few broken down walls still remain as testament of this great fort.
The fort still has a well preserved rampart and a few bastions. The surrounding moat still remains, but is now without any water and more of a vacant depression with sprouted grass and wild vegetation and serves as a grazing ground for the cattle.
There was said to be some woodwork and carved pillars, but they have in due course been apparently been gifted away.
One can still see the royal kitchen with its own unique exhaust system, some small wells for drawing water.
Then there is the armoury, which was said to have been first to be occupied by the British, before they seiged rest of the fort.
There is also a large swimming pool apparently used by the royals. Just outside the palace ruins lies the temple of the gramadaivat (village deity),
and alongside is a museum specially created by the Karnataka government,
which displays various artefacts belonging to the Kittur royal dynasty,
besides several arms that were in use then.
There is also a section in the museum where stone inscriptions, statues, carvings (including a Gajalaxmi viz. Godess Laxmi flanked by two elephants, a carving of vyals or mythical lion like creatures),
veergals (hero stones dedicated to the martyrs) belonging to Kittur times and the period of the ancient Kalyani Chalukyas are on display.
The fort ruins are well preserved amidst a beautiful garden, which has a well maintained lawn and a very hospitable security guards who very eagerly explain the details and history of the fort to visiting tourists.
The Kittur fort indeed serves as a memory to its most valiant queen.
Text and Photographs: Abhijit Rajadhyaksha