Six thousand of nation’s finest scholars, artists, aristocrats, businessmen, saints and warriors gathered here on the 6th of June, 1674 to be a part of history unfolding. This was the day, Shivaji the warrior would formally assert his independence from the Mughals. This was the day a king would be crowned. This was the day the Maratha nation would be born. This was the day Shivaji became Chhatrapati by ascending that throne in the background.
Shivaji’s coronation would cut the last vestiges of the umbilical chord that until then had categorized Shivaji, despite his glorious victories, as the son of a Mughal Jagirdar. He was now the legitimate ruler of his kingdom, the emperor of his domain.
Raigad, now a sleepy village with a historic fort, was the appropriate location for this epochal moment. It had everything Shivaji looked for in a fort. Virtually inaccessible on all sides, surrounded by the high peaks of the Sahyadri mountain range, yet standing aloof and distant from the neighboring peaks. It was as if the God’s had crafted it for this moment in history.
The fort here predates Shivaji by more than 600 years. Then known as Rairi, the first fortification of the hill happend as far back as in 1030. Shivaji conquered it in 1656 and handed it over to his trusted architect Hiroji Indulkar…yes the same person who built the magnificent sea fort of Sindhudurg…to make it suitable for a Chhatrapati. Hiroji took 14 years to convert it into a bustling capital that housed over 300 families.
We hit Raigad on the fifth and last day of our roadtrip. The hill fort poses a formidable challenge for visitors even today. It takes around 1500 grueling steps to get to the top…the way the Maratha’s in Shivaji’s time would have gone up. There is a cable car that takes you up almost to the entrance…but almost appropriately that goes up the backside of the fort.
Unlike the other military fortifications, Raigad was conceived and built as a capital city of an empire. The palace, the living quarters, even the durbar where designed to display the majesty of the Maratha empire.
This shot, taken from close to Shivaji’s Samadhi, gives some indication of the scale of the city. Raigad had everything a capital city should have. A magnificent palace for the ruler and his queens. There were six quarters for the six queens…two of them did not stay here. Residences for his ministers and generals. The magnificent durbar hall that could hold over 6000 guests at one time. The King’s quarters, granaries, water tanks, stables, houses for the common man, the temple priests, the merchants. The city even had a marketplace…called Bazarpeth. The shops were purposely built at a height from the road so a horse rider could shop without having to dismount.
Unfortunately, by this time the camera also gave up. We lost the phone a little earlier, so this is where the images must end. Bar one. If you want to see more of the fort, as well as read a detailed description of its various features, I suggest you head over to this wonderful blogpost by Nilima Mohite.
Shivaji breathed his last here in 1680. The fort exchanged hands a number of times after that between the Marathas and their numerous enemies. The British finally declared this a piratical hideout and razed it in 1818.
Post our visit to the fort we headed back home to Pune. But this trip, this king and these forts will stay with us.