Origin and Importance | Raigad Fort
Raigad Fort (18.2347°N, 73.4464°E) is a hill fort that served as the capital of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the most illustrious Maratha sovereign. The fort is located in the Sahyadri range, 820 meters (2,700 feet) above sea level. The fort is accessible via 1737 steps. It is a symbol of Hindavi Swarajya’s prophetic vision. The fort’s stones are etched with stories of Shivaji Maharaj’s incredible valour, heroic deeds, and innovative warfare techniques.
The fort stands as a quiet reminder of Maharashtra‘s glorious past, though the sound of trumpets and drums or the jangle of clashing swords and shields can no longer be heard at this historic monument known as Durgaraj (the king of forts). Because the well-fortified structure atop the mountain was extremely difficult to access, let alone conquer, the Britishers dubbed it the “Gibraltar of the East.”
In the seventeenth century, Shivaji Maharaj established his capital here (1674 CE). The coronation of Shivaji Maharaj as Chhatrapati was carried out at Raigad, following all rituals and under the supervision of priests, who anointed him by pouring holy Ganga water stored in the fort’s rock-hewn Ganga Sagar tank. This tank now stands on the site of two dilapidated high-rise buildings that show the influence of contemporary regional architecture.
In 1656 CE, Shivaji Maharaj acquired the fort on the strategic hill from Chandrarao More. After careful consideration of its strategic location and inaccessibility, it was determined to be the strongest choice for the capital of Hindavi Swarajya. Only one face of the hill can be reached to reach the top. The opposite sides of the hill are inaccessible. Shivaji Maharaj ruled Hindavi Swarajya for six years from Raigad Fort until he died in 1680 CE.
Except for Shivaji Maharaj’s Samadhi (which was renovated in the early twentieth century), Nagar Khana, and Jagadishwar Mandir, which are dedicated to Lord Shiva, most of the monuments inside the fort, including the Hall of Public Audience (Darbar Hall), Royal Complex, Queens’ Palace (Ranivasa), Ashta-pradhanwada (ministerial quarters), Bazarpeth, and Manore (watchtowers), are in bad condition due to later destructions and long neglect.
Chitta Darwaja, also known as Jit Darwaja, is located in the foothills near the village of Raigadwadi. Khoob Ladha Burj could be reached after a hike. It is a strategically placed tower from which anyone approaching the fort can be easily spotted. Maha Darwaja is located about a kilometre and a half ahead of the pedestrian pathway. This main entrance to the fort, built over 350 years ago, still stands majestically. It defies detection by the attacker and consists of two massive bastions about 20 meters tall. The route’s blind curves make it impossible for the invaders to launch an attack and knock it down. Another pedestrian path leads from Raigadwadi village to the main pathway leading to the Maha Darwaza. Nanne Darwaza and Masid Morcha, both in disrepair, are almost in the middle of this route.
Surprisingly, the steep stretches of the pedestrian pathway from Chitta Darwaza to the hilltop had rock-cut steps, which can still be seen in many places despite the construction of a modern stairway in Nevasa stone blocks (an alien material brought from Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra) and cement mortar. The royal ladies and queens could enter the fort’s royal complex through Palkhi Darwaja, a special entrance. The Ranivasa, or Queens’ Chambers, are six apartments built in a row to the right of Palkhi Darwaza. Except for platforms that may have housed the main living structure, little has survived for people to experience. Each of these residences had its enclosure for private toilets. The roofs of none of the structures have survived because they were mostly made of wood, as evidenced by base stones with holes at frequent intervals for anchoring the timber columns. Palkhi Darwaza, close to Ranivasa, is thought to have served as Shivaji Maharaj’s special entrance. A row of three dark chambers to the right of Mena Darwaza is most likely used for grain storage. On the right side of Mena Darwaja, there are 5 wadas known as Ashtapradhan Wada, which were most likely built to house Shivaji Maharaj’s ministers.
Shivaji Maharaj used to hold his darbar for the public in the Raj Sadar (Hall of Public Audience) to dispense justice on routine matters and to receive dignitaries and envoys. It is a rectangular structure that faces east and can be approached from the east via a gateway known as Nagar Khana. The gateway is a three-story structure that faces the royal throne. The uppermost floor is made of bricks, while the lower ones are made of stone blocks. It is believed that the royal band used to perform at Nagar Khana. It is an outstanding example of architecture with exceptional acoustic properties. The distance between Nagar Khana and the royal throne is approximately 65 meters, but even the smallest whisper was being heard clearly from both ends.
The throne was located in the centre of the rectangular platform, facing Nagar Khana on the east. The platform is currently surrounded by a high enclosure wall with arched openings on the east. The lime-plastered enclosed wall in brick masonry appears to be a later addition. The platform appears to have had a high, sloping tiled roof supported by wooden columns in the past. On the main platform, an octagonal meghdambari (ornate canopy) with a seated image of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj raised over the original site of the throne can be found. The royal throne, which was encrusted with diamonds and gold, was said to be supported by eight columns of gold weighing nearly 1000 kg. It also bore Shivaji Maharaj’s royal emblem. The throne’s umbrella was embellished with strings of precious stones and pearls.
A comprehensive and meticulous archaeological investigation is likely to reveal some intriguing characteristics of the throne platform and other Raj Sadar components. The irresponsible restoration of the northern and southern enclosure walls a few years ago severely harmed the complex’s original features. Raj Sadar’s left flank contains two rectangular platforms that appear to be later additions. The raised platforms on the east, north, and south peripheries of Raj Sadar suggest that these covered pavilions were possibly intended for high officials to sit during darbar. The platforms’ roofs may have been tiled and supported by wooden columns, evidence of which can still be seen at regular intervals. The platforms on either side of Nagar Khana still have the original features of the superstructure and could be of great assistance in the complex’s future conservation and restoration. It’s worth noting that a massive rock mass within the Raj Sadar is still lying unhewn.
The Raj Sadar stands a silent witness to Shivaji Maharaj’s joys, sorrows, anger, victories, administrative acumen, and overwhelming generosity. The royal complex, which stands on a double plinth, is located exactly on the back side of Raj Sadar. The superstructure atop the raised plinth has completely collapsed. However, based on provisions to accommodate wooden columns to support the superstructure, the plinth could be said to have a tiled, sloping roof with low-height verandas all around. A toilet that is connected to proper drainage is notable. On the east is an underground cellar (Khalbat Khana) that was possibly used for secret meetings, personal worship, and as a treasury. A careful examination of the extant remains revealed the use of stone blocks and bricks in construction. There are numerous unanswered questions regarding the architectural details of the royal complex.
The royal complex, which included Ranivasa and Raj Sadar, Nagar Khana, Mena Darwaza, and Palakhi Darwaza, was well fortified and could only be reached via three entrances: Nagar Khana, Mena Darwaja, and Palkhi Darwaja. Balle Qilla is the common name for this fortified complex. The fort had numerous water reservoirs of varying sizes, one of which is the beautiful Ganga Sagar. Many of the water reservoirs are still in use. Locals believe Raigad Fort had the luxury of housing 84 water reservoirs of varying sizes. In reality, all of these reservoirs are nothing more than stone quarry sites. Because the depressions left over from stone quarrying are filled with water during the monsoon season and used all year, they automatically became water reservoirs. The most intriguing aspect, however, is their location.
Holi Cha Mal is located in the vicinity of Nagar Khana. It is a large open space that was most likely used for the annual Holi festival. On the western outskirts of Holi Cha Mal, there is a small mandir dedicated to Shirkai Bhavani, the fort’s presiding deity. The presiding deity is thought to have been housed on the high stone plinth located on the southwest side of Holi Cha Mal before being relocated to its current location. A spacious and well-planned parallel row of structural units known as Bazar Peth can be found to the north of Holi Cha Mal. Each row’s structural units are built on a high plinth, accessible via flights of steps at regular intervals. A 13-meter-wide path connects the rows of structural units to Jagadishwar Mandir. This complex’s units have a veranda in front and two rooms back to back in the back. Because of the perishable nature of the building materials, which were most likely timber and terracotta tiles, the complex’s superstructure has succumbed to inhospitable climatic conditions. The walls and plinth are made of semi-dressed basalt stone blocks and random rubble stones. Lime has always been a major component of mortar.
The Jagadishwar Mandir is rectangular in plan, facing east, with a mandapa in front and a sanctum sanctorum in back. The Mandir could be accessed via a low-level entrance. The sanctum sanctorum contains a Shiv-linga, which is still worshipped today. The Mandir’s walls are devoid of carvings. The projected superstructure, on the other hand, is supported by elegantly carved brackets. The sanctum sanctorum runs the length of the enclosure wall and is crowned by a dome-shaped spire and four minaret-like structures on the roof’s four corners. It is important to note that there is no passage from the inside of the mandir to the roof of the mandir. The Mandir is surrounded by a rectangular, high enclosure wall that is pierced by two entrances, one on the east and one on the west. There could have been a covered veranda resting on a two-tiered raised plinth all around the perimeter of the rectangular courtyard. The roof appears to have been constructed primarily of wood and terracotta tiles. The eastern entrance gateway is not only taller but also more elaborate, indicating that it was the main entrance of the mandir. The west entrance, which serves as the entry and exit, was possibly the complex’s secondary entrance. A short inscription in Modhi script affixed to the steps leading to the Mandir on the east mentions one Hiroji Indulkar as the fort’s architect. Another far more significant, inscription can now be found on the outer wall of the eastern gateway complex facing north.
The Samadhi of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is located almost opposite the eastern entrance of Jagadishwar Mandir and adjacent to it. Initially, the Samadhi only had a low-height octagonal platform. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the platform’s height was increased, and a canopy was built at the same location. The railing around the Samadhi is made of cement and has a lattice design.
The illustrious Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj had built a small Dharamshala adjacent to the enclosure wall of Jagadishwar Mandir to the south of Samadhi, possibly for people to rest. The rectangular-plan arched structure faces the Samadhi and has a flat roof supported by stone columns devoid of carving. Other significant structures within the fort complex include the Ammunition Depot, Bara Tanki (more than a dozen large water reservoirs), Jagdishwar Mandir, Wadeshwar Mandir, Wagh Darwaja, Takmak Tok, Hirkani Burj, Bhawani Burj, Hatthi Talao, Hatthi Khana, and several wadas at varying levels. Some of the wadas are so large that they appear to have been occupied by senior members of the hierarchy. It would be impossible to do justice to Raigad Fort unless these wadas are scientifically exposed and conserved.
Raigad was an excellent representation of fort architecture until 1818 when the British looted and destroyed it. This architectural marvel has it all, from majestic doors to royal corridors to impregnable protection. Fort’s simple yet advanced construction has proven its worth for centuries, and it continues to amaze us today.
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