The 450 year old Vellore Fort

27 Mar

Hi all,

While in Vellore District, in February 2017, I made sure I visited Vellore Fort, which is considered to be one of the best preserved forts in the Country, mainly because of the huge blocks of granite used in the construction.

This fort was built by the Nayaks (Kings) of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1566 AD. Subsequently, it featured regularly in the history of the Subah of Deccan and the Nawabdom of Arcot.

The history of the Vijayanagar Empire appears to have faded into the background while the history of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire took centre-stage at school and university level. My only serious study of the Vijayanagar Empire was a reading of Robert Sewell’s “A Forgotten Empire: A Contribution to the History of India (1900)”. Robert Sewell (1845-1925) was a civil servant of the Madras Presidency and held the post of Keeper of the Madras Record Office. It is understandable that this important source book was not intended for an undergraduate level reader.

Vellore Fort, along with Gingee Fort passed into the possession of the Sultan of Bijapur from 1656 to 1678.

In 1676, the Marathas under Chatrapati Shivaji’s leadership occupied Thanjavur. To secure the Maratha position, Gingee Fort was captured in 1677 and Vellore Fort in 1678.

The Mughal empire began to unravel after the death of Aurangazeb in 1707, and with the Nizam as the almost independent ruler of the Deccan, Vellore Fort came under the control of the Nawabs of Arcot.

After the Battle of Vandavasi (Wandiwash) in 1760, the English East India Company became the dominant power in Arcot and Vellore Fort was occupied by the English army.

A nugget of history generally unknown to most Indians today is that in 1806, the English faced the first Sepoy Mutiny at Vellore.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army had ordered a change of uniforms including a hat with a leather cockade to replace turbans, removal of beards, caste marks and jewellery. The sepoys considered this step to be an unwarranted interference in their religious practices and mutinied, killing 15 officers and 100 English soldiers. The Colonel commanding the cavalry cantonment in Arcot, 25 km away reached Vellore fast and the mutiny was put down with brute force.

The Vellore Fort has a Mosque, a Temple and a Church, built for the Madras army.

It housed the family of Tipoo Sultan after the battle of Seringapatam in 1799 to make sure that no heir was available to rally round.

The last king of Kandy in Sri Lanka (from the dynasty of the Madurai Nayaks) Sri Vikarama Rajasinha (1798-1815) was brought to Vellore Fort in 1815 with his family and kept as prisoners for 17 years.

There is a museum in the Fort with interesting items from the Pallava, Chola and Vijayanagara periods.

One room has very poor reproductions of the order of Sir John Craddock, Commander in Chief of the Madras Army making sweeping changes in the uniforms and appearance of the sepoys. There is also a copy of the order withdrawing the earlier order on uniforms.

On the whole, the Fort is well maintained, although the Museum is quite a pathetic effort.

One Response to “The 450 year old Vellore Fort”

  1. Ravi March 27, 2017 at 11:13 am #

    The Brits dealt with potential trouble makers ( they felt so) is their own way. One of them was to keep the potential heirs / or their prize catch in such far off places which was not easily accessible by their erstwhile subjects. Also the victims found that the climatic conditions of the new location were treacherous if not outright severe. Language, food habits of the new place were alien to most of them. The weather did punish the prisoners. Napoleon was kept in St.Helena, near to the equator, Tippus family at Calcutta, Kodagu Veerarajendra’s family at Benares ( Kashi), a scion of the Nepal Maharaja was kept on the outskirts of Bangalore ( this is hearsay, I have no proof)

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