Chandragiri Fort: A Landmark on the Kasaragod Coast

Fort Chandragiri, Kasaragod, Kerala

Though there are plenty of places called Chandragiri in south India including the ones in Tirupati in Andhra and Sravanabelgola in Karnataka the Chandragiri in Kasaragod is unique in its history, antiquity  and cultural and ecological geography.

River Chandragiri joins Arabian sea: A view from fort Chandragiri at 50 m. MSL, Kasaragod

Fort Chandragiri stands atop the small hillock at the southern bank of the mouth of  river Chandragiri  near Kasaragod in north Malabar.  Chandragiri river was the traditional boundary between Tulunad and Kolathunad or Malayalam speaking regions in northern Malabar.

Pregnant with pasts: Fortifications and citadels  at fort Chandragiri, Kasaragod

The laterite mount that rises up to 50m above sea level overlooks the Chandragiri or Thalangara estuary and the Arabian sea.  The northern bank of the river houses Pulikunnu and Thalangara regions that are also important in many ways.

River Chandragiri, Pulikunnu, Thalangara and Kasaragod town regions from fort Chandragiri

The river originating from Kodagu called Payaswini till it reaches the coastal planes (by flowing through Sullia in Karnataka to reach Kasaragod coast) becomes river Chandragiri as it meets the Arabian sea at Chandragiri.  It is sure that the Chandragiri region is a geo-politically and culturally important location due to its geographical and ecological distinctions.

Laterite stone architectural motifs in fort Chandragiri, Kasaragod

The very name Chandragiri connects it with the mount in Sravanabelgola that is named by the ancient Jain sages after Chandranatha Thirthankara.  Jains used to name places and hillocks after their saints and gurus.  Pallypuram and Kalanad Dharma Sastha temple are still surviving around the hillock.

Arabian sea, river mouth of Chandragiri, Thalangara estuary, Kasaragod harbor, rail bridge from fort Chandragiri

The place name Pallypuram (Pally premise or surrounding) clearly shows that there was a Pally or ancient Jain/Buddhist shrine on the hill top.  Sastha is also a Hinduized form of Jina or Buddha.  Dharma Sastha is the synonym of Buddha still in the Malayalam lexicon.

Chandragiri river mouth and rail bridge connecting Kalanad and Kasaragod

The place name Kalanad may be connected to Kalabhra dynasty that exercised remarkable influence through out south India or the ancient Tamilakam from AD third to seventh century.  The Kalabhras patronized Jainism and Buddhism and they established plenty of Sramana vestiges all around the subcontinent.

Pallypuram and Kalanad regions from atop Chandragiri fort, Kasaragod

Kalanad may also be related to the maritime history of the place as Kalam means Kappal or ship.  It is also notable that Malik Dinar landed nearby in Thalangara and established one of the ancient Islamic mosques in south India on the northern bank of river Chandragiri in early 8th century AD.

Pipal tree near Kalanad Sastha temple: From fort Chandragiri, Blue Arabian sea behind

The location, setting and architectural relics reinforce the Sramana connection of Chandragiri fort.  The very gateway and architectural patterns and motifs in huge laterite boulders closely resemble the stone structures at Sravanabelgola, Moodbidri and Karkala that are surviving examples of Jain architecture in stone just a few hundred miles away in the north east.

Kalanad Dharma Sastha temple (right) and Pipal from railway station

The meandering flight of steps and the surrounding walls and structures clearly echo the erased and modified Jain structure.  I felt like entering the Gomateswara shrines at Sravanabelgola or Karkala as I ascended the steps to enter the gateway of Chandragiri fort in January and March 2011.  It is important to observe that most of the present forts and Hindu temples are built over ancient Sramana sites of greater antiquity.

Kalanad and Pallypuram from Chandragiri fort, Kasaragod

It is also notable that Pallykara Panchayat that hosts Bekal fort is just to the south of Chandragiri and Pallypuram.  Bekal fort was also a sacred Sramana site of archeological importance.  Detailed excavations may reveal the real past of Kasaragod coast.  It is remarkable that two Jain temples are still surviving in Manjeswaram towards the north of Kasaragod.  Kodagu and Hassan districts in Karnataka  that border Kasaragod were also ruled by Jain dynasties till the 13th century.

White-bellied Sea Eagle soaring above Chandragiri, Kasaragod

Fortunately it is now with the Archeological Survey of India and it is highly desirable that they conduct further excavations and detailed studies on the pasts of these forts along the coast of Kasargod from Manjeswaram to  Kumbala, Chandragiri, Bekal and Hosdurg (Kanjangad).

Summer rainbow above fort Chandragiri
Summer rainbow above fort Chandragiri, from Chandragiri rail bridge, Kasaragod, early 2011

The Keladi Nayiks of Ikkeri who fortified these strategic locations after the fall of the Vijayanagara empire in the 16th and 17th centuries probably erased the presence of Sramana antiquity and replaced the original Pallys or Sramana shrines with some Hindu Hanuman temples.  Kumbala and Bekal forts still hold these Hanuman temples.  The reference to stone or Kal in the place name Bekal is also a Jain marker.

White-bellied Sea Eagle near its nest on the Pipal, Kalanad Sastha temple, Kasaragod

These forts and associated temples must be preserved for posterity and detailed archeological, historical and inter disciplinary cultural studies by ASI and free researchers may expose the realities of the pasts.  These important monuments must be kept intact for the sheer beauty of their locations and ancient ambiance.  Irreverence for cultural history and critical humanities that is growing among the so called techno-trained people in Kerala  could be a clear symptom of collective amnesia, political illiteracy and social ignorance.

Sunset in Arabian sea beyond the mouth of river Chandragiri, a view from the fort in mid 2010

Sea Eagles of Malabar Coast

Awesome in the air: White-bellied Sea Eagle in flight, Bekal, 26 Jan. 2011

Its goose like nasal honking-call alarms the fishermen on fish shoals that form ”Chakara” and the turning of the tide.  In their mating falls with locked talons from greater heights to the ground they honk in unison. It has more than ten local Malayalam names says Dr Jafer Palot who did his Ph D on the White-bellied Sea Eagle.  People in north Malabar call it Mukorachan (forefather of fisherfolk) and Kamala (as it kills sea snakes as if by a magical mantra used by the indigenous medics called Kamala).

The struggle is on for survival: Less than 30 adults remaining in Kerala

According to eco-activist and author Dr E Unnikrishnan (Kavunni) it is a grace and legend of the sea.  This big, awesome grey and white bird is a rare delight for human eye and the reflective mind.  Its soaring flight and elegant movements against the blue sky are blissful and enthralling for the imaginative and visually sensitive.

Breeding adult near nest on a Pipal, Kizhur/Kalanad Sastha shrine, Chandragiri, Kasaragod

Unfortunately this unique avian creature is vanishing in this part of the world though they are present all over the south Asian coast  up to Australia.  Even in Australia their numbers are dwindling.  Once it was present all along the long coastline of India from Gujarat to Bengal.  But today It is diminished to Kannur and Kasaragod coastline alone, in Kerala.  Around 30 adults are left in Kerala.  It is literally absent from the Kochi and Travancore coasts.

Juvenile in nest, Bekal, Kasaragod

The Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department conducted a survey of Kasaragod coast from Payyannur to Kumbala today (26 Jan. 2011) under the initiative of DFO, Mr Joju C T of the flying squad in collaboration with Jafer Palot, V C Balakrishnan, Praveen Neythal and Kavunni.  The Government is also planning to financially assist the families having nests in their plots to conserve them. I was fortunate to join the party near Kanjangad this morning.

Adult WB Sea Eagle, Bekal

The team visited around 15 nesting sites of the White-bellied Sea Eagle along this coastline.  Most of them were formerly identified and visited by Jafer as part of his doctoral research.  The Sea Eagles use the same nest every year.  They may have one or two chicks but mortality is high among the juveniles because of various unconfirmed reasons.  That is why their population is shrinking.

Adult parent in nest on a Mango tree, Kottikulam Railway Station, Kasaragod

These graceful marine predatory birds use tall mango trees, Palai trees, Casuarinas etc. to build their nest within the vicinity of the sea .  The typical nest is around one meter in diameter and is made up of large twigs.  Both parents guard their young ones and bring sea food to them.  The bones of sea-snakes, eels, fish and even sea gulls are seen beneath along with the white droppings.

Adult eating fresh catch on a Banyan near Kappil beach, Uduma, Kasaragod

Most of the nests  are sheltered in ancient shrines or Kavus as in Palakunnu in Thalangara or Sastha temple Kavu in Kalanad (Kizhur) near Chandragiri.  Kavunni says he is in hot pursuit for the last fifteen years.  Some sympathetic families are also protecting the nests like the Shenoys of Bekal and Basheer family of Muttam north of Kumbala.

Adult breeding bird near nest on a Palai tree, Cheerumba Kavu, Palakunnu, Thalangara

It was a great and illuminating experience for me to be with stalwarts like Jafer, Kavunni, V C B, Joju and Neythal Praveen.  I learn a lot from them and nature at large and the ongoing struggles of this great bird for survival.  I salute my maverick friends who follow the flight and fight of this unique creature against extinction within the boundaries of Kerala.

Kavunni, VCB, Praveen & Narayanan before the tall Palai with the nest in Cheerumba Kavu, Palakunnu, Thalangara

The huge Pipal housing the nest in Sastha shrine Kizhur/Kalanad, Chandragiri

An intimate portrait: On the Pipal at Sastha shrine, Kalanad

Fighting hard for survival: Two chicks in Sastha shrine nest

Will it make a come back?