Monday, 16 May 2016

The Murud-Janjira Fort

The Murud-Janjira Fort is situated on an oval-shaped rocky island in the Arabian Sea, near the coastal town of Murud, 165 km south of Mumbai, India. Once the stronghold of the Abyssinian Siddis, who played an important role in the history of Mumbai, later in the 17th century, Janjira is regarded one of the strongest marine forts in India, and the only unconquered one along India’s western coast. The fort was famous for its three gigantic cannons, weighing over 22 tons each that were feared for their incredible shooting range. Therefore, the words “Janjira” steal from Arabic word “Jazeera”, which means an island. Murud is a Marathi word for the Siddis, an ethnic group originating from Abyssinia, a historical nation in modern day Ethiopia.

So Murud-Janjira basically means “island of the Siddis”. The fort was originally built not by the Siddis, but by a local Maratha-Fisherman Chieftain, Rajaram Patil, in the 15th century, albeit on a smaller scale. At that time the fort was recognized as "Medhekot” and was built to defend his people from pirates and thieves. This was captured by a general of Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar, and later strengthened by Malik Ambar, the Abyssinian-origin Siddi regent of Ahmednagar kings. From then onward, the Siddis became independent and extraordinarily influential as autonomous state, and the fort continued to be occupied by them. Throughout history, several attempts were made by the Portuguese, the British and the Marathas to pacify the power of the Siddis, but badly failed.

However, the great Maratha leader Chhatrapati Shivaji tried unsuccessfully to scale the fort’s 40-feet high granite walls. Although in ruins now, Murud-Janjira was a full-fledged living fort in its heydays with all required facilities such as palaces, quarters for officers, mosque, fresh water tanks, etc. The outer walls and all the rounded bastions of the fort are still intact. Other attractions for history buffs include the Palace of the Nawab, because this lavish cliff-top mansion built by the former Nawab of Janjira commands a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea and the Janjira sea fort. Moreover another special attraction of this fort is three gigantic cannons named Kalalbangdi, Chavri and Landa Kasam. These cannons were said to be feared for their shooting range, another gate to the west is sea-facing, called 'Darya Darwaza'.