Have you heard about Onake Obavva? I have. She was a very brave woman who helped Madakari Nayaka in saving his fort from Hyder Ali. He lost it eventually, in one of the many attacks from Hyder Ali and his army. But people still sing praises for Onake (pestle) Obavva, who single-handedly wiped out a portion of the enemy’s army that was sneaking into the fort through a hole in the rocks. She’s an epitome of bravery!
I don’t know when did I first hear about her, but I remember that I always wanted to go to Chitradurga and see the place that I often hear in the songs and read in the books with my own eyes. And, I did so, sometime in 2013.
One of my aunts lives in Chitradurga so I went to see the fort with her family; it also meant free guide to show me around, and free food and lodging. It was a good deal for someone just out of the college. I grabbed it alright.
I remember it was a summer morning when I took a KSRTC bus at Majestic (Kempegowda Bus Stand). I was in Chitradurga within 4-5hrs. The journey was pleasant – got to see a lot of bare land, cultivated land and more land – I saw more land than I ever get to see in overly-populated Bangalore. You see, I am a nature-loving person, so it was definitely a pleasing sight to my eyes.
The next day, we set out to see the fort. My first reaction – I was awestruck by its magnitude. My history teacher had said that history books often exaggerate about the wealth our kings possessed and their greatness. I don’t know about their valour but I feel the wealth part was definitely sold short. The gigantic walls and wells, cleverly carved stairways, the stone temples and pillars – they are any day better than those stone castles built using computer graphics in the Hollywood movies. The architects from our pasts were real geniuses – they built such beautiful palaces and forts without destroying the nature. These structures are more a part of their surroundings, and the resources around are used smartly. If they do at least half of these things today, we wouldn’t be heading towards our doom’s day.
Chitradurga fort was believed to be impregnable with its seven levels of fortification. It has witnessed many wars, and seen many enemies like Muslim invaders, French colonies and British. This massive palace of stones has several temples, watchtowers, warehouses, pits and reservoirs – they are so huge that you can only imagine how many soldiers were lodged here. I saw carvings of some traditional board games like Chowka Bhara, Huli Kuri and so on… on the floors of some watchtowers. I suppose the watchmen played these games to while away time. Even men in uniform need entertainment!
I lazily went up and down several hills, taking pictures of stones and more stones, trying to read the old scriptures on the walls of the temples (I didn’t understand anything though… because old Kannada doesn’t look anything like the Kannada that we use today). Some rocks were tricky to climb; especially, kudure hejje (horse’s footprints). I didn’t display heroics at these places and explored only safer spots. However, now I wish I had. I will definitely go there again to take up these little challenges that I had given up during my previous visit. If those kingsmen could do it, someone like me who spends at least 2hrs at the gym every day can do it, too, no? I guess I will have to actually try it to know. Are you up for the challenge as well?
My uncle, who was my guide for the day, told me that the fort was relatively new. It was built sometime in 17th-18th century by the rulers of the region. Presently, its maintenance is controlled by Karnataka Government and it’s doing a pretty good job at it. He showed me the huge structures that were supposedly flour mills and butter churning machines. There are many caves where the soldiers and their families may have lived. There are prisons and a pillar where the prisoners were executed. The rain water harvesting structures looked efficient, too. It seems people here never suffered from shortage of water.
Oh and the most interesting of all, there’s Hidimbeshwara temple. It’s believed that Rakshasa Hidimba lived here during Dwapara Yuga along with his sister Hidimbe. Yes, she’s the same Hidimbe who married Bhima. Though the fort itself is relatively new, the legend behind the place and the scriptures on the temple wallsare older than the records.
Anyway, one trip isn’t enough to discover such a place. I feel there’s more to this place than what the history books tell us. The broken walls of the houses within the fort may have more stories to tell than what I heard from my uncle the other day. The calmness that speaks to you and the heat that stops you from listening – they would get anyone curious, and I am not just anyone but a writer who is always looking for a good story. So, I am surely returning to Chitradurga sometime in the near future.