Once the capital of Keladi kings, Nagara is now a forgotten village

The remnants of the palace, durbar hall, and watch towers, among other structures, convey the century-old stories

Updated - August 25, 2023 06:02 pm IST

Published - August 25, 2023 09:00 am IST - Shivamogga

The famous Bidanur fort at Nagar in Hosnagar taluk of Shimoga district.

The famous Bidanur fort at Nagar in Hosnagar taluk of Shimoga district. | Photo Credit: VAIDYA

“Except on Sundays and holidays, there are hardly any visitors to this historic fort,” says Prema, an elderly woman who runs a tea stall right in front of the main gate of Bidanur fort at Nagara in Hosanagar taluk of Shivamogga district. On weekdays, few travellers stop at the fort for a peek inside before continuing on their journey.

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Otherwise, regular visitors are college students and residents of Nagara, a hobli headquarters. “I earn a decent sum only if there are a good number of tourists at the fort. And people can come here only if they are told about the significance of the place,” Ms. Prema points out. Like Ms. Prema, many residents of Nagara believe that there has been no effort to popularise the magnificent fort, once the seat of administration of the Keladi rulers.

Located amidst the beautiful green mountainous peaks of the Western Ghats sits majestically the Bidanur Fort. A visit to the place during the rainy season is a delight when mist and greenery cover the entire surface. The remnants of the palace, durbar hall (court hall), and watch towers, among other structures, convey the century-old stories.

A view of Bidanur Fort at Nagara in Hosanagar taluk.

A view of Bidanur Fort at Nagara in Hosanagar taluk. | Photo Credit: SATHISH G.T

Dating back to 13th century

The fort has a long history, dating back to the 13th century. The Honne Kambali rulers, feudal lords loyal to the Vijayanagara Empire, built the fort, according to historians. “Honne Kambali rulers are from Hosangadi, now in Kundapura taluk. They ruled the place between 1218 and 1618, the year when Venkatappa Nayaka of the Keladi dynasty took over the place,” says Ambrayya Math, a resident of Bidanur (Nagara), who has studied the history of the place.

Capital shifted

Venkatappa Nayaka was one of the most popular rulers of the dynasty. He expanded his territory, exhibiting his skills in warfare. In fact, traveller Pietro Della Valle, who visited India from Italy in those days, recorded his opinion of Venktappa Nayaka in his letters. He calls him a “good soldier” and also mentions his war with the Portuguese. The fort was strengthened after it came under the rule of the Keladi rulers. Subsequently, they shifted their capital from Ikkeri to Bidanur in 1639.

Among the Keladi rulers, Shivappa Nayaka (1645–1660) is known for his administration, expansion of the territory, and farmer-friendly taxation system. He occupied Mangaluru, Kundapura, Honnavara, and parts of Kerala, among other parts.

A view of Bidanor Fort at Nagara in Hosanagar taluk.

A view of Bidanor Fort at Nagara in Hosanagar taluk. | Photo Credit: SATHISH G.T

The taxation system

The ruler is remembered for his tax system – Sist (Shist). The agricultural land was divided into five types, and taxes were fixed based on the yield. In fact, he cultivated different crops at his royal farms and calculated the tax considering the input cost and the yield. This was acceptable to the farmers, and they were happy with the system that was introduced. Considering his farmer-friendly administration, the Karnataka Government has named the agricultural and horticultural university set up at Iruvakki in Sagar taluk after him.

Interestingly, one of the causes of the historic Nagara rebellion of farmers against the Mysuru rulers in 1830 was the taxation system. The people, who were happy with the system introduced by Shivappa Nayaka, rebelled against the harsh system introduced during the Mysuru rule. Hundreds of people sacrificed their lives during the struggle.

Durbar Hall of Bidanur fort at Nagara in Hosanagar taluk.

Durbar Hall of Bidanur fort at Nagara in Hosanagar taluk. | Photo Credit: SATHISH G.T

The woman ruler

Keladi Chennamma is another ruler from the dynasty known for bravery and administrative skills. Under her rule, the army was strong, and she gave asylum to Rajaram, son of Shivaji, against Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. She fought against the Mughals successfully.

The fort continued to remain the centre of his administration as well. “The place is surrounded by hilly ranges. There is a ‘natural fortress of hill stations’, and that made them choose this secure place for their treasury and armoury,” said Ambrayya Math. He said the fort was spread over 20 sq km and entry into the fort needed detailed scrutiny. “The rulers of the Keladi dynasty had a good rapport with the Vijaya Nagar empire, and hence they wanted to replicate Hampi here. They built 365 temples, Mahanavami Dibba, among other things that are in Hampi as well,” he said. 

Keladi Nripavijayam, a champu kavya by Linganna Kavi and Shivatatvarathnakara by Basavappa Nayaka records the rule of Keladi kings.

A view of Bidanur Fort at Nagara in Hosanagar taluk.

A view of Bidanur Fort at Nagara in Hosanagar taluk. | Photo Credit: SATHISH G.T

The downfall

However, the downfall of the dynasty came with Hyder Ali, Mysuru ruler, conquering the place in 1763. It is said that the palace was set on fire as per the instructions of the queen, Veerammaji. Later, the queen was taken prisoner and kept in Madhugiri in Tumakuru district. As per the records, Hyder Ali found a treasure of 12 million sterlings in the palace after taking over the fort. Hyder Ali renamed Bindanur, Hyder Nagara, and also introduced coins in his name. Later, during the Anglo-Mysore Wars, the place suffered destruction. 

Bidanur, once the capital of the Keladi dynasty, was reduced to a district headquarter during Mysore rule. After India got independence, the place is only a hobli headquarters. “It is said that there were 1 lakh houses in Bidanur and Laksheshwara Temple (Gudde Venkataramana Temple) was built to signify this. However, it is all history now. Now, the population is a few thousands,” said Mr. Math.


A view of Devagange ponds near Nagara in Hosanagar taluk.

A view of Devagange ponds near Nagara in Hosanagar taluk. | Photo Credit: SATHISH G.T

Following the construction of Linganamakki Dam across the Sharavathi River for a hydropower project, vast areas around Nagar were submerged, forcing the people to move out. “Right now there are around 4,500 people here. Those who gave up their land for the project have not yet received a suitable relief. It remains a neglected place in terms of development. We feel sorry for the present plight of the place, once the capital city,” says Ravi Bidanur, a resident of Nagara.

Tourism potential

The local people are angry with the administration over the lack of attention to conserving the monuments and memorial stones. Mr. Math said there are many monuments and memorial stones (veeragallu, mastigallu). “The memorial stones need to be conserved at places where they are available. Instead of taking them to a museum, they should be conserved as they tell the tale of the place,” he said.

A view of Bidanor Fort at Nagara in Hosanagar taluk. Photo by Sathish G.T.

A view of Bidanor Fort at Nagara in Hosanagar taluk. Photo by Sathish G.T. | Photo Credit: SATHISH G.T

Considering the historical significance and the monuments, Nagara and Hosanagar have tourism potential that remains untapped. Devagange ponds, about 3 kms away from Nagara village, are one such tourist attraction. This is said to be the sporting place for the royal family members during the Keladi rulers. The ponds, part of the erstwhile fort, exhibit a natural stream, that never go dry. As many as seven ponds have been constructed in a large courtyard. The ponds, each in a different shape, are connected with stone drains.

Both the Bidanur Fort and Devagange ponds are ASI-protected monuments. However, there are hardly any efforts to promote tourism in these places. Karunakara Shetty, former president of Nagara Gram Panchayat, said, “The tank next to the fort is a suitable place for boating. If boating is introduced, it will boost tourism.”

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