On a mission to protect cannons

History of forts in Deccan offers a unique view

On a mission to protect cannons
Cannons have changed the course of history. Today, cannons are rich pieces of heritage which provide a lot of information about history and wars that have been fought in the last few centuries. Cannons of Deccan region have their own importance and they throw light on various kingdoms in this part of the sub-continent.

Dr Tejas Garge, the Director of Archaeology and Museums of the Maharashtra government, who is an authority of cannons, is on a mission and wants common man to be aware of their importance. He is making all efforts to ensure that every cannon is preserved, conserved and protected.

“Cannons are something that are close to my heart,” he said. “To go to the history of cannons, one has look at the history of gunpowder, which came to be used in China in the 9th century. It was a mix of saltpetre (potassium nitrate), phosphorous and charcoal,” he said. They were initially used for amusement and fireworks. With changes in society, they were used in firepower for destructive purposes. “There are evidences of bombs made of gunpowder filled in terracotta shells,” he said. Subsequently it was used in arrow-heads. “The gunpowder was filled inside bamboo and shots were fired. The bamboo was wrapped in metal sticks before the cannons came into use,” he said.

The Ottomen Empire of Turkey made some of the finest cannons with alloys. “The Dardanelles Gun or Great Turkish Bombard that was cast in 1464 was one of the finest and biggest cannons of those times,” he said. Deccan comprising Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Telangana, parts of Andhra Pradesh and northern Tamil Nadu gives a unique perspective on cannons because of the rulers and their interaction with other countries.

Garge said that in India cannons were used effectively for the first time by Babur in the First Battle of Panipat from April 12-19, 1526 against the army of Ibrahim Lodhi. “The earliest cannons were made of bronze, while the Europeans introduced wrought and cast iron cannons during the 18th century,” said Garge.

“We go to Goa and Miramar beach but we hardly see the Campal cannon,” he said. The Portuguese brought it in 1499 much before 1526. In the war between Portuguese and Adil Shahis in 1509 cannons were used. “There are evidences of Sultanate in North India using it before Babur came. The big difference is that Babur used it most effectively,” he said.

In 1528, in the Battle of Khanwa, between Rana Sanga and Babur, the cannons played a massive role in the victory of the founder of Mughal dynasty. “If we look at the cannons of Deccan, we will find that these were made by Turkish, Dutch, French and the Britishers,” he said. Over the years there has been changes from copper and alloys to iron. “It has developed over the years as warfare too changed,” he said. Ausa, Paranda, Naldurg and Udgir forts in southern Maharashtra have some of the finest cannons.

Some of the finest cannons of Deccan are at Malik-e-Maidan (Bijapur now Vijayapura), Qila Shikan (Daulatabad). “The Malik-e-Maidan or the Lord of the Battlefield is one of the biggest cannons. It was cast in Ahmednagar, taken to Paranda and then Bijapur. The unusual feature of the gun is that its muzzle is shaped in the form of a lion head with carved open jaws,” he said. It is also called Burj-e-Sherz and was erected by Ibrahim Adil Shah II. It was named after the Battle of Talikota of 1565 in which the Vijayanagar empire was routed.

“The Qila Shikan or Breaker of Forts or Mendha Tope was made by Muhammed Hussain Arab. Aurangzeb’s name is engraved as “Abul Zafar Muhiuddin Muhammad Aurangzeb Bahadur Alamgir Badshah Gazi.” It’s a composite cannon. This too was one of the most effective cannons. The Cascabel is in the form of a ram and hence the name Mendha Tope, he said. It has a barrel of wrought iron and casing of bronze. “In fact, Aurangzeb had used such cannons,” he pointed out.

The Murud Janjira fort (Raigad) too has some of the effective cannons of those times. The Kalak Bangadi is one of them. In fact, the Murud Janjira Fort built by Siddi Johar was never conquered. “As far as the Marathas were concerned, they preferred and used smaller cannons which they could transport from one place to another because of their style of warfare,” he said.

Garge said that these cannons offer a unique view to history. “I want to ensure that every cannon is protected,” he said. More literature on cannons needs to be published. “Besides, we need models of brass cannons or of other material, which people can purchase from souvenir shops,” he said, adding that would perhaps stay in the shelf or showcase.

He wants that the mounts also have to be protected. “There needs to be more research on these cannons like who made them, who brought them, who used them, whether they were shifted from one fort to another, the type of metal and so on. There are inscriptions on the cannons which too tell a lot,” he said.

“In fact, we must remember, heavy artillery has changed history and we need to acknowledge it,” said Garge. “Some of the cannons are in a pathetic condition and they cry for attention,” he added. He is also planning geo-tags for all the cannons of importance and put up boards giving details to help the public understand better.

According to Garge, the history of forts in Deccan offers a unique view of how they passed several hands, captured and recaptured. Cannons were of strategic importance and added to the war-fighting capabilities or giving an impregnable defence system. “It would not be wrong to say that cannons are pieces of engineering marvels,” he said. Also cannon was placed at a particular place depending on its easy reach. Some cannons are at citadel of forts. “While studying the cannons we must also study the cannon balls,” the archaeologist stressed.

He pointed out that in some large forts like Vasai there is not a single trace of cannon. However, in forts like Daulatabad and Murud Janjira these are protected. “The cannons that we have range from large to heavy guns to medium Howitzers and handguns. These are made of bronze or iron, both wrought and cast. We have muzzle loading cannons and breech loading cannons. Some cannons were made here and many purchased from British, Dutch and Portuguese,” he said.
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