A Mukherjee World View



The fort at Daulatabad, mid-way between Aurangabad and Ellora, is also known as Devgiri. It attained fame partly due to the controversial decisions of an early ruler of Delhi, Muhammed bin Tughlaq. He, in all his wisdom, decided that his capital ought to lie in the geographical centre of his empire, and forced his court and all the citizens of Delhi to march the distance to his chosen destination, Daulatabad, a mere 1100 km away. Several years later, just as the survivors of that enforced march were getting settled in their new city, he changed his mind and made them all march back. Understandably, he was not a very popular ruler.

The Daulatabad fort is visible for quite a distance on the Ellora-Aurangabad road, as it is perched at the top of a small hill. We reached Daulatabad at 9.00 am. Entry (after a small fee) was through a succession of doorways. The fort has a series of walls surrounding it, this being only one of the factors that made it practically invulnerable to attack. The only time it was ever captured was not by force but by bribery, and once you get acquainted with the fort, it seems inconceivable that it could have been any other way.

The region has a chequered history. It was ruled by a series of kings, from the Hindu Yadava rules to the Islamic Khilji and Tughlaq dynasties. In these turbulent times, between 1100 and 1700 AD, the fort was built, a product of many generations. In some ways it is reminiscent of the forts of Delhi, most notably Ferozeshah Kotla, but superficial resemblances notwithstanding, it is unique in many ways. It uses every trick in the book in its self defense – and it writes a few good ones too.

The first line of defence is the series of battlemented walls, so broad that you could parade along them in threes. Next are the gates, protected by doors studded with iron spokes, inviting no nonsense from anyone. Just behind the doors, there are sentry rooms, where, in times of attack, you can imagine hordes of soldiers waiting, ready to spring forth should the sturdy door give way.

Then, its location itself, dramatically poised atop a hill, with a clear view of the rolling plains below. And the narrow, zig-zag path leading up through several doors – allowing access to only a thin trickle of traffic, and that susceptible to all manner of missiles hurled from above. Next, were any enemy to get past all the doors thus far, is the moat that surrounds the inner buildings. It is deep and in days gone by was, no doubt, home to hungry hordes of man-eating crocodiles. Then, the ace up its sleeve, is the long, spooky, dark, subterranean passage that leads to the higher reaches. And, having gained the higher reaches, there are cannons. Even now, three enormous, gleaming cannons at different positions on the hill point languidly out over the plains. It is said that their range exceeded 5 km, so, far from being one of the last bastions of defence, they would be the first that any enemy encountered.

But finally, and what seems to me the most deadly weapon of all, would certainly be exhaustion. An absolutely interminable uphill struggle is involved in attaining the peak, where the last of the cannons stands next to the proud flagpole. Even brave soldiers, energized with the heat of the battle, would find themselves gasping and panting and thinking longingly of home as they toiled unceasingly upwards through passages and over steps both underground and open to the skies. Nor would they be able to persuade horses or any other animals to endure the dark, bat-infested horrors of the subterranean passage.

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