A fort and an epic

Remains: Bearing the marks of time. Photo: R. Sakthimurugan  

If the history of India is made up of battles, then our forts surely deserve more attention. Tucked away on the Thanjavur–Mannargudi Road in Tiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu, Mahadevapatnam is but a blip on the map. The village may always choose to be like that but it has a tourist and historian's treasure waiting for the world to discover.

Sakthi and I felt like intrepid explorers. We had a line of reference from an old book about the possibility of a mint from the Maratha times existing in the place and another about how a play called “Sivakama Sundari Parinayam” was staged within the fort in a temple dedicated to Adivaraha. Our guide Atmaram Garud had also put enough pressure on us! With the lack of concern for heritage most of our fellow Indians display, we didn't expect to see much. Under promising and over delivering seemed to be Mahadevapatnam's way of forever etching that trip in our memories.

The road passed through thick plantations and sliced across village life in all its sleepy old-world charm and finally halted in front of towering fort walls of brick more than 25-30 feet high. The walls overlapped and the road took a sharp bend and that was the entrance to the Mahadevapatnam Fort that was built and lived in by Tulaja I (born in 1676 ACE), a Maratha king who ruled from Thanjavur between 1728–36. Before he succeeded his brother Serfoji I (1712–1728), and his older brother Shahaji (1684–1712). The three siblings were the children of Ekoji, the founder of the Thanjavur Maratha dynasty .

Tulaja was a scholar and his works include operas and Ayurvedic treatises. Sadly both have been published but remain unknown. The opera, “Sivakama Sundari Parinayam”, was written and staged during the consecration of the temple. The work has beautiful songs with notations but no musician sings it or dancer dances it. Perhaps some day, Tulaja and his work will live again. His other opera, “Rajaranjana Vidya Vilasa”, remains unpublished.

The square-shaped fort has a perimeter of approximately 1.2 km and encloses close to 40 acres of land. At corners are circular bastions overgrown with weeds. The excessive use of mortar indicates an age of approximately 300 years, my architect-companion noted.

Lands divided

The fort today is a thriving coconut plantation. How did this come about, we asked the locals and were told of the story of a Raghava Iyengar, who leased the land from the Maratha family that owned the land in 1937–40. He planted the coconut trees and looked after the temple as well, including the installation of several new idols. After his death the lands were subdivided several times and no one was sure of how many owners the fort has.

The Ganesa temple inside was a new one, but the Adivaraha temple is a splendid example of Maratha brick and stucco work. The temple's wall was surrounded by a brick cloister with recesses for lamps. When all of them were lit, the temple must have surely been a magical place! The original marble idol lies broken after a theft in 1942. Some stones are from Chola times but the temple is clearly an 18th century structure. A disused secret passage, an exquisite mandapa in brick that is miraculously standing despite one pillar having fallen away and broken; stunning stucco images call for more memories. The ceiling was once painted with scenes from the Ramayana but no traces remain. The pice de resistance is an unusual stone column with many unusual deities and small images of clouds, snakes, crabs, lizards etc. The Sanskrit-Marathi inscription is from August 2, 1728, and invokes the blessings of more than 20 primary and secondary deities of the Hindu pantheon.

Passing beyond the temple, we investigated another building that may have been part of the palace, a fully overgrown wall with several recesses for lamps, a tall tower that may have been a watch tower or a brick kiln were all we found. The placid waters of the lake within and the old trees kept their secrets to themselves.

Written sources speak of a large and a small palace and about the fort being an important one during the fight between the East India Company and Hyder Ali in 1781.

Outside the town, even more remote was the Shiva temple also built by Tulaja. Called the Mahadeva temple it was in a much more dilapidated state. There was more stonework here but time and neglect had ravaged the building.

The villagers are hoping to renovate the temples and one only hopes they do it with respect for the unknown craftsman's skill in fashioning beauty from bricks. Perhaps someday, while the walls of the fort stand, the Tourism Department and the Archaeological Survey will work together to convert this into a heritage-tourist draw. Perhaps someday, the “Sivakama Sundari Parinayam” will once more be staged within the fort amid more than a 100 lamps lit around the recesses in the temple walls as they were more than two centuries back, with the wonderful music and dance.

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Printable version | Oct 7, 2021 10:14:50 PM |

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