If Hampi represents the grandeur of the Vijayanagara kingdom in its heady prime, Chandragiri is symbolic of its old age as it ebbed and faded away.

Photo Essay Chandragiri- where the Vijayanagara empire breathed its last
Features Saturday, July 16, 2016 - 18:40

About 14 km from the immensely popular temple town of Tirupati is a small village called Chandragiri, with a rather eventful history. This was where the glorious Vijayanagara empire of south India breathed its last. It is home to the Chandragiri Fort, originally built in the year 1000 AD, by the Yadavaraya kings who ruled these parts for about 3 centuries. In the 14th century, the fort became a part of the Vijayanagara empire which had its capital in Hampi. The kingdom was ruled by four dynasties successively - the Sangamas, the Saluvas, the Tuluvas and the Aravidus. In the 15th century, Saluva Narasimha Deva Raya, the Vijayanagara governor of Chandragiri, staged a coup and snatched the throne from the reigning king, ending the rule of the Sangama lineage, and founding that of the Saluvas. Krishna Deva Raya, the most iconic ruler of Vijayanagar, came from the Tuluva dynasty that ruled next. It is believed that he lived in the Chandragiri Fort until his ascent to the throne, and visited the Tirumala temple on important milestones like his anointment as ruler and after various military conquests.

In the 16th century, Vijayanagara forces lost to the five Deccan Sultanates in the Battle of Talikota, in which their ruler Aliya Rama Raya of the Aravidu dynasty was killed. The invading armies then plundered and destroyed Hampi leaving it in ruins. However, the slain king’s brother survived the battle and this kept the Vijayanagara kingdom alive for another century. The capital was first shifted to Penukonda, but when that too was attacked by the Golconda Sultanate, it was shifted again to Chandragiri. The Aravidu dynasty, the last to rule Vijayanagara, also ruled from this town. In the early 17th century, Chandragiri passed into the hands of the Golconda Sultanate and finally the Kingdom of Mysore.

Vijayanagara era carvings on the entrance gateways to the fort

The modest fort is entered through two gateways, with beautiful carved pillars typical of Vijayanagara architecture. There are two parts in the innermost enclosure – a lower fort and an upper fort. A granite hill forms the backdrop to the lower fort, and at its base is a reservoir that would collect rain water flowing down the slope. This made the citadel self-sufficient for its water needs. Rain water would also fill the moat around it, providing the inner fort an extra layer of defence. It is significant that the rulers of Chandragiri practiced rainwater harvesting all those centuries ago.

The King’s Palace

The Queen’s Palace

A partially dilapidated temple within the fortification

The inner fort has two striking Indo-Saracenic palaces. The first is the King’s Palace, a three storeyed structure with a durbar hall in the middle. This is where Krishna Deva Raya is said to have lived. The palace bears a striking resemblance to the Lotus Palace in Hampi, and houses a small museum run by the ASI. The other building is the Queen’s Palace, which is smaller, but similar in design. It is believed to date back to the reign of Krishna Deva Raya’s successor. A number of temples in varying degrees of dilapidation are scattered around the fortification. Across the road from the King’s Palace are the exposed foundations of a long gone building that local guides claim was the residence of the legendary Tenali Rama, the humorous poet from Krishna Deva Raya’s court.

An interesting bit of trivia about Chandragiri is the role it played in the birth of present day Chennai. In the 17th century, the British East India Company purchased a piece of land from a chieftain of Chandragiri’s last Vijayanagara ruler, and built Fort St. George on it. The regions around the fort grew into modern Madras, now Chennai.

At about 145 km from Chennai, and 230 km from Bengaluru, Chandragiri is ideally combined with a visit to Tirupati. If Hampi represents the grandeur of the Vijayanagara kingdom in its heady prime, Chandragiri is symbolic of its old age as it ebbed and faded away. 

( Madhumita Gopalan is a photographer, blogger and history enthusiast who loves photo-documenting travel, culture and architecture. She blogs at www.madhugopalan.com )

*Some factual errors have been corrected

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