Panhala Fort (also known as Panhalgarh, Pahala and Panala (literally “home of serpents”), is located at Panhala, 20 kilometers northwest of Kolhapur in Maharashtra, India.
It is strategically overlooking a route in the Sahyadri mountain range, which was a major trade route from Bijapur to the coastal areas in the interior of Maharashtra.
Due to its strategic location, it was the center of involvement of many Marathas, Mughals, and the British East India Company in the Deccan, which was the Battle of Pavan Khind. Here, the Queen Regent of Kolhapur City, Tarabai, spent her formative years. Many parts and structures of the fort are still intact.
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History of Panhala Fort
Panhala Fort was built between 1178 and 1209 CE, one of 15 forts (including Bavda, Bhudargad, Satara, and Vishalgarh) built by the Shilahara ruler Bhoja II.
It is said that Kamna Raja Bhoj, Kaha Gangu Teli is associated with this fort. A copper plate found at Satara shows that Raja Bhoj built the temple in 1191-1192 AD. He held a court at Panhala. Around 1209–10, Bhoja was defeated by Raja Singhania (1209–1247), the most powerful of the Devagiri Yadavas; the fort passed into the hands of the Yadavas.
Apparently, it was not well looked after, and it passed through several local chiefs. In the inscriptions in 1376, the settlement of Nabhapur is recorded in the southeast of the fort.
It was a post of the Bahmanis of Bidar. Mahmud Gavan, an influential prime minister, camped here during the rainy season of 1469.
On establishing the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur in 1489, Panhala came under Bijapur and was extensively fortified. He built the fort’s solid ramparts and entrance gate, which, according to tradition, took a hundred years to build. Several inscriptions in the fort refer to the reign of Ibrahim Adil Shah, probably Ibrahim I (1534–1557).
Fort Under Shivaji Maharaj
In 1659, after the death of General Afzal Khan of Bijapur, Shivaji Maharaj took Panhala from Bijapur in the ensuing confusion. Shivaji Maharaj fought back and could not take the fort. The siege continued for 5 months; in the end, all provisions in the fort were exhausted, and Shivaji Maharaj was on the verge of capture.
Under these circumstances, Shivaji Maharaj decided that migration was the only option. He gathered a small number of troops along with his trusted commander Baji Prabhu Deshpande and on 13 July 1660; they fled towards Vishalgarh. Baji Prabhu and a barber, Shiva Kashid, who looked like Shivaji Maharaj, kept the enemy entangled, giving him the impression that Shiva Kashid was Shivaji Maharaj.
About three-quarters of a thousand strong forces were killed in the ensuing battle, including Baji Prabhu himself. The fort went to Adil Shah. It was not until 1673 that Shivaji Maharaj could capture it permanently.
Son of Shivaji Maharaj, Sambhaji, the successor to the throne. Shivaji Maharaj met his brave son when he fled Daler Khan’s camp after carrying out his father’s political agenda to bring Aurangzeb’s successor over the Marathas.
He fled here with his wife on 13 December 1678 and attacked Bhupalgarh. However, he returned to Panhala to reconcile with his father on 4 December 1679, just before his father’s death on 4 April 1680. At the height of Shivaji’s power in 1678, Panhala kept 15,000 horses and 20,000 soldiers. The main door was also the barn gate.
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Fort Under the Kolhapur kings
When Shivaji died, Sambhaji persuaded the garrison at Panhala to overthrow his half-brother Rajaram, thus becoming the Chhatrapati (king) of the Maratha Empire. In 1689, when Sambhaji was imprisoned at Sangameshwar by Aurangzeb’s general Taqib Khan, the Mughals owned the fort.
However, it was recaptured in 1692 by Kashi Ranganath Sarpotdar under the guidance of Parashuram Pant, a Maratha garrison commander of the fort of Vishalgarh. Panhala finally surrendered to Aurangzeb in 1701, who came for the individual.
On 28 April 1692, the Mughal emperor made the English ambassador Sir William Norris honored at the Panhala Fort. Norris spent £300 in “fruitless talks” with Aurangzeb, but the details of what was being discussed were not disclosed. Within a few months, the fort was taken back by the Maratha army under Ramchandra Pant Amatya.
In 1693, Aurangzeb attacked it again. This led to another long siege, in which Rajaram fled as a beggar to the Gingee fort, leaving his 14-year-old wife, Tarabai, at Panhala. When Aurangzeb followed Rajaram, Tarabai stayed in Panhala for about five years before meeting her husband again.
During this early period of her life, Tarabai oversaw the administration of the fort, resolved disputes, and won the respect of the people. Time spent at Panhala provided him with experience in court cases and the support of his officers, which would influence subsequent events. Rajaram sent reinforcements from Gingi, and Panhala fell into Maratha’s hands in October 1693.
Major Hidden Features of the Panhala Fort
It is one of the largest forts in the Deccan, with a circumference of 14 km (9 mi) and 110 lookout posts. It is 845 meters (2,772 ft) above sea level. The fort is built on the Sahyadris, which are more than 400 meters (1,312 ft) higher than the surrounding ground. Several tunnels extend from under the fort, one of which is about 1 km long.
Much of the architecture is of the Bijapuri style, with the peacock pearls of the Bahmani Sultanate prominently appearing on many structures. Bhoja II also has a lotus motif in some of the older bastions. The fort has several monuments which are considered remarkable by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Fortifications and Citadels
More than 7 km of fortifications (tatabandi) define the almost triangular area of Panhala Fort. The remaining sections consist of 5–9 m (16–30 ft) high ramparts without parapets, reinforced by round bastions, the most notable of which is Rajdindi.
Whenever an army surrounded a fort, their first action was to poison the primary water source of the fort. To counter this, Adil Shah constructed the building of Andher Baori (Hidden Well). It is a three-storied structure with curved steps that hid the well, which was the primary water source of the fort.
There are many hidden escape routes in Andher Bawai outside the fort. With its water source, living quarters, and exit routes, the structure was probably designed like a fort within the fort to create an emergency shelter after the main fort had collapsed.
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