Senji, immortalized by Desing's ballad, still popular in South India, is a significant place in the Tamil country. Successively occupied by the Hindus of Vijayanagar, the Nayakas, the Muslims of Bijapur, the Marathas, the Mughals and finally by the French in 1750, it was, at the end of the 16th century, one of the biggest cities of the peninsula.
The fort is particularly interesting for students of military architecture, because it is the only one in India where a full sequence of the defence 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 defence systems to the progress of artillery.
This study is an attempt to make an analysis of both the written documents and of the archaeological investigation: it is an essay at the junction of several disciplines (archaeology, history and human geography), trying to show the evolution of the defence systems of the stronghold, the development of the urban centre, as well as the different aspects of water and grain storage which are at the root of its surprising growth.
The book, abundantly illustrated with 44 line drawings and 334 photographs, is the result of several years research during which teams of architects were employed to draw the plans of the main buildings and of the different enclosures of the fort.
Religious monuments in India have attracted the attention of scholars and have been the subject matter of important research, but little attention has been paid to military works. To my knowledge, apart from a small study by Sydney Toy, two books on the forts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh - which do not take into account the evolution of military technology - and a few recent articles that I published, there is no other general or particular study on the Systems of Fortification in India. Therefore, it is almost a new subject that has not been investigated.
Yet, the innumerable defensive works, small or big, scattered throughout the sub-continent had a crucial influence on the growth of kingdoms or on the expansion of Empires in India. This is why we have selected a place which played a significant role in the history of South India: Senji Fort, situated in Tamilnadu, at about 60 km to the north-west of Pondicherry.
In the beginning, our project was limited to the study of military architecture. In fact, this site is the only one in India where a full sequence of the defence systems used in the subcontinent, from the Vijayanagar period to the European conquest, can be observed. In addition, it is the only one where we can follow, for at least four centuries, the adaptation of defence to the progress of artillery.
In the gneiss and granite regions of India, there is no other stronghold offering such a large field of investigation. Daulatabad Fort in the northern part of the Deccan is also worth examining, but it is situated in a basaltic zone and has no European feature.
The main purpose of our study was to analyse the building techniques in order to establish the typology of the defence works and to be able to bring into focus a reliable method for identifying and dating the fortifications found in other gneissic and granitic zones (like those of Chitradurga, Penukonda, Chandragiri, etc.). Such approach would have given us the possibility to carry through, for the military architecture of South India, what G. Jouveau-Dubreuil has done for the temples of South India.
But, as our survey was progressing, it was found that it was not sufficient to examine the military aspect of the place and that it was imperative to consider the urban setting, because, unlike most of the hill forts of the Deccan, which had only a strategic function, Senji, a capital of kingdom, played a significant political role.
Therefore, this study is not a descriptive monograph of the monuments of Senji, following the classical works of H. Cousens on Bijapur and G. Yazdani on Bidar. It is an essay at the junction of several disciplines (archaeology, history and human geography), trying to show the evolution of the defence systems of the fort, the development of the urban centre, as well as the different aspects of water and grain storage which are at the root of its surprising growth.
Here is attempted a global analysis of the written documents and of the archaeological investigation. The literary sources (texts and inscriptions) have been given a new reading and have been subjected to methodical examination in the field. These verifications have been made in two ways, either by trying to explain the archaeological investigation by written documents, or by comparing information given in the texts with the material remaining. A difficult task, because, while the data sometimes corresponds, it often does not match. For example, it is found that a given historical phase of the fortified city, favoured by the texts, has left very few vestiges and conversely important well preserved constructions cannot be identified properly due to the lack of literary sources. It has therefore been a necessity to have recourse to local scholars who retain the oral knowledge transmitted from generation to generation, even if their interpretations are not always reliable.
Naturally, errors of analysis or confusions are possible and the connection between the information given in the texts and the archaeological data implies a part of hypothesis and uncertainty.
Our investigation is not exhaustive. New research on military, civil or religious architecture in Senji will certainly bring some more light to the questions raised here. It will certainly compel us to stress or disregard some details in our reconstruction, but still we feel that the pictures we have made for each period of the history of Senji will not suffer much from these modifications.
The general plan of the fortifications has been carried out by K. Retzer and Khandu Deokar. The contour lines have been drawn by P. Pichard with the help of a theodolite.
For civil and military architecture, the plans of the different constructions have been made by two teams of the final-year students of the following institutions: the School of Architecture lED Vallabh-Vidyanagar, Gujarat (December 1993 and 1994) and the Department of Architecture, Regional Engineering College, Tiruchchirappalli, Tamilnadu (December 1995), under the guidance of Deepa Madhavan. The axonometric plans of the gate have been drawn by Kamalahasan Ramaswami.
For religious monuments, the plans have been drawn by the draftsmen of the French Institute of Pondicherry and Ecole francaise d’ Extreme-Orient.
On the whole, about 200 plans, sections and elevations have been made.
Our account on the different phases of the evolution of the defence system has benefited from remarks made by K. Rotzer. The comments made on the religious aspects of the town are partly based on observations by F. L'Hemault. P. Albert deciphered and translated the main inscriptions found by us and also made a critical analysis of the toponymy. Finally, this work would not have been possible without the competence and the devotion of our fieldwork companion, Babu (N. Ramasamy), who gave us the opportunity to have a thorough knowledge of the Senji region.
Among our informants must be mentioned D. Syed Jafar from Sakkirapuram, Saiyid Abdul Kafur, N. Chakravarti from Birangimedu and especially K.M. Mahalingam of the same village, to whom we owe most of the information regarding the local toponymy, the building techniques and the water supply systems. Our drafstmen, L. Dorairaj from Ecole francaise d' Extreme-Orient and M. Ganeshan from the French Institute of Pondicherry, have made a fair copy of all the plans. Credit for the photographs must be given to S. Natarajan, G. Ravindran and K. Ramesh Kumar.
Regarding this translated edition, I wish to thank my friend, prof. lames W. Hoover, for kindly reading through my English with a critical eye.
The origin of the plans in this book is indicated by the following acronyms: RD (Rotzer Klaus and Deokar Khandu), KR (Kamalahasan Ramaswami), SAV (School of Architecture Vallabh-Vidyanagar), DAT (Department of Architecture Tiruchchirappalli), EFEO (Ecole francaise d'Extreme Orient).
Senji, immortalized by Desing's ballad, still popular in South India, is today a simple taluk headquarters in the South Arcot District.
It is one of the most fascinating sites in India: a grandiose landscape of gigantic granito-gneissic boulders, surrounded by several rows of enclosures which, for a surface archaeology, offers very favourable conditions of observation.
Its location is outside the urban zone, open, in full country side. On the rock outcrops, because of the panoramic and almost aerial views, it is easy to follow the different enclosures, to distinguish the bodies of water and the communication routes.
From a historical or cultural point of view, it is a significant place in Tamil country. Successively occupied by the Hindus of Vijayanagar, the Nayakas, the Muslims of Bijapur, the Marathas, the Mughals and finally by the French in 1750, it was, at the end of the 16th century, one of the biggest cities of the peninsula.
Origin of the Name
Cenci pronounced Senji, a Tamil toponym spelt Gengi, or Gingi, Gingy, by the French, Chengee, Chengy, Gingee, by the British, has a controversial etymology.
The word could be derived from sanjivi (Skr.), a plant causing life, a kind of elixir (which is supposed to have been brought by Hanuman from the Himalayas to Lanka to revive Rama's soldiers) or from sam-ji (Skr.), meaning: to conquer completely. Or, more likely, from srngin (Skr.), homed, crested, peaked.' All these derivations, it must be said, express an idea of strength; even the magic grass found by Hanuman is a symbol of power, bravery and boldness.
Local traditions offer another explanation. In this place were living seven virgin sisters who commited suicide in order to escape being raped. Deified by the people, they are considered tutelary goddesses of the place. One of them, Kamalakanniamman, still has a shrine dedicated to her at the foot of the cliff overlooking the western plateau, and is said to have given her name to the mountain: Kamalakiri.
In any case, the successive rulers of Senji called the place by different names. The first kings who belonged to the shepherd caste, worshiping Krishna, named it Krsnapura, but, in the course of the second half of the 17th century, the settlement changed names three times: the Bijapuri general called it Badsahbad, the Marathas, Candi, the Mughals, Nusratgarh.
These modifications of toponymy reflect dramatic historical events which correspond to profound technological changes. It is this last aspect which will be considered here.
We will first study the different phases of the evolution of the fortress and of the city, from the origin to the end of the 18th century; then, we will analyse the questions related to water and food storage which have permitted this development.
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