Vijaydurg looks very impressive at your first sight. Sitting on an elevated ground surrounded in three sides by water of the 40 km long Vaghotan creek, the fort looks formidable. The walls of the fort built with laterite stones are more or less intact. However they badly need repairs. Near the fort there is another dock, much bigger than the one which we saw at Devgarh. Thankfully there was no restriction in photography here.
History of Vijaydurg Fort
In 1653 Shivaji Maharaj had captured this fort from Adil Shah of Bijapur and renamed it as “VijayDurg”. The original name of the fort was “Gheria” and the first fortification appears to have been constructed in 1200 during the regime of Raja Bhoj II. Shivaji developed Vijaydurg as an important base for Maratha warships.
Maratha Empire looked to be in a decline after death of Shivaji In 1680, when his son and successor Chatrapati Shambhaji was captured by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and brutally tortured to death in 21st March 1689. Later in that year the fort of Raigad fell in the hand of Mughals. Wife of Shambhaji and his infant son Shahu along with many others were captured and were treated as state prisoners.
Shivaji’s second wife’s son Raja Ram then took in charge of the Maratha Empire. Inspired by the valiant death of Shambhaji, they fought back against the Mughals. It was during his reign Kanhoji Angre alias Conajee Angria became admiral of naval army of the Marathas. In 1698, Kanhoji made Vijaydurg as the capital of his territory along the coast.
In 1700 Raja Ram died.Tara Bai,the brave widow of Raja Ram took over the control of Maratha Empire. Putting her infant son on Maratha throne styled as “Shivaji II”, Tara Bai led successful oppression against the Mughal from 1700 to 1707. Taking advantage of discomfiture of Shivaji’s ruling house Kanhoji Angre became the most “Powerful and independent Naval Chief of West coast of India”. Tarabai gave Kanhoji title of Surkheil (Admiral). At one time Kanhoji Angre was master of the whole coast from Bombay (Now Mumbai) to Vengurla.
Aurangzeb died in 1707 and Shahu was released from the clutches of Mughals. He challenged Tarabai and her son’s legitimacy to the Maratha throne. The Marathas were divided but ultimately Shahu won the right to the throne as Chhatrapati and Tarabai was retreated to rule a small area of Kolhapur under the name of his son Shivaji II in 1713. She was later overthrown and imprisoned till her death by her husband’s second wife Rajas Bai.
In the same year Shahuji sent his Peshwa (Prime Minister), Balaji Vishvanath from his headquarters at Satara to negotiate with Kanhoji Angre. Kanhoji agreed to acknowledge allegiance to Satara and shift his loyality from Tarabai. In return Kanhoji was confirmed command of the Maratha fleet, and granted twenty-six forts and fortified places with their dependent villages.
Vijaydurg is said to be the oldest fort in Sindhudurg coast. In the Pre independence era it was also known as “Eastern Gibraltar”. This is because the fort was almost unconquerable. It routed many naval attacks of British and the Dutch Navy under the brave leadership of Kanhoji Angre.
Kanhoji Angre died on 4 July 1729. The Angres hold over the fort ended in 1756 after the Peshwa-British Alliance defeated the Angres clan. In 1818 Vijaydurg was totally in the hand of the British Empire.
Outer wall and entrance
The Fort has several ramparts around it. Just below the actual fort structure there is a wall near the water which is a low height affair. At present around this stone structure, there are several small huts. There is a pathway besides this which leads to the fort. Just opposite to the entrance of the fort there are several gaps on the lower wall. One of these is actually entry point from the waterway. A flight of stairs takes you to the creek. At present fishing boats land at it this place and fishermen enters through this gap to the land.
We turned left and came into the main fort area. Once there must have been a gate over here. Now there was just an empty area between the first or outer ramparts. We turned right and stated walking with the second or inner ramparts on our left and the outer on our right. The second rampart which acted as the final guard to the fort area looked to be at least 80 feet in height. There was a rope ladder hanging from the ramparts as a display to the tourists.
Walking for some more minutes we came to an open gate on this structure. Just above the gate I could see three peep holes. The sad part was that on the walls besides the door tourists had put their names using stones. This is an incurable habit which has nothing to with education. I have seen educated people do this.We entered through this door, which as the main door to reach the fort. On the right there was a medium sized canon lying on the floor. The iron artillery gun which once took several enemy lives was now counting its last days
There was a floor above the door which was not visible from outside. I could see some windows there with broken window panes. The window panes looked quite modern.
Inside the fort the first thing which drew our attention was several iron balls on the ground, neatly kept one after another in two rows. These were the canon balls which were fired from canons towards the enemy. On the left from the gate there is a stone built room with a small door. The room is very dark inside with no windows. This used to be the Kalbhat Khana or the secret discussion room. Just besides the Kalbhat Khana is a flight of stairs. It will take you to the top of the ramparts. The view of the Vaghotan creek with fishing boats sailing was breath taking. You could actually walk on the rampart and make a round of the entire area at one go. Unfortunately one of the areas has broken down and it is not possible at present.
There are several bastions on these ramparts where cannons were placed to fire at the enemy. Each Bastion was named after a gallant warrior. One of them is named as Shivaji bastion too.The space on the ramparts was immense and we walked to the top of fort where once the flag of Vijaydurg used to be hosted. Now there is only a long stand. Standing at this point you can see the entire area including the road to the fort, its entrance and even the dock in the faraway distance along with considerable portions of the Vaghotan creek.
Kanhoji Angre’s Battles with the British Navy
The British always considered the Angres as pirate as they did not yield to British regulations. Though he was officially declared by the Marathas as their naval commander, the English use to refer him as “Rebel independent of the Rajah Sivajee”. Actually Kanhoji used his naval forces to issue papers (“Dastak”) in order to authorize vessels to pass through his territory. Those found not in possession of a pass were seized, along with their crews and goods, to be later ransomed. The English continued to consider this behaviour piratical.
Kanhoji Angre opted for Guerilla warfare at sea, instead of facing the heavier English ships in a face to face battle. When confronted by large ships, Maratha Gallivats (rowboats) used to slip into shallow waters of Vaghotan creek, under the protection of the fort. The forts had long range guns manned by international gun crews. They fired accurately from bastions causing severe damages to the English ships. In 1717, Kanhoji Angre drove back an English naval attack on Vijaydurg. He retaliated an Portuguese-English alliance on 1720. In 1724 he defeated the Dutch when they assaulted Vijaydurg with their impressive fleet accompanied with land forces.
Archaeological discoveries near Vijaydurg Fort
The reason of Vijaydurg being such an invincible fort was several. Standing on its top most location, I could easily visualize that the location of the fort was very strategic. Besides this, since the waters of the creek were very shallow it was impossible for the British Naval ships to enter here. Besides this explorations made under water on the western side of the fort has revealed a huge linear stone structure (122 m long, 7 m wide and 3 m high) built of irregular stone blocks. This structure is believed to be of the Maratha period. This structure was probably built to cause damage to enemy ships as well as to protect the fort from wave and current action.
At a distance of about 3 km from Vijaydurg the remaining of a tidal dockyard has been discovered on the bank of the river Vaghotan. This dockyard was built by Kanhoji Angre too. The dock had a capacity to hold ships of 500 tonnes.
Further interior structures of VijayDurg
We came down near the main entrance of the fort and started our explorations to other parts. Near to a structure which was supposed to be Gun powder room, another flight of stairs will take you to the top of the ramparts again. Here we got access to one of the bastions. Canon placements were still visible. Looking at it with the deep blue water of the creek in the backdrop, my imaginations ran wild.
Just opposite to the stair case was another building. Climbing up through laterite stone staircase covered with dry leaves we came inside a roofless area which was once the Durbar Hall. It was here once the court of Kanhoji Angre used to sit and he used to address his subjects, soldiers and officials. Once the walls of this place used to echo voices of so many people, and now there is only silence.
We came out of the building and continued our strolling. Nearby there is a well built and ventilated tunnel known as the Bhuyari Marg which will take you to a remote Rampart, thus saving you quite a bit of legwork.
Norman Lockyer and Helium Discovery
On August 18, 1868, Vijaydurg lay in the path of a solar eclipse. The English Astronomer Norman Lockyer, founder of the journal Nature discovered the element Helium by observing solar prominences from Vijaydurg during that eclipse.
There is signboard near the place where Lockyer did his scientific works. This was the only signboard which was in crisp and clear fonts in both Marathi and English. Other than that every one building had an unimpressive yellow paint marking with the name of the structure written in Marathi. There was no description. It is difficult for anyone to understand who had no prior knowledge of the Fort’s history or who could not understand Marathi. Of course you can take the services of a guide, but I felt such an historic fort should have more signboard and maps describing each structure with their significance.
Nearby the signboard there is a small canon rested on some small stone structure. There was a small miniscule stone chamber in front of it with “Jakhani Toaf” mentioned on it in Hindi. I had no idea about this and asked our guide about the significance of it, to which he gave us a cock and bull story of a ghost staying in this place that eats raw meat. “On a full moon day” , he said in hindi “You keep raw meat here and it will disappear in the morning”. My friend whispered in my ear “That must be doing of the dog which we saw at the entrance. Some feast he gets on full moon night”.
Visualizing the past
We came near another huge structure supposed to be a double storied store room. On the top floor, we found modern yet rusted grilled windows and some present day building materials. Our guide explained that Government had tried to create here a guest house offering a picturesque sea view but at present it is abandoned.
This structure is near the back side of the fort. From its top looking ahead we could see the ocean with a bastion in the foreground. This must have been one of the important bastions, as from here you could see the sea so clearly. When Maratha rowboats used to come to shallow waters, canons from this bastion must have bombarded many a British Warships.
A small motorboat sped through the creek past the fort. Looking at it I felt like transported through the time machine back to the 1700s. The motorboat felt like a Maratha rowboat. I even visualized in my imagination British Warships in the horizon. Thank God my friend called me back or else I may have started visualizing canons being fired from the bastions!
Next we came across an enormous water tank that held enough fresh water to support a large population through prolonged attacks on the fort. There are staircases to get down, but we did not venture. Strolling on the huge ramparts we came to last prominent structure – the queen palace. On our right the Vijaydurg beach was visible.
A flight of stairs takes you to this structure. In fact there are two structures, one two storied and the other is three storied. A passageway connects the two. Like the Durbar hall, the Queens palace had only the walls left. There are several windows in both structures and even in the passageway. It was 17:30 now. We completed our tour of the fort and went to beach to view the sunset.
Other attractions of VijayDurg
Sardar Anandrao Dhulap was appointed as an admiral in the Peshwa navy. His mansion or wada is still owned by his descendants. You need to reach Vijaydurg bus stand, and walk on a muddy road to reach there. As per my knowledge murals on the walls of the upper storey is still very much intact and the descendants welcome visitors.
Also two km from Vijaydurg at Giriye there is the Rameshwar Temple. It has interesting decorated carved pillars and its interiors are decorated with scenes from Hindu myth and legend. At its entrance stands the mast of the Portugese ship Santa Ana, which Sardar Anandrao Dhulap captured in a Naval Combat in 1772.
Unfortunately it was getting dark now and we did not have the time to reach these places. We kept it in our agenda for our next trip to Vijaydurg.
End of Konkan Odyssey
We sat in the beach for a while. Local Kids were playing cricket on the beach with the fort in the backdrop. A fascinating sunset gave a good ending to the tour. Better news was that we managed to find a restaurant where we could lay our hands on some Chicken Drum Stick! The waiter was a Bengali lad who has traveled all the way from West Bengal to do a job here in a restaurant!
On our way back, our Konkani friend managed to locate an authentic Konkani restaurant at Devgad where we had a delightful dinner of Konkani Sea Foods. Spending the night at Saavli Guest house at Kunkeswar, we took a bus from Devgad the next day to leave for Pune. Amazingly this six day tour cost us only Rs 8,000 per head. Although it was done a few years back from now (December 2009), yet I do not think it could cost much more in the present day.
News Update on Vijaydurg
The Times of India published the following news on 3rd April, 2012.
“The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has begun restoration works at Vijaydurg, the oldest fort on the Sindhudurg coast. The ASI has got Rs 3.10 crore from the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) for the work, which includes reconstruction of the fortification wall, landscaping and installation of public information signboards.”
It feels good that I will see the Vijaydurg fort in a better condition on my next visit to Konkan.
1) Advanced Study in the History of Modern India 1707-1813 by Jaswant Lal Mehta, New Dawn Press
2) The Pirates of Malabar, and An Englishwoman in India two hundred years ago by John Biddulph, Leonaur Publications
3) The Pirate and the Colonial Project: Kanhoji Angria A Research article by Derek L. Elliot
4) Vijaydurg by Anand J. Bariya & Suhag Shirodkar, WanderIndia
5) Onshore and Nearshore Explorations along the Maharashtra Coast: with a View to Locating Ancient Ports and Submerged Sites
– An article by Sila Tripati and A.S. Gaur
Marine Archaeology Centre National Institute of Oceanography, Dona Paula
6) Coastal Histories: Society and Ecology in Pre-modern India by Yogesh Sharma, Primus Books
7) Times of India – 3rd April 2012