|In the heart of Palakkad town sits Tipu’s Fort, a majestic edifice with a chequered past. Sheila Kumar takes a ramble.|
It lies sunning itself in somnolent fashion, belying a far-from-peaceful past life.
Witness to history: The Palakkad Fort.
It is Tipu’s fort but it was built by his father Hyder Ali in 1766. The sizeable fortress is a striking feature of Palakkad town, one which most locals take entirely for granted.
There are those who take a brisk walk through the interiors, part of their morning constitutional. Others head to the Hanumanmandir situated at the entrance and believed to be as old as the fort itself. Still others use the fort as a landmark while giving instructions to various other places in the town. However, ask a Palakkad citizen a particular question regarding the fort and he/she will shrug and indicate that well, it was always there, it is there and hopefully, will always be there; end of story. Oh, the fact that the fort is also known as the Palakkad Fort contributes even more to its downscaling in the public imagination.
Palakkad, for those who may not know much about the place, is a small, scenic town in the lowlands of the Sahyadri ranges, a composition of emerald green paddy fields, mist-capped mountains, with a perennial breeze from the Palghat Gap blowing through. And Tipu’s Fort is without doubt, the pivotal jewel in this pretty tiara.
The fort, square in shape, with a drawbridge at the entrance and bastions at all four corners as well as in the centre, sits on a gentle hillock, to one end of the arterial Sultanpet area of town. Water flows in the moat and one unconsciously searches for the rare croc or maybe a monitor lizard immobile on a bank; there is nary even a fish to be seen, though.
It is indeed, a good-looking bastion, as it lies sunning itself in somnolent fashion, belying a far-from-peaceful past life. The history of the 15-acre fort has been a chequered one, as almost everything under the suzerainty of Tipu was. Long ago, when Palakkad Achchan, the local ruler, declared independence from the Zamorins of Calicut (now Kozhikode), the latter were determined to go to war to reclaim what they saw as their property. The local ruler sought the help of the King of Mysore province and it was Hyder Ali who was deputed to help him. Eventually, Hyder Ali took over this area and in 1766, built the fort with the help of French engineers.
The fort became Hyder Ali’s military headquarters as also a centre for improving trade and communication between both sides of the Western Ghats, most specifically between the then Palghat and Coimbatore. Hyder Ali ruled over Malabar and Kochi provinces and in time, his son Tipu Sultan inherited those areas. In 1768, the British, under Colonel Wood, captured the fort from Hyder Ali. It was a bitterly fought battle and a large part of this splendid structure sustained damage. However, soon Hyder Ali took back the fort and made good all the damage.
Back and forth
The British weren’t sitting back, though, and in 1784, after an 11-day siege, Colonel Fullerton stormed the massive, laterite walls. The wheel continued to turn a full circle when the Calicut Zamorin gained control of the battlement again. By this time, Tipu Sultan was in the fray; he moved troops to take back the fort. Due to a delay in the arrival of help dispatched by Colonel Fullerton, the Zamorin abandoned the fortress and thus, it became Tipu’s.
The last battle at the Palghat fort was in 1790, when the British under Colonel Stuart captured the stronghold again and used it as a crucial base for the final onslaught on Srirangapatnam. Once ensconced in the place, the British carried out extensive renovations and it continued to be in use till well into the 19th century.
The fort is in the middle of a maidan
, the kotamaidanam
, once used as a sprawling camp for Tipu’s soldiers, as well as a place to stable the horses and elephants of his army. Today, expos, circuses and fairs aplenty are held in the maidan
. Close by are an open air auditorium and a small museum.
Tipu’s fort is ASI territory now and they have done a good job of restoration and maintenance. The interiors hold a small museum, a sub-jail and a martyr’s column.
The devout go seek darshan at the Hanuman temple. The walkers/joggers go for their amble/run on the neat paths inside the ramparts. Young couples tryst by the huge tree that spreads its branches wide in the centre of the fort. And life goes on as usual, inside and outside this beautiful monument.