Diwali is about pooja, food, shopping, lighting lamps, bursting crackers and vacations for most people. But the children of Belagavi district await the festival to build miniature forts (or killas).
The forts are seen in every nook and corner of Belagavi city and are a treat for the eyes. This tradition is followed in parts of north Karnataka that were once under the influence of the warrior king Shivaji. Though little is known about the origin of this tradition, hearsay holds the tradition to what the Mavlas, the loyal followers of Shivaji, left behind. Shivaji was known for his intelligent and artistic architecture, evident in the forts he built across Maharashtra. He constructed miniatures of the forts so that his soldiers could study them and prepare themselves for battles.
From this is derived the practice of building forts as a tribute to Shivaji.
“It’s almost 300 years old and the idea is to follow the footsteps of Shivaji whose bravery, righteousness and love for his subjects made him a legend,” said Bharati, a history teacher.
Days before the festival, kids start planning for the fort. They first choose the location and decide on what type of miniature fort they want to construct.
Some study the structure of the historic forts built by Shivaji like the Sinhagad, Raigad, Shivaneri, Panhala, Rajgad, Sindhudurg.
Others either make replicas of the forts built by other rulers or design structures based on their own ideas. However, in both cases, children relive history and reconnect with nature. In the second phase, the children dig up their backyards to collect fine soil (clay), bricks, stones, cow dung, brick crumbs and other materials required.
Often jute rags are also used to keep the structure strong. Their forts include discrete structures of nagarkhana (the place where the nagada is played), the ruler’s court, watchtowers, markets, temples, moats, other waterbodies. Once the structure is complete, they coat it with layers of clay to give it a fine texture. The children then buy small clay figurines of soldiers, villagers, animals and trees, and adorn the fort with them.
To give a natural look to the fort, fenugreek or mustard seeds are sprinkled. This gives the fort a greenish appearance after a few days. Water fountains are made using bottles to add to the beauty of the forts. A figurine of Shivaji Maharaj is seated on a throne made at the pinnacle of the fort and it’s decorated with rangoli. Some even put up a board containing the history of the forts.
Today, ready-made miniature forts are also available in the market. However, nothing can beat the fun of making a killa by dirtying the hands.
“Several figurines of Shivaji and soldiers made by local potters flood the market during Diwali. Also, we sell decorative items like flags and small lights, which children use to enhance the beauty of the miniature forts,” said Sadashiv Mane, a shopkeeper of Belagavi. Though many think this tradition is losing sheen, it’s still loved by children of this region. Even parents encourage children in building forts as it helps in the development of artistic skills, team spirit and imagination.
To keep this tradition alive, competitions of fort-making and other games are conducted every year.