Saturday, March 31, 2001

A souvenir of antiquity
By Jayanti Roy

Antiquity: I like its ruins better than its reconstructions. Joubert.

MANAULI, 11 km from Chandigarh, is a tiny hamlet in Punjab. In the middle of the village stands an old fortress, now a crumbling souvenir of antiquity. This monument is witness to a number of political upheavals that took place in this sleepy little village in the past.

At the four corners of the fort stand four rounded towers about 30-35 feet high with pointed barriers at the top. The walls have several strategically placed holes that were used for placing guns to attack the enemy from inside. The fort, with its main gateway on the western side, had three storeys and separate enclosures for women.

On the western side, opposite the main gateway, you have the remains of a mosque. The fort, made up of bricks and mortar, once stood majestically atop an elevated area, about 20 feet higher than the village area. Anybody approaching the fort could be easily spotted and arrangements could be made for defence.


The remains of a tower at Manauli FortOnce strong and impregnable, this fort has over the years failed to protect itself from the onslaught of weathering. Banyan, palm and neem trees have grown inside the fort. Their deep roots have been widening the cracks in the structure. One of the pillars of the main gateway has bent towards one side like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. On all sides, there is unchecked vegetation. It is not possible to go inside the fort as the gate is blocked by the dense growth of wild grass. On the south-eastern corner there is a mazaar. On Thursdays, candles are lit there by villagers.

According to villagers, the fort was raised by the Mughals. The Sikhs residing in the area were exploited, harassed, insulted and tortured by the administrators who were mainly Muslims. Guru Gobind Singh organised the Khalsa Panth and after him Banda Bairagi fought for the Sikhs; a bloody battle was fought here between the two groups. The Mughals were defeated, and Khalsa Raj was established.

In memory of the Sikh martyrs, the battlefield was renamed Shaheed Bagh. Though there are no traces of Shaheed Bagh now and several houses have come up on the land yet a small gurdwara called Singh Saheedan reminds us of the martyrs. If this account given by the villagers is true then the fort could be 300-400 years old.

The valiant heroes who fought in the battle were later awarded vast lands and villages. Sardar Kapoor Singh, one of the brave soldiers, was given this fort and the adjoining land as a token of recognition of his services. The fort still remains in the possession of his descendants.

The main gate of the fortThe present owners of the fort, the descendants of Kapoor Singh, however, do not have any historical facts related to the fort. The fortress has been in the possession of the family for the last seven generations but they have no clue about how it was acquired. Their family tree and its brief history finds mention in a book entitled Chiefs and Families of Note in Punjab written by Sir Lepel H. Griffin. The family tree shows its origin with Kapoor Singh who held the title of Nawab. After him the clan was headed by Khushal Singh, Budh Singh, Gopal Singh, Jai Singh and Avtar Singh. Umrao Singh, born in 1896, became the legal heir of the estate but being a minor, the estate remained under the management of the court till 1921. With Independence, jagirdari came to an end but S. Sita Inder Singh, son of Umrao Singh, currently settled in Delhi still receives the same amount as jagir from the Ropar administration, as given before Independence. The family sold much of the land but is still holding on to the fort with plans to renovate it and prepare it as a heritage site in near future. With the local people taking away bricks and other materials from the fort, the renovation could become a monumental task if it is not done soon.

The fort is not under the aegis of the Archeological Department or any other government institution taking care of heritage. Unearthing the real history of the fort could be an interesting project.

The twin towns of Chandigarh and Mohali which are devoid of any touch of antiquity can exploit this site for its rich historical background.