The forts of Purandar and Vajragad are located around 35 kilometres from Pune. They are located atop the mountain called Indraneel. They can be accessed via Pune-Saswad highway (near Saswad) as well as Pune-Satara highway(near Khed Shivapur), as they lie across the road (between Narayanpur and Kapurhol villages) connecting these highways.
Purandar is another name of Lord Indra, the king of Gods (destroyer of the ‘Pur’ i.e cities of the demons) and the ‘Vajra’ happens to be his weapon. Vajragad previously also went by the name ‘Rudramal’. It is believed that Indra obtained his weapon Vajra after penancing to the god, Lord Shiva on this very mountain which came to be known as Indraneel.
One folklore says that while Lord Hanuman attempted to carry the Dronagiri parvat, a portion of it fell down and came to be known as Indraneel parvat.
It is still unclear as to who built this fort. But it was most likely constructed by the Seuna Yadava kings of Devagiri.
The earliest record on Purandar shows that fort Purandar was captured by one Chandrasen Deshpande of Bidar for the Bahamani sultans. Later it was streangthened by the Bahamani King, Hasan Gangu, way back in 1350. Later it changed hands to the Nizamshahi kingdom of Ahmednagar and the Adilshahi Kingdom of Bijapur.
It is said that when the forts ramparts were being constructed, for some reason, the wall structure kept crumbling. So to appease the deities, a young couple was buried alive in the confines as was the superstition in those times.
When Shahajiraje (the father of Chhatrapati Shivaji maharaj) was the jagirdar of Pune and Supa (during the times of Nizamshahi as well as Adilshahi), this fort lay within the boundary of his fiefdom , though its actual control was in the hands of Bijapur sultanate. Adilshah had appointed Mahadji Nilkanth Naikwadi as the killedar or the fort in charge. When Shivajiraje as a young man took on the might of the sultanate, he is said to have taken refuge in the confines of this very fort, after Adilshah dispatched his army to punish the upstart (1649). Mahadji Nilkanth may have allowed Shivaji this security out of loyalty towards Shahaji, but he had no intention of giving Shivaji the charge of the fort. Later when Mahadji Nilkanth died, a property dispute arose amongst his sons (Niloji,Shankarji and Pilaji). Shivaji always aspired for this strong fort and on the pretext of solving the dispute, he took control of Purandar(1654). Mahadjis sons were said to have been compensated with inams of the villages nearby and positions in his army.
Later when troops under the Adilshahi commander, Fateh Khan laid siege on Fort Purandar, Shivajis army led by Baji Pasalkar defended the fort. Baji Pasalkar (also known as the man who taught Shivaji the art of warfare along with Kanhoji Jedhe and Dadoji Kondeo) was martyred during this time.
In 1657, Saibai bore Shivaji his eldest son Sambhaji on this very fort.
In 1665, the mughals under Diler Khan laid seige to this fort. Shivaji lost his gallant killedar Murar Baji Deshpande, defending the fort. Shivaji later had to cede this fort (along with twenty two other forts) to the mughal general,Mirza raje Jaisingh as per the treaty of Purandar that took place at the foothills of this fort.
Shivaji’s commander , Nilopant Muzumdar recaptured this fort in 1670. This fort remained with Shivaji until his death in 1680.
However in a few years the mughals recaptured this fort (they renamed it Azamgad) and it remained with them until, Rani Tarabai, the wife of Rajaram, Shivajis youngest son captured this fort.
Later, the fort came under the control of the Peshwas (1695), who were the prime ministers of the marata chhatrapatis. Peshwa Sawai Madhavrao’s birth also took place on Purandar in 1774. Later, after the death of Sawai Madhavrao in 1795, Nana Phadanvis, his regent sought refuge in this fort anticipating an invasion by Daulatrao Scindia.
Purandar was later captured in 1818 by the British , who used this fort as an army barrack and later as a prisnorer of war camp during the second world war (a German POW Dr Goetz who was imprisoned here has written extensively about this fort). It remained so until India gained independence in 1947. Since then, the fort is used by the National Cadet Corps as its make shift camp.
The fort is divided in two levels. The first is the machi (base) which houses some structures which were previously in use by the British army.
It includes two churches, two artificial ponds vizthe Padmavati tank and Rajale tank which was built by Chhatrapati Shivaji himself.
One can take ones vehicle right upto the machi, through an entrance called the Binni darwaza, which acted then as a checkpost.
On the way one also comes across the samadhi of the valorous Murar Baji Deshpande along with his imposing statue.
One has to pass through the Purandareshwar Mahadev mandir , in order to find the man made route to Purandar. One has to climb for around half an hour to reach the top of Purandar fort.
One passes through the Sar darwaza or Dilli darwaza and the Dhal buruj (bastion) to enter the fort.
One finds several dilapidated structures which included the Rajsadar or house of the fort keeper , the Ambarkhana or the grainery, Rajgadi (located on a hillock)or the royal quarters, water cisterns and the Kedareshwar temple (located on an hillock).
The fort is enclosed within a well defined stone wall interrupted by bastions like Fateh buruj, Koknya buruj (its has a dilapidated room near it) and Shendri buruj. There is also another entrance to the fort through one Kedar darwaza (near Fateh buruj).
It takes at least an hour or two to study the entire fort.
To reach Vajragad, (which is a twin and a much smaller fort compared to Purandar) one takes the route through the barracks (across a Shivaji statue, located on the lower level machi).Bhairavkhind separates Purandar from Vajragad. The fort is characterised by its unique rock formations.
The road is rather rough and one has to pass through thorny bushes to reach Vajragad.
Vajragad has a Vajreshwar temple, a Hanuman temple and some water cisterns. The entire fort is surrounded by a stone wall.
Fort Purandar has immense historical significance and is a must visit for all history lovers and trekkers.
Text and Photographs: Abhijit Rajadhyaksha