The historical fort at Palakkad has turned into a busy tourist destination protected by the Archaeological Survey of India. The fort is a favourite meeting point for joggers too. The authorities have laid a walkway flanked by beautiful lawns.
The complex also houses the Palakkad sub jail, Palakkad taluk office and an office for land acquisition. A famed Anjaneya Temple is another attraction. A proposal to shift the government offices out of the complex and use the space to set up a history museum has gathered momentum.
Visitors to the fort can also go to the 'Rappadi' open air auditorium, a sculpture park and a garden.
The historical monument is a confluence of Hindu and Muslim architecture and European technological advances. The fort is a storehouse of architectural splendour and historical legends. Battles were fought from this fort.
The fort had also hosted a circus, which inspired M T Vasudevan Nair to write 'Valarthumrigangal'. The fort had also provided a training ground for many of Kerala's nationally recognised sportspersons.
The genesis of the fort could be traced back to 1756 when Palakkad king Ittikkombi Achan invited Hyder Ali, then a commander of the Mysore king, to ward off a threat from the neighbouring kingdom of Kozhikode Zamorin. A year later, he asked Kallekkulangara Raghava Pisharody to identify a suitable land for a fort.
Pisharody, an expert in astrology and architecture, is better known as the author of Ravanolbhavam Attakkatha.
Though mud forts were the order of the day, Pisharody decided to build a stone fort. Hyder Ali's aide Mukhram Ali laid the foundation of the fort in such a way to face the north. An armoury was planned in the west.
Hyder Ali saw the fort as an opportunity to extend his influence to south Malabar. He wanted to set the base as a link between Coimbatore and Malabar. The construction went on on a war footing.
The fort was completed in 1766, according to documents with the ASI. The main architect was a Fenchman.
The court was designed in such a way to as to line up gunmen and cannons along its rampart, historian V V K Valath has said.
Around this time, Hyder Ali rose to become the de facto ruler of Mysore. He imprisoned Ittikkombi Achan in Sreerangapatnam after the latter rubbed him the wrong way. He put a loyalist, Ittipangi Achan, in charge of tax collection at Palakkad.
Hyder Ali's son Tipu Sultan also staked his claim on the fort. The fort played a key role in the Second Mysore War and the battle of 1782. An army led by Tipu Sultan and his French allies started their campaign against the English from his fort. The British, however, wrested control of the fort after an 11-day battle. The fort went into the control of Zamorin's guards. They were no match to Tipu Sultan, who retook the fort without much trouble.
The Mysore army also used the fort as a centre to mint coins. Hyderi replaced the existing currency called Veerarayan with minor differences.
The fort also witnessed a summit between Tipu Sultan and Kochi king Ramavarma Shaktan Thamburan in 1788, when Tipu sought Kochi's support for his plan to attack Travancore. Shakthan Thamburan remained non committal. Tipu Sultan sent a letter to Travancore king Karthika Tirunal Ramavarma, demanding his submission.
It was in the same fort that Machatt Ilayathu won over the Sultan with his expertise in astrology. The Sultan kept a parrot at his swordpoint and asked the astrologer when it will die, the legend goes. Ilayathu replied that its time was yet to come.
The Sultan hacked at the parrot but he ended up severing the chain and bird flew to safety. The Sultan was so impressed that he asked Ilayathu to foretell his future. Ilayathu apparently told the Sultan that a stay in the fort did not augur well for the Sultan.
The fort has miserable memories of the slave trade. In Hyder Ali's time, even children were sold as slaves.
The Mysore kingdom lost the fort completely by 1790. The British took over the fort. They changed the layout of the fort and transformed it into a jail. The British used the place to incarcerate local chieftains who refused to submit to them.
Historian M G Sasibhooshan has written extensively on the Palakkad fort. The fort boasts of a moat which does not dry up even in a harsh summer. The moat is so wide that even the most expert equestrian can't jump over it. Though the forts at Kannur and Bakel are bigger than Palakkad, they do not have such a wide moat. The moat is still intact despite its complex design. Strong stone walls prevent mudslides into the moat.
The Palakkad fort is a rare combination of the modes of forts as described in the Arthasasthra.
The porch of the fort is a later day addition from the time of Tipu Sultan. The column and facade at the entrance have heavily drawn from the Hindu school of architecture. Elements inside the fort resembles those of Sreerangapatnam or even Agra, in true Islamic style.
The fort had provisions for thousands of soldiers to withstand a siege.
A mango tree that has sprouted from a buried branch of the parent tree is another curious sight in the fort complex.