Karnataka’s Bellary Fort ramparts hold a fascinating history

[] The Bellary Fort, atop Ballari Gudda or Fort Hill, was built in parts, with the Upper Fort built by Hanumappa Nayaka of the Vijayanagara Empire and the Lower Fort developed by Hyder Ali

Located at Devi Nagar in Karnataka’s Bellary (officially known as Ballari), the Bellary Kote or Bellary Fort holds a rich legacy within its ramparts. It is near-impossible to estimate the accurate value of this historical edifice, since no accurate area measurements can be made, although the figure would at least run into a few hundred crores, as per several estimates. The Bellary Fort was built atop the hill named Ballari Gudda or Fort Hill. It was built in parts, namely the Upper and Lower Forts. The former was developed by the feudal lord of the Vijayanagara Empire, Hanumappa Nayaka, while the latter was developed in the 18th century by Hyder Ali.

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Bellary Fort

(Source: Marc Roberts, Wikimedia Commons)

The builder and architect of the Lower Fort was a French engineer who also had a role to play in refurbishing the Upper Fort. After the completion of these forts, Hyder Ali discovered that these forts were located at a lower elevation than the opposite hill named Kumbara Gudda, putting the newly built forts at a disadvantageous position, from a military perspective. Hence, being hugely annoyed with his major lapse, it is stated that Hyder Ali ordered the execution of the French engineer. The grave of the French gentleman still remains, dating back till 1769 and is situated at the eastern gate of the fort. Local dwellers also state that this tomb belonged to a Muslim saint.

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Bellary Fort Karnataka

(Upper Fort entrance. Source: Vikashegde, Wikimedia Commons)

The forts have magnificent ramparts with a chequered history and multiple religious and historical monuments. There was a citadel present within the Upper Fort along with various ancient tanks while the Lower Fort towards the east is where the arsenal was housed.

Bellary Fort: History and interesting aspects

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Bellary Fort and the town itself are positioned around two huge and prominent rocky granite hills namely the Kumbara Gudda and Ballari Gudda. The two hills provide a serene backdrop for the city and there are some smaller hills including Kaate Gudda and Eeshwana Gudda, among others. They are located adjacent to the St John’s High School within the Fort area and near the Bellary Central Jail, respectively. The fort offers a commanding position and view of the plains, which now make up the current town of Bellary. The terrain surrounding the fort has granite rocks rising above the plains in the shape of a huge mountain. The hill’s semi-elliptical shape has a longer side towards the north as compared to its southern side. The rock formations have a granite mixture with feldspar in massive rhomboidal prismatic form. This kind of rock enables the creation of a strong reflection of the rays of the sun, leading to hot climatic conditions within the Bellary Fort and town.

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Ballari Fort

(Source: Ravibhalli, Wikimedia Commons)

Bellary town and district have a fascinating history going back till 300 BC. The Vijayanagara Empire began in 1365 AD. It was also ruled by the Satavahanas, Mauryas, Chalukyas of Kalyana, Kadambas, Sevunas, Kalachuryas and Hoysalas, among other dynasties. The specific accounts of the Bellary Fort commence with the rule of Hanumappa Nayaka, the chieftain, who was a Vijayanagara Empire feudatory. He built the Upper Fort and with the fall of the ruling empire around 1565, the area saw turbulent upheavals politically, until the British finally attained control of this region sometime in 1800 AD. The region then came under the rule of the Bijapur Sultans. Chhatrapati Shivaji also seized the fort but in 1678, some of his armies were caught in an ambush by the garrison stationed within the ramparts. In 1761, Basalat Jung from Adoni obtained control of this fort. However, he landed in a quarrel with the Nayaka chieftain over payment of tributes. Nayaka took help from Hyder Ali of Mysore for attacking the Sultan. Hyder Ali himself usurped the Bellary Fort and the whole region. The Upper Fort was restored during his reign while the Lower Fort was also newly developed.

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Ballari Fort Karnataka

(Source: Vikashegde, Wikimedia Commons)

Hyder Ali eventually defeated all the chieftains and surprised the Nizam’s forces under the supervision of Frenchman M de Lally while taking full control of the Bellary Fort. However, after Tipu Sultan’s defeat (Hyder Ali’s son) to the British at the time of the third Anglo-Mysore war, the region was divided and the fort and district were handed over to the Nizam Salabat Jang. After Tipu Sultan’s defeat and death in the year 1799 in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war at Seringapatam, the Mysore regions were further divided among the Wodeyars. Asaf Jah II and the British also claimed their share. Asaf Jah II chose to get British military protection in 1796 AD, from the Marathas and also Tipu Sultan before his death. He eventually ceded a major portion of the territory including Bellary Fort to the British. This area was called the Ceded Districts.

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The Bellary Fort received a 1st Class label from the British since it gave major importance to Bellary and the British Empire eventually chose it for building their cantonment. The confinement of Muzzaffar Khan, the Kurnool Nawab, at the Bellary Fort, between 1823 and 1864, for the murder of his wife, is still talked about in several legends.

Bellary Fort: Fascinating facts

There are several interesting facts about the Bellary Fort including:

  • A legend says that the city derives its name after the King of Gods, Indra who destroyed the Balla demon in the area.
  • Another legend talks of how Lord Rama, while seeking Sita, met Hanuman and Sugreeva at a location near Hampi which is approximately 30 kilometers away from Bellary, the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire then.
  • The historical legend says that Bellary is the name coming from the ancient Kannada words Vallapuri and Vallari. An inscription from the reign of the Talakad Ganga Dynasty is a testament to the Sindha Vishaya territory which comprises Dharwad and Bellary districts.
  • The Lower Fort was also known as the Face Hill since some of the rocks in this fort zone had similarities with the faces of human beings.
  • The Upper Fort has the citadel and a quadrangular plan, with a circumference of approximately 1.5 miles while rising 460 ft above the plains.

Karnataka’s Bellary Fort ramparts hold a fascinating history

(Source: Ravibhalli, Wikimedia Commons)

  • The top of the fort has a temple and remains of a few cells, in tandem with deep pools of water. The citadel has various buildings with reservoirs built within the clefts of rocks.
  • The fort has no garrisons and instead there are multiple cisterns, excavated for storing water.
  • A ditch and covered passage lie outside the ramparts and the main turret presently faces the massive Indian Flag mural that faces eastwards.
  • The Lower Fort is located at the rock’s eastern base with arsenal and barracks alike. There are two entrance gates to the western and eastern ends.
  • A temple dedicated to Hanuman or the Kote Anjaneya Temple is positioned outside the eastern gate of the Lower Fort.
  • Several buildings were integrated in the British period including the Protestant Church, Commissariat Stores and Masonic Lodge, along with the post office, orphanage and several private residences. There are various offices, public buildings, churches, temples and other educational institutions here in the present day.
  • The fort is fully illuminated on Sundays and also on national and state holidays.

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Karnataka’s Bellary Fort ramparts hold a fascinating history

(Source: Ravibhalli, Wikimedia Commons)


The Bellary Fort is located on top of which hill?

The Bellary Fort is situated atop the Ballari Gudda hill.

Who built the Upper Fort and Lower Fort?

The Upper Fort was built by Hanumappa Nayaka while Hyder Ali had the Lower Fort built in the 18th century.

Where is Bellary Fort?

Karnataka’s Bellary Fort is in the Devi Nagar region of Bellary (Ballari).

(Header image courtesy Marc Roberts, Wikimedia Commons)

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Debora Berti

Università degli Studi di Firenze, IT

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