In search of heritage, hidden history at Tipu's Fort in Kozhikode

Excavation at Tipu’s Fort in Feroke unearths artefacts
Tipu Sultan Fort at Feroke in Kerala's Kozhikode district. File photo: Manorama

There are various kinds of travel enthusiasts – some may be looking for landscapes that have never been seen before; some, for fun. But some travel towards their inner self. Those journeys are in search of the sights left behind by the previous generation. A journey through the traces of history, in search of the heritage of our soil. There are preserved historical monuments all over Kerala. But there are monuments that have faded from memory and monuments that have been thrown away. It is impossible to find the remains of some. This trip is in search of such a sight.

A trip back in time

Feroke is a small town located about 12 km south of Kozhikode. The city is spread over the other side of the Chaliyar. As you cross the Iron Bridge, you can see the chimneys of the factories hovering on the sides of the river. The Feroke bus stand is crowded with mini buses.

There is a road to Ramanattukara via the National Highway. The road to Mannur and Kadalundi also stretches near the bus stand. If you go up the Kadalundi road, there is a narrow road on the left. That road leads to the top of a hill. There is a closed gate.

It is a land of centuries of history, once the history of the British. This is where the fort built by Tipu Sultan was located.

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The excavation site in Feroke, Kozhikode.

History buried under earth

This part is known as Kottakkunnu and the area below is known as Kottepadam. Underneath lie the remains of a large circular fort. There are trenches around the fort. Horse trails. Lighthouses. There were circular towers on various sides of the fort prepared for observation and artillery. Today their remains are lying dormant somewhere in the soil. A part of the fort has been excavated.

The fort Rajiv came in search of

What tale does this piece of land tells? There is a story about India’s former Prime Minister going in search of that story. In 1989 Rajiv Gandhi visited Malabar during his Kerala trip. He wanted to know more about the forts erected by Tipu Sultan and asked the land’s officers and politicians. They hadn’t heard of such a fort. He was told that the Tipu Fort was at Palakkad. But Rajiv stood his ground. That's when the officers discovered that there was a Fort inside Feroke’s Kottakkunnu.

The King called Tipu

Hyder and his son Tipu were the Kings of Mysore. The wars they fought to expand their kingdom were infamous. Before the British took over, Malabar was scattered into small princely states. Parakkunnu territory was under the captivity of the Zamorins or Samoothiris.

Many princely states were destroyed in the battle waged by Hyder. He was able to seize Kozhikode from the Samoothiris. After the death of Hyder in 1782, Tipu Sultan became the King of Mysore. Following his father’s path Tipu reached Malabar on April 5, 1788. Tipu, who invaded and conquered Malabar, decided to shift his headquarters from Kozhikode to Parakkunnu on the south bank of the Chaliyar River. He also decided to build a fort there.

Sea, pond and shores

It was a part of the society where the backward people lived. It is believed that people from various walks of life were cremated there.

The wide Chaliyar is just below the hill. If you look west from the hill, you can see the Chaliyam estuary at that time. Beyond that is the Arabian Sea. Tipu's move to build a fort on the fly, a land that is equally visible to the Army and Navy, was precise.

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Erstwhile Mysore king Tipu Sultan

Tough two years

It was towards the end of 1770 that Tipu started building Feroke fort. He was planning to rule the captured princely states by making Feroke the headquarters. About 900 soldiers took part in the construction of the fort and it lasted for two and a half years. The construction of the fort progressed with great emphasis on military operations. A bunker was built against the fort wall so that it could not be seen by the enemy forces.

The dispensary is an artificial cave carved out of rock, modelled on the forts of Tipu and Hyder. Inside the cave, there are parts for placing artillery. Presumably, there was a circular bastion or observation tower above it.

It is believed that a 'twin well' was built inside the fort where two small wells were located inside a well of normal size. If you go down to the well, you can reach a tunnel. The tunnel opens to the Chaliyar.

After the construction of the fort was completed, the people of the surrounding area were relocated to the lower parts. Some historians say that Parakkunnu was renamed Farooqabad.

Tipu's departure

On his way to Coimbatore, Tipu handed over the fort to Marthab Khan. It was on this occasion that the British troops led by Colonel Hartley reached Malabar. Smelling defeat, the Mysore army mounted an elephant and escaped.

The British did not give importance to the fort. It is believed that they conveniently converted Farooqabad to Feroke.

During this period, the fort and the area were handed over by the British to the prominent Commonwealth authorities in Malabar. The fort was largely destroyed in 1971 when it was handed over to a private individual by the Commonwealth authorities. Cannon floors, watchtowers and trenches were demolished.

Rajiv Gandhi's inquiry into the fort became big news in the newspapers. Realizing the historical significance of the fort, the locals formed a fort protection committee and started agitations. Complaints and petitions were filed with the government. The fort was declared an Archaeological Monument by the Government on November 6, 1991.

But the fort area of 8 acres is owned by private individuals. After the owners filed the case, the dispute went to court too.

Again, going back in search of Heritage

Excavations at Tipu's Fort, a historic monument, resumed recently under the direction of the Archaeological Survey of India. The excavations are being carried out to preserve the archaeological remains of the fort from further decay. A team of officials led by Pazhashiraja Museum charge officer K Krishnaraj has started their activities at the fort.

Topsoil will be removed and prepared in the areas to be excavated. The excavations are being carried out by the State Archaeological Survey of India with the approval of the Archaeological Survey of India. As per the court order, in October 2020, a month-long preliminary excavation and surface survey was conducted by the Archaeological Department.

At that time, GPR tests had uncovered 315 archaeological spots in the fort area. A detailed inspection will be carried out to remove the soil at the places where temporary markings have been placed.

Efforts are being made to preserve the historical background and find the remains of the site. Remains of the fort include a giant well with brick steps, coin mines, small caves, bastions, fort walls, moats and small wells, which are remnants of Tipu's war period.

History is asleep, Chaliyar is a witness

There are people who argue that Tipu did a world of good for Malabar and its people. There are those who still cry over the cruelties Tipu meted against their forefathers. In fact, people in Malabar still name their dogs Tipu.

There are certain things that remain beyond the right and the wrong and the actions of people. We call them part of history. Real travellers are those who believe that there aren’t any scars time cant heal.  

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