The ancient imperial citadel of Odisha, the fortress of Barabati, also a masterpiece that stands ruined and dilapidated today, is a testimony of what was once a shining example of Odia architecture and craftsmanship, apart from being a symbol of Odia military might. Today it almost lies submerged in deep flora, fauna, dense vegetation, and wilderness. It was the seat of political power and civil-military administration through centuries. This ancient fortress has witnessed several rises and falls of kings and their empires, It withstood wars, betrayals, deceit, siege, and invasions and continues to remind the lost glory and pride of Odisha in modern times.
The fort is located at Barabati, Cuttack, the ancient city, which is known for its world-famous silver filigree art. The name Cuttack is an anglicized version of Kataka, meaning military cantonment in Sanskrit. The fort is strategically located near the confluence of the two rivers, such as the mighty Mahanadi and its tributary Kathjodi, not far from where they finally merge into the Bay of Bengal. It was a vibrant hub for trading and commercial activities as well, the history of which can be traced in the annual Bali Jatra, that marked the beginning of a traditional voyage by Odia sailors to south-east Asian countries. Flanked by these two rivers, Fort Barabati, thus stood tall amid the thick and thin of time.
Structural Marvel and Architectural Grandeur of the Fortress: An Archeological Heritage
The Khondalite stone fortress is surrounded by a moat (Gada Khai), which was constructed possibly for strategic defense purposes at a later stage during the reign of Gajapati, King Kapilinedra Deva (1434 - 1466 A.D). He used to be on long military campaigns in northern Odisha and subsequently ventured into southern India. During his military expeditions, many forts were built in the annexed territories like Medinapore, Nellore, Kondavidu to name a few. This expansionist and militaristic agenda of the King required a robust defense and military strategy that included the fortification of his fort at Barabati. As part of that grand strategy, a moat was constructed around the Barabati Fort, which deterred the invaders for a long time.
Looking at the present condition of this moat, one finds it to be swampy and full of dense weeds and hyacinth vegetation growing over it. Algal bloom, which increases the BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand), COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand), and growth of weeds which prevents sunlight to enter the moat. These factors are detrimental to aquatic and marine life by depleting oxygen levels in the water.
Colonized by various conquerors in the past and now covered by dense green weeds, ferns, and moss, Barabati struggles to reclaim her rightful place in history and to attract the attention of the conservationists. Now, what remains are the Moat (Gadakhayi), a grand stone structure, the Eastern Gateway, and the plinth of the Palace, which makes one relive the memories of the glorious past.
Walking Past the Fortress: The Nostalgic Aroma of History of Barabati
According to Madala Panji (Temple Chronicle maintained in Shri Jagannath Mandir), the edifice of Barabati (Stone Varanasi) fort was built by King Ananga Bhima Deva III (1211-1238 A.D.) of Eastern Ganga Dynasty, who subsequently shifted the capital of the Kalinga empire from Chaudwar to Cuttack Mukunda Deva Harichandan of Chalukya Dynasty, the last independent monarch of Odisha, reinforced and fortified the outer parts of the fort and erected a storied palace. English merchants, visiting Cuttack sixty-three years after the death of Mukunda Deva described Barabati as “a spacious area, a mile and a half in circumference, defended by a broad ditch, faced with masonry on double walls of stones and square sloping bastions. Square in size, surrounded by a ditch, 20 yards wide and 7 feet deep lined with stones.”
Barabati also briefly served as the seat of power for the Afghans during their confrontation with the Mughals, and the subsequent Mughal Governors. After the decline of the Mughals, the province came under the rule of Nawab of Bengal. Odisha was annexed by the Marathas and Barabati became the main garrison of Maratha forces and the seat of their provincial governors. During these occupations, various additions were made to the complexes such as Jami Mosque, Lal Bagh Palace, and the Mutts constructed by the Marathas – the raw material for which was provided by the stone mounds of Barabati. Khondanite is a favorite building material of which Barabati was constructed.
After the Battle of Buxar, the Diwani rights of Bihar, Bengal, and Odisha were given to Robert Clive of East India Company by then Mughal emperor Shah Alam II. Due to border disputes, heavy taxation, and skirmishes with the Marathas, the Britishers eyed to annex Odisha. Hence, under Col. Harcourt, Odisha was invaded and the army laid siege to the Barabati fort. Under heavy bombardment, the fort incurred significant damage. The moat became a graveyard to the soldiers, who defended it with their full might and exemplary valor.
What followed next was systematic plunder of the valuable khondalite stones of the fort for construction activities elsewhere by the British till Mr. Shore, the Cuttack Magistrate intervened and put an end to it. However, it was too little and too late. The wanton desecration had reduced the once-grand fortress, boasting of Odisha’s proud history, fort architecture, and pride to rubble. Later, the Britishers abandoned Barabati as a seat of administration. The destruction caused to this ancient citadel of power is irreparable and a monumental loss to the archaeological treasure of Odisha.
A Study of History of Odisha A.C Pradhan
A Brief History of Odisha: Sanjay Kanungo
Remembering the Great Barabati Fort – Dr. Hemanta K. Mohapatra