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No defence against negligence

Last updated: 02 January, 2011
Raju Gavali, Belgaum, Jan 2, DHNS : 23:18 IST

Crumbling edifice

The Belgaum Fort, located at the foothills of Sahyadri Range and marking the entrance to the city, may soon become part of history if the State Government and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) do not take urgent steps for its conservation.

The Belgaum Fort, which survived many an attack, may soon give in to official apathy. DH PHOTOBuilt in Indo-Saracenic and Deccan style with stones and mud, with a wide moat around it during the 13th century, the fort survived many attacks during its eight centuries of existence. But the fort may soon give in, if the government and the ASI do not pay attention to its revival.

The Territorial Army, located in the premises of the fort, has conserved artefacts and monuments in its premises. The government and ASI, though, haven’t bothered to take a leaf out of the Territorial Army’s book.

The walls of the fort have begun to give in at some places, with weeds growing all over them. Residents say that immediate steps are needed to bring the walls back to their original condition. Built by Jaya Raya, also called Bichi Raja, an ally of the Ratta Dynasty, in 1204 AD, the fort underwent several renovations over the centuries under different rulers. It is one of the oldest forts in the state with fortifications designed to repel attacks of invading armies.

Located in an undulating plain land, the fort is oval in shape and is surrounded by a deep and wide moat of soft red stone. The outside of the fort is a broad esplanade with bastions rising to about 32 feet from the bottom of the moat.

Inside, the fort is 1,000 yards in length and 800 yards in width. Two massive bastions flanked by a large gate, which was originally an entry gate through a bridge, have since been blocked. The gate now in use is considered a fine specimen of Indian architecture.

It has a guard chamber, a "groined roof once ornamented with pendants".

The exterior of the gate is decorated with large motifs of animals and birds. The gateway is covered by massive doors made of iron and designed for defence. An inscription on the top of the arch of the gate, in Persian, ascribes its construction to Jakub Ali Khan. It reads: Jakub Ali Khan, who is a joy to the heart, by whose benevolence the world is prosperous, built the wall of the fort from its base as strong as the barrier of Sicardis.

It was in 1631 AD that the main gate of the fort was built. The western gate, with an archway, is guarded only by a chain stretched across two old cannons and provides access from a sloping road crossed by a causeway over the moat.

Architectural influence

The fort has Hindu, Jain and Muslim architectural influence with temples and mosques located within its limits, indicating cultural syncretism. The architectural styles seen in the mosques are of the Indo-Saracenic and Deccan type.

The fort's history is traced to the Ratta Dynasty with lineage to the Rashtrakuta Dynasty (earlier chieftains of Savadatti who later shifted their capital to Belgaum), Vijayanagar emperors, Bijapur Sultans or Bahamanis, Marathas (Shivaji and Peshwas) and finally to the British in that order. Prior to Rattas, Shatavahanas, Chalukyas and Kadambas from Goa had ruled the region.

Recently, when people took to the streets against the move to construct offices and residential quarters by the Income Tax Department on the periphery of the fort, ASI stalled the construction. The protestors had condemned the Cantonment Board for selling off the land adjacent to the monument to the IT Department.

Perhaps, it will take more protests for the government and ASI to take towards the fort’s conservation.

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