The Fort of Daulatabad

The region of the Deccan (14th – 18thcentury, the period of Muslim Sultanates), like Rajasthan, is marked by an unending cycle of raids, sieges and invasions. Defensive architecture was important here as well. Fortified cities and strongholds were occupied successively by different armies, thereby like the forts elsewhere, Deccan forts too experienced many phases of construction and changes, once again rendering a reconstruction on original lines extremely difficult.

The fort of Daulatabad is one of the most impregnable forts in India. It stands on a great conical hill of some 200 metres height. The hill is detached from the neighbouring spurs of the Sahyadri ranges, making it isolated. The isolation is further enhanced by the artificial scarping of the hill, which results in the entire rock presenting a vertical face, a formidable 50 metres – 65 metres high. On their arrival in the Deccan, the Delhi Sultanate armies encountered a long standing tradition of military architecture. This chiselling of the sides of this basalt hill, for example had already been completed under the Yadavas of Devagiri (as Daulatabad was then named). So too, the ramparts at Daulatabad, as elsewhere in the pre-Sultanate fortifications of Warangal and Raichur, had walls with quadrangular bastions, constructed of long stone slabs and laid without any mortar. Before the armies of Ala ud-Din Khalji reached Devagiri, the fort’s gateways were already bent entrances and passageways were roofed with horizontal beams for maximum defence.

Sultan Ala ud-Din Khalji’s invasion of the Deccan, beginning at the end of 13th century, succeeded in subjugating and extracting tribute from the Yadava ruler of Devagiri, as also from rulers of other principalities. The stylistic and technical features of the Indo-Muslim architecture were introduced in the Deccan at this time. This however, is not very apparent under the Khaljis, as only few of their monuments exist, the two hastily constructed mosques at Bijapur and Daulatabad, but under the Tughluqs when Sultan Mohammad Bin Tughluq (1325 – 51) made Devagiri his second capital, the situation changed. The occupation of the former Yadava stronghold, now renamed Daulatabad (City of prosperity), was accompanied by extensive building works. The Tughluqs introduced the architectural elements of their fortified cities in the north. The citadel at Tughluqabad with its features of sloping walls, rounded bastions, massive blocks of ashlar masonry, flattish domes, pointed vaults, stone arches bridging gates and portals were some of the forms that they had already devised at Delhi. These in turn can be seen at Daulatabad.

The Tughluq commanders exploited to advantage the rock citadel of the Yadavas, which they termed Balakot. To this they added an intermediate circular fort known as Kataka on its northern and eastern flanks. They then built Ambarkot, the fort which fans out in an irregular eclipse, almost 2 kilometres from north to south. Both Kataka and Ambarkot have an outer double circuit of massive ramparts, set at a marked angle and lined with slit holes and battlements. Kataka has its own two lines of wall defences that employ polygonal and round bastions, the inner line being higher. Additional protection is provided by broad moats.

The Delhi gate in the northern walls of Ambarkot has an arched opening decorated with sculpted lions in the spandrels. While the entrance on the east side of Kataka presents a sequence of arched gates and intermediate courts, shielded by massive outworks, projecting almost 80 metres away from the main line of fortification. The walls of Balakot have a similar gate, which opens out into a street that runs westwards. This gate has an arched entrance that is sandwiched between two tapering circular buttresses.

The Jami mosque (congregational mosque) of Kataka was erected in 1318 under the Khaljis, as evidenced by the inscription. It is 80 metres by 60 metres, fairly large and entered on three sides through domed chambers with unadorned sloping walls. A columned facade with four arched portals forms the facade of the prayer hall, reminiscent of the screens of the Qutb mosque at Delhi. The 106 pillars of the prayer hall behind form 25 aisles, each 5 bays deep and support a flat roof, with four external pillars, helping to support a corbelled dome over the principal mihrab, the prayer niche in the qibla (direction of prayer) wall. Many of these columns though have stylized indigenous floral and figural designs, but they were not all removed from temples, some were carved expressively for this structure.

Building activity continued at Daulatabad under the Bahmanis (1347 – 1538), who took over the area in the reign of Mohammad Bin Tughluq. Their ruined residence within Balakot is contained by high walls and entered on the north side through an arched gate. An internal court inside has three chambers with arched doorways. The details here include carved wooden beams and brackets set into the walls, incised plaster work with geometric and arabesque motifs in bands and medallions, and perforated windows with geometric designs in plaster covered brickwork. All these later evolved into the mature Bahmani style.

A short distance, north of the mosque is the brick built Chand Minar (early 14thcentury and later). Its 30 metres high cylindrical shaft is divided into four stages by three diminishing circular balconies. These are supported on sculpted brackets with pendent lotuses. The base of the Minar is attributed to the Tughluqs but the central section was added by Bahmanis in 1347 to commemorate the occupation of Daulatabad. Its fluted profile, once again recalls the Qutb Minar at Delhi. The summit however, here is marked by a bulbous dome and its base is concealed by a structure with a small mosque that was added in 1445.

The Ahmadnagar Sultans, the Nizam Shahis (1496 – 1636), after taking over the northern territories of the splintered Bahmani kingdom improved some structures at the citadel of Daulatabad, but they concentrated more on the other new forts like the one in Ahmadnagar, their capital. After the temporary Mughal takeover of Ahmadnagar in 1601, when Daulatabad once again became the seat of power, that the Nizam Shahi’s added some structures here. The Chini Mahal, so called because of traces of blue and white tiles set in its facade, was constructed within the precincts of Balakot. The pavilion is in ruins but one can discern the superimposed arched openings between tapering buttresses. The eaves and gallery running atop have mostly fallen. The interior is a double height hall, spanned by transverse stacked arches, a Timurid central Asian feature.

Daulatabad again fell into Mughal hands in 1633, thereafter serving as their main headquarter, until the move to Aurangabad. Shahjahan’s palace, situated beneath the northern flank of Balakot is in a dilapidated condition. The structure has two courts, the inner one is conceived as a four square garden with raised walkways surrounded by pavilions with cusped arches, a typical Shahjahani architectural form. The second court on the west has three interconnecting octagonal chambers, roofed with flat vaults, while its back arcaded verandah overlooks the rocky trench that surrounds the rock on which is situated the fort. Two brick built hammams (bath houses) with perforated domes are as well a part of this Mughal complex. There is another Mughal pavilion with part-octagonal balcony just beneath the summit of Balakot. And yet another hammam is outside the fortified eastern entrance to Kataka that has square and octagonal chambers roofed with flattish domes. Smaller cells in the corners are provided with baths.

Outlying structures in Daulatabad include a tomb with jali screens to the east of the outer fortification of the fort and an unnamed funerary garden on a hill slope, in the east of Daulatabad.

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