Wednesday 23 April 2014
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Shimoga's bamboo town beckons

TRAVEL

Nagara, a quiet town in Shimoga district, has a 16th-century fort, which is said to be the legacy of the Nayakas of Keladi, writes B V Prakash

Nagara is a quiet town located in the pristine Malnad forests of Shimoga district. Though it had various ancient names like Mudugoppa and Venupura, the name of Bidarahalli seems to have stayed for a while.

The name was most appropriate thanks to the rich bamboo forests around (bidiru means bamboo). Over time, the town became Bidanur.

The 16th-century fort here right beside the town on the highway is the legacy of a powerful dynasty, the Nayakas of Keladi.  While the Vijayanagar empire was on its decline, the Keladi rulers, feudatories of the former, began gaining importance.


For two-and-a-half centuries, this dynasty reigned supreme and thwarted the advances of Muslim rulers and the Portuguese, and produced some brave, illustrious rulers like Queen Chennamma and Shivappa Nayaka. 

During his regime from 1645-1660 AD, Shivappa Nayaka, known as a disciplinarian ruler, brought about land reforms and expanded the territories of Keladi kingdom to as far as Hassan, Karkala and Tarikere. Above all, he was instrumental in making many a reinforcement to the fort at Bidanur, the capital. The fort is named after him.

The Hyder connection

His successors too held sway over the fort till 1763 AD when Hyder Ali, the Mysore king invaded Bidanur with the help of Chitradurga’s Nayakas and conquered it. He also renamed Bidanur as Hyder Nagar after himself, which, in the course of time, was shortened to Nagara as we call it today. The fort is moderate in size and stands at ground level. The main entrance from the north is a gradually rising stoned ramp that runs between two massive circular bastions.

Unlike other forts, the use of ramps instead of steps, is common here. The outer wall has a high parapet with innumerable musket holes.  The lofty wooden door flanked by guard rooms leads to a courtyard protected by an inner wall.  Between the walls runs a deep moat all around. The tiny shrine of Hanuman sits on raised ground in the west.

Ruins of a palace

The two squarish stepwells are known as ‘Sisters’ Ponds’. A little further to the left are the remains of a palace that once existed here. All that remains now are the foundations of several rooms and steps. The open ground towards the west is said to be the place where citizens were given an audience by the king.

Beyond this open area is a hillock with one more ramp along the western wall. It leads to the top where a strong watch tower stands. There are also small niches that served as guard rooms.

The bastions in the northwest have bay windows constructed in such a way that people in the fort could have a direct view of the Neelakanteshwara temple outside. The entire outer wall is hexagonal, punctuated by circular and square bastions. A lone rusting cannon lies abandoned at the top. The few cave-like depressions on the southern wall might have been escape routes.  

The authorities concerned are reinforcing the weak structures and supporting leaning walls of this protected monument.

Getting there

Nagara is 86 km west of Shimoga, which is well connected by trains and buses. From Bangalore, drive up to Shimoga on NH 206 and take the road to Kollur.

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