India

Lohagad – The Iron Fortress of the Deccan

Located 3km south of Bhaja Caves at the southern limit of the Indrayani valley, Lohagad Fort is one of the strongest and most famous Deccan forts. Although I have now been to this region on over twenty separate occasions, I confess to not having explored many of the forts that are reachable on a day visit from Pune. Thus far I can only strike off Sinhagad, Tikona and Malhargad/Sonori from what is an incredibly long list of potential sites, so a trip to Lohagad Fort was long overdue.

For anyone wishing to read a very brief history of Lohagad Fort, please see the timeline at the end of this article . Information on this fort is quite scant, so I would appreciate any comments regarding additions or changes to the timeline I have compiled. As always, please click on any image to view it in a larger format.

Lohagad would normally be considered to be one of the easier forts to hike to. With ample parking at Lohagadwadi, it’s a short but steep 30 minute climb up a series of steps through four defended gateways to the summit which rises to an elevation of 1,033m. Unfortunately for me the approach road to the north of the village was closed for repairs, and so my car had to be parked not very far from Bhaja Caves and the rest of the journey to the base of the fort done on foot. Although not ideal, it did give me a greater appreciation for the scale of these hills/mountains as I wound my way on the road that bisects Lohagad from the neighbouring Visapur Fort.

At Lohagadwadi village the trek up to the fort summit starts proper, with a flight of steps winding up the face of a steep spur. Prior to reaching the first of four gateways, an indistinct path (not paved) branches off to the right taking you to a series of rock-cut undecorated Buddhist/Jain caves. These are not widely known about, and certainly rarely visited, and will be the subject of another blog post shortly.

Ganesh Gate is the first of four arched gateways that straddle the stairs up to the summit, the heavy teak doors studded with spikes to deter elephants. This was the first of a number of additions made to the fort in circa 1789 by Nana Fadnavis, who was granted the fort after becoming prime minister to Bajirao II.

Nana Fadnavis appears to have been quite a prolific builder during his time as Prime Minister. He also renovated Durga Ghat at Banaras (Varanasi) and built a mansion above the ghat, which is one of the 85 Ghats of Banaras that I recently documented in another blog post.

A local folktale surrounds this specific gateway. It is said that construction of the gate had to cease as the bastion had poor foundations. In a dream, Nana Fadnavis was warned that the fort defences would never be completed until the favour of the god of the hill was won, which would only be achieved by buying alive a man and a woman. After some time, a Maratha of the Sabale clan agreed to offer his eldest son and his son’s wife.

A hole was subsequently dug and the two were buried alive, upon which the foundations of the bastion were reconstructed and have stood firm ever since. As a reward for this sacrifice, the head of the village of Lohvadi was given to the Sabale father and removed from a Ghadshi family. Apparently the head of police in the village is a direct descendant of the Sabale father who made this ultimate gesture 230 years ago.

The second gate, known as Narayan Gate, is also an addition by Nana Fadnavis in around 1789. It is here that I encountered a number of curious monkeys, a reminder to anyone attempting this trek that you must keep your belongings close to hand, and well secured. Shortly after Narayan Gate are a couple of small rock-cut caves on your left, it is believed these were used by the Marathas as stores for millet and rice.

Hanumant Gate is the third gateway reached on the steep climb up. Records suggest that this is possibly the oldest gateway of the series and therefore would have once been the main entrance to the fort. Construction of this gateway is attributed to a period of Mughal rule in the mid-late 17th century, possibly by Alamgir or Aurangzeb.

The final gateway in the series is Maha (or Great) gateway, yet another addition by Nana Fadnavis in around 1789. This is the largest of all the gateways, with some minor decoration and a small ruined court with guard room within.

Facing the Maha gate is the largest surviving structure within Lohagad Fort. The precise origins of this square stone mausoleum is not certain, not helped by the complete lack of any inscription. A local story suggests that it was originally a cenotaph in honour of Aurangzeb and one of his wives. If any of my readers can shed more facts around this structure I would be interested to hear from you.

Close to the mausoleum are fragmentary remains of a number of structures; a small courthouse (dhakti sadar), remains of the armoury (lohar khana) and chief government offices (mothi sardar).

A path that heads north along the eastern edge of the fort will take you to a series of rock-cut caves that are of immense interest. There are a number of excavations here, seemingly created or modified at various points in time. Some of the caves are nothing more than minor holes, choked with fallen rocks and soil, others appear to have been small cisterns for the storing of water. Of particular note however are two larger excavations, one of which is known as the Treasury (Jamdarkhana or Khajandarki Kothi).

This cave measures roughly 10m x 15m without any cut pillars or ornamentation, and with a deep cut bench on the eastern (right) wall. At some point the cave was partitioned off into individual compartments with the insertion of brick walls, and running up the middle of the cave is a low raised platform into which 1m square cuts have been sunk into the floor. This has been interpreted as the place where treasure coffers were placed.

We know from documentary evidence that Lohagad Fort was made a sub-divisional headquarters and treasury in 1670 when the Marathas seized the fort from the Mughuls after a surprise attack. We also know that Nana Fadnavis sent all his treasure to the fort in the late 17th century, so it quite possible this is where one or both of these sizable sums of wealth were stored for safekeeping.

The other significant cave in this cluster has all the hallmarks of being a much older excavation, and is known locally as Lakshmi Kothi. This is an impressively large excavation, with an initial hall measuring 17m x 10m with rock-cut side benches. A flight of stairs flanked by rock-cut rectangular windows takes you to a second smaller hall measuring 17m x 3m. Beyond this on three sides are a series of cells.

The lack of any ornamentation or inscriptions makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly when this space was created, but to me it has all the hallmarks of being Buddhist, perhaps dating to the 2nd century C.E. This cave would not look out of place as being one of the more minor and rudimentary excavations at any number Buddhist sites that exist very close to Lohagad Fort, such as Karla Caves, Bedse Caves, Bhaja Caves or Kondana Caves.

A local story says that this cave was once the home of Lomesh Rishi, and that a further passage once ran beyond the back wall into his private chamber. When the fort was under Mughal control, it is said that someone of high office used up sixty bottles of oil for lighting the cave in an attempt to find the seer, and upon failing in his quest ordered the mouth of the cave to be closed up. Another local tale suggests these caves are the work of the Pandavas, a very common explanation when there is a lack of any hard evidence as to their real provenance.

On the higher ground above the cave complex is a walled enclosure, within which at the western end is the tomb of Shaikh Umar Avalia, an Arab saint. Sheikh Umar together with his six brothers came from Mecca as missionaries before any Mughal control was established in the Deccan. One of his brothers, Bava Malang, is said to have given his name to a hill near Kalyan in the Konkan.

It is said that when Sheikh Umar came to Lohagad he came across a Hindu ascetic close to this spot who he seized by the leg and tossed across onto the Visapur plateau where his shrine is still worshipped today. Every year in December/January (Paush full-moon) a fair is held at Sheikh Umar’s tomb which attracts over 1,000 pilgrims, Hindus of all castes as well as Muslims.

The edge of the fort from near Sheikh Umar’s tomb offers some impressive views of the bastions and gateways.

Continuing the circular walk around the fort, now heading west, it’s not long before you reach the quintessential view of Lohagad Fort. A rough descent of approx 50m brings you to a narrow strip of rock 500m long and as little as 15m wide in some places, known as Scorpion’s Sting (Vinchukata). Many forts in the Deccan have been built on outcrops that have this geological feature, and it’s easy to see why it has this name. It is an exhilarating view.

Obviously the time of my visit to Lohagad is far from ideal, this scene would be even more amazing during or shortly after the monsoon season. So I just have to make do with the hazy mid-day sun :-). The steep sides of this projection are strengthened by broad masonry parapets, it hardly seems necessary here but often fortifications are built to be visually impressive rather than being outright functional. This is of course part of the fort that would be visible for many miles around, and it certainly makes a very strong statement to onlookers.

In 1803 Lord Valentia reported the existence of a walled passage at the western extent of the fort and the start of some stone steps that were never completed. It is thought that this was perhaps once intended to be a secondary entrance/exit to the fort by one of the Satara chiefs, but the plan was abandoned for whatever reason.

The heart of the fort is surprisingly devoid of many noticeable structures. One obvious feature is what I can only describe as a central knoll which rises some 30m above the plateau and is a popular spot for picnics with 360 degree views. On top of this knoll are a couple of tombs, I’m afraid I have been unable to attribute them to any individuals.

Below the central knoll is a sixteen-sided stone built tank with access down to the water via two separate flights of steps. A Marathi inscription dated to 1789 C.E. states that the maker of the tank was Balaji Janardan Bhanu (another name for Nana Fadnavis who built three of the four fort gateways), whose representative was Dhondo Ballal Nitsure, and the mason who built it was Bajichat.

For many years this tank was completely dry, locals say that when the British captured the fort they drained it in a desperate attempt to find treasure. They found absolutely nothing.

Between the central knoll and the domed mausoleum near the fort entrance is the Trimbakeshvar Mahadev Temple.

Although what stands today is a relatively modern looking structure, all around is clear evidence that a much older temple once stood on this site, perhaps destroyed during the short period of Mughal occupation which only lasted five years.

Not far from the temple is a rock-cut cistern and another stone built talk, both still containing what appears to be quite fresh looking water.

That concludes a short virtual tour of Lohagad Fort, and the main highlights that can be experienced if you visit the site.

Lohagad has a long history with several dynasties occupying it at different periods of time; the Satavahanas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Yadavas, Bahamanis, Nizams, Mughals and Marathas. To conclude this blog post I thought it might be useful to give a brief timeline of the history of the fort. Attaining any information about the fort is difficult, so I am acutely aware that what follows is brief, incomplete, and may contain errors. If anyone is in a position to correct me or add any further details, I would very much welcome it.

Lohagad Fort Timeline

1489
Lohagad mentioned as one of the Bahmani forts taken by Malik Ahmad Nizam Shah when he established himself as an independent ruler. He is reported to have won almost all the forts that existed at that time in the Pune region.

1564
Burhan Nizam Shah II was confined at Lohagad during his brother’s reign. He would later emerge as the seventh Ahmadnagar king, and ruled from 1590-1594. Burhan Nizam Shah II was considered a weak and incapable monarch. He was addicted to women and wine, which ultimately led to his downfall.

1637
On the fall of the Ahmadnagar dynasty, Lohagad passed to the Bijapur rulers.

1657
Shivaji Maharaj captured Lohagad along with Visapur Fort as part of his campaign to capture Kalyan and Bhivandi.

1665
Shivaji was forced to surrender Lohagad to Aurangzeb, by the Treaty of Purandar. Under this treaty, 23 forts were handed over to the Mughals, the Marathas retained 12 forts.

1670
Following the successful operations of Tanaji Malusre who captured Sinhagad, the Marathas retook Lohagad from the Mughals in a surprise attack. The fort was subsquently made a sub-divisional headquarters and treasury. The fortune brought back from the first looting of Surat by the commander-in-chief Netoji Palkar was securely stored at Lohagad.

1713
Shahu Maharaj (grandson of Shivaji) handed over the fort to Kanhoji Angre, a famous admiral of the Maratha Navy.

1720
Lohagad went under the jurisdiction of Balaji Vishvanath , the first Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. At this time Balaji Vishvanath completed the building of the neighbouring Visapur Fort.

1770
The fort was taken in the interests of Nana Fadnavis by a Koli named Javji Bomble, a famous outlaw. Javji Bomble was in possession of rockets which he used to attack the fort. One of the rockets fell among some gunpowder close to the door of the magazine and caused such an explosion that the garrison were forced to surrender.

Tipu Sultan, the erstwhile ruler of the Mysore kingdom, was the first Indian to develop the use of rockets for warfare. These rockets consisted of iron tubes filled with gunpowder, which were hoisted on flags or bamboo poles, but also mounted on ramps for better accuracy and range. His rockets led to the defeat of the British in the second Anglo-Mysore war of 1782.

1789
Nana Fadnavis instigated extensive renovations and repairs to the fort, including the construction of three out of the four main gateways that can still be seen today.

Circa 1798
Upon becoming prime minister to Bajirao II, Nana Fadnavis placed Dhondo Ballal Nitsure in command of Lohagad and sent all his treasure to the fort.

1800
After the death of Nana Fadnavis, Baji Rao II placed himself in the hands of the British, provoking the Second Anglo-Maratha War that began the breakup of the Maratha confederacy. Nana Fadnavis’s widow (Jeeubai) took refuge in Lohagad, and Dhondo refused to hand over the fort to the Peshwa unless Nana’s adherents received certain offices. Dhondo remained in command until 1803 when the Peshwa, under General Wellesley’s mediation, agreed to allow Dhondo to keep the fort on promise of acting as a faithful subject.

1803
From a fort near the Krishna river, a garrison of Dhondo’s fired on the Peshwa and would not allow anyone to pass to a temple. As punishment for this outrage General Wellesley threatened to storm Lohagad. He subsequently gave a promise of personal safety and of a yearly grant of £120 (Rs. 1200) to Nana’s widow whom General Wellesley described as ‘very fair and very handsome, well deserving to be the object of a treaty’. Dhondo was also granted safety, and subsequently retired to Thana. Widow Jeeubai retired to Panvel.

Late 1803
Lohagad Fort restored to the Peshwa (under British rule) and was visited by Lord Valentia, who reported that the fort was ‘strongly garrisoned, but poorly supplied with stores‘. It is thought the garrison could at the time house between 1,000 and 3,000 men.

1818
After the outbreak of the final war with the Peshwa (4th March 1818) a strong force under Colonel Prother was sent against Lohagad Fort. On the capture of Visapur the garrison left Lohagad and on the next day it was taken without resistance.

Up until 1845 the fort was garrisoned by a commandant and a few troops. Due to the close proximity of Visapur, the fort was subsequently abandoned. No effort was made to destroy any of the upstanding fortifications. In 1862, Lohagad was reported as ‘a strong fort, the walls and gates in slight disrepair, with a sufficient supply of water, and able to hold about 500 men‘.


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Categories: India, Lohagad Fort, Maharashtra

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13 replies »

  1. Truly enjoyed reading your article focused on the forts of Sayadhri. Had planned to explore this area last year but due to lockdown could not do so. May be later this year and thank you once again for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing details. I have been to this fort few times and all of them have in rainy season. I see it’s definitely worth a visit in winters if all the remnants and structures have to be explored.
    Monsoon is heavenly but entire fort is engulfed in fog so can’t do much exploration.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved the pictures, sir! I cannot imagine a better walkthrough of this glorious fort!
    Also loved the map featured at the top of the post. Can you please share the source of it?
    Thanks!

    Like

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