Vellore Fort is a large 16th-century fort situated in heart of the Vellore city, in the state of Tamil Nadu, India built by Vijayanagara Kings. The Fort was at one point of time the headquarters of the Aravidu Dynasty of Vijayanagara Empire. The fort is known for its grand ramparts, wide moat and robust masonry. The Fort's ownership passed from Vijayanagara Kings, to the Bijapur Sultans, to Marathas, to the Carnatic Nawabs and finally to the British, who held the fort until India gained independence. The Indian government maintains the Fort with the Archaeological Department. During British rule, the Tipu Sultan's family and the last king of Sri Lanka, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha were held in as prisoners in the fort. The fort houses a Christian church, a Muslim mosque and a Hindu temple, the latter of which is famous for its magnificent carvings. The first rebellion against British rule erupted at this fort in 1806, and it is also a witness to the massacre of the Vijayanagara royal family of Sriranga Raya.
Vellore Fort was built by Chinna Bommi Reddy and Thimma Reddy, subordinate Chieftains under Sadasiva Raya of the Vijayanagara Empire in the year of 1566 AD. Vellore Fort gained strategic prominence following the re-establishment of Vijayanagar rule with Chandragiri as their 4th capital after the Talikota battle. The Aravidu Dynasty that held the title of Rayas in 17th century resided in this fort, using it as a base in the battle of Toppur in the 1620s. This major battle took place for the claiming of the Raya title between two faction of the Raya family. Each faction was by their respective subordinates; the Nayaks of Tanjore, the Gingee and the Madurai taking sides to suit their interests.
The Rayas also had long-running battles with their longtime rivals, the Bijapur Sultans, and with the Nayaks of Madurai and the Gingee over non-remittance of annual tributes. In the 1640s, during the reign of Sriranga Raya III, the Fort was briefly captured by the Bijapur army, but was eventually recaptured with the help of the Nayaks of Tanjore.
During Sriranga Raya's reign in 1614, a coup broke out within the royal family and the reigning Emperor Sriranga Raya and his royal family were murdered by the rival factions of the Royal family, with the younger son Rama Deva Raya of the Emperor smuggled out from the fort by supporting factions of the emperor. These events led to the Battle of Toppur in 1616, one of the largest South Indian wars of the century.
In 1639, Francis Day of the East India Company obtained a small strip of land in the Coromandel Coast from the Chieftains of Vellore-Chandragiri regions to do trading, which is now in present day Chennai.
Under Bijapur (1656–1678)
In the 1650s, Sriranga allied with the Mysore and Tanjore Nayaks and marched south to attack Gingee and Madurai. His first stop was the capture of Gingee Fort, but Thirumalai Nayak of Madurai responded by requesting the Sultan of Bijapur to attack Vellore from the North to divert Sriranga's attention. The Bijapur Sultan promptly dispatched a large army and captured Vellore Fort. Subsequently, both the Madurai-Bijapur armies converged on Gingee, defeating the Vellore-Tanjore forces. After a melee, both the Forts ended up in the hands of the Sultan of Bijapur. The defeat also marked the end of the last direct line of Vijayanagara emperors. Within 20 years after this incident, the Marathas seized the fort from the Bijapur Sultans.
Under the Marathas (1678–1707)
In 1676, the Marathas under Shivaji marched south to the Tanjore country, which had recently been attacked and captured by Chokkanatha Nayak of Madurai. That same year, Ekoji, the brother of Shivaji, took control of Tanjore, but was under threat from his immediate neighbours Madurai and Bijapur Sultans, based in Gingee and Vellore respectively. Shivaji's army first captured the Gingee Fort in 1677, but left the task of attacking Vellore to his assistant and rushed to Deccan as his territories were being attacked by Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb. In 1688, after a prolonged fourteen-month siege, the Fort passed on to the Marathas. Shivaji's representative strengthened the fort's fortifications and ruled the area in relative peace.
Under the Mughal Army (1707–1760)
In 1707, the year that Aurangazeb died, the Delhi Army under Daud Khan captured Vellore Fort after defeating the Marathas. The struggle for the Delhi throne empowered the Deccan Muslim governors to declare independence. In 1710 the recently established Nawab of Arcot under Sadat Ullah Khan followed suit. Dost Ali, the latter's successor in 1733, gifted the fort to one of his sons-in-law.
Under control of British (1760–1947)
Following the decline of Madurai Nayaks, the revolt from people and coinciding with the emergence of the British on the Madras coast, the Nawab and his sons-in-law broke out into a feud over the title of Nawab. The Nawab was supported by the British and the rival claimants by the French resulting in the Carnatic Wars. The British Nawab's victory in the 1760s in the Battle of Plassey finally sealed the fate of the French in India and launched Britain's dominance of the Indian subcontinent. In addition, the British took possession of Vellore fort with relative ease and used the Fort as a major garrison until the Indian independence. In 1780, the fort was besieged by Hyder Ali in the Second Anglo-Mysore War, but the English garrison held out against Hyder Ali for over two years after which the siege was lifted.
First Revolution (1806)
In 1806, Vellore fort was used by the British to station Infantry Military units of the Madras Regiment. The British Commander in chief of the Madras Army prescribed a new round hat for soldiers, which would replace turbans, and the removal of beards, caste markings and jewellery. The Sepoys considered this offensive, and the situation was worsened by rumours that the hat was made of the hides of cows and pigs. On July 10, 1806, before sunrise, Indian sepoys stationed in the fort attacked the European barracks there, and by late morning had killed about 15 Officers and 100 English soldiers and ransacked their houses. Some of the rebelling soldiers also instigated the sons of Tipu Sultan to lead the campaign. The news quickly reached the colonel commanding the Cavalry Cantonment in Arcot, who reached the Fort with heavy battalions. The rebelling Sepoys, numbering more than 800, were mercilessly hounded and killed, and by noon the rebellion was put down. The events lead to a Court inquiry by the British, who decided to shift the Tipu Sultan's family from Vellore to faraway Calcutta, in isolation.
The news of the Vellore Rebellion sent shockwaves to England. The Governor, William Bentinck, and Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army, Sir John Cradock both were recalled on this count. This was the first rebellion experienced in the fort by the British.
It is mentioned that "there is no such fort on the face of earth like the one in Vellore. It had a deep wet ditch (moat) where once 10,000 crocodiles swarmed, waiting to grab every intruder into this impregnable fort. It has huge double walls with bastions projecting irregularly, where two carts can be driven abreast". The fort was constructed in granite from the nearby quarries in Arcot and Chittor districts. It spreads over an area of 133 acres (0.54 km2) and is located at an altitude of 220 m (720 ft) within a broken mountain range. The fort is surrounded by a moat which was once used as an additional line of defence in the case of an invasion. It includes an escape tunnel leading to Virinjipuram about 12 km (7.5 mi) away, which could be used by the king and other royals in the event of an attack. The fort is considered to be among the best of military architecture in Southern India and is known for its grand ramparts, wide moat and robust masonry. The fort houses a Temple, a Mosque and a Church, the renowned Vellore Christian Hospital, and many other buildings that are now used as public offices. The Jalagandeeswarar Temple, dedicated to Jalagandeeswar, is noted for its sculptures, and speaks volumes of the exquisite craftsmanship of the highly skilled artisans of that period. The sculpture in the porch on the left of the entrance is a masterpiece appreciated by the connoisseurs of art and architecture. The temple was long used as an arsenal, and remained without a deity, although several years ago it was sanctified with an idol of Lord Shiva.
The Mosque inside the fort was constructed during the last Arcot Nawab's period. Presently, Muslims are not allowed to pray inside the fort mosque despite protest by several thousand people living in Vellore. Vellore's inhabitants believe that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is being discriminatory by stopping Muslims from Mosque while Hindus and Christians are not stopped from entering temple and church respectively. The Church inside the fort was constructed during the early British period (Robert Clive, East Indian Company). Muthu Mandapam is a memorial built around the tombstone of Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, the last ruler of Sri Lanka.
Vellore Fort has housed several royal captives over its history. After the fall of Srirangapatnam in 1799 and the death of Tipu Sultan, his family, including his sons, daughters, wife and mother (who was the wife of Hyder Ali), was detained in the fort. After the 1806 Sepoy Mutiny, the British transferred Tipu's sons and daughters to Calcutta. The Tombs of Bakshi Begum (d. 1806), widow of Hyder Ali and Padshah Begum, Tipu's wife & sons, who died in 1834 are located with a kilometre to the eastern side of the Fort.
Vellore Fort also became the final destination for the last ruling monarch of Sri Lanka, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha (1798–1815). The king and his family were kept as prisoners of war at this fort for 17 years with his family. His grave can be found in the fort along with last raya kings of Vijayanagara Empire.
The Fort is situated in the centre of Vellore town opposite to the Old Bus stand. Vellore is on the Chennai-Bangalore highway and is 120 km (75 mi) from Chennai and 210 km (130 mi) from Bangalore. The nearest rail station is Vellore-Katpadi Junction, where all super fast trains stop. The nearest airports are Tirupati Airport, Chennai International Airport and Bengaluru International Airport. In 1981 the Post and Telegraph Department of India released a stamp commemorating the Fort, and in July 2006 a stamp marking the 200th anniversary of the Mutiny was released by the Tamilnadu Chief Minister. This 13th-century fort was opened up to tourists and is now maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. Government Museum is a multi purpose museum maintained by the Department of Museum Government of Tamil Nadu. Its treasures include ancient- and present-day curiosities relating to subjects such as anthropology, botany, geology, numismatics, pre-history, and zoology. Historical monuments of the erstwhile composite North Arcot district are gracefully depicted in the gallery. This museum is kept open on all days between 9.00 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. and 2.00 p.m and 5.00 p.m. except on holidays, and admission fee is INR 5/-.
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