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Conservation Techniques and Modifications in construction of Forts: a study of Minor forts of Medieval Deccan

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

MN Rajesh

(Assistant Professor, University of Hyderabad)

Forts are a living institution and require constant upkeep and therefore modifications and alterations are based on the available technology and materials in addition to the cultural influences. Alteration in construction is a topic that is very less touched upon as it occurs by bits and pieces and therefore does not constitute a great volume in itself unless there are far fetched changes or large scale changes. Most alterations are for the parts small and therefore do not enter into any schema of explanation. Alterations in construction can be traced to stage of design and ideas coupled with the practical needs and here an examination of the forts of medieval India is made with reference to the minor forts based on field visit and observation. Secondly, historical research on forts of India has largely focused on the larger forts excluding minor structures which comprise more than thousands. This article is an attempt to look at alterations with examples from small forts.

In the case of the household it is possible to emphasise power and coercion without bringing in the military, but this makes less sense at the level of societies, states and international systems[1].  Hence the study of ideology and social systems of the medieval period can be better understood by studying the architectural patterns particularly of small forts for two reasons. Firstly, they are numerically preponderant and are spread over a large area. Secondly, it is these forts which were the immediate point of contact for people living within their vicinity and thus were amenable to the control of the local authorities or ‘coercion’ as power flowed from these structures. Since the model of static society has been challenged in medieval India we see many changes in all facets of life, corresponding material changes can be seen in the alteration of structures, and the greatest stimulus was the role of gunpowder with regard to warfare and fortification. Therefore, alteration in construction can be traced to the stage of design and plan reflecting new requirements. They can be located at the convergence of technology and society encoding a new set of responses that were incorporated at a particular historical moment. In the context of the forts of medieval Deccan we see that many significant architectural changes take place spurred by a set of factors like technological advancement, changes in forms of warfare and the associated ceremonials. We would thus be justified in studying the pattern of alterations for it would help us to understand the notion of change.

Restricted to the technological domain are aspects like water supply system and defence mechanisms like bastions and turrets. On the other hand, aspects like layout, residential patterns, gardens and stables clearly reveal the imprint of religion and other ideas because they offer a choice of designs that perform the same function and hence here it is not just functionalism but a need to go beyond and emphasise on symbolism. To illustrate this point with examples from Deccan we see the fort below does not show any use of arch though the ‘Islamic arch’ was widespread at that time and is used in forts that are just a few kilometers away. Thus the point of emphasis is that though there were choices available preferences like the example cited below can be seen in the local patronage. A useful analogy can be taken from Catherine Asher’s formulation of the ‘sub-imperial’patronage[2] under the Rajputs, which was part of the Mughal period in terms of architectural typology and the larger socio-economic context of the Mughal state, it had a distinctive character and hence the use of the above term.

  Fort at Pothireddypally[3].

Fort at Sangupeta situated on a mound, located 2 kms from Pothireddypally[

A less emphasized point is the use of materials like mud which points to the economic conditions and the resource base. Mud forts are not mentioned in architecture in the medieval period and are under researched with the exception of a few works like S K Aruni’s work on the mud forts of Deccan[5]. Other references to mud forts are found in archaeological reports. The photograph below gives a picture of a partial mud fort at Narkhuda in Hyderabad which is just 20 kms from Golconda. Located on a favourable terrain with good communication and view this served as a good protection for the nearby settlement. Thus the strategic importance comes into focus as it was near Golconda and therefore could be used as reinforcement. Though made of mud, many provisions have been made for firing guns at the advancing troops by providing baked clay pipes which are integrated into the architecture and placed at convenient points and angles. This also reflects the range and was meant for close range shooting to discourage people from climbing the tower.
Picture of tower at Narkhuda[6

A convenient point for entering this debate would be to contrast the developments of the earlier period with the later period which would then help us to narrow down the specificities and provide us a thematic frame to elaborate on. Maratha forts provide us an anchoring point for two reasons, firstly they are numerically very large and secondly the large sample size would provide us with generalization that would faithfully capture a broad trend. Secondly, Maratha power rested on the ability of the Martha armies to respond to new challenges that necessitated the changes[7].
The central argument here is that there were large scale changes in fortification in India which the dynamic element and posits a view of the medieval kingdoms as open to change. Here in this case, it would mean scientific advancement, but was not labelled so. This formulation would then negate the dominant view that the pre-modern political formations in India were conservative and less open to change[8]. How do we approach the fort? to begin with, the fort is a complex phenomena with many layers of technological, political, religious, social and other factors enmeshed in this complex architectural mélange that were accretions over a long historical period and asymmetrically in different parts of the world. To unpack this would be a rather daunting task and therefore it would be prudent to limit to some of the general formulations to begin with.
We find in the Deccan many forts belonging to both the Hindu and Muslim dynasties like the forts of Vijayanagara, Marathas and the successor dynasties and the Sultanates. While there was a considerable give and take in the architectural techniques one factor has prevented our understanding of the Islamic patronage i.e. the ideal of a Muslim city. This ideal of a Muslim city does not stand scrutiny for the following reasons. Firstly an urban centre founded or developed by Muslims in India is differentiated from the Hindu origin town by striking features such as the presence of straight streets with little encroachment and privacy here was achieved largely by court houses rather than alleys and dead ends and on the basis of this it seems that the probable cause of this may be property rather than religion[9]. This is a block that manifest in a larges way that forces us to see the city in terms of a set of specified characteristics which are readily accepted as part of the rudimentary and compulsory elements of an Islamic city which is a type of orientalism[10]. It is essentsial to bring in this point because the cities of Bidar, Gulbarga, Daulatabad all responded to a set of challenges over a period of many centuries not strictly in keeping with the pure form of a city. This model exists only in imagination as we shall see later but has become pervasive and is reproduced regularly creating a great block in our understanding. What is Islamic or Hindu in the fortification is seen in the treatment of cultural phenomena and the pattern of settlement. Here gain we encounter two problems, one is that some devices of representation are common to both the traditions and were thus by extension appealing to multi-ethnic armies, but the latter part needs to be reexamined. Here, one of the most important aspects is light which is sacred in both Islam and Hinduism and therefore is part of a symbolic representative repertoire the world over[11]. Such a facet would undoubtedly appeal to multi-ethnic armies. Thus the dynamism is not restricted only to those fields influenced by war but also in other cultural arenas.

By far the most important development in the field of fortification in the medieval period which also influenced other structures like mosques was the impact of gunpowder, so much so that the historians of military architecture have called it the age of gunpowder[12]. At the outset we had said that a point of entry would be to contrast the developments in the earlier period with the later which leads us to the criteria of chronology. In the  case of Deccan, the pre-Thuglaq period may be taken as one and the rise of the Thuglaqs another which  soon leads us to the period of the Deccani Sultanates and the Vijayanagara, the most important for the study of fortification and architecture as all the political entities during this period i.e. 14-16th centuries were military entities[13]
Since they were all military entities the greatest change we see is in the impact of the gunpowder and the most potent symbol of this process is the display of the Malik-i-Maidan or the Lord of the field, a great cannon in the fort of Bijapur, that was Perched on top of the fort wall, the Malik-I-Maidan is the legendary cannon of the Adil Shahis. Measuring 4.45 m in length, 1.5 m in diameter and weighing 55 tons, it is one of the largest bell metal guns in the world. This was a magnificent piece of architecture that was equally impressive that one Mughal historian called it as a “wonderful locks for protecting the august edifice of the state and befitting keys for the door of conquest”[14]. Richard Eaton clearly points to the use of gunpowder as it helped in the conquest of Mahmud Gavan who took the fort of Belgaum in 1471 which was the first recorded use of gunpowder in the Deccan[15]. By 1656 when Bidar was annexed to the Mughal Empire, the defences in the Bidar fort revealed 230 guns indicating that the use of gunpowder was becoming crucial[16].This is clearly proved by the fact that in the earlier period in Deccan the capture of forts by the Hoysalas and other dynasties as Yazdani has pointed out took place as an integral part of political conquest[17].Therefore, where do we place the role of gunpowder in medieval indian history and the role of forts?.Jos Gommans, a noted historian on war says that unlike in Europe, In India the change was perceptible and proceeds to detail the effects on forts in the form of thicker walls and improved defences in north India and by the end of the sixteenth century, he says that they became mainstream. Further, he also drives home the point that there was nothing like de-castellization like in the case of Europe quoting Needham , rather he says that forts re-emerged as a strategic and important element in the warfare of medieval India[18].
             A similar cannon can be seen in the fort at Daulatabad, one of the most strategic fort with a long historical past dating from the period of the Yadavas in the Pre Sultanate period[19].

Minor fort at Rajampeta[20]

We shall see the individual forts and the major alterations in each of them to better understand the nature of changes. Beginning from Daulatabad, we see that it is difficult to date all the modifications in Daulatbad since the fortifications keep on expanding. During the Bahmani period, all walls however show signs of being rebuilt up higher with small stones the shape of the earlier merlons is preserved in the bastions and gate works. Furthermore, the gun-mountings cannot be dated to the Bahmani period as they are datable to the Mughal period[21]. There were large scale changes in the fortification during the Mughal period which was something of crisis as there was a general anxiety of the Deccan going out of control. To wrest Deccan back to the Mughal hold there was a concerted attempt to capture the power base of the potentates which were in the forts that leads us to another interesting period.
The general crisis during the 17th century can be summed by taking J F Richards view that all rulers acknowledged the military might of the Mughal ruler as he was seen as the source of legitimate power. This power flowed from the ability of the Mughals to deploy as many as twenty thousand men for a small expedition. In this assymetrical mode of fighting no regional ruler could hope to muster forces withstand the heavy cavalry, artillery, matchlockmen and archers of the Mughals[22]
Here we see the importance of forts and artillery and it s best illustareted by the same author in a different article when he talks about a renegade called Pap Rai who held siege of the fort of Bhongir which led the latter to construct a mud fort which could see him through bad times and also cause considerable trouble to the [23]Mughal armies. It was after a great long drawn battle that the bandit was killed but has become a folk hero whose memory is still alive in Telengana.

It points that the Mughals were themselves constantly modernizing their armies and by extension their forts and this was reflected in the fortification and also in the place where the Mughals conquered, notably Deccan[24].Another example is the evolving religious complex of Poona in the 18th century that can be differentiated from the Mughal style only by religious appendages whereas the fortification pattern and the defence structures are hardly indistinguishable[25]. The similarity is very well reflected in the modernizing trends of the water supply systems and the proper provision made for the lean season[26].

In the word of Catherine B Asher, a distinguished art historian specializing on Mughal architecture, points to the many additions evolving in deccan basing on the premise that the Deccani Sultanates like their counterparts elsewhere were primarily military regimes and therefore defence was a major concern as reflected in the forts. The best example would be of the Bahmani capital Gulbarga built on a natural hill and surrounded by a moat[27].the notable feature of the fort at both Gulbarga and Bidar is the long defence walls[28], as long as 5. 5 kms in gulbrga , thirty seven bastions and seven gates. There is a pronounced two dimensionality of the surfaces revealing Iranian influences is not surprising since they maintained close ties with Iran and also the fact that Mahmud Gawan was Iranian born[29]. But this cultural aspect should not obscure us from the main pointer which is the flow of new ideas which are crystallized and there for all to see as physical phenomena leading us to formulate that there was change.

In Bijapur we see that there was war with the Portuguese and the loss of Goa in 1510 A.D. that must definitely have led to foreign influences. The remains of the mud walls and the refortification under Yusuf and Ali I are irregular which show that they were not under a central directive but under the responsibility of each noble. Later buildings completely surround the citadel and the most remarkable aspect is the increased number of bastions in the walls signaling the age of gunpowder[30]

The same view is echoed by George Michell in the treatment of Bidar, the capital of the Barid Shahis. He concentrates on the walled character of both the fort and the town and ends up with the conclusion that many of the defences were rebuilt during the period of Shamsuddin Mohammed following the introduction of gunpowder in 1462. The walled perimeter of the building has numerous bastions that are polygonal and massive to accommodate guns[31]. This is also seen in the Bala Hisar at Gulbarga[32]

In conclusion it may be said that the discussion on the forts of Deccan shows that there were constant changes on account of technological improvements and external influences particularly the rise of gunpowder and the Mughal presence in Deccan. This change is well documented at Bidar, Gulburga and the other major forts. Though records are not available for the minor forts, identification of the site shows the advances in the technology as reflected in the provision of pivots for cannons, turrets and also provision for muskets and easy movement on the bastions. Further local patronage also was dictated by the alliance of communities at the local level as seen in the co-existence of a temple and a dargah in the same fortified complex at Rajampeta as the picture below shows.

Contact - mnraja@gmail.com

[1] Black, Jeremy, “War and the World”The Journal of Military History, Vol.63 No 3(Jul., 1999), p669.
[2] Asher, Catherine B., Architecture of Mughal India, Cambridge University Press, Delhi 1992, p69,71.
[3] Small fort at Pothireddypally
[4] Fort at Sangupeta located 2 km from Pothireddypally,
[5] Aruni, S.K, Surapura Samsthana: Historical and Archaeological Study of Poligar State in South India,Delhi, 2004.
[6] Narkhuda- in Ranga Reddy District, part of Hyderabad
[7] Gommans,Jos, Mughal Warfare, Routledge,London, 2003,p22,30,33,79.
[8] Ali,Daud, Culture and Politics in the Courts of Medieval India, Cambridge
  University Press,2004.p270.
[9] Janet L. Abu-Lughod “ The Islamic City—Historic Myth, Islamic Essence, and Contemporary relevance, International Journal of middle East Studies, vol 19,no.2 (May, 1987), p161.
[10] Ibid, p 162.
[11] Barbara A. Weightman “Scared Landscapes And The Phenomenon Of Light” Geographical Review, vol 86, No 1 (Jan., 1996), 59-71.
[12] John R Ferris, Holger H Herwig, Timothy H E Travers, Christon I Archer, 
    World History of Warfare, U of Nebraska Press,Nebraska,2001,p217ff
[13] Patel, Alka, “ Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates”, The Journal of the society of Architectural Historians, vol. 60, No.2 (Jun 2001) 216-217.
[14] Zaman, Mughal Artillery, Delhi, Vishal Printers, 1983, p 11,83 quoted in Alfred W Crosby, Throwing Fire, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p114.
[15] Richard M. Eaton, A social history of the Deccan, 1300-1761: eight Indian lives Cambridge University Press, 2005, p71.
[16] Sir Wolseley Haig, Histopric landmarks of the Deccan, Pioneer Press, p102.
[17] Ghulam Yazdani The Early history of the Deccan (Oriental Reprint, 1982). p526,666-667. 
[18] Jos Gommans, “Warhorse and Gunpowder in India” in Jeremy Black, War in the early modern world (Taylor & Francis, 1999) pp 112-115.
[19] John Burton-Page “Daulatabad” in Marg vol 37,No3 p.17.
[20] Rajampeta in  Medak District
[21] Ibid, p20.
[22] John. F.Richards “ The Seventeenth-Century Crisis in South Asia”, Modern Asian studies, vol.24 No.4 (oct 1990), p626.
[23] John F Richards, “The Imperial Crisis in Deccan” The Journal Of Asian Studies, vol. 35, no 2, feb 1976 pp254-255.see also George Michell, Mark Zebrowski, Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates, Cambridge University Press,1999. 
[24] John. E Wills Jr “ Maritime Asia, 1500-1800: the Interactive Emergence of European Domination, The American Historical Review, vol.98, No 1(Feb., 1993), 83-105.
[25] B G Gokhale, “The Religious Complex in Eighteenth Century Poona”, Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol 105 No4 (oct.-Dec-1985), 719-724
[26] Ibid.
[27] Catherine B Asher, The Islamic legacy in MARG, vol 35,No1 p 76
[28] Gommans, os, op cit, p 30.
[29] ibid
[30] John Burton –Page, Bijapur in MARG, vol no 37,No3 Pp31-62
[31] George Michell, Bidar,vol 37,No3, p 42-46
[32] Catherine B Asher, op cit.

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