Covered by a carpet of green moss, Mirjan fort was looking breathtakingly beautiful when we visited it in the aftermath of the monsoon. The huge bastions along with the watchtowers loomed into view as we reached the fort. As we entered the portals of the historic battlement through the broad laterite-stone steps, a haunting stillness greeted us. We felt as though we had the fort to ourselves as there were no hawkers, visitors or bus-loads of day-trippers around. Hence, we could savour the beauty of the fort in blissful silence and absolute solitude.
Located amidst the idyllic surroundings of the banks of the River Aganashini, the ruins of Mirjan Fort in Uttara Kannada district are splendid to behold, with their earthy colour interspersed with the vibrant green. The vast expanse encircling the fort was beguiling and spectacular. The flowing river, swaying coconut trees, lush paddy fields, greenish groves and the Western Ghats in the background add to the beauty of the fort. Perched on a little promontory against the background of verdant hillocks, the red laterite structure stands regal even in its ruins.
As we clambered the intricate steps leading to the watchtower of the fort, it conjured visions of intriguing battles fought for the supremacy of trade in the area. It must have once echoed with the booms of cannons as battles raged for control of the fort and the surrounding environs. We had a birdâ€™s eye view of the surrounding areas from the watchtower. In its heyday, the fort was surrounded by a protective circular moat which is believed to have been ridden with crocodiles. The waterway also enabled transportation of merchandise to the nearest harbour. Sadly, the moat is not visible anymore and is hidden under overgrown bushes. There are also indications of a drawbridge in the earlier period, but many parts of the fort have vanished over time.
Sprawling over an area of ten acres, the fort is an architectural marvel, with high ceilings and bastions. As we rambled around, we could still see the large entrance, walls, flagpole, watchtowers, remains of an assembly hall, an astounding darshan hall, prayer halls, a market place, and idols of gods under a massive solitary tree. In addition to the main entrance, the fort has three subsidiary entrances, secret passageways and canals, providing a royal reminder of Karnatakaâ€™s vibrant history. The fort has witnessed several battles, yet endured the test of time.
Moss-covered bastions at Mirjan Fort
Mysterious and secret underground tunnels and routes to escape invasions added to the fortâ€™s intrigue. The double-walled citadel boasts a unique blend of Islamic and Deccan architectural styles with high walls and bastions. I could visualise the level of security provided by the inner walls, that could clearly withstand invasion from enemies.
I was overwhelmed by the architectural skills that the builders possessed with the limited technology of the time. This time-tested structure has been built using locally available laterite stones. The deep wells, secret doors, tunnels, kitchens, watch towers, and other ruins made me ponder over the lost significance of the place. The water storage system and large wells connected to canals tell us about the source of water inside the fort. The waterways linking the fortâ€™s several wells to its exterior and the surrounding canal, suggest that the canals probably served the dual purpose of ferrying cargo, making the area a vibrant trading centre.
The place resonates with history and abounds in scattered ruins that transport one to the glorious past, to a time when Mirjan was a busy outpost in the Konkan coastal belt. It served as an export base for an assortment of spices like pepper, nutmeg, and also betelnut and cassia grown in the flourishing Vijayanagar empire.
A watchtower at the Fort with a flagpole
However, the origins of the fort are steeped in legend. This fort, with Deccan and medieval influences, has been home to many rulers over the centuries. While some sources date the fortâ€™s construction to 1200 AD during the period of Nawayath Sultanate, one of the first historical records attribute the Fortâ€™s reconstruction to Chenna Bhairadevi, the illustrious Queen of Gerosoppa.
As she controlled the pepper trade through this fort, she was known by the Portuguese as â€˜Raina Da Pimentaâ€™, which means â€˜Pepper Queen' in Portuguese. The Queen, who held her sovereignty over the region for more than half a century (1552 to 1606), and showed statesmanship and bravery. But she ultimately died a prisoner to neighbouring clans.
A stairwell leading to a secret passageway
After many restorations, the Archaeological Survey of India has declared the fort as a protected monument under its purview. However, due to time and the vagaries of nature, this structure now shows some signs of degeneration. It is imperative that necessary preservation methods be implemented to conserve this valuable remnant of history.
Getting there: Located on the banks of the Aganashini river, it is 1 km away from NH 17, 11 km from Kumta (11km) and 22 km from Gokarna (22km) in Uttara Kannada region of Karnataka.
Where to stay: Accommodation options are nil in Mirjan but one can stay in Gokarna or Kumta.
Susheela Nair is an independent food, travel and lifestyle writer and photographer contributing articles, content and images to several national publications besides organising seminars and photo exhibitions. Her writings span a wide spectrum which also includes travel portals and guide books, brochures and coffee table books. All pictures by Susheela Nair.