The Chandragiri Fort stands tall in Chandragiri, a town in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. This historical fort is perched atop a hill, also known as Chandragiri or "the Mountain of the Moon". According to legend, the hill was so named after the moon God Chandra, who is believed to have performed penance here, desiring boons from Lord Shiva. The historical site of Chandragiri was ruled by several prominent dynasties that contributed significantly to the enrichment of the culture, art, literature and architectural heritage of the region.
The Chandragiri fort is believed to have been built around 1000 CE during the reign of Immadi Narasinga Yadavaraya, a Karvetinagra Chieftain of Narayanavaram (now a small village near Chandragiri). This hill fortress was under the Yadavarayas, a local dynasty, for about three centuries. After the last of the Yadavaraya kings- Sri Ranganatha Yadavarayalu, lost his son and fled to Tirumala, the Vijayanagara forces captured Chandragiri in 1367 CE.
The Vijayanagara empire was ruled successively by four dynasties: the Sangamas, the Saluvas, the Tuluvas, and the Aravidus. Saluva Narasimha Deva Raya, the Vijayanagara governor of Chandragiri, staged a coup and seized the throne from the reigning monarch in the 15th century CE, ending the Sangama lineage's dominance and establishing that of the Saluvas'. Krishna Deva Raya, from the Tuluva dynasty, ruled after him.
The Battle of Talikota in 1565 CE is regarded as a watershed moment in the history of the Deccan. The Vijayanagara forces were defeated by the Deccan Sultanates in the battle and Aliya Rama Raya of the Aravidu dynasty was killed. Following this, the invading armies ravaged and destroyed Hampi, Vijayanagara’s imperial capital, leaving it in ruins. The slain king's brother, Tirumala Deva Raya, on the other hand, survived the fight, preserving the Vijayanagara realm for another century. He fled to the town of Penukonda. When Penukonda was invaded by the Golconda Sultanate, the capital was relocated to the highly fortified and well-protected city of Chandragiri in 1596 CE. Thus, the fort of Chandragiri rose to prominence after the great Battle of Talikota, as the seat of power of the Vijayanagara empire.
In the early 17th century, the Chandragiri Fort fell into the hands of the Golconda Sultanate. In 1782 CE Haider Ali brought the fort under the rule of Mysore Sultanate and it remained so until the treaty of Srirangapatnam in 1792 CE.
The strategically located hill fortress of Chandragiri is a testament to the glory and valor of its rulers. The fort covers an area of around 25 acres and is divided into two parts- the Lower and the Upper Fort. The Lower Fort encircles the entire plain terrain below the hill on three sides, while the fourth side on the north is protected by a high hill. The Upper Fort, located on top of the hill, consists of watchtowers along with ramparts and bastions with arched parapets.
The structures within the fort complex give one an enduring flavour of the indigenous architectural traditions. A massive and wide wall, made of cyclopean stone masonry, surrounds the entire fort. The wall is endowed with rectangular bastions and had a deep moat around it. The majestic Chandragiri Fort has two gateways that are 1 km apart, with beautifully carved pillars. Within the fort complex are eight temples in a ruined state dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. These temples can be dated to the Vijayanagara period based on their architectural style.
A hill with a mandapam adjoins the fort wall. As per a local legend, this mandapam was used for hanging convicts in plain view of the city dwellers.
There are two imposing edifices located in the Lower Fort. These two well-preserved structures are the Raja Mahal or the King’s Palace, and the Rani Mahal or the Queen’s Palace.
This magnificent three-storied palace is an outstanding example of Indo-Saracenic architecture from the Vijayanagar times in the 16th-17th century CE. The entire structure is made of stone, brick, and mortar, with no use of timber. The floors are supported by massive pillars, and the walls are well plastered with stucco ornamentation. Various floors are supported by colossal pillars in groups of four holding cross arches with square coffered ceilings or vaults in between. The entire complex shows considerable ingenuity and flair. An intriguing fact about Chandragiri is the part it played in the birth of modern-day Chennai. In 1639 CE, the last Vijayanagara king, Sri Ranga Raya II, is said to have signed the original documents providing the East India Company the strip of land needed to build Fort St. George in Madras at this very fort.
Currently, the Archaeological Survey of India runs an archaeological museum in the Raja Mahal, which houses a fine collection of sculptures and bronzes from the Vijayanagara period.
The style and type of construction of the Rani Mahal, the residence of royal ladies, is similar to the neighboring and contemporaneous Raja Mahal. This is a modest double-storied palace with frontal arched entrances decorated with stucco figure work. These constructions are built in rough stone and are lime coated. The first storey, which served as living quarters, is decorated with an ornate sikhara over its flat roof. According to an inscription in the basement, this was the commander's quarters.
Apart from being an architectural marvel, the Chandragiri citadel is also known for its rich cultural heritage. The famous Kavyas, like the Manucharitra and the Amuktamalyada, were believed to have been written here. Sage Vyasatirtha, a spiritual advisor to King Saluva Narasimha Deva Raya, used to live here and was entrusted with the ceremonial proceedings at the Tirumala temple. Tenali Rama Krishna, one of the most popular poets in Sri Krishnadevaraya's court, was said to be a native of this region. His descendants are still present in Chandragiri.
The Chandragiri Fort is well known for its astounding beauty and regal history. Edifices such as this reflect our country's rich tradition and culture. This heritage structure is wrapped in layers of significant events that shaped the history of the region.