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The Murud-Janjira Fortress: One of the strongest marine forts of India

David Goran
Janjira ruins. By Atmabhola/CC BY-SA 3.0

Situated on an oval-shaped rocky island in the Arabian Sea, near the coastal town of Murud, 165 km south of Mumbai, Murud-Janjira is one of the strongest marine forts of India and the only unconquered one along India’s western coast. Now in ruins, in its heyday, it was a full-fledged fortress with all the necessary facilities, such as palaces, quarters for officers, a mosque and two small 60-foot-deep natural fresh-water lakes.

Janjira from outside. By Atmabhola/CC BY-SA 3.0

Janjira from outside. By Atmabhola/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Inside the fort. By Atmabhola/CC BY-SA 3.0

Inside the fort. By Atmabhola/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

The fort was originally built in the 15th century by a local Maratha Fisherman Chieftain, Rajaram Patil, as a defense against pirates and thieves. At that time, the fort was known as “Medhekot” and was built to protect his people from attacks from the sea.

In its heyday, the fort had palaces, mosques, fresh water tanks, markets and quarters for officers. By Vikas Rana/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

In its heyday, the fort had palaces, mosques, fresh water tanks, markets and quarters for officers. By Vikas Rana/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

 

This fort took 22 years to build and is constructed on 22 acres of land. By Himanshu Sarpotdar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

This fort took 22 years to build and is constructed on 22 acres of land. By Himanshu Sarpotdar/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The fort was later captured by the Abyssinian Siddis – a Sufi Muslim group of African descent who received authority of the island from the Habashi – who played an important role in the history of Mumbai. The fortress was their source of power, strength and protection. From then onward, the Siddis became independent and exceptionally powerful as an autonomous state and the fortress was their source of authority, strength, and protection.

The island fortress was under control of Adil Shahi dynasty until the reign of Ibrahim II where Janjira fort was lost to the Siddis. By Vikas Rana/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The island fortress was under the control of Adil Shahi dynasty until the reign of Ibrahim II where Janjira fort was lost to the Siddis. By Vikas Rana/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

 

The small pond inside Janjira fort. By Atmabhola/CC BY-SA 3.0

The small pond inside Janjira fort. By Atmabhola/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Fort Murud-Janjira paintings from the 17th century in the style of Mughal painting. By Tervlugt/CC BY-SA 3.0

Fort Murud-Janjira paintings from the 17th century in the style of Mughal painting. By Tervlugt/CC BY-SA 3.0

According to all accounts, the sea fort of Janjira could not be conquered by any of the kings ruling the neighboring territories. Throughout history, numerous attempts were made by the Portuguese, the British and the Marathas to subdue the power of the Siddis, but they all failed. Surprisingly, not even the great Maratha leader Chhatrapati Shivaji could acquire it despite 13 expeditions to conquer the fort. His son Sambhaji even attempted to tunnel his way into the fort but was unsuccessful in all his attempts. A stone carving at the main entrance of the Fort depicts six elephants trapped by a single tiger – a symbol of the bravery of the Sidis.

The fort stood unconquered through the centuries. By Abhijit.naohate/CC BY-SA 3.0

The fort stood unconquered through the centuries. By Abhijit.naohate/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

The sculpture on the main gate. By Damitr/CC BY-SA 3.0

The sculpture on the main gate. By Damitr/CC BY-SA 3.0

The fort has 26 rounded bastions, still intact. The fort wall is about 40 feet high and has 19 rounded porches or arches. There are many cannons of native and European make rusting on the bastions. These cannons were largely responsible for repelling oncoming enemies from the sea. The three gigantic cannons named Kalalbangdi, Chavri, and Landa Kasam, weighing over 22 tons each, are the special attraction of this fort.

Five arches. By Damitr/CC BY-SA 4.0

Five arches. By Damitr/CC BY-SA 4.0

 

Hallway of arches. By Damitr/CC BY-SA 4.0

Hallway of arches. By Damitr/CC BY-SA 4.0

 

During its peak of glory the island fort boasted of having 572 cannons. These cannons were said to be feared for their shooting range. By Vikas Rana/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

During its peak of glory, the island fort boasted of having 572 cannons. These cannons were said to be feared for their shooting range. By Vikas Rana/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

 

Kalak Bangadi, 3rd Largest Cannon in India At Janjira Fort, weighing over 22 Tons. By Sidthecool007/CC BY-SA 3.0

Kalak Bangadi, 3rd Largest Cannon in India At Janjira Fort, weighing over 22 Tons. By Sidthecool007/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Murud Janjira Fort View from ferry point in Rajapuri. By Chirag Upadhyay/CC BY-SA 4.0

Murud Janjira Fort View from ferry point in Rajapuri. By Chirag Upadhyay/CC BY-SA 4.0

This invincible fort remained unconquered until 1947 when the Brits signed a treaty with the Siddis that the fort would remain under local rule, a sole independent outpost in all of colonial India.