Zapped, but amused! Exhausted, still excited! Surprised and confused! A very unusual, mysterious and not so well heard chapter of the history just witnessed – we were just back from the ‘Murud Janjira’… a fort built deep in the Arabian Sea that remained unconquered throughout history either by the Portuguese or by the British or by Moghul or by the local Marathas – the only impregnable fort in the entire 720 kms of Maharashtra coastline of Western India. Ever since I had heard about Murud Janjira, I was curious to visit this place atleast once.
Murud is not unknown to the people of Mumbai – infact it is one of the quite well known weekend beach gateways around Mumbai. What is not known to the tourist planning for a relaxed afternoon sleep on the beach side hammocks, is the mysterious tale of Siddhi emperors who reigned this majestic island fortress of Murud.
It was a weekend and as expected, the outbound traffic was a heavy one towards the outskirts of Panvel with hundreds of Mumbai residents desperately trying to drive out of bounds of Mumbai city looking for a short break to their monotonous corporate weekdays. It took us approximately 4 hrs to reach Murud. It is a 165 kms drive from Mumbai via roadways. We drove through Panvel, Pen, Alibaug and then Revdanda and once Revdanda is crossed, one can see a bridge across the Revdanda creek. Taking a right from there headed us to Murud. A great drive there onwards - the road ran parallel to the Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary on the left and the creek on the right. After driving down for approximately 30 kms, we reached the Murud village. Aman Palace was the place which was booked beforehand for us to stay overnight – an amazing homely resort built right on the beach offering a straight view of the serene beach with the breezing coconut trees, the roaring sea water with the flock of sea gulls - Murud definitely is a highly relaxing weekend gateway. I was fast awake next day morning and as I looked out through the window, I was pleasantly surprised. It was more than I expected...
Murud - Janjira – the word sounded foreign when I first heard of it. It is the local name for a fort situated at the village of Murud, in the Raigad district of Maharashtra, India. As I was told and read, this fort is the only one along India's Western coast that had remained unconquered despite of repeated Maratha, Dutch and English attacks. The word Murud - Janjira originates from two Arabic words – ‘Morod’ meaning – a relatively dry land and ‘Jazeera’ – meaning an island. The only way to reach the fort is via sailboats available from the Rajpuri port. That’s again a unique experience altogether. As we approached the fort we started realizing the vastness of the fort gradually – a whole of island converted to a fortress. Certain amazing things noticeable at the first glance were ... One cannot see the entrance to the fort until one reaches the fort; the untiring continuous splashes of salt water of the sea through ages has eroded the rocky surface of the fort base but the joint materials still stand out prominent; and the most amazing of all... I am still surprised to have witnessed it - there are wells of fresh and sweet water inside ... although the fort is being surrounded by salty seawater all around.
We were told about a secret figure of 22... The fort is made on a 22-acre land, there are 22 towers in the fort, 22 steps; it took 22 years to build the fort and the biggest of the canons were 22 tons in weight. I touched the canons; the metallic surface was so cold even in the scorching heat, the local guide talked about the alloy having been used for construction of the canons, which I could not quite well understand. Back home, a bit more depth in the pages of history told some more interesting story
As I read on… the history dated back to 15th Century. It was the reign of the Nizam. The fishermen of Rajpuri – the ‘Koli’s - took permission from the Nizam’s Thanedaar to build a wooden fortification on an enormous rock piece in the middle of the sea to protect themselves from the attacks of the pirates and thieves – they named it the ‘Medhekot’. However, one amongst them, a chosen leader – Ram Patil, opted to declare himself independent… he was a rebel and he revolted and refused to obey the then Nizam’s thanedaar’s commands anymore. The fort that was built by then was already difficult to penetrate.
Nizam was not to sit quiet. Piram Khan, one of the commanders, disguising himself as a trading merchant, could however, make a concealed entry to the fort with three ships loaded with soldiers and captured Ram Patil to convert him to a Muslim. Piram Khan was followed by Burhan Khan, the minister of the ruler of Ahmednagar, Nizam Shah, who abolished the wooden fort and erected the majestic, huge, impregnable rocky fort of Murud – it was somewhere between 1567 to 1671 and thus the state of Murud-Janjira came to be known as Habsan, the land of the Habshis.
Then came the Siddi pirates from Abssynia, who seized the bastion. The Janjira soon became an unconquerable base for the Siddis. History says that Maratha emperor Shivaji had made at least 6 serious attempts to drive the Siddis off the Janjira and even Sambhaji, Shivaji’s son himself led an powerful but unsuccessful force against the Janjira. So did the Peshwas and so did the Angreys of Alibag but all failed every time. Shivaji's inability to capture this fort led him to build the Vijaydurg fort down the coast, and Sindhudurg on the island of Padmagad, near the town of Malvan. Despite of his repeated attempts to conquer the fort, the Siddis remained a intimidating enemy to him until his death …
Till date the Janjira stands tall – unconquered – formidable as ever… in the middle of the Arabian Sea … sending a chill through the spine of whoever looks at it.