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Revisiting the Konkan sentinels -Suvarnadurg,Vijaydurg & Sindhudurg

Suvarnadurg, ​​meaning The Golden Fort, lies a quarter mile away from the coast of Harnai village in Ratnagiri District of Maharashtra.

ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Jan 09, 2020, 10.00 AM IST
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Suvarnadurg Fort, off Harnai Village, Dapoli District in Maharashtra. (Image: AshLin)
Maharashtra is famous for its rich maritime legacy. The existence of sea forts, some dating as far back as the 12th century; demonstrate the vision, technological know-how and architectural expertise of the then rulers.

The island forts of Suvarnadurg, Vijaydurg and Sindhudurg, located along the Konkan Coast in the Arabian Sea, were strategically erected either to thwart the rising influence of the foreign rulers particularly the Dutch, English, Portuguese and the French; or to suppress the rise of the Siddis.

SUVARNADURG - THE GOLDEN FORT
Suvarnadurg lies a quarter mile away from the coast of Harnai village in Ratnagiri District of Maharashtra. Suvarnadurg literally means 'The Golden Fort'. It was conquered by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in 1660 by defeating Ali Adil Shah II, and was a feather in the golden cap of Marathas; hence the name.

Suvarnadurg has two entrances - 'Maha darwaja' (big gate) on the east, which faces land; and 'Chor Darwaja' on the west, facing the sea. The fort which has many bastions, can be approached only during low tide. The central part of the fort has two granaries and a decrepit building. A stone building in the fort precincts has been identified as an ammunition storehouse. There are several potable water sources including tanks, ponds and wells in the fort.

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​Map showing the location of the three forts​.
Map showing the location of the three forts.

VIJAYDURG - A MARK OF VICTORY
The oldest fort on the Sindhudurg coast, Vijaydurg lies in the Devgad Taluka of Sindhudurg district. It is surrounded by Arabian Sea on three sides.

Vijaydurg was constructed in the regime of Raja Bhoj of Shilahar dynasty in 1205 (construction period 1193-1205). The fort was earlier known as 'Gheria' as it is situated in the village 'Girye'. Shivaji seized this fort from Adil Shah of Bijapur in 1653 and renamed it to 'Vijay Durg' as the then Hindu solar year's name was 'Vijay' (meaning victory).

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​Vijaydurg Fort. (Image: Rehansarang​)
Vijaydurg Fort. (Image: Rehansarang)

After the fort was captured by Shivaji, he extended the area of fort by constructing three fort walls on the eastern side. This fort was also known as "Eastern Gibraltar" as it was impregnable for a long time due to its locational advantage. It has a 40 km long waghotan / kharepatan creek. The big ships couldn't enter the shallow waters of this creek and hence Maratha warships were anchored in this creek. Vijaydurg has a 200m long, underwater tunnel connecting it to the village.

The roof of the tunnel has been pinched to protect it from land-slides and is well ventilated. The fencing compound wall constructed at 8-10 m depth undersea, 300ft from the fort is another architectural wonder. The wall is constructed using laterite stones. Majority of attacking ships met their watery grave after colliding on this wall as this wall is not visible above the sea level.

SINDHUDURG - FORT OF THE SEA
Sindhudurg has always been a serene, coastal beauty. It is situated off the coast of Malvan taluka, in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj constructed this epic fort on the southern end of the Ratnagiri district, after his innumerable attempts to conquer the mighty Janjira fort of the Siddis failed.

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​Underwater rocks make the way to Sindhudurg Fort difficult. (Image: Debazoti)​
Underwater rocks make the way to Sindhudurg Fort difficult. (Image: Debazoti)

Sindhudurg lies on a rocky island which is accessible by a boat from the mainland. The word Sindhudurg stands for 'fort of the sea' and was the main Maratha headquarters to prepare for wars and battles.

With almost 100 architects and a manpower of 3000, it took three years to build Sindhudurg, depicting the foresight and resourcefulness of Shivaji. This imposing construction with 32 towers, is spread over an area of 48 acres, with its massive walls standing tall against the crashing waves of the sea.

Sindhudurg was built with the help of huge rocks on the 'Khurte' Island and over 4000 mounds of iron were used in the casting and its foundation stones were firmly laid down in lead. This magnificent fort has an underwater passage built in the 16th century. The passage that starts from one of the temples that looks like a water reservoir goes under the fort beneath the sea and opens up to the nearby village around 12 kilometres away. The fort exhibits impressive engineering and the entrance to this architectural marvel is concealed in a brilliant wayc it cannot be located from outside. The shape of the fort is irregular with many projecting points and deep indentations, thus offering a command of all the sides.

CURRENT STATE AND CONSERVATION
These three forts, still standing tall, remind us of our glorious past and the challenges that lie ahead of us, for a secure maritime India. Currently, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has taken them under its wing and putting in efforts to conserve them.

This article is brought to you as a part of The Indian Navy and The Times Group initiative. Contributed by Amruta Talawadekar & Janhavi Lokegaonkar on behalf of the Maritime History Society.
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