Chitradurga – Echoes of a glorious past


About 200 km from Bangalore is a unique medieval fort called the Chitradurga Fort. It is replete with interesting legends of its invincibility, and the machinations employed by Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore, who eventually captured it. Chitradurga also boasts of prehistoric settlements, unique temples, tanks and caves, and is a worthy weekend getaway, for both the history buff, and the eager tourist.

I had a deep desire to see Chitradurga. Chitradurga you see, is touted as one of the complete medieval forts in the State still standing proud and erect. All other forts that I have seen, be it the Bangalore Fort or the fort at Devanahalli, are only partial remnants of the fortified stone structures they originally were.

So on a Sunday morning I set out towards Chitradurga. The town is around 200 km from Bangalore and is a scenic drive on the Bangalore-Chitradurga Highway, crossing towns like Tumkur and Sira. Dozens of windmills greet you as you near Chitradurga. The hills of Chitradurga are saturated with windmills. The nearby Joggimatti forests are a hub of these turbines.

The town of Chitradurga is quaint and charming. Small one-storeyed homes greet you – most of them old. Unlike the city of Bangalore, high rise apartments have not yet replaced old structures. The town has remnants of the past. I can see scattered colonial structures, lime-mortar buildings, and surprise fort walls too. As I near the fort, I am taken completely by surprise. Ramparts, bastions, watchtowers, gateways stare at me, and I am impressed. The Fort of Chitradurga looks impregnable. And it looks unsurmountable. From what I had read, the fort defended the city and its people until the end. It was only due to treason and betrayal that it lost, and was captured by Hyder Ali, the Muslim ruler of Mysore.

The impregnable fort

Consider this. The stone fort has seven lines of defences. There are 19 main gates, seven bastions, 35 secret entrances. A moat surrounds the fort. The fort walls are around 8-15 metres high. There are bastions at regular intervals, some circular, some square, and some octagonal. The gateways inside the fort were said to be spiked, and were accessible at 90 degree turns. The idea was to prevent attacks from elephants. The fort walls have loopholes that were used by soldiers to fire the advancing enemies. Some guard rooms were hidden between walls and unless pointed to, were not visible to naked eye.

There are granaries, tanks, oil reservoirs showing you how self-sufficient the fort was. In some places inside the fort there are mud walls still standing. This is not all. The water storage system inside the fort was so ingeniously designed that even if there were no rains the, fort residents could survive for 12 years. No wonder Hyder Ali had to use bribery and other means to learn its secrets and bring the fort down.

So, who ruled this place? And who constructed this strong fortress?

Mythological tales of Chitradurga

The name Chitradurga means picturesque fort. The rocks and boulders of the hills form myriad shapes, and hence the name. I saw an elephant shaped rock; high above I could make out other shapes – boat, frog, a serpent’s hood, etc. Rocks and boulders are plenty, and they have been used quite effectively in the construction of the fort and its structures.

Chitradurga is not a new city. It is quite ancient. In fact, it first appears in the tales of Mahabharata. Then it was known as Hidimbapatna. A demon named Hidimbasura roamed these hills. As he was a man-eater, he caused quite a terror in the villages around. He was killed by Bhīma, one of the Pandava brothers. Bhīma had come along with his mother during their course of exile. Bhima then married the demon’s sister Hidimbi, and had a son Ghatotkacha. As proof of Bhima’s combat with Hidimbasura, two of Hidimba’s teeth are said to be preserved in Hidimbeshwara, and the nearby Siddheswara Temple. Shiva Lingas were also established by Pandava brothers at Chitradurga. They are the Hidimbeshwara, Dharmeshwara, Bhimeshwara, Phalguneshwara and Sahadeshwara.

History of Chitradurga

Chitradurga boasted of prehistoric settlements. Brahmagiri and Chandravalli caves nearby are witness to prehistoric remains like tools and pottery. Later, the Chitradurga region probably came under Maurya rule as Ashoka’s inscriptions have been found near Chitradurga.

In most parts of Deccan, Satavahana rule followed Mauryas. Coins from this period have been found at Chandravalli and Brahmagiri. After the fall of the Satavahanas, Chitradurga town seems to have come under the rule of Kadambas. There are early inscriptions of this period found in Chitradurga district. At Chandravalli, a Kadamba inscription talks about the construction of a tank by King Mayurasharma. Other dynasties like Rashtrakutas, Chalukyas, and Hoysalas followed. Rashtrakuta inscritpions, and Hoysala inscriptions during the rule of Ballala II and later have been found. There are inscriptions from Vijayanagar times as well. These are present in the Siddheshwara Temple inside Chitradurga Fort. The upper storey of Siddheshwara Temple was built during the time of Mallinatha Wodeyar, and two inscriptions dated 1355 and 1356 have been found here.

The Nayakas of Chitradurga

The 14-16th century saw the rise of Vijayanagara kings in South India. To keep their region in control Vijayanagara kings supported local chiefs or Palegars who controlled their regions, and in return these chieftains collect- ed taxes, maintained law and order, and supported the kings. Chitradurga too was under chieftains known as Nayakas. They were from the Beda caste, and according to one version had their origins in southern Andhra Pradesh. There were 13 Nayaka kings, and each of them contributed to building of the majestic Chitradurga Fort.

One of the first chieftains of Chitradurga was Timmanna Nayaka. Initially he was the chieftain of Holalkere during the time of Vijayanagara King Saluva Narasimha. Later, he was made the chieftain of Chitradurga. However, during his final days, he was imprisoned by the king. His son Obbanna Nayaka ruled next. He strengthened the existing fort of Chitradurga. And he declared himself an independent king when Vijayanagara kingdom collapsed in 1565. Then his son Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka came to power in 1602. He expanded his territory to include Holalkere, Santebenoor.

In 1652 he died, and after his death Madakari Nayaka I came to power and expanded his territory to the east. As he had no son, his adopted son Obbanna Nayaka II came to power. However, he was murdered, and his son was brought into power. He too was killed in 1676.

Then Madakari Nayaka’s brother Chikanna Nayaka came to power. He defeated the Muslims who had attacked Harihara, fought against Palegar of Harapanahalli, and established marriage alliances with neighbouring regions such as Rayadurga. After his death in 1686, his son Madakari Nayaka II came to power. But he was put to prison by the Dalawayis and Rangapa Nayaka was crowned king. After him came Brahmappa Nayaka who ruled from 1686 to 1721. He was a popular king and he built numerous tanks, around 30 temples, and four palaces.

After him came the Nayaka King Madakari Nayaka III and he was constantly engaged in battle with Marathas, and Palegars of Savanoor, Bidnoor and Harapanahalli. He was killed in the battlefield at Mayaconda, and his second son Kasturi Rangappa came to power.

Madakari Nayaka – a courageous Nayaka king

After his death in 1754, his adopted son Madakari Nayaka was declared king in 1755. When he ascended Chitradurga, he was only 12. Not only he had to fight with neighbouring Palegars, but he also had to deal with Hyder Ali and Maratha troops. He first defeated the Palegar of Rayadurga. Later, Rayadurga Palegar teamed up with Savanoor, Bidnoor and Harapanahalli Palegars. But the brave Madakari Nayaka still defeated them. Hyder Ali came with a huge army to defeat him. Madakari Nayaka on seeing his strength paid two lakh pagodas and avoided war. Their relationship turned friendly after this, and he supported Hyder Ali in the Bidnoor campaign. Pleased with him, Hyder Ali gifted land, horses etc. And he also helped him win against the Marathas.

However, Hyder Ali did not trust Madakari Nayaka and was always suspicious of him. This made Madakari Nayaka change loyalties and support the Marathas, thus making Hyder Ali his staunch enemy. Hyder Ali attacked Chitradurga three times. In the first attack he was unable to enter the fort. In the second battle he took the help of Rayadurga and Harapanahalli Palegars. But the fort did not budge. He heard about a small passageway at the north of the fort. This passageway was used by locals in transferring milk and curds to the inhabitants of the fort. He decided to send his soldiers through the passageway. And that’s when Onake Obavva intervened and defended the fort.

The story of Onake Obavva

Obavva was the wife of a guard of Chitradurga Fort. One afternoon when he departed for lunch, his wife went to get water from a stream nearby. She heard muffled noises coming from the small fort passageway nearby. This passage- way was generally used by locals to transfer milk/curds to the inhabitants of the fort. However on this day, Hyder Ali had learnt about the passageway and sent his soldiers to get inside the fort. Obavva heard the soldiers trying to get in and she gathered up a pestle (onake in Kannada) and stood adjacent to the passageway. When a soldier entered through the hole, she struck on his head and dragged him out. When her husband finished his lunch and came out to take his place he was shocked to see the bodies of soldiers nearby, and his gentle wife with pestle in his hands. He immediately climbed the bugle tower above and sounded the bugle, thus alerting the soldiers about the enemy’s entry. The fort was saved. However Obavva is said to have died during this confrontation.

In 1776, Hyder Ali lured soldiers in the name of religion, money, jewels, and land. And managed to learn all the secrets of the fort. He made soldiers open doors of the fort and attacked. He imprisoned Madakari Nayaka and took him to Srirangapatna. The king’s two wives committed suicide jumping into the twin ponds of Chitradurga. The Bedas were moved from Chitradurga to Srirangapatna, and were absorbed in his army.

Hyder controlled the fort. The lower parts of the fort were strengthened by Hyder and his son Tipu Sultan. After Tipu Sultan’s death in 1799, the fort served as a garrison for the English troops for some time. It later went into the hands of Mysore.

This then is the story of the fort. To see all the attractions of Chitradurga it takes half a day at least.

Attractions of Chitradurga

You will see plenty of interesting things inside the fort.

Mud walls of the fort: The yesteryear mud walls are still standing. They have survived for more than 100 years. The mint room of the fort where they used to mint coins is one such place that has mud walls. Mud is simply not used for the walls. The mud is first soaked in water, then kneaded well; egg shells, pottery, jaggery are added to increase their strength. It is then used to make the wall or shaped into bricks, left to dry, and then used.

Temples: Enroute you will see many temples. Some interest- ing ones are Hidembeshwara, Sampige Siddeshwara, Ganesha, Gopal Krishna Temple and Ekanatheshwari. You will also see the ancient Murugarajendra Mutt.

There are some 14th century inscriptions found at the cave temple of Sampige Sidheshwara. The 1355 and 1356 inscriptions mention that the swing and Gali mantapa near the temple was constructed by a mason Jadeya Ramoja. It further mentions that the grant of two villages was given for the upkeep of the temple worship and rituals during the reign of Mallinatha Wodeyar – a feudal lord during Vijayanagara times.

In some temples you will also see carvings of traditional games. There are square and triangular shaped drawings. The games generally people played were Aadu-Huli and Navakankari. These were strategy games and were played using stones, beads or tamarind seeds.

Tanks: The water harvesting system of the fort was ingenious- ly done. You can see this when you near the twin ponds, Akka Honda and Thangi Honda. Akka means elder, and Thangi means younger sister, in the local language.

Two hundred metres above these twin ponds is the Gopalswamy Tank. This pond next to Gopal Krishna Temple, is at a higher elevation. The pond collects water from the rains and the hills. Excess water from this pond drains into Akka Honda, and from there filters to Thangi Honda. The surplus from here goes downstream and reaches another tank known as Sihineeru Honda, i.e., found at the lower fort area. From here through an underground conduit it flows to the town.

Apart from this there are other attractions not to be missed.

Chitradurga Archaeological Museum This is near the east main gate of the fort, and is inside the town. The museum has some 2nd century pottery from Chandravalli, Jain figurines, gods and goddesses from 14-16th century, hero stones, etc. For lack of space some of the figurines are kept outside of the museum as well.

Chandravalli Caves Chandravalli is a triangular shaped valley holding a lot of secrets. It was named after a king of Kuntala-Chandrahasa. Pottery, coins and inscriptions have been found here by archaeologists. It is said to been the capital of Satavahanas. The chief attraction of this place is the 80-feet underground Chandravalli Caves. It was the dwelling of many kings – Kadambas, Satavahana, Hoysala, etc. It was also inhabited by a saint Pardeshappa, in the 19th century. The caves have a number of rooms like the puja room, bedroom and a secret room too, that was used by royals for secret meetings. There are some vegetable dyed paintings found on the walls of the caves. Nearby is the Panchalinga Cave that has Shiva Lingas.

Chitradurga makes a very good weekend getaway from Bangalore. It is a history rich place. But caves, ruins and inscriptions make it all the more a colourful destination for a day visit.

Usha Hariprasad

Usha Hariprasad is a freelancer who is fond of travelling, discovering new places and writing about travel related destinations around Bangalore at Citizen Matters. Currently, she works in a trekking organisation.