The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, August 17, 2003

Theme for Tughlaq’s dream
Shona Adhikari

The Daulatabad fort
The Daulatabad fort

"EVERY living soul in Delhi will leave for Daulatabad within a fortnight. Everyone must leave. Not a light must be seen in the windows of Delhi, not a wisp of smoke must rise from its chimneys. Nothing but an empty graveyard of Delhi will satisfy me now." Thus spake Ghias-ud-Din Mohammed-Bin-Tughlaq, the idealistic Sultan of Delhi from his Capital at Tughlaqabad.

These words have been recreated by playwright Girish Karnad, who wrote the hugely successful play Tughlaq, in which this eccentric monarch’s dream of controlling the whole of India, by shifting his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad in the Deccan, is superbly portrayed.

Daulatabad, 15 m west of Aurangabad, assumed major importance from 1327, when Tughlaq dissatisfied with his existing capital, decided that Delhi lay too far north for his ambition to capture the whole of Hindustan. He decided to move the entire populace of Delhi to the supposedly impregnable fort, 700 miles (1100 km) away.

Without food, many of his subjects perished along the way, forcing the dejected monarch to abandon his plans and march his subjects back to Delhi after 17 years. Today, the ruins of his dream city are abandoned — both literally and figuratively. Few have the time or the inclination to visit this remotely located fortress. Hardly any conservation work has been done and the crumbling fort and the buildings within tell their own tale of neglect. Yet, there is a special feeling for the place, for at some level one can empathise with the visionary ruler.


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Amid the calm, stands the fortress on a 183-metre-high conical natural granite rock, earlier known as Devagiri, or "Hill of the Gods." During the 12 century AD, the capital of the Yadava dynasty, Devagiri became the stronghold of successive rulers, since its apparent invulnerability kept their powers intact.

The earliest Yadavas had hewn away the irregular face of the conical rock to create a sheer smooth vertical face rising 50 metres high above a moat dug 15 metres into the rockface. A causeway across the moat, became the only entry point to the fortress. Earlier there was also a town on the eastern slope, but this was demolished by conquerers.

As in the nearby Ajanta and Ellora Caves, at Devagiri also Buddhism seems to have gained a foothold, during the same period. There are at least ten caves dating back to the 1st century BC, which were adapted by successive rulers for housing their staff.

The Yadavas ruled the region independently from 1183 till 1294, when Raja Ramchandra of Devagiri was overcome by Ala-ud-din, nephew of Sultan Jalal-ud-Din Khilji, and was appointed governor, owing allegiance to the Delhi Sultanate. Sultan Qutb-ud-din Khilji created the Jumma Masjid or Friday mosque in Devagiri in 1318 — the first Muslim monument within the walls of the city.

Devagiri continued to be administered by various governors appointed by the Delhi Sultanate till 1347, when governor Zafar Khan rebelled against the administration, and became the first Bahamni Sultan. A victory tower-cum-observation post, known as the Minar" was built in 1433, and is the second tallest tower in India after the Qutb Minar.

It was at this time that the name of the fortress changed from Devagiri to Daulatabad; or the "the abode of good fortune". The fortress is extremely steep and almost a rock climber’s ascent. The outer wall is five kilometres long, and earlier sheltered a large population in a town now completely abandoned. A second wall enclosing an area with a radius of half a kilometre is known as the "Mahakot".

A third wall, the "Balakot", has a splendid entrance gate leading to the ancient caves. A number of cannons that may still be seen, are testimony to the fort’s impregnability. A seven-inch cannon made out of panchdhatu or five metals, is commonly referred to as "Shree Durga", and is strategically located to guard the peak. All along the way, there are a number of other cannons such as the Ram-headed "storm breaker" and others that look equally menacing. Stout, heavily- spiked gates, placed along the way, created effective barriers for marauding foes.

A tunnel in the rock face offers the only route to the upper reaches. It is said that at the time of a seige, an iron barrier at the end of the long spiralling tunnel would be heated to such a point, that no one could touch it. Thus, successfully pushing back any attackers who had managed to reach thus far.

The Fort had been planned in such a way, that it was possible for to live within its walls for long stretches. There was plenty of storage space for food and a huge water tank built within the fortified walls could also provide water for the entire army for over six months, in case of a seige.

The "Chinimahal," a palace named for the decorative ceramic tiles used on the exterior, became the prison of the last Qutb Shahi ruler of Golcunda, Abul Hasan, who was imprisoned there for 1687 to 1700 by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

In the exciting history of Daulatabad, it is interesting to note that most monarchs who came to power, considered it a key to the domination of southern India. But Daulatabad, despite being prized as one of the most coveted forts of India, never really lived up to its name. Somehow greatness always remained elusive.

Nizam-ul-Mulk captured the fort and the city in 1757, breaking Daulatabad’s links with the Nizam Shahi Dynasty of Ahmednagar. However, he was unable to hold out against the wily Maratha forces, and it fell once again. The Marathas, hung on to power till they were driven out by the British. Bringing the curtain down finally, on the colourful past of Devagiri — on the history of a great fort, that just missed becoming the capital of India.