Massive excavation planned at Feroke to unearth history of Tipu’s Naval HQ

Massive excavation planned at Feroke to unearth history of Tipu’s Naval HQ
The excavation site in Feroke, Kozhikode.

Kozhikode: The history of Tipu Sultan’s foray into Feroke, a small but strategic town on the shores of the Arabian sea, is expected to be unearthed soon. The Archaeology Department is planning a massive excavation at the Tipu fort site in Feroke, near Kozhikode.

A preliminary excavation was done at the site in October following a court directive. The authorities managed to find several objects such as coins, mint machines, stones used in warfare, etc from the site located near Feroke town. The department will file a detailed report regarding the preliminary excavation in the court soon. The department will also seek permission for a large-scale excavation at the site which is expected to yield crucial, historically relevant finds.

Naval HQ

It is believed that Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore in the late 18th century, had established a naval headquarters at Feroke. He chose the place as it was where the Chaliyar river opened out into the Arabian sea. Feroke was the seat of power for some time and Tippu established a fort there on a hilltop on the banks of the Chaliyar river.

According to the book, ‘Tippu Sultan,’ written by noted historian Mohibul Hassan, Tipu visited Kozhikode in April 1786, through the Thamarasserry pass, without an army. “Tipu left Kozhikode on May 9 and proceeded to the South Bank of Beypore river where he laid the foundation of his new capital of Malabar and named it Farokhabad or Farrookhia. Here, he ordered a fort to be built,” it says.

Rajiv Gandhi's role

Massive excavation planned at Feroke to unearth history of Tipu’s Naval HQ

There were no major studies or official information on the remains of the centuries-old fort in Feroke, until the visit of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to Malappuram in 1985. The visiting Prime Minister mentioned the fort constructed by Tipu in Kozhikode during one of his speeches and this led to a string of researches. Following this, a local-level citizen forum was formed to protect such structures on private land. After the intervention of the forum, the government issued a notification declaring the ruined structures on 3.132 ha land near Feroke town as ‘protected,’ in 1991.

Illegal transfer

The plot of the fort in Feroke was the property of a doctor. After his death in 1988, it was handed over to his children. There was no opposition from the part of the owners when the government notified the structure as protected monuments. But, in 2004, the property was sold to another person without prior permission from the revenue authorities. As the property turned hands multiple times in two years, local-level action councils intervened and the revenue authorities stopped further transfer of the land.

Considering increased public demand, the archaeology authorities decided to conduct a preliminary excavation at the site in November 2009. But it was delayed when the landowners approached the High Court against the move. In 2010, the Feroke Cultural Coordination Committee, a collective of cultural organisations and clubs in the area, approached the court with a public-interest litigation demanding steps to protect the site. A final judgement regarding the case came on May 19, 2020.

Massive excavation planned at Feroke to unearth history of Tipu’s Naval HQ

In the judgement, the court directed the Department of Archaeology, ‘to take necessary steps to protect the monument and the adjoining properties in terms of the notification issued under the section 4(3) of Act, 1968, at the earliest in order to avoid any further deterioration of the ancient monument and the remains and at any rate, within six months.’

Radars used

Following this, the Archaeology Department held a week-long inspection at the land. They conducted a survey using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and a ‘total station survey’ to fix the boundaries of the fort land.

“There is an underground chamber (cellar) on the plot. As part of the survey, we removed soil deposits in the region and managed to recover coins and pellet mould which were used to mint coins. It lends credence to the assumption that there was a mint functioning at the fort. We have found a well with spiral stairs. During the cleaning process, we managed to understand the real design of the fort in the frontal portion. It must have featured a bastion and another well. We traced many narrow paths and tunnel-like structures which were used to carry water. Musket balls and gunflint were recovered from the spot,” said Krishna Raj, officer-in-charge of Pazhassi Raja Museum, who led the inspection team. He said the findings of the preliminary survey would be included in the report in detail.

There is a 100-year-old bungalow in the plot which is believed to have been constructed in the period of the Basel Mission. Earlier, there was a belief that the fort was mainly used as an artillery godown by Tipu’s army. But the recovery of coin and coin moulds establishes that it was also a mint.

Only a large-scale excavation will unearth all structures which are now under the ground. “We can carry out such an excavation only with the support of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It would be easy for us to conduct a detailed excavation after receiving the permission from the court,” Krishnaraj said.

100 spots identified

Massive excavation planned at Feroke to unearth history of Tipu’s Naval HQ

During the GPR inspection, 100 spots were identified where various objects could be buried.

Krishnaraj said no excavation was held after it was declared a protected land in 1991. A detailed excavation can also unearth the foundations of the fort. It could also help understand the nature of the activities held in each area of the fort even though the super-structures are now destroyed, he said.

Krishna Raj said here were contradictions with regard to the period of the establishment of the fort. “Many say the fort was constructed in 1788. But we have noticed references in some history books that the fort was established in 1786. We should reach a conclusion before producing a final report in court. The research regarding this is going on,” he said.

Noted historian and former vice-chancellor of the University of Calicut K K N Kurup said it was believed that the fort was the naval headquarters of Tipu in Malabar and it might have been constructed between 1784 and 1790. “We have to protect the area by restoring the missing structures of the fort,” he said.

(Nijeesh Narayanan is an independent journalist based in Kozhikode)

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