For seven years, we meant to explore Gingee. Every time we drove by those other-worldly hills made up of piles of rounded boulders, every time we strained our necks to look up at the King’s Fort, wondering how one could even get to the top–we have been curious about what was up there. But the time went by and we never made the trip. Even though we are not living in Tiruvannamalai anymore, we are still in touch with our friends there. So we were delighted to learn that our friend Karen Sheehy recently asked Saran Dashnamoorthy, our friend and mountain guide extraordinaire, to take her to Gingee and show her around. She told us that Saran took lots of photos of their trip. Since everyone knows what a good photographer Saran is, we asked him to share some of his shots of Gingee with our audience. In this way, we can still post our excitement discovering yet another fascinating site in South India. The following post is by Richard Clarke and Jehan LaFerriere (Saran Dashnamoorthy’s wife). Photos are by Saran Dashnamoorthy unless otherwise noted.
The Gingee Fort
The Gingee Fort complex dates back more than 1000 years and consists of three hills: the King’s Fort, or Rajagiri, to the west, the Queen’s Fort, or Krishnagiri, to the north, and Chandrayandurg to the southeast. The King’s Fort is so fortified that Shivaji, the 17th century Maratha king and legendary Indian warrior, ranked it as the “most impregnable fortress in India” and it was later called by the British “the Troy of the East.” Originally it was the site of a small fort built by the Chola Dynasty during the 9th century AD. It was expanded in the 13th century by the Kurumbar Dynasty. The Kuramba were originally pastoral cattle herders who gained Kshatriya status by claiming Yadu ancestry. The Yadu were one of five tribes spoken of the the Rig Veda, and also in the epic Mahabharata. The Yadus are said to have founded the Sangama dynasty, the first phase of Vijayanagara Empire which ruled South India from 1336–1646 CE. Below is a map of the Vijayanagara Empire during the period from 1446 to 1520 CE when Gingee took its present form. The fort was built at a strategic place to fend off invading armies. It was further strengthened by the Marathas under the leadership of Shivaji in 1677 CE. He recaptured it from the Bijapur sultans who had taken control of the fort from the Marathas. During Aurangzeb‘s campaign in the Deccan, Shivaji’s second son, who had assumed the throne, Chhatrapati Rajaram, escaped to Gingee and continued the fight with the Moghuls from Gingee. The Moghuls could not capture the fort for seven years in spite of laying siege. The fort was finally captured in 1698. Here is a map that shows the fort and its main elements. After Shivaji there were a series of different rulers: the Bijapur sultans, the Moghuls, Carnatic Nawabs, the French and then finally the British in 1761. The fort is closely associated with Raja Tej Singh, who unsuccessfully revolted against the Nawab of Arcot and eventually lost his life in a battle. The fort at Gingee was declared a National Monument in 1921 and is under the control of the Archeological Department. There is a small fee for entering.
The Mother’s Fort, Krishnagiri
The Mother’s Fort consists of several buildings atop a small hill of rounded boulders, typical of hills in this area. It has several buildings and a commanding 360-degree view of the surrounding area. There is a long stairway, shown below, to climb up to the fort. (Photo from India-tour-guide.co.uk.) View of the top showing granary on the left and the Queens’s Palace on the right. (Photo from tripoto.com.) Nearing the top. That’s our friend Karen on the stairs.
The Durbar Hall, the Palace of the Queen’s Fort
This Indo-Islamic structure is of the Sultanate architecture style, and was perhaps the most important part of the Queen’s Palace. This is the place in which she would receive guests and visitors. (First photo below is from flickr.com. The next two are by Saran.) The main stairway up to the hall. (Photo from xbhp.com.) Wonderful interior of the Durbar Hall. Islamic arches everywhere. These support a lot of weight and at the same time give the building a light and airy atmosphere. (Photo below from tripoto.com.) Looking out to the nearby temple. Temple This is the temple within the Queen’s Fort. I am not sure to whom this temple is dedicated. Perhaps it is to the presiding Hindu goddess of the Gingee Fort, Chenjiamman? If anyone knows, please let us know in the Comments section. This shows both the Temple and Durbar Hall, the two main buildings on Krishnagiri. (Photo below from flickr.com.)
The King’s Fort, Rajagiri
The King’ Fort is on the top of the highest hill in the area, one with steep cliffs on all sides. It is these cliffs that made the fort so difficult for opposing armies to conquer. There are many temples within the King’s Fort, which are not shown in this post. There are Shiva, Vishnu, Kali, and Hanuman temples, and also a Mosque, built by a Moghul (Muslim) king. Along with the diverse sacred buildings on the King’s Fort hill, there are other buildings created as part of a community surrounding any military fort. For instance, there is a prison, and there are armories used for storing weapons, and underground tunnels. Views from the top of the King’s Fort are spectacular. Saran and Karen’s tour today did not go to the top of the King’s Fort. However, they visited several places at the base of the hill. In front of the hill is Kalyana Mahal, an ancient seven-story marriage hall, on the flat land below Rajagiri. Close up of the Mahal.
This temple near the base of Rajagiri was built by Muthialu Nayaka in 1540 CE – 1550 CE. The main gopuram. Below is a Google Earth shot of the temple, with the main gopuram to the right (the east). The interior courtyard. Rajagiri rises in the background. The central mandapam (“pillared hall”). The interior gopuram. Looking through this gopuram.
Caves in the Side of the Hill
Visiting the Gingee Area
Gingee is about one hour’s drive east from Tiruvannamalai. Gingee is built over a very large area, with many hidden and hard-to-find buildings and temples. You will need a few days if you want to explore and see everything. For instance, in the surrounding area, about 3 km north of the King’s and Queen’s Forts, is the special Singavaram Temple. In this temple, Vishnu is seen inside a cave within the temple, reclining in his form, Ranganatha. This seventh-century cave temple was built by a Pallava king, of the same lineage as the builders of the temples in Mahabalipuram. This temple is not visited much by Westerners, as it’s not visible from the road. Also, 10 km east of Gingee is the primary Jain temple in Tamil Nadu, the Mel Sithamur Jain Math. The oldest of the two temples here was originally a boulder containing rock-cut images of important Jain figures including Parsvanatha, Adinatha, Mahavira and Ambika yakshi. These images were carved in the 9th century CE. The terrain on which the Gingee Forts are built are unique geologically as well. The surrounding area is made up of many hills of large, rounded boulders. This gives Gingee a very unusual look, even without the forts being there. It makes you wonder how the earth created such smooth, round and large boulders in every direction, and formed them into hills.
About Saran Dashnamoorthy
Saran was born and raised in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, at the foot of Arunachala mountain. Saran spent his childhood playing on the mountain until age 13 when, while climbing to the top of Arunachala, he met his Guru. After that, he regularly climbed Arunachala to spend time with his Guru, and the mountain became particularly special to him. His love of Arunachala is what led him to begin offering his services as a tour guide. He specializes in Arunachala tours and in sites associated with Ramana Maharshi, as well as nearby areas. His tours include the forts of Gingee. If you are interested in seeing these sights for yourself, you can contact Saran at the addresses below: https://www.facebook.com/saravanan.dashnamoorthy www.mountainsarantours.com email: email@example.com telephone: (91) 9944 63 8811