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.

In the present day, forts, though remain as signs of our past history, give us significant insights into the strategies of warfare, the construction materials and town planning, the metals and alloys used for making both defense weapons as well as for domestic activities. They also give valuable information about how people of a particular region overcame the climate and natural environmental impediments using simple locally available materials and innovative ideas. Stepwell and water canals in Hampi, Karnataka and many other such monuments in various places in India stand testimony to the methods of water conservation and irrigation adopted within the citadels of rajas and maharajas of ancient days.

परिचयः॥ Introduction

Ancient rulers of India attached great importance to the construction and maintenance of forts and fortresses, for they served as the main base to defend the country against invasions of the enemy. Bhishma describes the qualities of such a place of residence of a raja to Yudhishtira,[1]

यत्पुरं दुर्गसम्पन्नं धान्यायुधसमन्वितम्।

दृढप्राकारपरिखं हस्त्यश्वरथसङ्कुलम्॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.86.6)

विद्वांसः शिल्पिनो यत्र निचयाश्च सुसञ्चिताः।

धार्मिकश्च जनो यत्र दाक्ष्यमुत्तममास्थितः॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.86.7)

yatpuraṁ durgasampannaṁ dhānyāyudhasamanvitam।

dr̥ḍhaprākāraparikhaṁ hastyaśvarathasaṅkulam॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.86.6)

vidvāṁsaḥ śilpino yatra nicayāśca susañcitāḥ।

dhārmikaśca jano yatra dākṣyamuttamamāsthitaḥ॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.86.7)

Summary: Characteristically a raja should inhabit that kind of a place (fortress or city) which had the following features

  • surrounded with strong gates and huge walls
  • fortifications either natural or artificial
  • water supply throughout all seasons
  • filled with treasures
  • having vidvat jana (learned people), shilpakaras (skilled people)
  • having dharmik people and experts of all kinds of activities
  • places of trade, exchange of goods and essentials
  • granaries for storing various kinds of grains
  • places of worship
  • separate housing facilities for people supporting the administration
  • garrison for large number of trained soldiers, horses and elephants
  • weapons, fire-implements, yantras or machines for protection
  • having a strong judicial system
  • having place of music and arts

Further such a habitation should always be filled with strong people engaged in various social and cultural activities, where houses are built in an orderly manner, well decorated and people live fearlessly in them. Such a place should be filled with the sounds of vedic recitations and worship of devatas should continue uninterruptedly.[1] A fort offers exceptional ways of defense; standing behind the battlements of the citadel one archer (धनुर्धरः) could easily withstand one hundred archers and one hundred archers ten thousand such men.

एकः शतं योधयति प्राकारस्थो धनुर्धरः ।

शतं दशसहस्राणि तस्माद्दुर्गं विधीयते । । ७.७४ । । (Manu. Smrt. 7.74)[2]

ekaḥ śataṁ yodhayati prākārastho dhanurdharaḥ ।

śataṁ daśasahasrāṇi tasmāddurgaṁ vidhīyate । । 7.74 । । (Manu. Smrt. 7.74)

Literary References of Forts

Several ancient literary references to fortresses are available which are both interesting and valuable. Rigveda mentions about tribes living in fortifications known by पूर् । Pur, more like the suffix of city names used till date. Brahmana literature also features many references to citadels used by the rulers. In Kaushitaki Brahmana, Upaasadas are described as the citadels of Asuras. Interesting anecdote about the Tripurasuras, the three asura brothers who built cities of gold, silver and iron in different strata of earth and who were killed by Shiva, may be recollected in the puranas. It may be safely said that the use of forts was well known to the people of vedic times.[3]

Agnipurana (Agni. Pura. 222)[4] and Manusmrti among Dharmashastras details the six kinds of forts and their usage in general. Both texts agree that all rulers should with willful effort include Giridurga (hill fortress) for it is by many qualities superior (in offering protection).[3]

सर्वेण तु प्रयत्नेन गिरिदुर्गं समाश्रयेत् ।

एषां हि बाहुगुण्येन गिरिदुर्गं विशिष्यते । । ७.७१ । । (Manu. Smrt. 7.71)[2]

sarveṇa tu prayatnena giridurgaṁ samāśrayet ।

eṣāṁ hi bāhuguṇyena giridurgaṁ viśiṣyate । । 7.71 । । (Manu. Smrt. 7.71)

In the Ramayana, we find extensive description of fort cities of Ayodhya of Ikshvaku dynasty and the Lankapuri of Ravanasura. Apart from description of the common features of a fort such as huge insurmountable walls, moats, openings covered with invisible obstructions, huge gates sealed with massive beams and bolts, gateways and broad passages, residential quarters, Hanuman refers to Attalakas which were places for locating both movable and immovable defense weapons and chaitya for the worship of the guardian deity of the country. Mahabharata Shantiparva (राजधर्मानुशासनपर्व) also provides ample information about forts and warfare. According to Bhishma, a fort surrounded by a huge wall and a ditch full of water, furnished with only one entrance is the best.[3]

आवासस्तोयवान्दुर्ग एकमार्गः प्रशस्यते॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.100.15)

āvāsastoyavāndurga ekamārgaḥ praśasyate॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.100.15)

In medieval times the conception of forts was not very different from that in ancient India. Kautilya's Arthashastra and Manasarasilpashastra throw light on the construction of forts and warfare of those times. Manasara defines the Padmaka type of a fortress city having eight, twelve or sixteen gates and the whole surrounded by a huge wall and a moat. Manasara is an important text that discusses the Nagaravinyasa tattvas or the principles used in town and village planning. A more recent valuable work Viramitrodaya Lakshana Prakasa[5], describes the lakshanas of fort, the kinds of forts and their uses as given in various texts. The description of the six kinds of forts as given by Ushanas (Sukracharya) in Sukrasmriti in Lakshana prakasa with utmost detail.

दुर्गभेदाः ॥ Kinds of Forts

References to six kinds of fortifications are found in Puranas (Agni Purana Adhyaya 106, Vishnupurana Adhyaya 3) and Mahabharata.[3]

According to Manusmrti, forts are of following six kinds.

धन्वदुर्गं महीदुर्गं अब्दुर्गं वार्क्षं एव वा ।

नृदुर्गं गिरिदुर्गं वा समाश्रित्य वसेत्पुरम् । । ७.७० । ।(Manu. Smrt. 7.71)[2]

dhanvadurgaṁ mahīdurgaṁ abdurgaṁ vārkṣaṁ eva vā ।

nr̥durgaṁ giridurgaṁ vā samāśritya vasetpuram । । 7.70 । ।(Manu. Smrt. 7.71)

In Mahabharata's Shanti parva, (Adhyaya 86) Bhishma describes the place of residence of the rajas, and their forts, and the issues related to ruling the people.

षड्विधं दुर्गमास्थाय पुराण्यथ निवेशयेत्।

सर्वसम्पत्प्रधानं यद्बाहुल्यं चापि सम्भवेत्॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.86.4)

धन्वदुर्गं महीदुर्गं गिरिदुर्गं तथैव च। मनुष्यदुर्गं अब्दुर्गं वनदुर्गं च तानि षट्॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.86.5)

ṣaḍvidhaṁ durgamāsthāya purāṇyatha niveśayet।

sarvasampatpradhānaṁ yadbāhulyaṁ cāpi sambhavet॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.86.4)

dhanvadurgaṁ mahīdurgaṁ giridurgaṁ tathaiva ca।

manuṣyadurgaṁ abdurgaṁ vanadurgaṁ ca tāni ṣaṭ॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.86.5)

Summary: A raja has to build his new nagara/residence in a suitable wide area having all kinds of abundance, based on six kinds of fortitudes. They are as follows

  1. धन्वदुर्गं ॥ Dhanvadurga: Also called Marudurg (मरुदुर्गम्), it is a fort covered with sand on all sides.
  2. महीदुर्गं ॥ Mahidurga: A fort constructed underground in a plain area
  3. गिरिदुर्गं ॥ Giridurga: A fort constructed on the hills, surrounded by other high mountainous ranges.
  4. मनुष्यदुर्गं ॥ Manushyadurga: A fort made up of soldiers
  5. अब्दुर्गं ॥ Abdurga: A fort surrounded by water on all sides
  6. वनदुर्गं ॥ Vanadurga: A fort in the midst of thick forest area

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 (धन्वदुर्गः) has no water around it; whereas Jala (जलदुर्गः) is the fort that is surrounded by abundant sheets of water. Giri (गिरिदुर्गः) fort is on a high-level and is supplied with plenty of water. Sahaya (सहाय​) is the fort that is created by valorous and friendly kinsfolk.

परितस्तु महाखातं पारिखं दुर्गमेव तत्।

इष्ककोपेलमृद्भित्तिप्राकारं पारिघं स्मृतम्॥ (Shuk. Niti. 4.6.2)

paritastu mahākhātaṁ pārikhaṁ durgameva tat।

iṣkakopelamr̥dbhittiprākāraṁ pārighaṁ smr̥tam॥ (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)

parikhādairiṇaṁ śreṣṭhaṁ pārighaṁ tu tato vanam।

tato dhanvajalaṁ tasmād giridurgaṁ tataḥ smr̥tam॥ (Shuk. Niti. 4.6.6)

Samarangana Sutradhara by Raja Bhoja is another equally important work on architecture which mentions four kinds of forts; one surrounded by a chain of lofty hills difficult to scale is the Giridurga or mountain citadel. Full of thorns, shrubs and trees, interspersed with small areas of water on every side and with secret passages leading to and from it, is the muladurga or forest fort. Surrounded by deep waters on all four sides and presenting a beautiful appearance is the Jaladurga, followed by a fort in the desert areas. Sivattavaratnakara, another text, mentions nine kinds of fortresses; to the six described in Mahabharata, three more are added. This shows that as time went by, the types of fortresses increased in number. According to this text, the best are the mountain and water fortifications while Darudurga (forest forts) and Naradurga belong to the inferior kinds.[3]

दुर्गनिर्माणम् ॥ Design of Forts

Kautilya’s Arthashastra in the Durgavidhanaadhyaya speaks at length about the construction and type of buildings to be raised within forts. It points out that the capital (स्थानीयम्) is to be fortified defensively on all sides either by means of water, mountain, desert or jungle. The first two types of fortification (water and mountain) are suited for dense populations and the remaining (desert and jungle) are good refuge-spots. This sthaniya is a place where treasury or samudhayasthana (समुदयस्थानम्) 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, where 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. Arthashastra mentions a number of weapons:

सर्वतोभद्रजामदग्न्यबहुमुखविश्वासघातिसङ्घाटीयानकपर्जन्यकबाहूर्ध्वबाह्वर्ध्बाहूनि स्थितयन्त्राणि। (Arth. Shas. 2.18.5)[6]

पाञ्चालिकदेवदण्डसूकरिकामुसलयष्टिहस्तिवारकतालवृन्तमुद्ग्ररगदास्पृक्तलाकुद्दालास्फोटिमोत्पाटिमोद्घाटिमशतग्नित्रिशूलचक्राणि चलयन्त्राणि। (Arth. Shas. 2.18.6)[6]

sarvatobhadrajāmadagnyabahumukhaviśvāsaghātisaṅghāṭīyānakaparjanyakabāhūrdhvabāhvardhbāhūni sthitayantrāṇi। (Arth. Shas. 2.18.5)

pāñcālikadevadaṇḍasūkarikāmusalayaṣṭihastivārakatālavr̥ntamudgraragadāspr̥ktalākuddālāsphoṭimotpāṭimodghāṭimaśatagnitriśūlacakrāṇi calayantrāṇi। (Arth. Shas. 2.18.6)

Dr. Raghavan in his Mechanical Contrivances presents a clear picture of the various yantra or weapons used in forts.[7]

Types of Sthirayantras (स्थिरयन्त्रम्)

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

Types of Chalayantras (चलयन्त्रम्)

  • Pancalika (पाञ्चालिका): It has sharp protruding points and is thrown in the waters of the moat
  • Devadanda (देवदण्डः): It is a long cylindrical cannon-like tool placed on the parapet walls of the fort
  • Sukarika (सूकरिका): 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 (मुसलः)
  • Yashti (यष्टिः)
  • Hastivaraka (हस्तिवारकः): It is a two or three pronged iron rod which strikes elephants
  • Hastiparigha (हस्तिपरिघः): It is a machine which hurls iron rods at elephants to smite or demoralise them
  • Talavrinta (तालवृन्तम्): This creates a tempest kind of effect
  • Mudgara (मुद्गरः)
  • Gada (गदा)
  • Kuddala (कुद्दालः)
  • Asphotima (आस्फोटिमयन्त्रम्) has four feet, is covered by hide, has a projectile and throws stones
  • Udghatima (उद्घाटिमयन्त्रम्): This is a machine which has iron bars fitted to it and demolishes walls
  • Utpatima (उत्पाटिमयन्त्रम्): This uproots and tears up things
  • Trishula (त्रिशूलम्)
  • Cakra (चक्रम्)
  • Shataghni (शतघ्नी)

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.

Doshas in Forts

The Agnipurana specifies five defects as seriously impairing the strength and value of fortresses in general. These are

विशीर्णयन्त्रप्राकारपरिखात्वमशस्त्रता ।

क्षीणया सेनया नद्धं दुर्गव्यसनमुच्यते ।। २४१.२८ ।। (Agni. Pura. 241.28)[8]

viśīrṇayantraprākāraparikhātvamaśastratā ।

kṣīṇayā senayā naddhaṁ durgavyasanamucyate ।। 241.28 ।। (Agni. Pura. 241.28)

  1. drying and silting up of the ditch with sand and mud
  2. bad and neglected condition of the ramparts and towers
  3. the continuance in use of old, worn-out and inefficient instruments and machines of warfare
  4. a neglected arsenal
  5. an insufficient garrison of soldiers.

So it was the duty of a king to see that a fortress was properly maintained to stand an effective siege.[3]

दुर्गलम्भहेतवः॥ 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)[9]

upajāpo'pasarpo vā vamanaṁ paryupāsanam।

avamardaśca pañcaite durgalambhasya hetavaḥ॥ (Arth. Shas. 13.4.63)

  • 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.
  • Yogavamanam (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. 1.0 1.1 Pt. Ramnarayandatt Shastri. Mahabharata of Veda Vyasa, Shanti Parva Volume 5 Hindi Translation. Gorakhpur: Gita Press (Pages 4647-4648)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Manusmrti (Adhyaya 7)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Dikshitar, Ramachandra. V. R. (1944) War in Ancient India. London: MacMillian and Co., Ltd. (Page 247)
  4. Agni Purana (Adhyaya 222)
  5. Pt. Vishnu Prasad. (1916) Viramitrodaya, Lakshana Prakasa by Mm. Pandita Mitra Mishra. Volume 20. Benares: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office. (Pages 238-242)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Arthashastra (Adhikarana 2, Adhyaya 18)
  7. Raghavan, V. (1952) Yantras or Mechanical Contrivances in Ancient India. Bangalore: The Indian Institute of Culture
  8. Agni Purana (Adhyaya 241)
  9. Arthashastra (Adhikarana 13 Adhyaya 4)