There are numerous places in the history of India that speak volumes about our rich Indian culture, about our mighty warriors and how our forts/palaces have stood like a hard rock during the testing times when Britishers were raging war against us. One such place is Gingee Fort, located in the lush green fields, just on the outskirts of the town of Gingee in Tamil Nadu. The place is merely 80 km from Pondicherry but is as important to the nation’s history, as the forts of Rajgad, Panhala or Raigad. It reserves special importance for Marathas as this fort has provided refuge to the young Chhatrapati Rajaram. It breathed new life into a struggle which seemed all but lost for the Marathas
The fort has stood for centuries watching the numerous wars of successive dynasties, braving hordes of invaders from Islamic sultanates to the mighty French and of course the British Empire. It was ruled by Kurumbha Chiefs who were succeeded by Nayaks of Gingee who ruled as vassals of the Vijaynagar Emperors, The Bijapur sultanate took over Gingeee after that and then it was claimed by Marathas under the visionary leadership of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj
You might be wondering? How come Marathas are associated with the fort located in the deep south region of the nation. The answer of this lies in a long victorious campaign to south India, popularly known as “Dakshin Digvijay” led by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in 1676. Taking advantage of a political crisis in Bijapur’s Adilshahi kingdom, he brokered a quick truce with the Mughal governor at Aurangabad and set off south on a grand campaign, which granted the Marathas various places such as Koppal, Vellore, Gingee, etc. Chhatrapati Shivaji actually allied with the Qutubshah of Golconda, allowing him easy passage through Hyderabad and into the Adil Shahi-ruled regions of Vellore and Gingee
In fact, historical records speak of a grand reception accorded to the great king by Qutub Shah. Thus, by the end of 1676, an almost unbroken chain of forts running from Raigad to Gingee had been created. It is one of the best examples of how Shivaji was visionary par excellence.
According to the testimony of a Jesuit Priest “Sivaji arrived at the neighborhood of Gingee with 10,000 troops and encamped at Chakrapuri on the banks of the Chakravarti river, and soon the fort opened its gates to him. He is said to have fallen upon the place like a thunder-bolt and carried it at the first assault”
Before embarking on the conquest of Gingee by Shivaji Maharaj, Raghunath Pant had made a secret agreement with Rauf Khan and Nazir Khan for the surrender of the fort and they were bestowed with Money and jagirs elsewhere for cooperation. This plan made it impossible for Bijapur Sultanate to counter Shivaji Maharaj.
Shivaji Maharaj was well aware of the situation and he decided to seal an alliance with the Qutub Shahi rulers of Golconda and convince him about the need for a Carnatic invasion for strengthening the kingdom against impending Mughal Invasion.
The victory of Shivaji Maharaj at the Carnatic campaign impressed almost all contemporary writers. Although Shivaji Maharaj died in 1680 only three years after capturing the Gingee fort but his contribution to the fort is immense.
Even after the death of Shivaji, this fort has served as a boon for Marathas. In 1682, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb invaded the Deccan with one of the largest armies ever to be assembled. The Marathas, under Chhatrapati Sambhaji, fought bravely for seven long years, but in early 1689 he was caught and cruelly put to death. Then the Maratha capital of Raigad was surrounded by Mughal forces.
In this difficult situation when many forts had fallen the fort of Gingee and the chain of forts leading to it offered a glimmer of hope to Marathas! A council of ministers at Raigad reached the difficult and brave decision that the best route forward was for Rajaram, Shivaji’s second son, to escape the Sahyadris where the Mughals roved like the maws of death. He would make way to the fortress of Gingee, many miles away in a land speaking an unfamiliar language!
The fort is built on three hillocks – Rajagiri, Krishnagiri, and Chandrayanadurg, forming a huge triangular enclosed area peppered with royal, religious and military structures. It is evident the moment you enter Gingee, how hard it must have been for an enemy army to invade while being attacked from 3 hills simultaneously. In fact, Chhatrapati Shivaji himself is said to have considered this India’s most impregnable fort.