I saw it for the first time from the coast. This magnificent fort standing tall amidst the azure waters of the Arabian, unperturbed by the waves lashing at its fortifications. I gazed at it for a long time, curling my toes in the soft sand on the beach. I wanted to go, explore the naval fort, but the setting sun and the raging waves told me not to. The twilight dusk dulled the sight, but the stories of the invincible Murud Janjira still played dramatically in my head. Unfathomable, unconquered, the pride of the Abbysians, the Murud Janjira is the only fort in Maharashtra that Shivaji failed to conquer.
Situated amidst the Arabian Sea, a short boat ride away from the coastal town of Rajapuri (about 5 kms from Murud and 165kms from Mumbai) on the unfrequented Konkan Coast , the island fort of Murud Janjira looms about 40 feet high. The area of Janjira had been long controlled by different dynasties such as the Mauryas, Silharas, Chalukyas, and Yadavas and was thereafter, taken over by the Abyssians or the Siddis, who were essentially African Descendants of East African traders. Excellent seafarers, they had come to the Indian western coast centuries ago and were then forced into slavery. Oval in shape, with 19 rounded porches or arches, the Murud Janjira was constructed in the 17th century by Malik Ambar, the Abyssian Minister of the Sultan of Ahmednagar who belonged to the famous Nizamshahi tribe. He acquired the land by way of trickery against a Koli king
Ever since then, the fort has been under numerous attacks from the Portuguese to the Mughals and even the Marathas, but the Murud Janjira has been undefeatable. In fact the ever victorious Maratha King, Shivaji who was the first ruler to have his own navy in the country was unable to capture this island fort even after 13 attempts. He then constructed his own fort in the east of the Murud Janjira, called the Padma Durg. Shivaji’s son Sambhaji too adopted a unique approach towards conquering the fort. He tried building an underwater tunnel to enter, but failed. Shivaji’s fort was then used a base to carry out offensive attack operations on the Murud Janjira but all attempts were futile. The impregnability of this fort was violated only when Murud Janjira became the part of Independent India in 1948. Until then about 20 Siddi Nawabs ruled over the sea fort.
The Murud Janjira has a revolutionary architecture. The design of the fort is such that the main entrance appears as one of the walls during low tide, while in high tide the it remains submerged and well hidden from the enemy. With several towers and minarets, that were used to keep guns and 500 cannons, a few of them still spectacularly mounted on the arches, the environment makes one feel like they are in a battle scene. The most famous cannons are the KalaalBangaadi, Chavari and LandaKasam. Right at the entrance is an inscription in Persian and a stone carving depicting a tiger engulfed by six elephants which represents the might of the Siddis. A few steps ahead of the entrance there is the ‘Peer Panchayatan’, with 5 peers in the room. The sight of the three rusted anchors can be found lying just near the horse stables, near the Peer Panchayat, takes us back in time.Towards the north lies a lake, along which is the citadel where the flag was hoisted. On the west, just alongside the coast is a small door which was used for emergency exits. Above the door is the jail. There are some intricately designed tombs, beautiful water-tanks and stone sculptures, ruins of a mosque, a palace and bath where water was channeled through streams indicates the presence of royal woman who occupied the palace back then. A deep well that provides cool and sweet water to the tired travellers amongst the salinity of the sea.
Surrounded by swaying coconut and betel trees, if one were to walk through the fort today, and gaze the far-stretching Arabian sea, and notice the raging waves crashing into the walls, of the fort, one would wonder, how the Murud Janjira has not only withstood numerous attacks, but also the test of time and nature. Lashing, ravaging waves, changing weather, storms in the sea, nothing had affected this Jal-Durg. Call it war engineering tactics or nature’s mercy, the Murud Janjira is truly a testimony to the genius and the splendour of war and marine heritage.
There are plenty of State Transport Buses available to Murud and Rajapuri from Mumbai, Pune and Alibaug. Several budget hotels are present around the vicinity.
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