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Notes on the Geography of Peninsular India: Deogiri Fort

Perhaps the greatest fort on the Deccan, Deogiri, "the hill of the gods," rises a few miles west of Aurangabad. Once it was the site of a Buddhist monastery. After the collapse of the Western Chalukyas, however, a 12th century king named Bhillamraj, ruler of the Yadav Dynasty, made it his capital. He also made it a nearly impregnable fortress. Nonetheless it fell in 1293 to the sultan of Delhi. In 1338, the then-sultan, Muhammad Tughlak, made it his capital and created at the base of the fortress a city called Daulatabad, "City of Wealth." Eventually he changed his mind and returned to Delhi, but the city remained, passing through several hands and eventually becoming part of the Mughal Empire and, during the British period, the property of the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Now it's an archaeological site, parts of it as impressive now as when the indefatigable Ibn Battuta visited in the 14th century. He wrote, "From Ujjayni we travelled to Daulatabad, Aurangabad, the enormous city which rivals Delhi, the capital in importance and in the spaciousness of its planning."

(See H.A.R. Gibb, The Travels of Ibn Battuta, Hakluyt Society, 1994, vol. 14, p. 793. For additional information, see M.S. Mate, Hill of the Gods, 1992, and Dulari Qureshi, Fort of Daulatabad , 2004.)

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Peninsular India: Deogiri Fort picture 1

Ibn Battuta wrote further of Daulatabad: "It is divided into three sections, one is Daulatabad proper and is reserved for the sultan and his troops, the second is Kataka, and the third is the citadel which is unequalled in strength.... The inhabitants of this town are merchants dealing principally in jewels and their wealth is enormous."

Peninsular India: Deogiri Fort picture 2

The wall has been given the standard treatment preferred by the Archaeological Survey of India--which is to say that it is prettily rimmed with carefully watered lawns.

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The main gate or Mahakot is fitted with iron spikes to deter battering by elephants.

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The entrance consists of three gates set at right angles to one another. This is the second.

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A porch from which to watch passersby. The builders presumably cannibalized older Hindu structures for these fine but mismatched columns.

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Just before the third gate, this semi-circular watch tower contained a drum house or naggar khana.

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The third gate.

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Looking through the third gate into the ruins of Daulatabad. Ibn Battuta, no prude he, reported that "the inhabitants of Dawlat Abad belong to the tribe of the Marhata, whose women God has endowed with special beauty, particularly in their noses and eyebrows. They have in intercourse a deliciousness and a knowledge of erotic movements beyond that of other women."

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The women are not on display, and neither is most of the city they knew, except for the hilltop fortress. This step well, dedicated to the goddess Saraswati, was once filled with water brought in a pipe from a reservoir outside the city. An inscription dates the tank to 1322.

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A second tank, the so-called hathi or elephant tank. Beyond it is an inner wall and cliff that rim the citadel. Atop the cliff, on the right, is a small building marking the outlet of a staircase that winds in a vertical tunnel through the rock to provide access to the summit.

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The city's main mosque, the jami masjid, is now a Hindu temple. Call it payback: the columns, after all, were originally taken from a Hindu temple. The building has also been a Jain temple. Atop the hill is a pavilion whose wide veranda, overlooking the city, was used by Shah Jahan.

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Adjoining the mosque is the Chand Minar, or moon tower. It was built in 1435 by Alauddin Bhamani to commemorate the Bahmani seizure of the fort from the Delhi sultanate. The Bahmanis continued to control the city until 1526. The color is modern; originally, the tower was covered with blue tiles.

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The black gate, or Kalakot, is the first of three gates leading through the inner wall.

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Inside this second set of gates, the Chini Mahal still has a few fragments of the blue porcelain that gave it its name. Aurangzeb used it as a prison. One of its inmates was Abdul Hasan Tana Shah, the last sultan of Golconda. Aurangzeb kept him here for 13 years.

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The cliff was described in Ahmed Lahori's Padshahnama as "a mass of rock which raises its hand to heaven. The rock has been scraped throughout its circumference... the escarpment is so smooth that neither an ant nor a snake could scale it...."

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This view looks the other way, or clockwise. Since the entire hill is encircled this way, the $64 question is how you get to the top. Which brings us to the tunnel.

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We've come several hundred meters clockwise to this bridge across the moat.

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Tunnel entrance?

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Out of luck. There's only this shrine.

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We've returned to the spot where we first saw the moat, but now we're looking down, so we've obviously surmounted the cliff. How? The iron-and-plank bridge across the moat dates from the mid-20th century. Before that, and as late as 1920, entry was over the stone staircase behind it, which descends into the moat. By raising the water level, the crossing could be made difficult. Which still leaves unanswered the question of surmounting the cliff.

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The Padshahnama explains: "Through the center of the hill a dark spiral passage like the ascent of a minar, which is impossible to traverse, even in day light, without a lamp, has been cut, and the steps in this passage are cut out of the rock."

The staircase was modified in 1952 so only part of it is now internal. Still, that part is plenty dark. Ibn Battuta writes of dungeons in the cliff: "There is a prison there, in whose dungeons are imprisoned those convicted of serious crime, and in these dungeons there are huge rats, bigger than cats--in fact, cats run away from them and cannot defend themselves, for these rats are too strong for them, so they can be captured only by means of ingenious devices which are employed to deal with them. I saw them there and marvelled at them. The malik Khattab al-Afghani told me that he had once been imprisoned in a dungeon in this fortress, which went by the name of 'the pit of the rats.' He said, 'They used to collect together by night to devour me and I fought against them, which I could only with great difficulty. I then saw in a dream a man who said to me: "Recite the sura of al-Ikhlas, a hundred thousand times and God will deliver you." So I recited it and when I had completed this number I was released. The reason for my release was that the malik Mall was imprisoned in a dungeon adjacent to mine; he fell sick and the rats ate his fingers and his eyes and he died. When this was reported to the Sultan he said 'Fetch our Khattab in case the same thing happens to him.'"

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The staircase emerges atop the cliff. Ibn Battuta adds, "At the head of the passage is a large grating of iron which is shut down in case of necessity and when a fire is lighted upon it the ascent of the spiral passage becomes impossible owing to the intense heat."

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There was another way up the cliff, too. Ibn Battuta saw it. He wrote that the summit could be reached "by a ladder made of leather, which is taken up at night." Fun!

In his day, there must have been a lot more city to gaze upon: now there is little more than the city wall and the courtyard of the mosque. Around the city, he reported "grapes and pomegranates, both of which produce fruit twice in the year. It is one of the largest and most important of the provinces in respect of taxes and land revenue, on account of its dense population and the extent of its territory...."

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The view from another angle. The Padshahnama sums up the fortress this way: "The Fortress of Daulatabad is the basis of the Nizamulmulk's fortune and the gubernatorial seat of that realm. In impregnability and fortification it is renowned through the world and is unique among all the bastions of Hindustan, for this mighty fortification is in reality nine fortresses situated on a splendid granite mountain of the utmost magnitude and height in the midst of a flat plain. Four of the fortresses are on top of the mountain, one above the other, and around the mountain is a wide, deep, water-filled moat carved from the granite."

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Looking over the Baradari Mahal, a favorite summer residence of both Shah Jahan and his son Aurangzeb.

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The view from still higher up the hill.

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The tippy top.

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This is the so-called Durga cannon. Tavernier, in his Six Voyages (1676), says that he met the Dutch soldier responsible for hoisting it to the top. Tavernier doesn't say how it was done, but he says the soldier had been in the army of Aurangzeb, had been unable to secure leave, and so approached the Raja Jai Singh, one of Aurangzeb's lieutenants. The proposition was simple: in exchange for hoisting the cannon to the summit he would be released from service. Jai Singh, who at the time was facing dangerous Shivaji, agreed, the Dutchman got the cannon to the top, and Jai Singh granted him his release. Tavernier says he saw the soldier in 1667 at the port of Surat, where the soldier was embarking for Batavia.

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The Persian inscription reads, "Creator of Storms." The original owner of the cannon? Good question, which of course means that I don't know.

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