Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sadras Fort, Sadurangapattinam, Kalpakkam, Kanchipuram

Sadras Fort, Sadurangapattinam, Kalpakkam, Kanchipuram
Sadras Fort is located at Sadras, a fortress town located on India's Coromandel Coast in Kanchipuram District, 70 km south of Chennai in Tamilnadu state. Sadras is the anglicized form of the ancient town of Saduranga pattinam. It was a flourishing weaver’s settlement between 10th and 16th Century AD. The muslin cloth weaved here attracted traders from all over the world. The Dutch East India Company chose to build a fort at Sadurangapattinam not only because it was a centre for trade in muslin, spices etc. but also because it was free of political disturbances.

According to an inscription (dated 14th Century AD) found here, this place was earlier known as Rajanarayanan Pattinam after a Sambuvaraya chieftain. Later the city was known as Sadiravasagan Pattinam after a Vishnu temple located in the city. This name got corrupted into Sadurangapattinam, shortened to Sadirai and anglicized to Sadras by the British. Though this fort is partially ruined, but recently restoration work has been executed to preserve this historic monument.

For a long time this fort was largely unnoticed by the travellers but now travellers from different corners of the world are drawn here to explore this century old building and the stories that it preserves. Apart from the fort, the surrounding areas are filled with pristine serenity and tall dry grass which can be seen to complement the scenery around it.

History and Etymology
An inscription found in Sadras dated to 1359 mention this place as Rajanarayanan Pattinam after a Sambuvaraya chieftain. There is a temple to Vishnu here, and because of it later the city was known as Sadiravasagan Pattinam. This later changed into Sadurangapattinam, shortly known as Sadirai. Later the Dutch called it Sadras.

Philip Baldaeus, a Dutch chaplain who served in the coast in the mid-1600s, mentions Sadras when he mapped the way to Madras. ‘From Tirepoplier, you go by Poelezere, Poelemoer and Alembrue to Sadraspatan, where the Dutch have a factory and from thence to Madraspatan otherwise Chinnepatan, where the English have the fort of St. George...’

In the 1670s, the Dutch invaded San Thome. Vestiges of Old Madras by H.D. Love explains that when they first arrived in 1673 it wasn’t seen as a threat. They came again from Sadras and Pulicat. “News arrived that 500 Hollanders had landed at Sadras and were marching on San Thome, and that Rijklof van Goens was bringing another force from Pulicat. On the 11th September, the Netherlanders were established on the site of the former Moslem camp, and two days later 500 to 600 Dutch, supported by Moorish cavalry, threatened the town.” Three days later, they set up camp at the Triplicane temple. A few months later San Thome fell.

When the British set foot here, it caused a commercial conflict between the two powers, which soon became a war. The English captured the fort in 1796 and bombed it from sea, virtually razing it to the ground. The Dutch came back to the fort briefly in 1818 but were driven out again in 1854. This ended their rule along the coast.

According to the historians, Sadras fort has derived its name after the Hindu Temple, Sadurangapattinam. It is said that there was a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu in the present location where the fort is located. However, with the growing influence of the Dutch in areas around the Coromandel Coast, they invaded the temple and constructed Fort. Unlike other forts in India, this fort was built in the 17th century with the commercial purpose rather than defence.

During that period, the town of Sadras was considered as the major business hub for goods like edible oil, muslin cloth and many others. Thus, Dutch find this place to be an ideal location to build a fort that would serve as granary and stable. Many historians also believe that this fort was built on the order of Dutch queen. Further, this fort was badly damaged in the wars against the British in the year 1818. The ruins of the fort evidently narrate the how severely it was struck by the British Cannon. Today, the fort is managed and maintained by the Archaeological Survey India and restoration of the partially ruin fort is executed since 2003.

Modern Sadras was established as part of Dutch Coromandel in the 17th century, which was even before center for weaving superfine muslin cloth for export besides Pearl and edible oil. The magnificent Sadras Fort, built for commercial purposes by the Dutch, is a vast compound enclosing a huge granary, stable and structures used to mount elephants; unfortunately only one of these structures survives. The fortress was raided by the British in 1818 and came under the control of the British East India Company. It is now maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India in efforts to contain further dilapidation of this great monument.

From 2003 major restoration of the damaged fort was carried out leading to may archeological findings. The first battle between British East India Company and the Dutch started here as Battle of Sadras. The fort includes a cemetery with many beautifully decorated graves that date to between 1620 and 1769. Dutch has made a significant contribution in shaping the rich culture and heritage of the country. The fort here is an epitome of the architectural and cultural blend of the colonial era.

It is a large fort with a brick structure. At the left of the fort is a huge well which was probably used by the Dutch soldiers for meeting their water requirements. Within the fort there are many small rooms and two cannons are placed at the main entrance which seems to give visitors a welcoming treat. As soon as one enters the fort, one will see a cemetery on its right. The cemetery here is also known as grave garden and it is said that people who died in the fort were buried here. Visitors can see many beautiful tombs in the grave garden with inscriptions on it.

The inscription on the tombs is said to be almost 400 years old that dates back to around 1620-1780. It is quite intriguing to find some graves with two tomb stones. The cemetery has two rows of rectangular tombs with pretty engravings and a lot of text in Dutch, the tales of the dead. The caretaker said that the descendants of the people buried here come all the way to visit the tombs of their forefathers.

The tombstone inscriptions date from 1620 to 1769 AD. Secret chamber is located near the cemetery (which cannot be seen from outside) that leads to a secret tunnel. This was used as an escape route, which is now closed permanently with a brick wall. A visit to this fort is an interesting trip for travellers to explore the Dutch lifestyle and culture during the colonial era. Besides, the surroundings around the fort are a kind of beauty that any tourist would ever experience anywhere else.

Inside the fort is an inner wall and to one side is an Old Dutch cemetery. The 19 graves here date between 1670 and 1790. At the end of the cemetery is a secret chamber built at ground level that is now closed. Outside the cemetery are ruins of many rooms and in one particular ruin is a tile engraved with the aadu-puli aatam that the Dutch were apparently fond of. It is said that the local Tamils taught them to play the game.

As mentioned earlier, this fort has largely been unnoticed by the tourists for a long time, but after the restoration work by the Archaeological Survey India in India, this partially ruin fort is drawing a considerable number of history buffs and other tourists from different corners of the world. In the coming years, it is expected to emerge as one of the preferred destination for those who are interested in visiting historical place tucked in pristine surroundings.

Even as trade picked up in Pulicat, the Dutch were looking to expand. They found a place right down the coast — beyond Mahabalipuram was a weaver’s settlement and port called Sadiravasagan Pattinam. The place dealt mainly in muslin, edible oils and pearls. And so in 1648, the Dutch began a factory at Sadras and exported large quantities of muslin. Soon a fort was built around the factory and a Dutch settlement came up there.

The Sadras fort is still in good condition, and under the protection of the ASI. The bastions, bell tower and the arched entrance take one back to the time when rows of shops sold goods here and the Dutch trained their armies for battle. The fort kept expanding, according to Pulicat and Sadras by Xavier Benedict and had four bastions. Only three remain.

The Sadras Fort sits about 100 metres away from the silvery shores of Kalpakkam and 11 km from Mahabalipuram. The towering walls are largely intact, (restored by the ASI), even if the insides are crumbling. This 400-year-old fort was a flourishing Dutch trading settlement in the 1600s. The Dutch East India Company decided to build a fort here because it was already an established port that traded in muslin and spices. The place was then called Sadiravasagan Pattinam, which later changed to Saduranga Pattinam, shortened as Sadirai. This came to be referred to as Sadras.

The warehouses of Sadras are mostly intact, with ample evidence of their engineering skills. The pillars that run its length outside were rainwater collection pipes and recent excavations unearthed an extensive underground drainage system. There are dining rooms and dancing halls that are mostly in ruins. There is also the remnants of an inner fort wall and another arched structure with steps to the side which was supposedly an elephant mount since Asia in the Making of Europe: A Century of Advance: South Asia, by Donald Frederick Lach says that the Dutch, like the native rulers, trained elephants for their armies by teaching them not to panic at the sound of gunfire.

ASI has been conducting a lot of excavations here and has found many interesting artifacts like Delft Blue crockery, Gouda (a town in Holland) smoking pipes, and crockery from China, England and Germany. The fort had housed a number of structures including rooms, dancing halls, dining rooms and stables. The fort had had advanced drainage systems where all the sewage from the different structures was collected in a single chamber and drained neatly into the sea.

The remains of a room with hexagonal tiled flooring can be seen. A little farther on the ground is a lone tile sticking out from the ground with the traditional aadu-puli (Goat-Tiger) game engraved on it. The Dutch officers must have found the game interesting enough to engrave it on their tiles. The two warehouses opposite to each other are huge structures that were once used to store grains and other supplies. They were bombed in 1796 by the British when they captured the fort.

Though the warehouses had walls and roofs that were several feet thick, they suffered severe damage from the bombings. It is very evident that ASI has painstakingly restored these crumbling buildings. Outside the warehouse was an excavated brick-walled well. Another interesting structure in the fort premises is a small flight of steps leading onto a platform. This platform are used to mount elephants, and used for execution.

Sadras Fort is located at Sadras, a fortress town located on India's Coromandel Coast in Kanchipuram District, 70 km south of Chennai in Tamilnadu state. Sadras is located at a distance of 58 kms along the East Coast Road from Thiruvanmiyur. It is located at about 28 kms towards Kalpakkam Township from Chengalpet. It is located at about 85 kms along the East Coast Road from Pondicherry. It is located at about 12 kms from Mahabalipuram.
In recent times, Sadras has found mention due to its proximity to the atomic power plant (Madras Atomic Power Station) and the atomic research centre (Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research - IGCAR) both located at nearby Kalpakkam. The village of Sadras is sandwiched between the power plant and its township. There are two bridges connecting Kalpakkam and Sadras.


Shirley Pearls said...

Interesting read. How can one reach Sadras from Chennai - preferably by public transport?! :)

Ilamurugan said...

Take a bus from chennai which goes to pondicherry, cuddalore, karaikal, Nagapattinam and get down at Kalpakkam stop. From Kalpakkam take an auto to reach this place. Buses to pondicherry are available at every 15 mins