Crumbling fortress of Malnad

Crumbling fortress of Malnad

An introspection into the history of Karnataka reveals that the Malnad region was the centrestage for many dynasties, their kingdoms  and  capitals in the post-medieval period. The high hills surrounded by impenetrable jungles were safe and secluded thereby making them ideal for building fortresses. The Nagadevathe, or the snake shrine was built to guard the palace treasures.  Left: A spacious palace with seven tiers was once part of the crumbling fortress of Kavaledurga.

The tall rocky hill at Kavaledurga close to Thirthahalli in Shimoga district is one such location, where a magnificent fort had been built by the rulers of Belagutti region as long back as the ninth century. Centuries later, two local chieftains Thole Thamma and Mundige Thamma occupied it and extorted people.

In the meanwhile, the kings of Keladi dynasty who were feudatory  rulers of the Vijayanagar empire became independent with the fall of Vijayanagar. Constantly confronted by the Mughals, they moved their capital from Keladi to Ikkeri, Bidanur and finally to Kavaledurga which served  as their last stronghold until the fort was vanquished by Hyder Ali.

Tales of a golden past
The fort at  Kavaledurga, also known as Bhuvanagiri, was reinforced by Hiriya Venkatappa Nayaka, with seven entrances, five of which are still found on the way up the fort. He had also built a spacious palace with seven tiers.

However, as the fortress lost its significance  and crumbled, the opulence of the palace became a thing of the past. Nevertheless, the remains of the structures here tell a tale of the golden past. 

Fortunately, the Archeological Survey of India has taken a lot of interest in the restoration work, excavation of buried artifacts and the rebuilding of the palace. Bhaskar Rao, who works with the Archeological Survey of India (ASI),  explained the features of the palace.

Walking up a cobbled path, the first of the five entrances flanked by two large round bastions is reached. The four-ft tall stone image of a seven-hooded Nagadevathe supposed to guard the palace’s treasures stands on the left beyond which the Nagatheertha is being excavated. 

The second entrance is called Nagari Bagilu as it was here that any news of birth or death and the impending enemy attack was announced by beating drums.

These doors were purposefully placed perpendicular to the path so that the elephants employed to charge and break open the door would lose momentum.

The wide steps lead to the third entrance which opens into a field. The Kashi Vishwanatha temple on the left is unique with two Dhwajasthambhas (pillars) and bears testimony to Keladi architecture with snake, sun, moon and three-headed parrots. The Shivalinga, said to have been brought from Kashi, stands on a left-oriented pedestal which is rare.

Right opposite is a rocky outcrop with a few lines of inscriptions above which stands a small shrine housing images of deities Lakshmi and Narayana.
The path goes westward to the entrance of the palace past two rectangular stone tanks used to store oil and ghee.

Where there was a palace once
Though nothing remains of the palace now, the department has involved a workforce to get the huge strong pillars erected in place. The spacious hall was where the king addressed the public beyond which are chambers for the King, Queen and attendants.
The small-sized bricks used for the kitchen are noteworthy. 

The water distribution system was made efficient by using sections of stone pipes with rings that fit into each other to make a channel.

The stone stove on which five vessels could be placed at a time is a reflection of the ingenuity of people of those times. On the south western corner is an attractive stepped pond that probably served as the swimming pool.  Climbing the steps and following the path westward, the last of the entrances is reached.

The rocky elevation on the right has Gadha Theertha, shaped like a mace. It is believed that the Pandavas during their exile spent some time here  and Bhima is said to have struck his mace to get water.

The summit of the hill is crowned with a huge boulder with the temple of Shikhareshwara.  
The small shrine and the boulder together look like a Shivalinga. Being the highest point in the region, this place commands a 360-degree panorama of fabulous views.

With Varahi dam far to the west, its backwaters and Kundadri hill to the south and the ranges of hills and forests with a hazy view of Kodachadri peak on the northern horizon, the view of sunrise and sunset are unforgettable. 

On the way down, a sloping path goes up to the left to a tower meant to keep an eye on intruders.

At the base of the hill is a Veerashaiva Math patronised by the Keladi rulers. Free food is served to devotees at this Math. The town of Kavaledurga also has a Marikamba temple and a dozen other shrines.

A visit to Kavaledurga fort takes one back to the bygone golden days of Keladi dynasty.

Getting there
Distance: Kavaledurga is 18 km by bus from Thirthahalli connected to Shimoga, Bangalore & other cities. Nearest railway station is Shimoga (60 kms).
Accommodation: Thirthahalli has many options.

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