Fort (दुर्गः)

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A Fort (Samskrit: दुर्गः), in the present context, refers to the ancient walled and protected building structures, to house the armies and it was also the residence of ruling monarch and his family members. Many of them were tall, stone structures of wide expanse, located in strategic positions and fortified in many ways to protect its inmates. Forts played a major role in land fights to defend a kingdom. Sanskrit literature possesses evidences for existence of forts right from the Vedic period. These architectural marvels stand testimony to ancient military might and intelligence. During earlier days, rulers ensured that their capital was fortified either naturally by water ways, mountainous paths and dense forests or artificially by building rampart walls, digging moats and growing thorny plants.

॥ Kinds of Forts

According to Shukraniti, there are different types of forts, based on the physical location of the site and on the basis of the troops or allies involved. Among these, Parikha (पारिखः) is a fortress is surrounded on all sides by ditches, Parigha (पारिघः) is the one that is protected by walls of bricks, stones and mud. Dhanva (धन्वः) has no water around it; whereas Jala (जलम्) is the fort that is surrounded by abundant sheets of water. Giri (गिरिः) fort is on a high-level and is supplied with plenty of water. Sahaya is the fort that is created by valorous and friendly kinsfolk.

  1. परितस्तु महाखातं पारिखं दुर्गमेव तत्। इष्ककोपेलमृद्भित्तिप्राकारं पारिघं स्मृतम्॥ (Shuk. Niti. 4.6.2)

It also brings out the order of preference of the various types of forts in the following shloka

परिखादैरिणं श्रेष्ठं पारिघं तु ततो वनम्। ततो धन्वजलं तस्माद् गिरिदुर्गं ततः स्मृतम्॥ (Shuk. Niti. 4.6.6)

Construction of Forts

Kautilya’s Arthashastra speaks at length about the construction and type of buildings to be raised within forts. It points out that the capital (sthaniya) is to be fortified defensively on all sides either by means of water, mountain, desert or jungle. The first two types of fortification are suited for dense populations and the remaining are good refuge-spots. This sthaniya is a place where treasury or samudhayasthana  is located. Around the fort, three moats are dug out with a space of 1 danda  (equal to 6 feet) in between them. Each of these moats being of 14, 12 and 10 dandas respectively. The depth of these moats corresponds to the width, which is either 3/4ths or 1/4ths of the width. The top area is 1/3rds of width and it is square at the bottom. Rampart walls are built at 4 dandas from the innermost ditch. They should be square at the bottom, oval at the centre and be planted with thorny plants and bushes. Above the rampart walls, parapet walls are to be built in odd or even numbers with intermediate spaces. Passage for flight and exit are also made.Towers are built with moveable staircase or ladder equal to their height. There are intermediate spaces of about 30 dandas between any 2 towers and a broad street is also formed with buildings covered with a roof. In between the tower and the street is the place for indrakosha, w here 3 archers could be seated.

Yantras in a Fort

There were a variety of weapons housed inside the fort to attack enemy and defend the fort. There are basically two types of such instruments. One is sthira and the other cala. Dr. Raghavan in his Mechanical Contrivances presents a clear picture of the various yantras or weapons used in forts.[1]

Sthira types are :  Sarvatobhadra - A Sharp edged wheel placed on wall that is rotataed to fling stones ; Jamadagnya -mechanical arrow thrower that is placed behind a wall to shoot arrows through crevices in the wall; Bahumukha – A leather-covered elevation and mount for archers to enable shooting all around; Vishvasaghati – It kills people as it falls and pounds them ; Sanghati - It is made of wood and used to set fire to enemy fortifications; Yanika is a yantra on wheels that discharges batons ; Parjanyaka is a fire-quencher; Bahu is a torture-tool which crushes a person to death. This could be small sized or a overhead column.

The moving ones are called Cala yantra:

Pancalika – It has sharp protruding points and is thrown in the waters of the moat; Devadanda – is a long cylindrical cannon-like tool placed on the parapet walls of the fort; Shukarika - It is  huge,creates obstruction on the path and when suspended on the walls prevents scaling by the enemies. Not only this, it also acts as a buffer when enemies fling stones. Musala; Yashti; Hastivaraka -It is a two or three pronged iron rod which strikes elephants;Hastiparigha- It is a machine which hurls iron rods at elephants to smite or demoralise them;Talavrinta-This creates a tempest kind of effect; Mudgara;Gada;Kuddala;Asphotima – has four feet, is covered by hide, has a projectile and throws stones; Udghatima - This is a machine which has iron bars fitted to it and demolishes walls;Utpatima-This uproots and tears up things; Trishula;Cakra and Shataghni.

Buildings within the fort

The fort has about 12 gates with both a land and a water way and a secret passage. The roads vary in width depending on its purpose – royal roads are about 24 feet in width. The palace of the king and houses of the people of various varnas are constructed within the fort. Different people occupy the sites. In the centre of the city, apartments of Gods are situated. There are sufficient supplies of grains and merchandise as authorized (whose supply may last for years). There is a well for every 10 houses. The chiefs of the various divisions of the army, the boundary guards, repairers of the fort are appointed in plenty. Outsiders are never allowed to live inside the fort. They shall live only in country parts, else be compelled to pay taxes.

Siege of fort

Kautilya opines that siege is by five different methods

उपजापोऽपसर्पो वा वमनं पर्युपासनम्। अवमर्दश्च पञ्चैते दुर्गलम्भस्य हेतवः॥ (Arth. Shas. 13.4.63)[2]

  • Upajapa(उपजापः) - Kautilya always emphasises the need for a procedure which reduces the enemy’s forces. This enhances the surety of victory for the king. A messenger speaks high of the king, his omniscience  and tries to create sense of awe towards him in the enemy.Astrologers, soothsayers, horologists, pauranikas should publicise the king’s  power in associating with Gods. There should be repeated efforts to portray the enemy in poor light.The needs of the people of the enemy should be taken care of. At times of suffering the seeds of dissension should be sown effectively by saying :“ राजानमनुग्रहं याचामहे निरनुग्रहः परत्र गच्छामः।” When people agree to this they should be supplied with abundance of money, food and presents. All necessary help should be provided.
  • Yohavamanam (योगवामनम्!) - In this type of siege, role of ascetics and spies are important. A group of people pretending to be ascetics who know everything about the king and his country should, by magical means beguile the king  and win his confidence. In pretending to fulfil the king’s desires, a set of rituals may be done whereby the king is murdered unawares. Spies disguised as merchants, sooth-sayers or snake-Gods should use secret contrivances and indicate defeat of the king with various bad omens. A king who is addicted to hunting is deluded by the sight of beautiful elephants, lured into a remote place and killed or taken away as prisoner. A king who is fond of wealth or women should be beguiled by rich, beautiful widows. He might be poisoned or killed with weapons when he comes to meet the woman at night. These people of the conqueror who come to the enemy fort may leave that as secretly as they come in.

Apasarpapranidhi (अपसर्पणप्रणिधिः)- The work of spies is crucial in this type of siege. After making peace with the enemy, the conqueror may dismiss some of his own confidential ministers and send with him a group of spies, traitors, bold thieves and wild tribes who have no distinction between a friend and a foe. They secure the goodwill of the enemy and put persons of the boundary guard and other chiefs to death calling them traitors. The conqueror may strike a proposal with the enemy to put down a common enemy and in the tumult, kill enemy. Spies disguised as hunters sell flesh to the gate sentinels and make friendship. They inform the enemy of the arrival of thieves on certain occasions and then when they become reliable, they strike the enemy with all their military might. Some spies aim at the enemy king’s life.

Paryupasanakarma (पर्युपासनकर्म​) - During actual siege operations, the empty moats are to be filled with water, vitiate the water in the moats that are filled, fill the deep ditches with soil. Then, the outer walls of the parapet are brought down with the help of warriors, machines and explosives. Meanwhile, the cavalry troops shall force their way through the various gateways. If all these fail, then, finally fire is used strongly says that fire is to be used only in extreme crisis as it destroys people, cattle, grains and offends Gods.

Avamarda (अवमर्दः ) - Storming of the Fort is taken up when the conqueror is in a good state whereas his enemy is diseased, with inefficient officers, with unfinished forts, no or inimical friends. Another opportune moment for the assault is when fire breaks out. Also, one can befriend the enemy, observe the weak points and strike him. If this attempt fails, he may feign defeat and set fire to his own camp. Now the enemy is made to believe that he is retreating made to throw open his gates. At this juncture, the fort is stormed. Elephants especially trained to demolish the forts were also widely used.

Once the fort is captured by the conqueror employing such strategies, the king should make all necessary efforts to bring back peace. He should take care of the weak and injured. He has to replace the enemy’s troops with his own troops. He should make  entry into the fort with all the paraphernalia showcasing his victory.

Seeking Refuge in a fort:  Whenever a ruler had been attacked by an enemy he had to analyse and devise an appropriate strategy. He may choose to move along with his subjects inside the fort with sufficient food supplies or create obstacles by destructing bridges or minor forts in his own land to impede progress of the enemy. The retaliation has to be well-devised using the best suited vyuha. Tactics like false shouts of victory are also encouraged to demoralise the enemy.

Thus, we can see that forts,inseparable part of the defence of a kingdom, with their varieties and special weapons were marvellous in nature to protect a king and his men from his enemy. Above all, it was imperative for the king to stay alert, even when he took refuge in the fort, as there were many ways in which a fort could be captured!


  1. Raghavan, V. (1952) Yantras or Mechanical Contrivances in Ancient India. Bangalore: The Indian Institute of Culture
  2. Arthashastra (Adhikarana 13 Adhyaya 4)