A popular saying in Kannada goes like this - Kaaliddavaru Hampi Nodabeku, Kanniddavaru Kanakagiri Nodabeku (People who are mobile should visit Hampi and people who are blessed with an eye sight should see Kanakagiri). So true! For, the builders and rulers of Kanakagiri had an eye for good architecture.
Kanakagiri, situated in the Gangavati taluk of Koppal district, was the capital of Kanakagiri palegars from 15 to 18 century. The special interest the rulers of Kanakagiri nurtured for construction and sculptural works is evident in the many well-designed temples and forts they built in and around Kanakagiri. However, of all their constructions, the one fort that gained immense importance both structurally and in terms of its location is the fort of Hemagudda.
Situated about 20 km from Kanakagiri amidst towering hills and mountains, this fort was reputed to be the favourite hide-out of the palegars in times of trouble. Sadly, this fort has been facing neglect for decades now.
However, this fort comes alive once a year, during Dasara, because an influential family from Koppal has been celebrating Dasara in this fort for over 20 years now. Worshipping Goddess Durga in the fort as its family deity, the family celebrates Vijaya Dashami for nine days in the fort, on the lines of the celebration in the heritage city of Mysore.
As if for the Dasara celebration itself, only the temple of Durga Devi has been renovated. A kalyana mantap, community kitchen and rest houses have also been constructed at a cost of Rs 40 lakh by the Zilla Panchayat. Arrangements have also been made for the setting up of a guest house. However, with so many developments around, the historic past of the place is slowly losing out.
The Hemagudda Fort is actually right next to the Kummatadurga Fort of well-renowned Gandugali Kumara Rama. Surrounded by gigantic rocks on all sides, the fort can be entered only from its entrance in the east. Its strategic location amidst huge mountains keeps it well-hidden from the eye, making it a good hide-out for rulers in trouble.
Lending credence to the fact that the fort was a perfect hide-out for the rulers in trouble is the instance of Peetambari Baharipidda Nayak, the ruler of Surapura. The story goes like this: In the year 1688, when Aurangazeb wanted to extend his empire to the southern part of India, Peetambari Baharipidda Nayak revolted against the Moghul emperor and took shelter for almost a year in the Hemagudda Fort.
It is believed that Udacha Nayaka, the Kanakagiri ruler at that time, agreed to give Peetambari Baharipidda Nayak shelter in his Hemagudda Fort only because of its location, being quite sure of the fact that the Moghul emperor would not know that he has offered shelter to one of his enemies.
Another instance to support its status of being a ‘perfect hide-out’ is that of Hirenayaka, the last ruler of Kanakagiri, who waged a war against the Nizam of Hyderabad while hiding in the Hemagudda Fort. A battle that raged for almost three months saw the loss of many lives and money, forcing the Nizam to call it truce. However, even after the war was called off, the Nizam could not locate the Hemagudda Fort, the hide-out of Hirenayaka.
It is believed that the fort was constructed in the 14th century, while the many temples of Shiva-Parvathi, Kanakachala, Lakshmi-Narasimha and Durga Devi were constructed by Udacha Nayaka, the second ruler of Kanakagiri, between 1510 and 1533. All the temples are unique in style and structure, speaking for the builders’ love for architecture. A building that closely resembles a palace is also in place, with provisions for safe hide-outs in the walls.
Unfortunately, the fort and the temples that tell the tale of a grand era gone by, are in a dilapidated condition. Most idols in the temples are also in pieces. These temples have now become safe havens for anti-social elements.
A major portion of the fort that bears testimony to the illustrious past of the rulers of Kanakagiri needs restoration at the earliest. The authorities concerned should take immediate action to save the fort, failing which the only signs of existence of a historically important fort may also just fade into oblivion.
Translated by Chethana Dinesh