A long coastal strip forms the western border of Maharashtra. This coast, in the medieval period, was dotted with many bustling ports. And to defend these port towns, rulers had to erect defense fortifications on the shore. Some of them were also created off the shore. All of these forts are set in picturesque locations. And each of them is a unique piece of architecture. Here are the details of the well-known sea forts of Maharashra:
Vijaydurg is set atop a rocky promontory jutting out of the shore. Situated 75 km north of Malvan, this forty is surrounded by sea on three sides. It is connected to the mainland by a narrow neck on the south. After taking charge of Vijaydurg, Shivaji bolstered the defense of the fort. He added three lines of defensive walls, 27 bastions, and 300 guns. The bastions have slit holes and openings for cannons. There was also a moat before the main gateway. The moat has been filled and the gateway has disappeared. The fortified area, 17 acres, is dotted with the remains of the old structures.
Vijaydurg is 75 km north of Malvan, and 98 km south of Ratnagiri.
It is said that Raja Bhoj II of Shilahara dynasty had built a fort here around the end of the 12th century. Adil Shahis of Bijapur captured it in the 16th century and rebuilt the fort. It was originally called Gheria, but Bijapur Sultans renamed it as Vijaydurg – the fort of victory. In 1654, Shivaji took it over and strengthened it further. By 1689, Vijaydurg had become a naval base of Kanhoji Angre, a Maratha Admiral. He used it to attack and plunder European ships and also managed to become independent from Marathas. In 1756, Peshwas joined hands with British and overpowered the descendants of Kanhoji Angre. And just like other Maratha forts, Vijaydurg came under British Empire.
Sindhudurg has a fortified area of 48 acres on an island near Malvan Town. It is just half kilometre off the shore; boats are available to reach the fort. Sindhudurg is the creation of Shivaji. Its ramparts are 4 m thick and up to 10 m high. The length of the fortification is 3 km. The fort has only one entry gate situated in the northeast corner; it was difficult to find for the enemy. Sindhudurg is the only place which has a temple dedicated to Shivaji. There are also a few other temples in the fort. A small populace used to live in the fort but now their numbers are dwindling.
Sindhudurg is 500 meters off the shore from Malvan beach.
Shivaji began the construction of Sindhudurg in 1664 with 6000 workmen on an island named ‘Kurte’. It took over three years to complete the fort. The prime purpose of the fort was to keep a check on the movements of Europeans and also the Siddis of Janjira. Shivaji’s territories were divided amongst the Maratha Chiefs in 1713. As a result, Sindhudurg came under the chiefs of Kolhapur. Eventually Sindhudurg also ended up getting utilized for plundering the European vessels. After alternating between Portuguese, British, and Kolhapur rulers, it finally came under British in 1812.
Note: Many travellers are attracted to Sindhudurg because of the scuba diving and snorkellling opportunities it offers. The fort conservation trust runs ferries to the fort from Malvan Jetty.
Janjira, a 17th century fortress, is situated off the shore of Rajapuri village, near Murud. It belonged to Siddi clan of rulers who had their roots in Abyssinia. The bastioned ramparts of this fort rise 15 m out of the sea. It is said that as many as 572 cannons were ready to fire at the approaching enemy. Some of them are present even today, pointing out of the niches. While all the structures inside are ruined, you can still identify the mosque, school, and the meeting hall.
Janjira Fort is off the shore of Rajapuri village near Murud.
Janjira was truly impenetrable, and nobody could ever conquer it from Siddis. Malik Ambar, a Siddi from Abyssinia, built this fort at the behest of Sultan of Ahmednagar. Siddis were the ministers of Nizamshahis. But over a period they grew enough strong to claim independence. To tackle the threats from Marathas and Europeans, they got allied with the Mughals. Shivaji himself attempted about 13 times to conquer Janjira, but in vain. The growing influence of Siddis was ceased by the Maratha attack in 1736. Siddis were on the verge of losing, hence chose to sign a peace treaty which restricted them from expanding beyond this region.
Note: Boats are available from Rajpuri Village to reach the fort. However, this service is unavailable during monsoon (June – September).
Kolaba Fort is situated on a low rocky island in the Alibag Harbour. This quadrangular shaped fort was once the naval headquarter of Kanhoji Angre, a Maratha General. Its basalt walls were reinforced with 17 bastions; three of them have remained intact. A long causeway leads to the main entrance. The entry gate has iron-spiked teak doors, and is flanked by towers. While all the buildings in the fort are ruined, the shrines have been restored and renovated. There are a few Hindu temples and a Muslim shrine in the precincts.
Kolaba Fort is just 230 m off the Alibag beach.
The work of Kolaba Fort began during Shivaji’s era, but it was completed by his son Sambhaji in 1681. Later on, in the early 18th century, Peshwas – the offshoot of Marathas – handed it to Kanhoji Angre. Kanhoji used all his forts to raid and plunder European ships, and Kolaba was no exception. In the 18th century, Kolaba suffered from two major fire breakouts which ruined almost all the structures inside.
Going to Suvarnadurg today is more about enjoying a trip off the coast and less about tracing the history. This island fort lies unmaintained. It enclose a huge overgrown land which is dotted with the remains of the old structures. The fort walls have only one entry gate, and were bolstered with round bastions. Walking around in the fort you will find many tanks along with a stepwell. It is said that a tunnel connected this fort with a small land port called Kanakadurga.
Suvarnadurg is 16 km from Dapoli and 98 km south of Murud.
From its present state, it is hard to judge the glory of Suvarnadurg in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was the most important fort after Vijaydurg for Marathas. The prime purpose of this fort was to keep an eye on the Europeans and Siddis. But interestingly Suvarnadurg also had ship building facility. Shivaji captured this fort in 1660 from Ali Adil Shah II. Later on, it became one of the chief posts of Kanhoji Angre, the admiral who sought independence from Marathas. It came under Peshwas in 1756, and in 1818 it was ceded to the British.
Portuguese were the creators of Bassein Fort, which is locally known as Vasai Fort. Situated by the coast, it overlooks the mouth of a small river. During the time of Portuguese, Bassein had shaped into a flourishing port town. Today, within its ramparts are the remains of churches, chambers, and convents. The walls of the fort were strengthened by nine triangular bastions. Today the buildings inside are in ruined state and are covered with vines and bushes.
Bassein Fort is in Vasai, 73 km south of Mumbai CST.
Bassein had seen rule of many dynasties before falling in the hands of Muslim rulers of Gujarat. Bahadur Shah granted it to Portuguese in 1535. As a part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza, Bassein was given to the British in 1661. The year of 1695 was very critical as it saw an outbreak of plague which claimed many lives. In 1739, Marathas laid a siege around the fort and captured it. In 1780, British managed to snatch it back.
Of all the states in India, Maharashtra must be the state with the highest number of hill forts. Many of them have been reduced to mere walls, but there are a few that have the remains of the past. These forts are spread across the hilly terrain of Sahyadris. The location of this range of hills was strategically important considering the political situation of medieval era. By occupying a defense establishment here, one could keep a check on the maritime trade. And also they could raid the Deccan establishments and come back to the safer confines of the hill forts. Read More
Maharashtra, a multifaceted state, is rendered beautiful with its long coast and tiny hill stations. The caves of Ajanta and Ellora in this state are the finest examples of the ancient rock art of India. The hilltop and coastal forts of Maharashtra are reminiscent of the era when most of the part of this state was under the reign of warrior Marathas. Maharashtra of the present day is home to many industrialized cities including Mumbai – the commercial capital of India – which displays the metamorphosis this land has undergone. Read More