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Pondering over Penukonda

From medieval to modern times, Penukonda has much to explore in its fortified precincts, writes Michael Patrao
Last Updated : 04 December 2021, 19:15 IST
Last Updated : 04 December 2021, 19:15 IST

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Gagan Mahal, the summer palace of the Vijayanagara rulers
Gagan Mahal, the summer palace of the Vijayanagara rulers
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A gigantic statue of the sleeping Kumbhakarna at the Kumbhakarna Garden near the fort
A gigantic statue of the sleeping Kumbhakarna at the Kumbhakarna Garden near the fort

Travelling on the Bengaluru-Bellary Hyderabad stretch, a board which read, “Korea Town” drew our attention in Gorantla village, near Penukonda town of Andhra Pradesh. It was in both English and what we presumed was Korean. I had heard of China Town in Kolkata, but what were the Koreans doing here. They couldn’t be missionaries. Thereafter we saw several other boards in Korean and English advertising restaurants, guest houses, rental accommodation among other things. The mystery would be solved towards the end of our journey.

We were on our way to Penukonda Fort, a distinguished vestige of the Vijayanagar Empire. Penukonda is located 140 km from Bengaluru. The journey takes approximately two-and-a-half hours.

Penukonda was the second capital of Sri Krishnadevaraya. It continued to be the capital after the fall of Hampi. This fort was one of the best defences of the Vijayanagara kingdom. With the decline of the Vijayanagara kingdom, the Sultan of Golconda captured this fort. Later, the Mysore kingdom captured this fort briefly until the British overtook after the fall of Tipu Sultan. In the vicinity of the fort is Gagan Mahal, the summer palace of the Vijayanagara rulers constructed in 1575 AD. The palace comprises two stories of arcade chambers, based on a square plan. There is a tower on one side. In the centre, there are steps leading into the building, besides staircases on either side leading to the first floor. So serene are the surroundings outside Gagan Mahal that we found a street dog sleeping peacefully on a parapet of the Palace outside. A lonely, small building just opposite the Gagan Mahal is called Timmarasu Jail. He was the prime minister of Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire. Why was he prisoned? Was it because of high treason? Was he a traitor? If he had betrayed the King, why was he not given the death penalty? Why was he kept in the solitary cell? These innumerable questions were brimming in our minds. The small building has one door, which was locked and three small windows, that are very close to the floor. We peeped through the window. There was enough light to see what is inside. We had craned our neck to see the roof without much success. It is a plain four-walled formation with an octagonal-like structure from the middle and a lotus-type shape at the top. Further down the road, a minute’s walk took us to the Basava well. It is an ancient stepped well carrying the Vijayanagara signature. To enter the well, which is now dry, you have to pass through the stomach of a giant bull (Basava) made of stones, bricks and lime mortar. Close to the bull’s leg is a slab with an inscription in Kannada-Telugu, the language which prevailed at the time. Adjoining the well is a pillared hall. Going by the pillar’s design, it was constructed during the Vijayanagara times.

If you have kids travelling with you, they would certainly not be too keen on a fort in ruins and dilapidated structures. For them, there is the Kumbhakarna Garden spread over five acres which has a gigantic statue of the sleeping Kumbhakarna, measuring 142 feet in length and 32 feet in height into whose cavernous belly one can walk. Several asuras are seen trying to wake up the sleeping giant, depicting the famous story of this invincible brother of Ravana in the Ramayana.

Today, Penkuonda is transforming into an industrial hub with many industrialists establishing ancillary units for a 500-acre automobile project. The Korea town which we noticed along the highway is a township for 2,000 Korean employees. Korean restaurants are also coming up here. Our visit was a sweeping panorama of Penukonda from medieval to modern times.

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Published 04 December 2021, 19:12 IST

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