The Marine Forts - Part II

Exact Match

  Udaigiri Caves
  Sanchi Stupa
  Karle Chaitya
  Bharhut Stupa
  Ajanta Caves
  Ellora Caves

  Agra Fort
  Fatehpur Sikri
  Taj Mahal
  Red Fort

  Maratha Forts
  Marine Forts

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British Architecture                                                                                                         

Northwards up this western coast are nine other marine forts. The closest to Janjira is called Padmadurga, Lotus Fort, as much for its shape as the carvings on its walls. Sometimes called Kansa, it was built in the late 17th century by the Maratha Shivaji, very much aware that to protect his western flank from the Sidhis, the Portuguese and the British, and to provide an escape route should he be hemmed in on land, he needed to maintain a navy and a line of coastal defences. Korlai, further up the coast, is a lovely hill fort. 

Originally it belonged to the Adil Shahis of Bijapur, who built the citadel, but the outer walls are Portuguese; they also built the church here. The city-fort of Chaul nearby at the mouth of a creek was taken by the Portuguese from the Moors in 1522 and held by them till 1739, when the Marathas captured it. The once famous city has altogether disappeared and only the ruins of some churches remain. The southern approaches to Bombay are next marked by Underi, a Sidhi fort, and Khanderi, another stronghold of Shivaji, described by the British as 'the dagger pointed at the heart of Bombay'. Protecting that heart was Fort St George, bastion of the East India Company. 

Another Maratha fort, Arnala, commanded the coastline north of Bombay and beyond that was Vasi, a Portuguese holding. Perhaps more than any other thing, the ever-changing flags flying from these very forts would have told an onlooker how India fared during the course of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Despite the epic struggles that took place on land and the changes in events brought about by the advent of artillery, the course of India's history here was dictated by quite a different development, that of what came to be called the East Indiamen. These ships, a combination of merchantman and man-of-war became, with the British tars who sailed them, a bye word for speed and manoeuvrability under sail, their gunners every bit as good as those of the sister navy that in time rifled the waves. 

First chartered in 1600 by Elizabeth I, the captains of the Company were daring and original men, as indeed they all were, whatever their nationality, who ventured far across these seas. The Mughal and Maratha ships were smaller, slower and bore fewer guns, conceived more as a coastal navy and in many cases dependent upon oarsmen rather than on sail. Vijaydurg was the main base for the Maratha navy; according to the East Indian Directory it was 'an excellent harbour, the anchorage being landlocked and sheltered from all winds. There is no bar at the entrance, the depths being from five to seven fathoms; and from three to four fathoms inside at low water.' The navy had been founded in 1659 and grew in size from 50 to 400 vessels within 20 years - many coastal fishermen, familiar with the tricky winds and currents, were very ready to hazard their lives and fortunes with Shivaji, not just to defend their homelands but, like any fighting sailor, in hopes of prize money. The fort protecting the 'excellent harbour' was built on a rocky headland jutting into the sea. Its walls and 27 bastions are even thicker and sturdier than those of inland forts: at high tide the sea batters at Vijaydurg, the constant enemy.


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