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