Saturday, June 4, 2016

Sankagiri Fort, Salem

Sankagiri Fort, Salem 
Sankagiri Fort is a historical fort maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is located 22 km from the city of Erode and 38 km from Salem. Sankagiri Fort was built in the 15th century by the Vijayanagar Empire. It was later under the control of Dheeran Chinnamalai and Tippu Sultan before the British annexed it to their territory. 

Dheeran Chinnamalai, was hanged by the British at Sankagiri Fort on 31 July 1805. Sankagiri, pronounced as Sanku-giri in Tamil. Sangu means conch and Giri means hill. It straddles a hill and is protected by several fort walls. The last phase of wall building was during British rule.

During British rule, the fort was a tax storage facility for the Kongu Nadu (which today encompasses the modern-day districts of Salem, Erode, Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Namakkal, Karur and Dindigul).

Sankagiri Fort dates back to the 15th century and was built by the Vijayanagara rulers. In the nineteenth century, the British captured and hung Dheeran Chinnamalai on July 31, 1805. Dheeran Chinnamalai was the son of Rathina Sakarai, who in turn was the adopted son of Kotravel Kaminda Mandradiyar (1708 - 1731), a chieftain in the Kongu region.

Dheeran was a brave warrior and emerged victorious in many battles against the East India Company. Even Colonel Maxwell, who defeated the legendary Tipu Sultan, was unable to vanquish him and he recorded this in his chronicles. In 1801, Dheeran beheaded Colonel Maxwell; the severed head was displayed in many towns in the Kongu region. A victory pillar was erected to honor this victory; you can see it at Odanilai, near Sivagiri.

In 1802, the East India Company dispatched another army under Colonel Harris; he too had defeated Tipu Sultan. The Army invaded Dheeran’s native village and damaged all the houses there. Dheeran beat a temporary retreat and camped at Karumalai near Palani. However, a cook, Nalappan betrayed him to the British who captured Dheeran. Dheeran was court-martialed at Sankagiri Fort and later executed.

Five hundred Kongu Chettiars:
Following the demise of Chola rule in the 13th century, the Thanjavur country came under the rule of the Pandyas who ruled for about a century. Following the invasion of Malik Kafur, the Tanjore country fell into disorder. The rule of the Delhi Sultanate lasted for half a century before Pandya chieftains reasserted their independence.

Soon afterwards, however, they were conquered by the Vijayanagar Empire. The supremacy of Vijayanagar was challenged by the Nayaks of Madurai who eventually conquered Thanjavur in 1646. The rule of the Thanjavur Nayaks lasted until 1673 when Chokkanatha Nayak the ruler of Madurai invaded Thanjavur and killed the ruler Vijayaraghava.

Chokkanatha placed his brother Alagiri on the throne of Thanjavur, but within a year the latter threw off his allegiance, and Chokkanatha was forced to recognize the independence of Thanjavur. A son of Vijaya Raghava induced the Bijapur Sultan to help him get back the Thanjavur throne.

In 1675, the Sultan of Bijapur sent a force commanded by the Maratha general Venkoji (alias Ekoji) to recapture the kingdom from the new invader. Venkoji defeated Alagiri with ease, and occupied Thanjavur. He did not, however, place his protégée on the throne as instructed by the Bijapur Sultan, but seized the kingdom and made himself king. Thus began the rule of the Marathas over Thanjavur.

During this period Chettiar community helped the Thanjavur kingdom to mobilize money to fight against invaders. Hence Marathas ordered to convict all the Chettiar men. To avoid losing succession in the community, elderly wise men arranged to gather 500 children of Chettiar community and confidentially moved them to Sankagiri region. These people were called Five hundred Kongu Chettiars.

Chettiars being devotees of Lord Shiva built their Shiva temple near Sankagiri in a place called Sunnambu Kuttai (Lime stone Pond). The temple lord Shiva was named Kopineshwar, with Angayarkanni (Lord Meenakshi of Madurai).

To minimize the anger of Maratha king, (if at all king finds that Chettiar community is survived), these 500 people must be pardoned. Chettiars also named the deity after the Maratha lord Kopineshwar located at Thane. The temple at Thane was originally built when Silharas ruled thane from 810 to 1260. This temple at Thane was renovated during 1760, by Maratha king Maratha general Chimaji Appa.

The remains of dilapidated temple Kopineshwar-Angayarkanni temple are still found on the way to Edappadi. This dilapidated temple was identified in 1982 by Viswanathan Chettiar of Coimbatore. He has identified the boundary of the temple, sanctum Sanctorium of the temple and few broken granite idols.

The adjacent land was cultivated, but this temple land was isolated and nobody wants to misuse this land due to its mystical power. Based on this fact, Viswanathan Chettiar initiated to build the temple in the location. It is learnt that Viswanathan Chettiar of Coimbatore has built the sanctum Sanctorium and died.

The Fort
Sankagiri Fort was built in the 15th century by the Vijayanagar Empire. It has 14 fort walls built on and around a hill and the last phase these walls were built by the British East India Company. The fort served as a British treasury for Kongu Nadu, a region comprising the districts of Salem District, Erode, CoimbatoreTirupur District, Namakkal DistrictKarur District & Dindigul.

The fort surrounds the entire city of Sankari. Sankagiri Fort was an important military base for Tipu Sultan and later for the British army. This is because only one side of the hill is climbable, as all the others are too steep to climb.

Dheeran Chinnamalai, the Kongu Chieftain who rose against the British East India Company was hanged by the British in this fort. Sankagiri Fort is steeped in history. The boulder-strewn rocky hill and the ruins of the fort make for a charming locale and from the hill you can enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.

You can ascend the fort from two flanks of the hill; one is relatively easy but the other is tough. This has a death well, granary, two oil go downs, one explosives godowns, two mosques, two Varadharaja Perumal temples, former British Army administrative buildings, and cemeteries formerly used by armies that were stationed at the fort and a memorial park for Dheeran Chinnamalai.

From Sankagiri, you could visit the Mettur Dam. The charming hill resort, Yercaud is close by too.

Sankagiri Fort is well connected to Salem City. It is located 22 km from the city of Erode and 38 km from Salem. Regular Buses ply between Salem and Sankagiri. National Highway 47 passes near Sankagiri connecting the town with Salem and Coimbatore. The nearest railway station is Sankari Durg (SGE). Nearest Airport is located at Coimbatore & Trichy.