For a trip back in time...

The archaeological museum in Kittur showcases the local history, with focus on the life of Rani Channamma

A view of the archaeological museum in Kittur

The first thing that strikes one upon seeing the Kittur Fort is its clean precincts. Maintained by the State Archaeology Department, the fort is something that one needs to visualise as much of it is in ruins. The small town of Kittur is steeped in history owing to its celebrated queen, Rani Channamma, who fought the British single-handedly and laid down her life in 1829 in Bailhongal prison, years before even the first mutiny happened in 1857. Her heroic deeds have become an intrinsic part of India’s fight for freedom.

The fort was built by Allappa Gowda Sardesai, the ruler of the Desai dynasty between 1650 and 1681. The fort covers an area of around 23 acres and is surrounded by ramparts of low height. It is one of the few forts built at ground level. It is surrounded by a moat, which might have been filled with water drawn from a nearby lake when the fort was functional. One feature that stands out in the fort is the pole star vision room. This was used to watch the pole star with the help of a telescope.

More than just ruins 

Within the premises of the fort, one can see the area where the Queen’s palace once stood. Though the palace is in ruins, it won’t be hard to imagine the palace as something that was visually striking and grand in design. The entrance of the palace has small niches which served as a storage spot for the soldiers to keep their stock of gunpowder. Some guns are still kept inside the fort. The palace is said have to have been three-storied, an imposing structure in its heydays.

After one goes around the fort, one can consider stopping at the archaeological museum present here. Inaugurated on January 10, 1967, by the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, the museum is a single floor black tile-roofed structure with wide corridors that houses stone artefacts. It is being maintained by the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Karnataka. The museum was established to preserve the relics of Kittur Fort, the palace, and the antiques found in and around Kittur. Historian Smita Surebankar notes that it is a new trend in the country’s archaelogical milieu to have a museum at places where excavations yield rich heritage artefacts. “The same has been done at places like Lakkundi and Vijayapura, so as to not lose identity of the things found there,” she adds. 

In fact, the archaeological museum is a treasure trove of antiques and relics. It has a wooden door and window frames salvaged from the palace, coats of armour worn by the soldiers, several swords, cannon balls, and old and new paintings depicting the life of the queen. It has long chambers inside, where stone idols of Bhagwan Parshwanath, Vishnu, Saraswati, Sapta Matrika, and several hero stones are placed. 

Parts of a temple like the kirtimukha (the topmost round part of a temple’s shikhara) and emblems of several kings are also a part of the museum’s collection. Apart from these, the museum has a rich collection of ancient weapons, stone idols, swords, shields, mail-coats, inscriptions and paintings. The corridors of the museum have panels of an old temple with miniature shikharas carved on it, a large Nandi, and a few old Kannada inscriptions. A new wooden idol of Kittur Rani Channamma riding a horse is placed at the corridor. 
Aishwarya Kothali, a visitor, praised the museum’s ability to seamlessly fuse with the landscape of the fort. Walking through the museum, one can see school children meandering the museum’s halls in awe of the history that comes alive before them. The museum is naturally well lit and all the artefacts are placed at a low height, making it easy for children to see them properly and know more. An unusual exhibit at this museum is the family tree of the Desais of Kittur. 

Steeped in history, the Kittur Fort and the museum leaves one in awe of the fearless Queen Channamma and the rich heritage of the place.

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