Chitradurga - The Fort, Madakari Nayaka and TaRaSu's Durgaastmana

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Prelude | History | The Fort | Kaḍeya Madakari Nāyaka's reign | Trip highlights | References


As a chronic Hampe visitor, I've passed by and stopped over at Chitradurga multiple times, but in all these years, I somehow never got around to exploring it at all, which really was a bit of a shame.

As a native of Karnataka, the legends of Chitradurga - it's impregnable stone fort, the heroics of Onake Obavva and it's valiant chieftain - Madakari Nayaka, have become part of not just Chitradurga's folklore, but also the living history of this country.

There's one who man bears enormous credit for Chitradurga's fame and the immortalization of it's tales, perhaps more than the makers of this very history. That man, is TaLuku Ramaswami Subba Rao, known more familiarly so by his initials - TaRaSu.

Any Kannada literature enthusiast worth his salt would have perhaps read his magnum opus Durgastamana, a story set in Chitradurga, detailing the times of the last Madakari Nayaka, and the fall of Chitradurga to Hyder Ali's hands in the end.

Folks less inclined to books will still have seen the art-house movie Hamsageete - again set in Chitradurga, about the tale of one of it's musicians - Bhairavi Venkatasubbayya, as told by TaRaSu in a book by the same name. This movie, directed by GV Iyer [starring Anantanag, with the wonderful voice of M Balamuralikrishna] is in my opinion, one of the finest movies made in Kannada, for seldom is a movie better than the book it is based on. The same work had also inspired the Hindi movie Basant Bahar [voices from Bhimsen Joshi and Manna Dey] much earlier to Hamsageete.

Less artsy, but the more popular Nagarahavu - the movie that drove Vishnuvardhan to fame, was again based on a book by TaRaSu that was set in Chitradurga. Practically every Kannadiga would've heard the song "kannaDa nADina vIra raMaNiya" from the same movie. Other works of TaRaSu that eventually ended up as movies include Aakasmika, Chandavalliya Thota, Gaali Maathu, Benkiya Bale, Masanada Hoovu. I opine that his style of writing was quite suited for the screen by default.

Chitradurga - The history

The name Chitradurga has various etymologies. One that is frequently iterated is that it comes from "Chitra-kal Durga", literally fort of picturesque stones. This is quite convincing since, a lot of boulders in the Durga do resemble various recognizable shapes (animals and the like) without the need of a particularly fertile imagination.

There also exists a Sanskrit name - çinmūlādri, probably for academic value. The English called it Chitaldrug in their mentions. However, another reasonable background for the name could possibly be a derivation from something pertaining to "Chitra devaru", a deity of the Beda or hunter caste, who ruled as Palayagaras here.

There are various theories regarding the origin of these Bedas, but the generally accepted one is that they hailed from somewhere near Tirupati, eventually gaining rank in the Vijayanagara empire from mercenaries to local cheiftains. From their names, it seems apparent that they were of Kannada stock, but it's possible that they were Telugus too. In either case, Kannada would have been the most prominent language of the region as is testified by the inscriptions in the area.

The ruling Nayakas belonged to the Kamageti family, of which two lineages seem to have ruled - the Matti family (of Matti Timmanna Nayaka, the first ruler) and in later years, the biLichODu family (starting from Bharamappa Nayaka). The former was the first to gain recognition from the Vijayanagara and establish formal rule in the region, albeit with a rocky relationship with Saluva Narasimha, the erstwhile monarch of the kingdom. In all, their rule lasted atleast 211 years.

Chitradurga is quite obviously an ancient settlement, and in my opinion, a fort must have existed here from ancient times. In the vicinty of Chitradurga is a hillock called "CholaguDDa" or "Cholaghatta", which seems to derieve it's name from an ancient Chola settlement in the said place.

Nonetheless, the extent of fortification that we see today - particularly the upper parts of the fort (Meludurga) seems to have been constructed during the times of Timmanna Nayaka and improved over the centuries. Even today, most of the fort is intact and is regarded by many as one of the best forts in the south, in the same league as Gingee - another place known for it's fortifications.

After the battle of Talikote in 1565, the Nayakas ruled independently and intermittently, as tributaries to the Mughals and the Marathas. In the meantime, they enjoyed significant successes (and some setbacks) in the region, particularly over their rivals in Rayadurga and Harapanahalli. In later days, they also deliberated into the politics of the Keladi/Bidanur Nayakas in Nagara, who too had assumed independence in the days following the downfall of Vijayanagar.

Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka, son of Hire-Madakari Nayaka of the biLichODu dynasty died without issues in 1754. Subsequently, his mother Obavva Nagati took control of the state and the task of succession. While the initial favours were towards adopting Hire-Madakari Nayaka, the son of the chieftain of Hosadurga, eventually she favored Madakari Nayaka (hereinafter referred to as Kadeya Madakari Nayaka or Madakari Nayaka the last), the son of Bharamappa Nayaka of Janakal. This Madakari Nayaka seems to have been born around 1742 and was about 12 years at the time of his crowning.

Chitradurga - the fort

The fort is imposing and impressive, even from afar.

At the outermost expanse of the fortification, the total area of the fort is said to about 32 square kilometres. On the sides of the concentric outer walls is a moat system. Within the walls and feeding to the moat is a system of channels from a pond. Many entrances open up to the fort, the names of which are Rangayyana bAgilu, Siddayyana bAgilu, Ucchangi bAgilu, Kamana bAgilu, Lalkote bAgilu, Sringarada bAgilu and the gAre bAgilu. There're said to be 19 gateways and atleast 38 entrances to the fort.

In the present day, one enters from the Rangayyana Baagilu in the exterior of the fort, and into the main part of the fort from the Kamana Bagilu.

There's much to see on the way up - namely, the maddu bIsuva kallu or the gun-powder factory, with it's stone-grinder system still intact. Along the way is also the Karivārati temple - a local female deity of the place.

At the north-eastern diametric end of this same pathway is the Jhanda Bateri watch-post, where there is also a prison-house. I was informed that this had existed during the times of the Nayakas, but it seemed to me that the architecture was too saracenic in comparison to the rest of the fort. This was probably built by Haider to house prisoners. There are a couple of abandoned Scottish cannons from the year 1792 that lie in the vicinity of the Jhanda Bateri.

At this level, there's already enough relief from the ground below to provide an impressive view.

Meludurga, Ekanatheshwari Temple and the Uyyale Kamba

Meludurga is the upper fort.

On the way up to the interior of the fort is an oil pit, one of many in the fort. At this point, one can easily see how good the fortification serves for defence, coupled with the terrain advantage. In the fort walls are small peep-holes that were meant for Musketeers to fire at armies passing through the blind corners formed by the walls. Each turn is a bottleneck that would make it virtually impossible to bring in a large cavalry force, elephants or battery.

Along the way up is the Bombe Mantapa, housed with the figures of an elephant and a horse, and rather defaced now. This was apparently in tribute to the Nayaka's animals that had died in battle.

Each turn is followed by an entrance, that consists of a large gate - meant for mounted army and nobles, while a smaller adjacent entrance was used by the common-folk. There is also an Ucchangamma and Ganesha temple through the way.

The end of the seventh turn leads to the heart of the fort - a large area which must've been a really busy place during it's days. The erstwhile prime minister's house still survives and has been converted to a guest-house and refreshment store of sorts. In the vicinity is also the Ekanatheshwari temple, the deity of the upper fort and the rulers.

The first thing you notice upon entering Meludurga however is the giant pillars erected opposite to the Ekanatheshwari temple. These pillars carried a swing during festive occasions, a tradition continued till date. There's local folklore that these pillars couldn't be erected due to divine intervention against it, until the ruler's daughter in law was sacrificed. There's also another story that claims the engineering feat of erecting this pillar was done by a Frenchman named John (upon whom the neighbouring Jankal and Janakonda is also speculated to be named).

Other landmarks in the area include an Okuli Honda, where there used to be coloured water for celebrations during Holi/Kamana Hunnime. There are also granaries for storage in the same zone and a couple of Garadi Manes or Gymnasiums for warriors and muscle-men to train.

Tankasaale, Onake Obavvana Kindi, Akka Tangiyara Honda, Kashi Vishwanatheshwara and Phalguneshwara Temple

Heading westward from the entrance of Meludurga, you'll first come across the ruins of a large structure made of mud and brick. This structure, which seems to have certainly born the brunt (rather burnt) of Chitradurga's fate at one time housed the administrative offices of the state - including the mint, the treasury and various military offices. In the same area is a decoy temple of sorts, where there is a pit below the deity's platform, which is said to have been a hiding place for the treasures.

In the posterior of the Tankasaale is a twin-tank, called the Akka Tangiyara Honda, which get the name from Madakari Nayaka's wives, who jumped into them to die in honour as Durga fell to it's conquerors. The tanks are roughly 50ft deep each and are designed to harvest the terrain's rain water drains. The Kashi Vishwanatheshwara temple is in the vicinity of the Hondas.

Heading further westward from the Honda, one reaches the fort's most famous landmark - the Onaka Obavvana Kindi.

This Kindi or secret passageway gets it's name from Obavva - the name of a sentry's wife, in charge of the Kahale Bateri. His duty was to keep watch at his post and sound the warning bugle in case of an attack. The story goes back to the turbulent times when Chitradurga was first besieged by Hyder Ali, that Obavva's husband had come home for dinner and that she was serving him his food.

Their "house" was under a rock that is still recognised today, and is in the vicinity of a water hole in the same area where this secret passageway is. Obavva had gone to fetch water for her husband, when she noticed Hyder Ali's soldiers creeping in through through the crevice. They had apparently been informed of the route for a prize, by one of the locals. The passageway comes from Holalkere Road, in the anterior of Cholaghatta.

Obavva immediately armed herself with a pestle that she could find, got to the entrance of the Kindi and killed each man that made it through the entrance with a blow on the head, then dragged the corpse up to the water-hole - rinse and repeat, until her husband came looking for her, only to witness her in a killing spree. He immediately raised the alarm, and eventually the Durga forces repulsed the attack. Legend has it that she killed almost 300 soldiers by herself, but this may be an exaggeration.

Nonetheless, Obavva's bravery has become part of Karnataka's folklore at large and Chitradurga holds living historical testimony of her act. Most tellings of Obavva's story give a tragic ending where she is ultimately killed after her mission is complete. She is said to have belonged to the Chaluvadi untouchable caste, and hailed from the village of Agasanakatte. She was probably around 20 years old at that time. There are said to be many families in the said village, who claim to be descendants of Obavva's close relatives.

I tried to see where the narrow passageway leads, but some locals claimed that the route had/was closed down by a rock-fall. The actual Kindi opening is also quite modest in dimensions, given that I could barely squeeze through. Perhaps Hyder Ali had sent a regiment of his skinniest soldiers for this fatal mission.

The Phalguneshwara temple is also in the vicinity of Obavvana Kindi. The Sihineeru Honda - "sweet water tank", is at the extreme northern end of this side of the fort.

Hidimbeshwara, Sampige Siddheshwara, Murugha Matha, Palace enclosure, Gopalaswamy Temple

Back near the Meludurga entrance, diagonally opposite to the Ekanatheshwari temple and perched on a high boulder is the Hidimbeshwara temple. Local tradition records that this was the Hidimba Kshetra mentioned in the epic Mahabharata, where Bhima killed the rākṣhasa Hiḍimba and married his sister Hiḍimbi (Sālakataṃkati) from whom he begot his son Ghaṭotkaça.

This is a shiva temple, and is architecturally the most interesting of all in Chitradurga. The style closely resembles the typical Vijayanagaran architecture one gets to see in Hampi.

Far opposite to the Hidimbeshwara temple is the Sampige Siddeshwara temple, another one dedicated to Shiva. It is within the enclosure of this temple that the Nayakas' crowning ceremony would take place. The temple also holds an inscription in Kannada from the Vijayanagara times.

Adjacent to Sampige Siddeshwara temple is the ancient Murugha Matha. The Nayakas are said to have adopted the Veerashaiva faith during later times, and accepted Sri Murugharajendra, a lingayat saint originally from Tamizh Nadu as their guru. This Matha is still intact, but it's prominent base is now outside the fort, around 2km away, to where it moved out to at some point.

In the backdrop of the Sampige Siddeshwara temple and Murugha Matha is a steep cliff face face that leads up to the Tuppada Kola Bateri watchpost. This is quite a challenge to climb and a tad dangerous if you're loose on your footing. It is said that this was the course that Chitradurga youngsters had to complete, in order to be recruited into the army, but with the added challenge of completing it in quick time, while the said cliff face had oil poured down it from the top.

Across the Bateri, but reachable by an adjacent road is the palace enclosure - nestled within a part of the fort known as Ramagiri Kote. There's not much that survives of this part, excepting ruins and a few walls, and more prominently a "cage" of pillars, erected by the Nayaka with the intention of imprisoning Hyder Ali in it. While this may sound audacious, it can probably be interpreted as a move the Nayaka took to boost the confidence and morale of his troops.

There was also supposed to have been a garden in the precincts of the palace, called the Sringarada Tota. There is a temple, a water body, multiple granaries and other structures that were possibly military quarters and horse-stables in the enclosure.

The palace area is nestled in the safest interior of the fort, surrounded by imposing hills with watchposts on top - these include the Tuppada Kola Bateri, Lalkote Bateri and Nellikayi Sidhappana Bateri. Each Bateri can be reached via climbing a fort wall that also acts as a stairway, and provides a relief-view from atop for many miles of flatland beneath. The Bateris also have natural water stores and secret passageways.

Far opposite to the palace complex is the largest waterbody of the fort - the Gopalaswamy Honda, which gets it's name from the nearby Gopalaswamy Temple, probably the only Vaishnavaite temple inside the fort. Even though it was peak summer, the water bodies were all quite full, basically implying the fact that that the fort had well designed channels of rain-water drainage.

Further south of Gopalaswamy temple is another vantage point of the fort with a view towards the west. Here, the fortification is sparse, but the terrain is a natural deterrant to any sort of attack. One can also see the way leading up to Nellikayi Sidhappana Bateri.

In conclusion, the fort was strategically designed over the course of centuries to withstand sustained military campaigns. It is said that Chitradurga could last a water drought for 12 years, which is a bit of an exaggeration. Nonetheless, it does seem the sort of a fort that a reasonable fighting force could easily defend for an year with enough stocks of ration. It seems to me that the outer enclosures of the fort would've had a significant civilian population, while Meldurga mostly housed a military settlement.

Kadeya Madakari Nayaka and the legacy of Chitradurga

Kadeya Madakari Nayaka came to power in 1754, at the age of 12 as already mentioned. His reign provided fruitful successes in the region, with victories over Harapanahalli and Rayadurga, along with gainful association to Hyder Ali at first.

In later times, Chitradurga switched loyalty to the Marathas which may have been a strategically bad decision considering Srirangapatna's threat as an enemy next-door. Their relationship with the Marathas and valour in war is well chronicled, with the Battle of Nijagal being an excellent example. However, the Marathas would prove to be unreliable allies as were the Chitradurgans themselves, constantly switching and exploiting loyalties for short-term benefits.

In the first-wave, they would hard-survive Hyder's initial attack on Chitradurga, which probably lasted 6-8 months, eventually ending in a hard-negotiated truce, the terms of which involved a large bounty and that the Nayaka's brother would be held hostage by the Mysore Army. At this time, the Chitradurgans violated the treaty on the belief that a Maratha army would engage Hyder Ali, but this gamble unfortunately backfired as Hyder Ali successfully held the Marathas at bay (mostly by bribing the Sardars). After this siege broke temporarily, the Nayaka also made the bad decision of sending away mercenary forces to their homelands.

Chitradurga's last fighting force was a combination of Maratha and Rajput mercenaries, the local Bedas and Muslim Sardars. It is said that Hyder Ali managed to gain the favor of some of the Marathas and the Muslims in the fort before the second siege was laid. This deception was the last nail in the coffin.

Ultimately, Chitradurga failed to survive the second siege by Hyder and Tipu. The fort's gateways and moats were breached, strategic locations like the Sihineeru Honda captured. The enemies gradually came up to Meludurga, at which point Madakari Nayaka gave up defense and went into an all out battle, after crowning his son Bharamappa Nayaka. It is unclear whether Madakari Nayaka dies in the ensuing battle or whether he's taken prisoner. One theory has it that the prince and the Nayaka's brother attempted escape after their capture, but failed and were put to death at Kabbaladurga, while the Nayaka himself was poisoned. He was in his thrities at the time of Chitradurga's fall.

In either case, none from the royal line survived. Almost 20,000 Bedas from Chitradurga were taken prisoners and recruited into the Mysore army as "Chela" warriors. While it is said that they distinguished themselves in the Mysore military as well, their delocalization effectively put an end to hopes of any resurgence at Chitradurga.

At the time Srirangapatna fell to the British in 1799, it is said that the Nayaka's cousin who was not picked for succession in 1754, now a Sardar in the army of Travancore appealed to the British in Madras to restore him to the throne of Chitradurga. The English gave this proposition a lot of thought before declining it, possibly from the perspective that Chitradurga was fairly won by Hyder and Tipu to the Mysore kingdom, and that any deliberation into restoring power to a lost state might imperil the geopolitical sovereignity of the Mysore kingdom which they had just taken over. Nonetheless, he was pensioned off by the rulers at Mysore in the following years.

His line of descendants, as well as those of the Nayaka's Beda officers still exist in Chitradurga. Very close to the Kamana Bagilu entrance is the Valmiki museum, which is maintained by the descendants of the Nayaka family and houses not-so-interesting artifacts.

Kadeya Madakari Nayaka is generally said to have been brave and heroic in battle, but with the less desirable qualities of arrogance, unhealthy lust, mistrust in his close advisors and naivety in political strategy.

Highlights of the trip

1) Booked a ticket from Bangalore to Chikkajajur (40KM from Chitradurga) since I enjoy train journeys. Unfortunately, I had inadvertently booked the ticket for Thursday while we were actually supposed to leave on a Friday. I did not realize this until the last moment; Yet another failure for the laughs.

Second time in three months that we had a train ticket that we wasted, and ended up going by bus instead.

2) Accompanied a Muslim man who had come to visit Durga. The guide, in all his sensitivity was very reluctant to mention the obvious religious angle to the Chitradurga war. He muttered something on the lines of - "Don't be offended, this is what we've been taught ..".

Saab-ji was a blender in his own right. He heartily accepted the Teertha at the Murugha Matha, but was a little taken aback hearing of Madakari Nayaka's rasika traits and his mistress in Mayakonda. He was also inquisitive on the wall carvings of some aesthetic stone figurines.

3) Khanavali food, Benne Masale Dose.

4) Met KotiRaj, the local personality.

KotiRaj alias JyothiRaj is a Youtube and TV celebrity, who specialises in scaling a variety of things - walls, pillars, rockfaces, younameits, with the ease of a primate we've evolved out of.

Jyothiraj is not actually a native of Chitradurga, but has adapted it as his home. He hails from Theni district of Tamizh Nadu, and migrated to Chitradurga after running away from home. He also worked in a bakery in Bagalkote for sometime.

4) Hot as hell in March. Nearly had a sunstroke while climbing upto Lalkote Bateri while all dehydrated. Durga is not advisable at this time of the year.


Most narrations and historical inputs here are referenced from The Mysore Gazetter, MS Puttanna's "Chitradurgada Paleyagararu", TaRaSu's works [especially Durgaastamana] and local folklore.

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