The mesmerizing marine fort: Murud Janjira
The story of Murud Janjira, the invincible Siddi marine fort that stood tall to the attacks of Shivaji and his son Sambhaji among many others.
Murud Janjira, the mesmerizing marine fort off the coast of the Arabian Sea stands tall amid the ruins with a history that marks it out for its grandeur in history. Situated on a high oval rock in the Arabian Sea off the sleepy coastal town of Murud in the Raigad district of Maharashtra, Janjira has an enthralling history of human tenacity and valour, deep set in its grand old granite walls. This impregnable 40-foot-high granite structure withstood seven attacks by the Maratha king Shivaji and several by his son Sambhaji in the later years. While one after the other 360 enemy forts across the land fell to the attacks of the Maratha King, this fort situated at the heart of his empire stood with a challenging pre-eminence. Repeated attempts to conquer could not even leave a dent in the invincible fortress standing tall in the sea, straddling the history of man and marine trade.
From Roha, the last station on the Central railway route in Konkan, I reached Murud Janjira around ten in the morning. Murud is an old, tidy and organized town with a majority population of Muslims. It was the day of Eid and festivities brimmed at every corner. After a breakfast of puris and baaji from hotel Tipson, I secured a front seat in my transport to Rajpur, a large auto which could fit in a lot of passengers. My co-passenger, an old man in a neat white kurta, flowing beard and pious eyes gained my respect and friendship instantly. In a conversation that followed Sallahudhin Sahib dispelled my fears about the new place and opened up the insider’s account of a town that slumbers on thousands of years of history. The auto tumbled past the landscape, past a river and over a hill, I could see the Arabian Sea and the majestic fort on the horizon. The glory of human happiness abound in this tiny settlement as children gushed around playing and elders embraced each other wishing Eid. Houses sat along the sea in festive cheer and goats roamed around as if enjoying the Eid frenzy.
I was travelling with a precarious load on my front and my heavy camera gear on my back. Rather clear a day, my backpacks can still become an agony with a possible shower. Sallahudhin, whose house was adjacent to the jetty from where I should take the boat, my next transport to the fort, offered to keep my heavy travel bag till I returned from my destination. Such trust had developed between us that I instantly accepted his offer and entrusted him my bag of valuables. Sallahudhin is a trader ad has been to various cities around the country including Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. What surprised me was that he has been to my city, Calicut. “It is city very similar to Murud.” he told me. I assumed that he must have been to the old parts of the city, where the Juma Masjid and the old markets create a distinct world with their unpolished charm.
The large open vessels that ply tourists from the jetty to the fort filled up in no time. Women, children and the elderly thronged the boat that then expertly rowed its way to the fort. Once the boat reached the main gate of the fort, the passengers were helped out of the swaying boats still rocked by the waves in the sea. The boat ride costs Rs. 50 and the guide services another Rs. 50. The total cost of the adventure was quite pocket friendly to say the least.
The rains have covered the walls in a layer of green. The breathing granite walls looked bewitching in their old charm with a profusion of pink Kasithumba (Adenosma Indiana) adding to it. A 30-member group of co-passengers could be heard speaking Gujrati. Some others were from Mumbai and Chennai but I couldn’t spot a Malayalee in the crowd. I kept away from the groups and the guide parroting the regular narrative. The fort was a bewitching structure, one that could be soaked in only and only in solitude. Covering an area of 22 acres and boasting off 19 bastions, the old granite walls and the dilapidated ruins of the old quarters, official buildings and adjoining structures are a sight to behold, so are the two fresh water lakes that fed the fort in the times of yore. The remains of powerful cannons from the times of the Siddis can still be seen on the bastions overlooking the sea.
The original Murud Janjira fort was a wooden fort built in the 15th century by the fishing community chieftains to ward off attacks from enemies and pirates. The fort, 103 km south of Mumbai, is still one of the strongest marine forts in India. The old wooden fort was razed to the ground by an interesting turn of events and the granite fort that we see today came up in the later years. History says that the fishing community under Ram Patil built the wooden fort with the blessings of Nisam Shah, the ruler of Ahmednagar. Terms deteriorated in the later years and Nisam Shah sent his army under Piram Khan to capture the fort. Piram Khan with his three ships filled up with soldiers disguised as traders captured the fort. The Siddis were an ethnic community brought to India by the Arab and Portuguese traders from south-eastern Africa. Around half a lakh of them, mostly Sufi Muslims, still live in Pakistan and Gujrat, Karnataka and Hyderabad in India. Burham Khan who followed Piram Khan demolished the wooden fort and built up the stone structure from 1567-1571.
As time passed the fort came under attack from several forces, among them the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Mughals. Later on the Maratha strongman tried bringing down the Siddi fortress and failed. This was followed by the attacks by the British and many others who could not fathom the bastions of valor that stood high in the sea. A rare show of magnificent human endurance and valor, the fort still holds its ground. Sallahudhin received me with a sweet drink on my return. Picking up my bag I told him, “let me know if you happen to come to Calicut.” “Inshah Allah” he replied.
(Translated by Jyothisha V J)