Palakkad fort – A reminder of Mysore's campaigns in Malabar

  • Palakkad Fort was built in Hindu-Islamic architectural style using European know-how.
  • A visitor can learn not only lessons in architecture but also warcraft, at the Fort.

Palakkad Fort has played a major role in the attacks on Kerala carried out by the Mysore army which had a long-lasting impact on the region's history. A protected monument under Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the fort is a major tourist attraction now.

Local people also throng the place for morning and evening walks. A separate path has been laid for them and wide lawns spread on both sides.

Facilities like a sub-jail, taluk supply office, and land acquisition office function inside the fort. A famous Hanuman temple is also inside. Authorities have plans to shift the offices out of the fort and set up a history museum in their place.

Outside the ramparts of the fort, visitors throng the Rappadi open-air auditorium, a sculpture park, and 'Vadika' garden.

The Palakkad Fort was built in Hindu-Islamic architectural style using European know-how. A visitor can learn not only lessons in architecture but also warcraft at the Fort.

Legendary writer M T Vasudevan Nair had picked up the seed of his story 'Valarthumrigangal' from a circus tent raised at the fort. The area surrounding the fort also served as the cradle of several sportspersons who went on to achieve national and international glory.

A peep into the past

In 1756, fed up with constant skirmishes with the Zamorin of Kozhikode, Ittikkombi Achan, the king of Palakkad, decided to invite Hyder Ali, who was then the general of the Mysore forces at Dindigul. In 1757, Kallekulangara Raghava Pisharody, a friend of the king, was asked to identify land to build a fort.

Pisharody, who was an expert in architecture and astrology, was later known as the author of 'Ravanodbhavam attakkatha.'

Distinct from the mud forts of the time, a decision was taken to build a fort made of solid rock. The foundation stone was laid by Mukarram Ali, the brother-in-law of Hyder Ali. The fort was to face North. While the main gate faced North, the armoury was on the western side of the fort.

Hyder Ali was at that time looking for a means of establishing his presence in South Malabar and found the fort an ideal location for improving the communication links between Coimbatore and Malabar as well as launching his campaigns. As a result, the construction was completed quickly.

Documents with ASI reveal that the work was over by 1766. The fort, designed by a French engineer, had facilities for soldiers to remain hidden from enemies and set up cannons, writes historian V V K Valath.

The ambitious Hyder Ali, who was elevating himself from being the general to the king of Mysore, soon took the Palakkad king Ittikombi Achan prisoner as he tried to move away from him. After Ittikombi Achan was imprisoned at Srirangam, Hyder Ali handed over the task of collecting taxes in the Palakkad area to Ittipangy Achan, his favourite.

After Hyder Ali's death, the Palakkad fort came under the control of his son Tipu Sultan. The fort was a major scene of action during the second English-Mysore war when the forces of Sardar Khan and Major Abington faced each other and during the war of 1782.

It was from Palakkad fort that the army led by Tipu Sultan and a Frenchman named Lali started their march to confront the British forces.

The fort was captured by the British after a 11-day siege starting on November 15, 1784 by forces led by Colonel Fullerton. The British entrusted the Zamorin's army with the task of protecting the fort and withdrew. However, this situation did not last long. Tipu could soon recapture the fort with some clever moves.

Later, the fort was used by the Mysore army to mint coins. The plan was to replace the coin named 'Veerarayan panam' with another coin called 'Hydari,' which had minor changes. Later a new coin, 'Sultan panam,' was minted at the fort. While one Veerarayan panam equalled 22 'kasu,' one Sultan panam could be obtained only with 26 to 28 kasu.

Kochi–Mysore meet

A notable event that Palakkad fort hosted was a meeting between Kochi king Rama Varma Sakthan Thampuran and Tipu Sultan in 1788. Tipu had disclosed his plan to attack Travancore to Sakthan Thampuran during this meeting. He also sought Kochi's help in this regard, but Sakthan Thampuran tactfully evaded the issue.

It was also from Palakkad fort that Tipu wrote to the Maharaja of Travancore Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma (Dharma Raja) demanding suzerainty over the kingdom.

Tipu's horoscope

Another curious event that took place at the fort was the preparation of Tipu's horoscope.

It is believed that the astrologer was a man named Machatt Ilayathu. Tipu had brought a parrot tied with a golden chain before Ilayathu and asked him to predict its death.

When the astrologer replied that the parrot would live for some more time, Tipu ridiculed astrology and took a swipe at the parrot with his sword. But the sword missed the mark and instead hit the chain, freeing the bird in the process.

The parrot flew away and Tipu was convinced of Ilayathu's skills. The Mysore ruler's horoscope was soon written by Ilayathu. Local legend has it that the astrologer cautioned Tipu against remaining in the Palakkad fort for long as his life could be in danger.

Slave trade

It is recorded by historians that slave trade, too, was carried in the fort. The price for a slave was 200 to 250 'panam' during Hyder Ali's time. However, two or three child slaves could be bought for 100 panam.

In 1790, the British captured the fort from Mysore and gained complete control over it. The Britishers also introduced their own changes. A prison was set up by them which is still functioning. The cells housed local lords and chieftains who refused to yield to British rule.

Unique architecture

Noted historian Prof M G Sasibhooshan has made some observations about the architecture of Palakkad fort.

"The specialty of Palakkad fort is the moat that does not turn dry even during the height of summer. Built with solid rock, the moat is wide enough to prevent any adventurous cavalryman from attempting a leap across it," he says.

Sasibhooshan also points out that though the forts at Kannur and Bekal are much bigger, they lack a moat. Even after centuries, the moat is still intact. "The strong rock construction has also prevented the moat from being filled with soil," says the historian.

The fort combines features of both 'jala durgam' and 'mahee durgam' described in 'Arthasasthra'. Though the entry is through the northern side, the door faces west. All Islamic rulers in India had made it a point to build a gate facing Mecca while constructing forts.

The façade of the Palakkad fort was built during the time of Tipu. The pillars, beams, and decorations of the entry gate have Hindu influence. Structures inside the fort have resemblances to Srirangam and Agra Fort. This is a sign of Islamic art.

By building the Palakkad fort with bastions, the Mysore ruler sought to keep an army of ten thousand soldiers safe for a long time. It was as part of his aggressive strategy in the region.

Some other attractions of the fort include a unique mango tree that sprouted from the branch of another tree that had sunk to the ground and a tank in which war secrets were hidden.

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