Kannada, Kannadiga, Kannadigaru, Karnataka,

Kannadigarella ondaagi Kannadavannu ulisona, kalisona and belesona

Nayaka Forts : Nayaka period kings and chiefs in Chitradurga District

Nayaka Forts :
C. S. Patil at Kanakuppa
This research project examines the cultural significance of forts and fortified towns as symbols for the status and legitimacy of Nayaka period kings and chiefs in Chitradurga District, Karnataka, between AD 1500-1800. The key problem faced by Nayaka rulers who pretended to greatness was often precisely that—their greatness was mere pretense (and their very lives were at risk) unless they could create for themselves an image of legitimacy and high status that was accepted in the villages and temples and at least tolerated by competing kings or chiefs in adjacent regions. One highly visible means by which a fiction of legitimacy and status could be created and maintained, a way used in many different times and places throughout the world, was to build forts. They organized labor, displayed the greatness of the chief, impressed the villagers, and—in the worse case scenario—successfully defended the king or chief against attack.From this perspective, forts are more than mere applications of military engineering to political problems resolved by violent means. During the Nayaka period in South India, they were complex and highly visible symbols of kingship, the existence of which must be understood in its cultural as well as its political contexts. Consequently, the social meanings of forts—as vehicles of legitimacy and status—are one of the primary objects of this research.

Controlling for differences of space, most of the forts examined by this survey are either Nayaka constructions or were significantly added to during this period. This is significant because fort construction essentially ended in this part of South India by 1800. This focus enables us to avoid the inherent weakness of a time-centered examination of forts—that their construction is more a process than an event, and that much of what we see when we look at a fort is what happened last. They are seldom the product of one neatly packaged period of unrest on the one hand or self-inflation by elites on the other. We can, in principle, achieve an accurate basis for inference about the nature and social meanings of Nayaka period forts simply because political and technological changes rendered the construction of permanent fortifications obsolete by the 19th century.

Example Forts

Not all forts and fortified places are alike. The locations that figure most prominently in my study tend to be the largest and most extensive defensive works (e.g., Chitradurga and Kanakuppa). Nevertheless, one cannot understand these forts without first placing them in context. I have therefore also included even the smallest forts and fortified places in my research. Political unrest was such a constant factor of Nayaka period life in this region that most towns and villages were fortified, even if the defensive works were only a mud wall and an outer ring of cut thorn bushes. Here are some examples from my work, ranked roughly in descending order of settlement size and regional importance.

Chitradurga inner gateway Chitradurga

This is the largest and most historically significant fort in the district. The surviving works crown several hills on the west side of the modern town of Chitradurga and are among the most well preserved Nayaka period fortifications in Karnataka. The site is well-maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Little is known about the extent to which the site was fortified prior to the 14th century, but there is every reason to believe that the existing works are only the latest and most extensive of a long history of fortifications at Chitradurga. It was the headquarters town of the Chitradurga nayakas until 1779 when it was taken by Haidar Ali. Many of the existing works appear to be the product of his French military engineers. Chitradurga fell to the British after the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799, but they made few changes and additions. It was garrisoned for a while, but proved to be an unhealthy station for British troops and was soon abandoned.

Kanakuppa citadel Kanakuppa

Kanakuppa is a large fortified town in Jagalur taluk. It is also an extraordinarily picturesque site and, while it lacks the size and complexity of Chitradurga, it is easily its equal in dramatic scenery. The main fortifications cover the crests of three neighboring hills. The northern and southern curtain walls extend down the hills and define a well-protected saddle area between them. Within these walls are the well-preserved remains of a town that served as the taluk headquarters until 1868, when it was shifted to the town of Jagalur, which lies about 6 km to the southeast. The town within the fort walls was soon abandoned and two new Kanakuppas grew up, one to the north of the hills and the other to the south.

Like Chitradurga and Hosdurga in southwestern Chitradurga district, an important aspect of the complexity of the fortifications at Kanakuppa is simply the amount of surface relief that the works encompass. Although most of Kanakuppa town was protected by only one line of curtain wall, the defensive use of the neighboring hilltops, the siting of bastions, and the nested wall lines that protected the two citadel areas made the most of the natural defensive characteristics of the terrain. Whoever designed the works at Kanakuppa intended to emerge the victor from any assault on the town.

Curtain wall and bastions Uchchangipura

The fort at Uchchangipura occupies a low hill just west of the village of the same name in Jagalur Taluk. Although now abandoned and virtually unused except as a source of building stones, local residents report that the village was inside the fort until a few generations ago. It was then moved south of the fort to a bare ridge that placed it closer to the tank and, later, was shifted to its present location just east of the fort. The latter move appears to have been motivated by the construction of an all-weather road to the east.

Uchchangipura is easily confused with Uchchangidurga, a much larger and historically important Nayaka period fort that lies about 15 kilometers to the west in Bellary District. The confusion extends even to the local populace—if you ask for directions to Uchchangipura, you inevitably get a question in response: do you mean Uchchangipura or Uchchangidurga? The fort described here gets its name from the name of a local goddess, Uchchangamma, an ancient temple for whom lies immediately to the west of the northwestern corner of the fort.

The basic plan of this fort is that of a rectangle with wall extensions to the east and west. A large natural tank (which looked dry in January, 1997) is also enclosed by a wall extension to the south. The latter extension is unusual and appears to be an afterthought. It is the only place in the fort in which the fortification extends to two lines. There are two bent entrance type gates, one about mid-wall on the north, the other about mid-wall on the south.

Ramdurga Fort from the North Ramdurga

The fort at Ramdurga covers a low hill about 6 km south of Nayakanahatti, a town founded by the Hatti family of poligars. It was used as a village until a few generations ago, when the villagers moved less than a kilometer north of the fort wall to create the present village of Hosagudda, literally “New Hill.” The fort’s Siva temple, however, continues to be the village temple, although its popularity is said to have waned in early 1996 when the old priest and caretaker, who could trace his ancestry to the Hatti Nayakas, passed away.

Ramdurga dominates the surrounding countryside, and the fort can be easily seen across the rolling open scrub and boulder-strewn fields for 4-5 km in any direction . Although dramatic in appearance when viewed from a distance, closer inspection reveals dead ground almost up to the walls on the southwest side of the fort; its design as a defensive work was fundamentally flawed

Dr. Barry Lewis



In press

Channabasappa S. Patil: An Appreciation. In Vijayanagara, Archaeological Exploration, 1990-2000, Papers in memory of Channabasappa S. Patil, edited by John M. Fritz, Robert Brubaker and Teresa Raczek. VRP Monograph Series 10. Manohar and American Institute of Indian Studies, New Delhi.

Hillside Shiva Shrine in Vijayanagara’s Eastern Urban Core.  In Vijayanagara, Archaeological Exploration, 1990-2000, Papers in memory of Channabasappa S. Patil, edited by John M. Fritz, Robert Brubaker and Teresa Raczek. VRP Monograph Series 10. Manohar and American Institute of Indian Studies, New Delhi. (with Nicholas Powell)


UPAA 9e cover

Understanding Physical Anthropology and Archaeology, by Barry Lewis, Robert Jurmain, and Lynn Kilgore. 2007. 9th edition. Wadsworth/Thomson Learning:Belmont, CA.

Please send comments, corrections, suggestions for future editions to blewis@uiuc.edu

Chitradurga Drawings

Chitradurga in the Early 1800s: Archaeological Interpretations of Colonial Drawings. 2006. Indian Council of Historical Research, Southern Regional Centre, Lecture Series Publication 6. Bangalore, India.

2005. The Mysore Kingdom at AD 1800: Archaeological Applications of the Mysore Survey of Colin Mackenzie. In South Asian Archaeology 2001, edited by Catherine Jarrige and Vincent Lefèvre, Volume II, pp. 557-565. Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations, Paris.

2004. NVivo 2.0 and ATLAS.ti 5.0: A Comparative Review of Two Popular Qualitative Data Analysis Programs. Field Methods 16:439-464.

2003. Chitradurga: A Nayaka Period Successor State in South India. Asian Perspectives 42:267-286. (with C. S. Patil)

2003. Review of “The Jungle Kings: Ethnohistorical Aspects of Politics and Ritual in Orissa” by Burkhard Schnepel. The Journal of Asian Studies 62:1297-1298.

2002. Review of “Cahokia: Mirror of the Cosmos” by Sally A. Kitt Chappell. Journal of Illinois History 5:247-248.

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Cahokia and the Hinterlands, edited by Thomas E. Emerson and R. Barry Lewis. 2000. Illini edition.  University of Illinois Press, Urbana.

2000. Sea Level Rise and Subsidence Effects on Gulf Coast Archaeological Site Distributions. American Antiquity 65:525-541.

2000. ArcView 3.2a, MapInfo 6.0, and Manifold 4.5: A Comparative Review of Geographical Information System (GIS) Software.  Field Methods 12:358-377.

2000. Review of “The Cahokia Chiefdom: The Archaeology of a Mississippian Society,” by George R. Milner.  Journal of Field Archaeology 27:107-108.

2000. Review of “Precolumbian Architecture in Eastern North America,” by William N. Morgan. American Antiquity 65:208.

Selected Older Publications

1999. The Mississippian Town as Metaphor.  In Self, Place & Imagination: Cross-Cultural Thinking in Architecture, edited by Samer Akkach, Stanislaus Fung, and Peter Schriver, pp. 93-105.  Proceedings of the Second International Symposium of the Centre for Asian and Middle Eastern Architecture.  University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia.

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Mississippian Towns and Sacred Spaces: Searching for An Architectural Grammar, edited by R. Barry Lewis and Charles Stout.  1998. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

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Kentucky Archaeology. 1996. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington. (editor)

1996. The Western Kentucky Border and the Cairo Lowland. In Prehistory of the Central Mississippi Valley, edited by Charles McNutt, pp. 47-75. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

1995. Neon Leon. Louisiana Literature 12:44-49.

1995. Constantine Rafinesque and the Canton Site, A Mississippian Town in Trigg County, Kentucky. Southeastern Archaeology 14:83-90. (with Charles Stout).

1990. The Late Prehistory of the Ohio-Mississippi Rivers Confluence Region, Kentucky and Missouri. In Towns and Temples along the Mississippi River, edited by David Dye and Cheryl A. Cox, pp. 38-58. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

1988. Fires on the Bayou: Cultural Adaptations in the Mississippi Sound Region. Southeastern Archaeology 7:109-123.

1988. Old World Dice in the Protohistoric Southern United States. Current Anthropology 29:759-68.

1986 The Analysis of Contingency Tables in Archaeology. In Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory, edited by Michael B. Schiffer, vol. 9, pp. 277-310. Academic Press, New York.

Miss Towns

Mississippian Towns of the Western Kentucky Border: The Adams, Wickliffe, and Sassafras Ridge Sites, edited by R. Barry Lewis. 1986. The Kentucky Heritage Council, Frankfort.

1985. Radiocarbon Dating and Lower Mississippi Valley Archaeology. North American Archaeologist 6:213-225.

1983. Archaic Adaptations to the Illinois Prairie: The Salt Creek Region. In Archaic Hunters and Gatherers in the American Midwest, edited by James Phillips and James Brown, pp. 99-116. Academic Press, New York.

Miss Hamlets

Excavations at Two Mississippian Hamlets in the Cairo Lowland of Southeast Missouri. 1982. Special Publications 2. Illinois Archaeological Survey, Urbana.

Hood Site

The Hood Site: a Late Woodland Hamlet in the Sangamon Valley of Central Illinois. 1975. Reports of Investigations 31. Illinois State Museum, Springfield.

Southeast Missouri

Mississippian Exploitative Strategies: A Southeast Missouri Example. 1974. Research Series 11. Missouri Archaeological Survey, Columbia.


October 21, 2006 - Posted by | EKAVI COORG-KODAGU, History of Karnataka

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