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Daulatabad Fort: The Abode of Wealth and Power

True to its name, the Daulatabad Fort cradles a rich heritage and culture. The term “Daulatabad” implies “abode of wealth”. The fort and the region itself, was named so because of its enduring prosperity, strategic location, and the consequent significance that it held for the political history of the Deccan.

This formidable hill fortress, situated in the state of Maharashtra, is located not very far from the famous Ellora caves in Aurangabad. The fort was built by the Yadava King Bhillama V in the 11th century CE. The site where the fort is located was earlier known as Devgiri, meaning the “Hill of Gods”. The surrounding city too, in time, came to assume the same name. The term “Devgiri'' was apt as the hillside was surrounded by temples dedicated to Jain, Buddhist and Hindu deities.

A general view of the Daulatabad Fort, the hill and the surrounding area.
Image Source: Archaeological Survey of India.

Political Developments

The imposing fort of Daulatabad has witnessed the rise and fall of several dynasties. Despite its brilliantly-designed defensive layout, the fort fell to invaders time and again. From the 10th century CE to the 20th century CE, the Daulatabad Fort was the epicenter of all major political activity in the Deccan. It was the capital of the Yadava rulers of the region until the end of the 13th century CE. The prosperity of this region tempted the Delhi Sultans to attack and repeatedly plunder it. Ala-ud-din Khalji was the first one to do so. Thereafter, the fort came under the control of the Tughlaqs. The strategic significance and affluence of the region was such that Muhammad Bin Tughlak relocated his capital from Delhi to Devgiri in the 14th century CE. He renamed the city Daulatabad which means “The Abode of Wealth''. Daulatabad served as his capital for around a decade. The ambitious undertaking, however, did not proceed as planned. After the shift took place, trouble broke out in the eastern and northwestern frontiers of the empire. To make matters worse, the Daulatabad region suffered from an acute water crisis. The Sultan was ultimately forced to relocate his capital to Delhi. The failure of this mission and the misery that it brought upon his subjects earned the Sultan the title of the Mad King.

Many chiefs revolted against Muhammad Bin Tughlaq and eventually the Bahmani rulers established their control over Daulatabad under the reign of Hasan Gangu. By 1499 CE, after the fall of the Bahmani empire, the Nizam Shahis of Ahmednagar annexed Daulatabad and made it into an important political centre. In 1633 CE the Mughals captured Daulatabad after a four-month siege. In fact, Aurangzeb led his campaigns against Bijapur and Golconda from Daulatabad itself. The fort was briefly ruled by the Marathas before being taken over by the Nizams of Hyderabad in 1724 CE. After Independence, the control of the fort passed on to the Government of India.

The Architecture

Daulatabad is considered to be one of the most powerful medieval forts in India. The fort is built on a 200-meter-high conical granite rock formation. Spanning over an area of nearly 100 hectares, the fort complex presents impressive examples of architecture, military engineering, town planning, and water management systems. The fort was built in several stages across centuries. The Yadavas, who are credited with constructing the initial structure, displayed amazing architectural abilities in cutting into the irregular face of the hill to prepare a smooth vertical surface for the construction of the fort. However, a majority of the presently standing structures were built under the aegis of the Ahmednagar Sultanate.

A view of the peak of the conical hill which houses the Daulatabad Fort. Image Source: Flickr.

The defensive architectural features and layout of the fort deserve special attention. These consisted of fortified walls, walkways, moats, gates with iron spikes, bastions and turrets. The outermost fortification is known as the Ambarkot. It is believed to have been constructed by Malik Ambar, a Nizam Shahi regent and a former Abyssinian slave who rose to great prominence and authority as a military commander and minister of state. It is a 14 km long wall consisting of around 45 bastions and 9 gates and is said to have enclosed and sheltered the entire population of the city. Invaders who managed to penetrate the Ambarkot confronted the next line of defence, the Mahakot. It is a 5 km long fortification with 4 layers of enclosure walls and encompasses around 54 bastions. The next layer of defence, the Kalakot, is located at the foot of the hill. The fortification has a deep rock-cut moat that encircles the western side, thick and wide walls with walkways and strategically-positioned bastions and turrets. The fort was also designed to cater to long sieges and had large storage areas and good water supply.

An aerial view of the fortifications of the Daulatabad Fort. Image Source: Flickr.

The way into the citadel is through a perilous tunnel known as Andheri, a dark passage meant to trap the invaders at the entrance of the fort. Many cells were cut into the rock alongside the tunnel to make room for guards and storage. It is said that the defending armies flooded the tunnel with smoke and threw boiling oil or water down the tunnel in order to thwart invaders. Small openings were left to mislead the invaders to fall straight into the moats with ferocious crocodiles and poisonous snakes.

The Daulatabad Fort complex houses several structures of significance. The Chand Minar or the Tower of the Moon is a striking architectural accomplishment of Ala-ud-din Bahmani who constructed it in 1435 CE. It is one of the world's tallest stone minarets and has been regarded as a significant piece of Indo-Islamic architecture. Built in the image of the Qutb Minar, it was constructed as a victory tower that also served the purpose of an observation post. At the base of the tower, is a small mosque or praying hall.

A view of the Chand Minar. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Bharat Mata Mandir is a unique structure within the fort premises. Earlier a mosque known as the Jama Masjid existed there during the reign of Qutub-ud-din Mubarak, the Khalji ruler of Delhi (1318 CE).

A view of the Bharat Mata Mandir. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Daulatabad Fort complex showcases significant examples of skilled water engineering. Saraswati Bawdi is a step-well, built of dressed stone blocks, with a narrow flight of steps leading to the water level. The hammam situated within the Mahakot area was constructed during the Tughlaq period. These chambers were used as caldarium hot rooms for massages and hot water baths. The water flowed from one room to the next by earthen pipes. The structure was made of stone plastered with lime mortar, and its chambers were adorned with stucco work.

Once among the most luxurious of the Nizam Shahi palaces, but now sadly in ruins, is the Chini Mahal or China Palace. The Chini Mahal is so named after the decorative blue enameled tiles of ceramic or Chinese porcelain, used on the exterior. The Chini Mahal served as a prison during the Mughal period when it was used by Aurangzeb to imprison the last king of Golconda, Abul Hasan Qutb Shah, until his death.

A view of the Chini Mahal. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Rang Mahal is a rectangular structure with six interconnected chambers that is believed to have been built in the 18th century CE. It consists of an arched doorway decorated with medallions and floral designs. There are latticed windows and intricate carvings on the pillars, which are the fort's only remaining examples of wood-carved architecture. At the top of the hill is the Baradari, a white pavilion with 12 arches. This aesthetically designed structure is a visual delight. It was constructed at Shah Jahan's behest in 1636 CE and was used by Aurangzeb, as a summer retreat.

A view of the Baradari. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Cannons of Daulatabad

The Daulatabad Fort is also famous for its cannons. It is believed that the fort houses around 288 cannons which display a variety of shapes, sizes and compositions. The fort used to be endowed with numerous bronze cannons, mounted on gun turrets with unobstructed views of the surrounding area. In fact, the fort and its cannons are considered to be an ideal setting to study the development and significance of cannons in the history of warfare in the Deccan. Several of these cannons have survived. A notable one is Aurangzeb’s Mendha, called so because it is shaped like a ram. It was also known as the Qila Shikan or the “fort-breaker”. Another cannon has three inscriptions in Persian, on its surface, one of which mentions Dara Shikoh, Aurangzeb’s brother.

Mendha or Qila Shikan. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The fort even today is popular among visitors for its blind alley, multi-layered fortifications and strategically-placed cannons. A fine example of strategic planning, the Daulatabad Fort is truly an architectural marvel.

A view of the Daulatabad Fort. Image Source: Archaeological Survey of India.