In south India, tales of Vijayanagara – Hampi and Krishnadevaraya are part and parcel of our cultural initiation. Be it through stories narrated by our grandparents, through our history text books or through Chandamama & Amar Chitra Katha. What we normally get to hear or read about are just some glimpses from history, a high-level narrative about how Vijayanagara was once a fabulously rich place founded by Harihara & Bukka, ruled over by a series of valiant and powerful Hindu rulers. Eventually the Sultans of the surrounding kingdoms formed an alliance to attack Vijayanagara and the decisive battle took place at Rakkasa-Tangadi. The victorious invaders proceeded to loot and destroy the fabulous city, drawing the curtains on the Hindu empire.
But that was not actually where the empire ended… though it certainly was the ‘beginning of the end’. The empire did continue for a while after the fall of Vijayanagara. The capital was shifted to Penukonda, later to Chandragiri and finally to Vellore. Two fascinating books which provide a detailed account of the Vijayanagara empire are:
- A Forgotten Empire Vijayanagar: A Contribution to the History of India by Robert Sewell
- History of Vijayanagar the never to be forgotten Empire – B Suryanarain Row
The full story of the empire certainly reads like a long ‘Saas-bahu’ serial with all key ingredients, such as a number of characters of all shades, palace intrigues, valour, greed, horror, treachery, fratricide… Chandragiri was the scene of some of the last gasps of the fallen empire.
The archeological survey of India web site says this about Chandragiri….
"Built in 1000 AD in the form of fortifications with bastions and a steep moat, Chandragiri was under the rule of Yadavarayas for about three centuries and came into the control of Vijayanagara rulers in 1367. It rose into prominence in 1568 AD and remained as seat of power for the later Vijayanagara kings under whose reign the fortified area was further extended and some of the magnificent buildings and temples were constructed. Some of the important kavyas of Vijayanagara period are said to be composed here. In 1646 the fort was annexed into the Golkonda territory, subsequently came under Mysore rule till 1792 and went into oblivion. Inside the fortification are seen eight ruined temples of saivite and vaishnavite pantheons, Raja mahal, Rani mahal and other ruined structures."
Right from my childhood days, we have been visiting Tirumala every once in a while. En route to Tirupati, we would go past the fascinating palace at Chandragiri. Whenever we were in a private vehicle, we would try and visit the Chandragiri fort and palaces. My pics in this post are from a visit in 2007.
Normally we come across temples and other religious monuments that have survived through the centuries… but there are very few ancient Hindu palaces that have survived in a good and original condition in South India. Be it Chitradurga or Hampi; the guides will show you a few platforms, foundations and some remnants, stating that this is where the Kings palace once stood.One reason could be that while ancient temples were engineered to last for centuries and built accordingly with stone; palaces were built with wood, brick and mortar; material that would not last for more than a couple of centuries. Also, while temples are in constant use and regularly maintained by the caretakers, a palace built by one generation could fall out of favor with the next, who would either abandon it or remodel it extensively.
The Chandragiri palace, a unique monument in its own right is made even more interesting due to it’s role during the last days of the Vijayanagara empire.
One of the first things that you can identify about the Chandragiri palaces (The Raja mahal & the ‘Rani mahal’) is that there is a striking similarity in architecture between these monuments and some of the surviving royal buildings at Hampi, such as the Lotus mahal.
The King’s Palace – "Raja Mahal" : One of the finest examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture of Vijayanagara period, this imposing three storeyed palace adorned by the crowning towers representing certain Hindu architectural elements, was constructed with stone, brick, lime mortar and is devoid of timber. The central tower that covers durbar hall rises through two storeys. It is said to be the same venue where Sri Rangaraya granted the site of Fort St. George to the British in 1640. The floors are supported by massive pillars while the walls bear fine plaster and stucco decorations.
These are a couple of pictures from the Archeological Survey of India archives, which show the state of the palace in 1894
Courtesy: British Library
Courtesy: British Library
Queen’s Palace – "The Rani Mahal" : Similar to the Kings palace in style and method of execution, this edifice with ground floor looking like a stable and first floor containing quarters adorned with ornamental sikhara has a flat roof. Contrary to the popular belief that this place was meant for the queen or harem, the epigraphical record available from the basement speaks this building being a commander’s quarters.
An archive photo of the palace from 1894…
Courtesy: British library
After its royal occupants relocated to Vellore, the palace was used as the residence of some local chieftains for a while, before being totally abandoned… and it became a shelter for travelers, shepherds, medicants and even some unsavory characters. The British seem to have taken an interest in the palace and included it in their studies of Indian architecture.
Eventually the archeological survey of India took over the place, renovated it and the Raja mahal is currently used as a museum and administrative office.
The fort also has some small Siva and Vishnu temples, mostly in a dilapidated condition. Some of them may predate the Vijayanagara period, but the shrines near the palace area do show design and workmanship that was contemporary to the monuments at Hampi.
In 2002, the Indian Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating the Chandragiri fort and palace…
The ASI runs a Sound & Light Show at the Chandragiri fort palace area in Telugu and English.
1st Show (Telugu): Nov-Feb: 6.30 pm to 7.15 pm; Mar-Oct: 7.00 pm to 7.45 pm
2nd Show (English): Nov-Feb: 7.30 pm to 8.15pm; Mar-Oct: 8.00pm to 8.45 pm
Phone number of the ASI office : 08574-72249
Chandragiri fort is around 12 Kms from Tirupati, though the most convenient mode of transport would be your own car or jeep, you can also take a bus to Chandragiri town and hire an auto from there.