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13 April, 2015

Unscientific restoration threatens Sira fort

History of Sira town
The history of Sira town can be traced back to the dismantling of Vijayanagar Empire in 1565 at the Battle of Rakkasa-Tangadgi (Battle of Talikota). During the power vaccum that followed in this part of the world, Sira town was found, attributed to Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka, Chief of Ratnagiri. The town was the centre of power of ocal rulers till 1638, prominent among whom being the Nayakas and Palaigars (Polygars). 

Sira's connection with Shivaji...
In 1638, the Adil Shahi Bijapur Army led by Ranadulla Khan captured Sira and areas of Tumkur north of it. The same year one Shahji Rao Bhonsle along with Ranadulla Khan captured Bangalore for the Adil Shahis, due to which Bangalore was given as a jagir to Shahji. Shahji was the father of the Marhata King Shivaji.

...with Aurangazeb
Moghul Emperor Aurangazeb captured Golkonda & Bijapur in 1686-87 and made Sira a 'Suba' or province of the Moghul Empire, which remained so till 1757. 

...and with Haider Ali and Tipu.
Sira town was captured by Marhatas in 1757 but was lost to Haidar Ali in 1759. It intermittently remained with the later until 1774. From then on it continuously remained with him and his son Tipu Sultan (apart for a brief period in 1791) till Tipu's death on the battle field in mid-1799. Under the British the town went behind as a centre of political power, but still remained a big centre of trade. 

Architectural importance of Sira and Bangalore's inspiration from Sira
Sira has many Palaigars, Nayaka, Adil Shahi and Moghul era monuments even today. It is widely believed and mentioned in British Raj records that Haidar Ali, was inspired with Mughal architecture of Sira and that the palaces built by him and his son at Srirangapattana and Bangalore are said to have been replicas of the one at Sira which were built by Dilavar Khan, the Mughal governorof Sira (1726-1756). It is also said that the Bangalore fort was built on the model of the fort at Sira. The famous Lal Bagh gardens commissioned by Haidar Ali at Bangalore also probably inspired by the Khan Bagh at Sira.

A jewel of a fort - Sira Fort (Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka Fort)
A very important monument inside Sira town is the Sira Fort, popular as Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka Fort named after the Nayaka ruler who is supposed to have found the Sira town and started construction of this fort in early 17th century. It is said that before Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka could complete the fort's construction, the region was captured by Adil Shahis of Bijapur. Mallik Hussain, a Governor of the Sira Province under the Adil Shahis is said to have completed the fort's construction and enclosed the town with mud walls. The fort has additions by various rulers.

It is perhaps the only intact non-hill square fort in Karnataka. A moat surrounds it on the outside.

The square fort at Sira seen on Google Maps on 19 Apr. 2015

An angled view of the square fort at Sira seen on Google Maps on 19 Apr. 2015
A view of the western ramparts of Sira fort, Tumakuru District, as seen from its north-western tower.
It has three gateways. 
a) On the north side is the entrance to the fort and its first gateway which was built by the Palaigars. 
b) Diddi-bagilu, is the second gateway and is a Hindu work. Later on brick and masonry battlements with holes for musketry and opening for cannon were added, in all probability by Haidar Ali and and Tipu Sultan. These brick and masonry battlements are very similar to the forts controlled by them - Nandi Durga (Nandi Hills), Madhugiri fort, Chenna Rayana Durga fort among others. 
c) The third gateway has Dravidian pillars and is also Hindu in construction.

The third gateway of Sira Fort has Dravidian pillars and is Hindu in construction.
Inside the fort is an old building in ruins, of stone and brick with a Bijapur style lily flower parapet, probably a former palace. Also inside the fort are a disused step well and what looks like a royal bath house. A small back gate exists in the south of the fort-wall. 

Legal protection of the Sira fort: Protected by Archaeology Department, Govt. of Karnataka. 

Threat to Sira fort
The fort was for long neglected and buildings inside it are in ruins. But surprisingly, much of the stone ramparts are intact along with brick and masonry works of the Mysore rulers. But unscientific work being carried out by authorities is endangering the very character of this fort:

1) At the entrance of this fort (north), the 18th century the Mysore rulers' brick and masonry work has already been destroyed during repair works a couple of years ago and replaced by modern day red bricks.
The 18th century brick & masonry work at the northern entrance of the fort has been destroyed for ever. 
2) For the past few days (in March-April 2015) the stone ramparts on the north and east, which apparently had cracked, are being ripped apart using heavy machinery. The same is being replaced by a mixture of old and new stones. But the 225-year old brick and masonry work of the Mysore rulers is also being destroyed in the process and replaced by recent bricks. The musketry and canon openings are being lost for ever.

Centuries old priceless brick & masonry work is lying destroyed.
The 18th century brick & masonry work on the north-eastern, north-western and south-eastern ramparts
of the fort has been permanently been destroyed in the past few days (Mar-Apr. 2015)
Centuries old priceless brick & masonry work is lying destroyed.
3) Though the JCB/ excavator driver along with workers at the site were unable to give me answers today (Sun, 12 Apr. 2015) as to who is carrying out the work, there is no way such a work can be carried out without the knowledge of the Tumakuru District authorities or the ASI. 

4) The fort's massive unscientific restoration is irreversible and will permanently change its historical character. The south-eastern tower has already been dismantled.

The massive destruction to the fort is irreversible and will permanently change its historical character. 
5) The rate at which the mechanised work is being carried out, there is little doubt that the entire fort will be ripped apart unscientifically until it is stopped right away.

Granite stones being lined in front of the Sira fort to replace the existing ones in the fort walls
Appeal to save the fort:
Please request the Deputy Commissioner and the Archaeology Survey of India (ASI) to 
1) immediately stop use of JCB/ excavator to rip apart the fort ramparts as well as its brick and masonry work.
2) set up a 5-member committee of ASI officials, qualified archaeologists and historical building conservationists to look into repairing the parts of the fort damaged by the repair works carried out in the past days as well as in the past 2 years. 
3) not to carry out any further work without the concurrence of the above committee.
4) to make public any work plan to conserve this fort. 

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