Steeped in history

Steeped in history

Historic fort

Or, how many even know of it is a point to be pondered over. For, this nondescript town in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh has a hill fortress steeped in history.

According to a popular legend, Chandragiri, which translates as ‘Hill of the Moon’, was named so after the Moon God undertook a penance here to please Lord Shiva. But the historic account of the place is more recent and eventful.

The fort was built in 11th century, during the reign of Yadavarayas, who ruled for nearly three centuries. By 1367 AD, the kings of Vijayanagar empire shifted their capital here from Penukonda which was attacked by the Golconda sultanates. Chandragiri thrived under the rule of the Saluva lineage of Vijayanagar kings, especially Saluva Narasimha Raya, who by virtue of his able and wise administration earned the title of Mahamandaleshwara. This was the golden period when the empire reached its zenith.

The fort was reinforced and new structures were added to make it one of the most powerful bastions. The  granite hill, rising to 183 meters with the upper fort, was well protected from attacks by building an enclosure for the lower fort in which the Raja Mahal and the Rani Mahal for the king and queen respectively were built.

To guard it further from intruders, a cyclopean wall and a deep moat were also constructed all around the fort. In 1646, the fort was annexed and held  by the Golconda chiefs who lost it to Mysore rulers subsequently. Hyder Ali took control of the fort in 1783 and 10  years later it was ceded to the British.

Thereafter, the importance of the fortress waned and it went into oblivion. But the imposing and attractive edifices built by the kings of yore have stood the test of time as monuments of history. Being connoisseurs of art and architecture, the Vijayanagar rulers had also built as many as eight temples, some Shaivite and some Vaishnavite, within the precincts of the fort.

Today, the cynosure of the place are two structures, viz., the Raja Mahal and the Rani Mahal. Raja Mahal, as the name suggests, was the palace where the kings lived. Constructed with lime, mortar and brick with minimal usage of timber, the three-storeyed palace was raised in an Indo-Saracenic style with the façade lined with pointed arches. The pillars too were decorated with stucco images and leafy designs which are intact even today. The roof is crowned with three-stepped pyramidal towers.

Though its historical significance faded, the palace began to gain more importance when the Archaeological Survey of India converted it into a museum. The three floors house various artifacts from vases to weapons to coins and costumes. True to the name of the palace, the Durbar Hall houses the life-size image of the illustrious Vijayanagar king, Sri Krishnadevaraya, with his consorts, Chinnadevi and Tirumaladevi.

A few galleries are earmarked to exhibit stone sculptures and historic documents. In fact, documents regarding the granting of a site at Fort St George in Chennai to the British East India Company was signed here. The museum collection has been enriched with numerous artifacts like microliths, pottery shreds excavated from nearby sites and idols made from bronze and panchaloha, an alloy of gold, silver, copper, brass and lead.

Outside the museum  is an array of herostones, sculptures and cannons.  The two-storeyed Rani Mahal, though meant for the queens, appears more like a stable with its upper floor being the commander’s quarters. This is less extravagant in appearance. A small tank with boating facility and sprawling lawns have made this a picnic spot too. The sound and light show in the evening will surely take one back in time.