On January 6th 2008, a group of REACH volunteers made a heritage trip to Gingee / Senji Fort, Mandagapattu, where Mahendra Varma Pallava’s first protype cave temple is located in Mandagapattu and then Panamalai, where an equisite Pallava temple with few remnants of beautiful paintings are there to see. Dalavaanoor was missed due to paucity of time, but we will surely make it up during the next trip.The Mandagapattu Cave temple is important part of history, as it was the start up model for Mahendra Varma Pallava in the 6th century. There also the famous “Vichitrachitta’ the King proclaiming himself to be a pioneer in discarding perishable materials like brick, timber, metal or mortar for constructing temples, aptly called himself as a surpriser or rather closely meant as a maverick creator, making the temples on stones, hard granites! Such inscriptions are also found in Mamallapuram (or) Mahabalipuram.Also the Panamalai temple where the dwarapalakas are rather too huge for the deity inside the sanctum sanctorum, the stark remnants of the beautiful paintings made by the Pallavas are scattered around. Inside the sanctum sanctorum, one can see the camphot lit walls spoiling the Brahma ,Vishnu lime mortar made sculptures above which worn out paintings made of natural dyes make your heart bleed. The somascanda sculpture on the rearside wall behind the linga also seems to be damaged. Also important is the Pallava inscriptions which are rather too big in size, carved around the sanctum sanctorum, each letter being easily 6-8 inches tall!! Next to this hillock temple is a breath taking lake where tourism can take the initiative to develop these parts into an outing spot. Gingee, Mandagapattu, Dalavanoor, Manambadi are the quartet history, art, heritage and treckers should not miss to see in Tamilnadu.
Senji@Gingee, Panamalai and Mandagapattu photos have been uploaded by our member and temple enthiusiast Raju@ Rajendran Ganesan in his famous flickr collections.
♦ For some more Mandagapattu photos see here.
Senji, bigger than any city in Portugal except Lisban, exclaimed a traveler named Kindt travelled in 1614 admitted that Senji is as large as Amsterdam. Senji Fort town in Tamil Nadu 60 kms is away from Pondicherry coast. Jean Deloche, the noted historian from the Ecole Francaise D’Extreme Orient of Pondicherry frequented Senji for 6 long years to do research and in his valuable French treatise “Senji Ville Fortifie’e du pays Tamoul (2000) “says, “Senji, immortalized by Desingh’s ballad, still popular in South India, is a significant place in the Tamil country. Successively occupied by the Hindus of Vijayanagar, the Nayaks, the Muslims of Bijapur, the Marathas, the Mughals and finally by the French in 1750, it was, at the end of the sixteenth century, one of the biggest cities of the peninsula.”
C.S.Srinivasachari in his “History of Gingee and its Rulers” (1943) narrates the ground situation thus ” It is a melancholy reflection for the historian, that what was once a scene of bustling animation, the dazzling military pomp, can boast at present of only few humble habitations, with a handful of peaceful agriculturalists. Where once chargers pranced in martial array, the bullocks drag the plough share, goaded by a half naked farmer and the spider weaves its web where rulers once sat in state and administered the affairs of the realm.”
The Fort may be in ruins, the town may have lost its grandeur, but among the rulers only one name and that too of a young boy hailing in a family that came all the way from Bundhelkand to rule a Tamil territory has been adored for his valour and folklore made his name immortal in peoples memory. Yes it is Raja Desingh who flashes in our mind whenever we think of Senji. The memory of Raja Desingh is “preserved even to this day in every town and village of South India. The wandering minstrel sings to groups of villagers under the banyan tree of the heroism of Raja Desingh of how he loved and fought and fell,” says C.S.Srinivasachari.
The Moghul Monarch Aurengazeb made a chieftain from Bundhelkand, Swarup Singh, the ruler of Senji in 1700 A.D. Swarup Singh passed away in his old age in Senji in 1714 A.D. Hearing his death, the son of Swarup Singh, Desingh started from Bundhelkand towards Senji. At that juncture he would never have dreamt that the journey to immortality had started. Since a firman had been granted by Aurengazeb in his father’s favour by way of hereditary right Desingh took up formal possession of the jaghir. The Nawab of Arcot Sadatullah Khan was aghast at this assumption of office, since Swarup Singh was a defaulter to the tune of 70 lakhs for a prolonged period of a decade. This contentious issue led to an uneven war. Nawab Sadatullah Khan’s army comprising 8000 horsemen and 10,000 soldiers marched to capture Senji. Raja Desingh had only 350 horses and 500 troopers but he could not be cowed down by brutal force. He stood up against a mighty army and fought till last breath. His queen immolated herself in the funeral pyre. Thus a young Rajput of 22 years old got a unique place in the history of Senji, a fort of many a siege and wars.
Now while researches are undertaken the amazing facts about Senji are emerging slowly.
“This site is particularly interesting for a student of military architecture, because it is the only one in India where a full sequence of the defense systems used in the subcontinent, from the Vijayanagar period to the European conquest, can be observed. It is also the only one where we can follow, for at least four centuries, the adaptation of the defense to the progress of artillery”
That is how Professor Jean Deloche of the Ecole Francaise D’Extreme Orient describes in his French book Senji (gingi) Ville fortifie’e du pays Tamoul published in 2000 with 40 line drawings and 334 photographs. This book is the only one of its kind and we have to wait for another six months to see its English version in print.
In his researches Jean Deloche is stunned by ” the deep knowledge of water management, a noteworthy engineering skill and boldness of enterprise. Water is made available throughout the year because it is stored in the weathered granite mass, acting as sponge or a filter and reappears as springs in natural reservoirs called “sunai”. On the six fortified hills, all depressions, cavities, anfractuosities, deep fissures, fractures, where water could be stored have this way been used. Moreover they were systematically enlarged by addition of a brick wall ”
This impregnable fortress had fallen in alien hands and such defeats are made a post mortem by a French scholar Bourdot in his book “18 th Century Pondicherry.” “It was a revolt amongst the besieged that opened the gates to Bijapur’s army. It was an act of treason that enabled the Maharatta Shivaji to take possession of it in 1677. Without the help of corruption the place would never had fallen to the Mogul power twenty years later. Lastly it is doubtful whether Col. Bussy with his 200 men would have been able to succeed in just few hours, with a raid that resulted in the surrender of the garrison, had it not been the panic and terror that could overcome the most courageous of the defenders during a night attack contrary to all rules especially that night was without moon or stars and when the assailants are yelling demoniacally in an unknown tongue”. M.Bourdat deserves due applauds for placing these truths in the pages of history to set the record straight.
Jain Saints had dwelled in the hills of Gingee from 2 nd century to 6 th century, as evident by many stone carvings and other evidences of being citadel of Jainism. Gingee was under Pallava Emperors between 600 to 900 AD. Chozha Emperors ruled Gingee between 900 to 1103 AD. In the stone epigraphs at Aanangur of Athitya Chozhan (871-907) and of Athiya Chozhan II (985-1013) it becomes crystal clear that Chozha Emperors ruled Gingee. Pandya Emperors, Chozha Rulers and Hoysala Kings ruled between 1014 to 1190 AD. Yadhava kings ruled Gingee between 1190 to 1330 AD. It came under Vijayanagar rule from the fag end of 14 th century and for 150 years it was under Vijayanagar rule. It saw the rule of Bijapur Sultans between 1649-1677 AD. Maharastrians ruled from 1677-1697. Moguls were in power from 1700-1750 AD. It slipped between British and French rule from 1750. This is in nutshell the historical imprints left on Gingee, and for such a Fort which has a history dating back to 1800 years if proper publicity is made in abroad it will definitely attract world tourists. It also needs the help of world agencies that protect heritage to improve its infrastructure and other amenities.