The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Daulatabad Fort that December morning in 2013 was this slender, terracotta pink minaret rising above the walls of the Fort. And a pale silhouette of the moon nestled next to it. Needless to say, it was quite a sight and one that I will never forget. It was only later that I found out how lucky I was to have seen both the moon and the minaret together, for the tower is called Chand Minar or moon tower.
I had arrived early at Daulatabad Fort, so early that the only company I had for some time were the sweepers cleaning the Fort and some security guards. Even the guides were not there ! According to the ticket clerk, the guides were scheduled to arrive an hour later, just before the first busload of tourists were expected to descend upon the Fort. Therefore, in the absence of any guide or any available literature on the Fort at the ticket office, I relied on the couple of information boards put up at the Fort to guide me.
It was an interesting experience to just meander through the Fort at my pace and spend a wonderful morning at a place that has not got the attention it deserves. Daulatabad Fort was built during the rule of King Bhillama V of the Yadava dynasty in the 11th century CE. It was known as Deogiri (also spelt as Devgiri) or the Hill of the Gods and served as the capital for the subsequent rulers from this dynasty. Built on a 200m high conical hill, it was one of the most powerful Forts in the Deccan region with many contenders vying for its control.
In 1296, Ala-ud-Din Khilji defeated the reigning Yadava king, Ramachandradeva and annexed the Fort and the region to the Delhi Sultanate. Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq, who succeeded the Khiljis, renamed Deogiri as Daulatabad or the “Abode of Wealth. He even shifted his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad in 1328 for a short period. The next few centuries saw the control of Daulatabad change hands — from the Bahmani rulers to the Nizam Shahis of Ahmednagar to the Delhi Sultans to the Mughals to the Marathas and finally, to the Nizams of Hyderabad.
The Daulatabad Fort, which is actually a complex, covers an area of almost 70 hectares. It was built and added to over the centuries by the various people who ruled from it. The defence system of the Fort is quite impressive with moats, 3 encircling fortification walls, gates, bastions, tricky passages, etc. Some impressions from that visit…
According to one of the information boards, in addition to the moats and fortifications, the Fort encloses a step well, a kacheri or a court building, the Bharat Mata Temple, Hathi haud or elephant tank, the Chand Minar, Aam Khaas or the hall of public audience, the Royal Hammam, Chini Mahal, Andheri (a dark passage used to lure enemies to certain death), Rang Mahal, and 10 unfinished rock-cut caves, among others. The ones highlighted in bold are the ones I managed to see.
The Bharat Mata Temple appears to have been ‘built’ on the site of a mosque, or rather is a mosque that has been converted into a temple. The mosque, in turn, appears to have been built from the remains of an earlier temple. It was quite strange to see carvings of human figured on the pillars, which must have enclosed the central courtyard of the mosque. The Chand Minar was built by Sultan Alam-ud-Din Bahmani in 1447 and stands tall at 70 m, dominating the landscape and holding its own against the imposing conical hill that is the Daulatabad Fort. It is also extremely photogenic — half my photographs of the Fort have the Chand Minar in it !
Daulatabad is also a site of religious significance — sufism is said to have spread to the Deccan region from here; and the samadhi of Janardhana Swami, the guru of the Marathi poet-saint Eknath, is located on top of the hill. Unfortunately, I never made it to the top.
Daulatabad Fort is often called the unconquerable fort, which is a bit of a misnomer, considering the number of rulers from different dynasties it has had. But what it definitely is, and one that is not immediately apparent, is that it is a misleading and disorienting Fort. Let me elaborate. When a visitor enters Daulatabad Fort, its spread or height or complexity is not immediately apparent. Its only when you start walking around and pass the Chand Minar that a slight incline begins. You climb a little more and expect to have reached the top, when another set of stairs presents itself. You climb that and then encounter another, and then another… The climb is endless and the twists and turns and dark passages to pass through are dizzying and confusing. I climbed for about 2 hours at a slow and steady pace, hoping that each time I negotiated steps or a passage or a turn, I would have reached the top, only to be confronted with more climbing to do. I watched groups of school children on a picnic or educational visit to the Fort, negotiating the climb with ease and racing each other to the top, with envy. There was a point when I got really winded and knew that I could go no further. This was near a Ganesh Temple and I found out that I had only reached the half-way point ! I was quite disappointed then, but was later glad that I had reserved some energy when confronted with more climbing to do at the Ellora Caves, which I visited next.
I love forts and I loved Daulatabad Fort. It is quite understated, in the sense that it has none of the grandeur that the forts in Rajasthan that I have visited have. But, and this is a huge but, it is every bit as interesting and challenging to negotiate, if not more. Granted that the Daulatabad Fort needs to be well signposted and proper trails for exploration and literature will have to be provided to make it visitor-friendly. That brings me to a puzzling question: why don’t more people visit it or write about it? I have not explored it fully, but what little I saw was fascinating. It definitely deserves our love and attention.
Have you been to Daulatabad Fort?