The antiquity of Warangal, situated in the present-day state of Telangana, makes it one of the finest heritage cities of India. The splendid monuments found here, built by the rulers of the Kakatiya dynasty, contribute notably to the significance of this place. The Warangal Fort, located on the eastern edge of the city, speaks volumes of the prosperity, grandeur, and power of the Kakatiyas. The historical legacy of the fort and the city of Warangal is inextricably intertwined.
Interesting accounts of the rise of the city of Warangal can be found in local records. Legend has it that one day a cart conveying goods to Hanamkonda (the earlier capital of the Kakatiya dynasty) struck a rock and turned upside down. Its axis, which was made of iron, came into contact with the rock and turned immediately into gold. The contemporary Kakatiya ruler, Prola II, visited the spot and found a linga emerging out of the rock. He built a temple enclosing the linga which subsequently came to be known as Swayambhu. Rudradeva, the son and successor of Prola, is said to have built the town of Orugallu (former name of Warangal) and used it as an important centre during his reign. Ganapati Deva, the nephew of Rudradeva and one of the greatest Kakatiyas, shifted the capital from Hanamkonda to Warangal sometime between 1252 and 1254 CE. His successors, Rudrama Devi and Pratap Rudra Deva continued to rule from the city.
A historical account of the development of the fort of Warangal is perhaps incomplete without a discussion on Queen Rudrama Devi, one of the most illustrious Kakatiya rulers. She was born to King Ganapati Deva and named as Rudramba. Marco Polo visited the Kakatiya kingdom in the 13th century and wrote extensively about her rule. King Ganapati Deva had no sons to take over the throne after him. In the absence of a male heir, he chose Rudrama Devi, his eldest daughter, to be his successor and heir to the Kakatiya throne. The nobility, however, was vehemently opposed to this. Ganpati Deva was forced to perform a special ceremony, the Putrika ceremony, whereby in the absence of a son, a man could appoint his daughter as the “male heir”. Rudrama Devi was declared as his son and was named Rudra Deva. The ascension of Rudrama Devi to the Kakatiya throne was marred by squabbles and protests. Warring neighbors such as the Yadavas of Devagiri, the Gangas of Kalinga, and the Pandyas of Tamil Nadu, to name a few, perceived her as a weak ruler. She, however, rose to the occasion and proved herself to be no less than a male heir. She defeated the Yadava king Mahadeva and successfully drove the invading Yadava army out of Devagiri. After this significant victory, she assumed the title Raya-gaja-kesari, which means "the lion who rules over the elephant kings," and constructed a commemorative pavilion in Warangal's Swayambhu temple, depicting herself as a woman warrior mounted on a lion with her sword and shield in hand, evoking the image of the fierce goddess Durga. She embarked on a number of new ventures, including the completion of the Warangal Fort, which had been initiated by her father. She strengthened the fort's protection by adding a second wall and a moat, making it incredibly solid and impregnable. She also had only daughters and adopted her grandson, Pratap Rudra Deva, as her son and heir to the throne.
The construction of the Warangal Fort began under the reign of Ganapati Deva in the 13th century. It is believed that Ganapati Deva replaced an existing structure made of bricks to build the stone fort of Warangal on a hillock called Ekashila. After him, his daughter Rani Rudrama Devi and her grandson Pratap Rudra Deva, made considerable additions to the fort. Although the fort is now in ruins, the motifs, sculptures, and stonework still provide a glimpse of the mesmerizing craftsmanship and stunning artistry of the Kakatiyas.
The fortification of Warangal was majorly done by King Ganpati Deva and Rani Rudrama Devi while King Prataprudradeva made improvements on it. He also adorned the city with palaces, gardens and fountains. The fortifications can be divided into three concentric circuits. The first, or innermost wall, is made up of massive granite stone blocks and is 1.2 km in diameter with gateways at four cardinal points. These stones were laid in a close-knit pattern without the use of mortar- a reflection of the Kakatiya artisans’ architectural expertise. This fortification, initially built by Ganapati Deva, was later heightened by Rani Rudrama Devi. It is surrounded by a wide moat. It is defended by 45 massive bastions, which project outward from the wall and into the waters of the moat. An earthen ramp with 18 stone steps rises at a gentle slope up to the ramparts on the inner side of this wall. The stone steps provided access to various locations within the fort. The second wall, an earthen structure, 2.4 km in diameter, was also constructed by Queen Rudrama Devi. The final ring of wall, which encompasses today's Warangal district, was constructed with mud and has a diameter of 12.5 km.
The four gates of the Warangal fort were built in the design of the Kakatiya Kala Thoranam, or “Gateway of Glory”, a classic arch carved out of a single rock. These four gates were once a part of the great Swayambhudeva (Shiva temple) constructed in the 12th century. This ornate arch was adopted as the Kakatiya Dynasty's royal symbol. Today, it has been officially incorporated as the Emblem for the modern state of Telangana.
The Khush Mahal, also known as the Shitab Khan Mahal (named after Sitapati, a Hindu chief who was governor under Bahamani rule), is said to have been built during the Tughlaq reign.
Among the sculptures lying in the ruins of Swayambhu temple complex (located close to the fort) are the pillar brackets on which there are representations of gaja-kesari motifs. This motif depicts a lady with the headdress of a warrior, and holding a dagger and shield. She is seated on a lion, which in turn is seen standing on the trunk of an elephant. The warrior is believed to represent Queen Rudramadevi. It is a tangible depiction of the concept of Raya-gaja-kesari, i.e., "the lion who rules over the elephant kings," as discussed earlier.
Swayambhudevi Alayam, a temple dedicated to Mother Earth, is located at the heart of the fort. It is known for its intricately carved sculptures. Within the fort's premises an open-air museum is a major attraction. Amazingly carved sculptures in black basalt on ornamental doorways, intricate patterns and motifs, reflect the fort's architectural grandeur.
The fort of Warangal has numerous ruins, particularly in the central part which is designated as an archaeological zone. These relics offer an extensive insight into the fort’s architecture and the Kakatiya era. The inscriptions on the pillars and the walls provide vivid descriptions of the reign of Kakatiyas.
The Warangal Fort was the centre of political significance and economic prosperity of the region during the medieval period. The fort’s sieges are one of the most talked about aspects of this historical structure. The fort withstood numerous attacks, which resulted in widespread destruction. The wealth of the Deccan region was such that it tempted invaders to repeatedly plunder it. The Yadavas of Devagiri attempted several invasions but were repelled. During Pratap Rudra Deva's reign, forces of the Sultans of Delhi attacked and besieged the fort. Sultan Ala-uddin Khilji of Delhi sent his general Malik Kafur to the Deccan in 1309 with orders to invade the Kakatiya kingdom. Malik Kafur was given the task of incorporating Pratapa Rudra as a subordinate monarch within Delhi's expanding circle of tributary rulers, rather than annihilating or annexing the Kakatiya kingdom. Pratapa Rudra Deva sued for peace in 1310, after Delhi's forces breached the city's walls. Malik Kafur pillaged and plundered the fort. During this raid, he acquired the priceless Kohinoor for the Khilji dynasty. According to legend, it was used as a deity's eye in a Kakatiya temple in Warangal, till 1310. A month later, Malik Kafur began his march back to Delhi, and Pratapa Rudra dutifully paid Delhi a large annual tribute for some years.
But, in 1318, the king was remiss in sending his annual tribute. Consequently, the Delhi Sultan sent general Khusrau Khan to collect the overdue payment. The invaders soon captured the main bastion of Warangal’s outer wall. They then advanced to the city’s formidable and innermost fortification. According to an account by the famous poet Amir Khusrau, in the battle that ensued, the Telugu warriors defending the citadel against the Sultan’s forces, had to confront some of the deadliest and most advanced military technology of the time.
In 1320, a political revolution in Delhi replaced the Khilji dynasty with the Tughlaq dynasty, and Pratap Rudra took advantage of this chaos by evading the payment of his tribute. Following this, in 1321 for a third and final time, a Northern army under Muhammad bin Tughlaq invaded Warangal and subjected the city to a six-month siege. Muhammad bin Tughlaq was unable to bring this siege to a successful conclusion and hence retreated to Devagiri. After, spending several months in Devagiri, resting and reinforcing his forces, Muhammad bin Tughlaq returned to invade Warangal in 1323. This time, Warangal was subjected to unchecked plunder and destruction. The Kakatiya dynasty was annihilated and its territories were annexed to the Delhi Sultanate.
Pratap Rudra Deva was captured in the final engagement and taken to Delhi as a prisoner. He died on the way on the banks of the river Narmada. Following the fall of the Kakatiya empire, the fort and the city of Warangal had a tumultuous history. The city was named Sultanpur. Soon after, the Nayakas and generals of Pratap Rudra Deva, who had survived in 1323, banded together and inspired the people to rebel against the Northern conquerors. Kapaya Nayaka instigated a rebellion in Telingana, drove out the Muslim governor of Warangal, and took control of the city. The Sultans of the newly established Bahmani kingdom and the chiefs of the Velama kingdom in the Nalgonda district opposed this new kingdom. In 1368, Kapaya Nayaka was killed in a battle with the Velamas and the Warangal kingdom was annexed by the Velama kingdom. Soon after, the Bahmani Sultan, Ahmad Shah, conquered and incorporated Warangal into his kingdom. Later, the Gajapatis of Orissa also invaded and conquered the city. Following this, a Hindu chieftain named Sitapati or Chitab Khan took control of the city, and it enjoyed a brief period of glory under him. It was eventually absorbed into the Qutb Shahi kingdom of Golconda founded by Sultan Quli Qutb Shah in the first quarter of the 16th century and later held by the Nizam of Hyderabad until independence.
Today, most of the glorious structures built by the Kakatiyas lie in ruins. Yet, these reminders of the region’s glorious past lend identity and pride to the modern state of Telangana. The illustrious fort of Warangal is currently seeking the status of a World Heritage Site from UNESCO.