Warangal Fort: More Spiritual Haven than Safe Haven
When you think of a fort you probably picture a pretty solid and intimidating structure. A practical, no frills affair. The Warangal Fort was somewhat different. A huge and opulent construction built in southern India as a stronghold for the ruling dynasty of the province, it is remarkable more for its intricate stonework than its formidable fortifications. Although it boasted three distinct circular strongholds surrounded by a moat, its defence system must have been weak, as successive invaders managed to overthrow it over the centuries. Built by King Ganapathi in the 13th century and completed by his daughter Rudrama, Warangal Fort was perhaps more a show of pride and power for the famous Telugu dynasty, the Kakatiyas, rather than a serious attempt at a defensive base.
Kakatiya’s Monumental Vision
The Warangal Fort is an ancient fort located in Warangal (known in ancient times, based on inscriptions and literary sources, as Orugallu), a city in the southern Indian state of Telangana. This fort is recorded to have been built during the 13th century, during a period when the region was under the control of the Kakatiya Dynasty. Today, the fort lies in ruins, following its destruction by the early rulers of the Qutub Shahi Dynasty during the 16th century. Nevertheless, the ruins of the Warangal Fort are a tourist attraction today, and are notable for its finely carved stone architectural features that have managed to survive over the centuries.
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Some of the surviving beautifully ornate pillars at Warangal Fort (CC BY-SA 3.0)
According to one source, the construction of the Warangal Fort began in 1199, during the reign of Ganapathi Deva, and was completed during the reign of his daughter, Rani Rudramadevi, in 1261. These two figures belonged to the Kakatiya Dynasty, which ruled a small territory around Warangal, their second capital. The first capital of this dynasty was Hanamkonda (which is today a neighborhood in the city of Warangal), and the Warangal Fort covered the area between the old and new capitals. It was due to this shifting of capitals that the Warangal Fort was built.
View of Kakatiya Kala Toranam at Warangal (Public Domain)
The Failure of Warangal Fort
The Kakatiya Dynasty eventually came to an end during the first half of the 14th century. During this period, a number of invasions were launched by various Muslim states against the Kakatiyas. Eventually, the Kakatiyas were defeated by the army of Ghiyath-al-Din Tughluq, the founder of the Tughluq Dynasty. In 1323, the last king of the Kakatiyas, Prataparuda, was forced to surrender, and was taken as a prisoner, thus marking the end of the Kakatiya Dynasty. The Warangal Fort, however, survived the demise of the Kakatiya Dynasty, and was only demolished later on, during the 16th century, by the Qutub Shahi Dynasty, when they came to control the area.
The ruins of the Kakatiya fort from 12-13th century (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Intricate Decorative Design
Although the Warangal Fort is in ruins today, enough has survived to provide us with an idea of the great skill possessed by the architects and craftsmen of the Kakatiya Dynasty. One of the most distinct features of the Warangal Fort is its ornamental arched gateways. These are known as the Kakatiya Kala Thoranam, and there are four in place, one for each of the four cardinal directions. These gateways led to a huge Shiva temple (which no longer exists) in the center. The intricate carvings on the Kakatiya Kala Thoranam can still be appreciated by visitors today. It has been claimed that the fort would have had about 45 or so pillars, and that these would have also been intricately carved in a manner like the surviving gateways.
Central Shiva Temple at Warangal (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Shiva Temple
As for the Shiva temple in the center, it was known also as the Swayambhu Temple. According to tradition, the temple was built as a Shivalinga (a symbolic object representing Lord Shiva in Hinduism) was discovered at the site. During the 12th century, farmers used to pass the site where the temple was to be built as they brought their crops to be sold at Hanamkonda. One day, the wheel of a bullock cart belonging to one of these farmers got stuck in the mud. When people tried to get the wheel unstuck, a Shivalinga was revealed, and a temple was built at the site. The name given to the temple was Swayambhu, which means ‘to be born / revealed of its own’, which reflects the way in which the sacred object was discovered. It was the chance discovery of this Shivalinga that prompted the development of the site to be not just a fort but a massive and popular religious center.
The Swayambhu Shivalinga that purportedly revealed itself prompting the erecting of the temple (Image: exploretelangana.com)
It has been claimed that the Warangal Fort once possessed a total of 365 Shiva temples, one for each day of the year. In addition, each of these temples had a unique name that was meant to indicate the different aspects of the deity. We might never be able to substantiate this claim. Nevertheless, there are architectural remnants littered around the fort that would have come from such temples. For example, carved Nandis, the sacred cow of Shiva, can be found in the fort.
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One of the many Shiva temples ruins to be found in the complex (CC BY-SA 3.0)
In 2014, a proposal was submitted to UNESCO to have the Warangal Fort, as part of a group entitled ‘The Glorious Kakatiya Temples and Gateways’, inscribed as a World Heritage Site.
Top image: A photo of the Warangal Fort’s Kakatiya Kala Thoranam. Image: (CC BY-SA 3.0)
By Wu Mingren
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