Monday, June 22, 2009

Mirjan Fort, a tribute to the Pepper queen



An aroma fills the air with expectation of a bygone era in search of the pepper queen, which symbolized the zenith of trading links with Europeans, Arabs, Persians, Chinese, etc.. The konkan coastal belt served as an export base, with Mirjan serving as one of the micro ports, for all the spices produced in the during the Vijayanagar Era. The vijayanagar empires principal exports were pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, tamarind, turmeric, musk, aloe and precious stones such as diamonds and pearls.

Vasco da Gama arrived with an intention to establish the Portuguese base for trading in India. During his first trip, he docked in Goa, St. Mary’s Isle and reached Kozikode on 20th May 1498. During his stay he gained total knowledge of the produce from the exotic East, and made notes on the weather patterns and returned on august 29th 1498 surveying the entire konkan belt for trading posts. He set sail once again on 12th Feb 1502 with a fleet of warships to coerce the local zamorin into signing a favourable treaty for trading. He unleashed terror by setting ablaze the merchant vessels from Arab countries along with its crew members. Vasco da Gama even though officially was after establishing trade links with India, but his eyes were on the fabled diamond supplies. Remember India was the only diamond producing centre those days.

Mirjan Fort was in all probability built originally by Queen Chennabhairadevi, who belonged to the Tuluva-Salva clan under the tutlege of Vijaynagar kings. Rani Chennabhairavdevi was also known as the Pepper Queen or Raina da Pimenta. Her reign was in conformity with the doctrine of succession “ Aliyasantana “ or Matriarchal , a tradition followed in coastal belt of konkan and Kerala. Her reign was the longest in the history of female domination in the annals of Indian history, from 1552 – 1606. The strong hold of her territory was centered around North and South kanara districts and south Goa. The main harbours were Malpe, Baindoor, Mirjan, Honnavar, Ankola and Karwar.

After the battle of Talikota in 1565, the Pepper queen was constantly fighting battle for survival. During this period she shifted her base from Mirjan Fort to somewhat safe haven in Basadi an isle in the middle of river Sharavathi. Being a jain she was responsible for construction of many basadis in and around barkur and moodbidri area.


Mirjan fort is currently under renovation by the ASI to bring back the original glory to this exquisite fort. The fort was maintained by yearly grant till independence by the British empire. The Fort has been built in an area encompassing of 10 acres. A circular moat except near the enterance surrounds the Fort. In ancient times obviously this was filled with crocs to protect them from attack by the enemies. The water way seemed to have served as transportation of merchandise to the nearest harbour. The presence of the Jain pillar gives a clue to the architect of the Fort, even though all traces of the original builder seem to have been erased by raiding Bahamani sultans. This Fort was conquered by Sharief-ul-mulk the governor of Goa. He seems to have renovated the Fort to symbolize moghul architecture.


A huge durbar hall, along with barracks and market for trading seems to have been well built considering the strategic importance. Majority of the trading activities seem to have occurred outside the Fort premises. The Fort contains many a escape routes which seem to have been well camouflaged through well type construction. The outer walls of the fort have crumbled due to growth of banyan tree roots. They too have well planned escaped routes for the royalty in case of enemy attack. The remains of idols salvaged from the destruction of temple have been kept under a huge tree.


The Mirjan fort is located just 1 km off the NH 17 on the left turn by the side of the fish market @ Mirjan town, which is located 8 kms away from Kumta town enroute to Ankola or Goa. This destination can be reached from Mlore, on the NH 17 highway towards Goa or even Gokarna for that matter. Approximately 200 kms away just away to Kumta town. One can take a convinient train from Mlore and reach Kumta town and take a bus towards Gokarna and get down at Mirjan. From Goa one can get down at Ankola, Gokarna or even Kumta and travel by bus. Bus connectivity from Gokarna is not very frequent.

The Fort is a tribute to the queens heroic effort to ward of invaders at Bay, particularly the Portuguese.
My hunt for the elusive Spicy Pepper queen hideout will continue……………..



1 comment:

Prashanth said...

Thank you very much Sir. I recently visited this fort. The info you have given is very insightful.