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A little known palatial legacy

Even remnants and unfinished structures, such as Nayak Fort, have their own place in history

photo: K. Ganesan



EXQUISITE A bequest of the past

Though the Temple City is decked up with modern and tall structures that state contemporary life vividly, its every nook and cranny greet visitors at every step with delightful pieces of history. Scattered across the sprawling expanse of the city are reminders of a rich history. Even the remnants and unfinished structures have their own place in history. One such structure is the Nayak Fort that now houses the south zonal office of the Madurai Corporation and a library. But often, the structure eludes the public eye, as it is always defaced by posters. Thanks to the Assembly election, the fort is there for all to see in white splendour.

The fort wall of the Pandyas had the temple as its nucleus. The city was surrounded by a deep moat and lofty walls and the Vaigai skirted its walls to form a natural defence on one side. The Pandiya Fort, belonging to 13th-14th century, otherwise called the inner fort, is the present Amman Sannathi Gateway or `Vittavasal' as it is now known. The eastern entrance of the Pandyan Fort was Vittavasal while its western entrance was near the Nethaji statue, says C. Shanthalingam, Archaeological Officer.

Nayak Fort wall

When the Nayak dynasty established its reign, its kings involved themselves in extension activities. They built temples, tanks, aqueducts, and forts.

According to Mr. Shanthalingam, Viswanatha Nayak, a good administrator, was assisted by Ariyanatha Mudali, a well-known pradhani (first citizen), who served under the first four Nayak rulers. With his help, Viswanatha Nayak demolished the old Pandya rampart and ditches that surrounded the walls of the temple and constructed an extensive double-walled fortress with 72 bastions or garrisons (standing army).

He divided the Madurai country into 72 palayams and handed them over to 72 polygars or palayakars, who guarded their jurisdiction in the bastions.

The present Keezhavasal was the eastern gate and Melavasal near the Periyar Bus Stand the western gate of Nayak Fort wall that belongs to 16th century.

The long and wide wall structures have bastions or garrisons, which have two-storyed structures with around 5 to 10 rooms that served as guard rooms and arsenal, says G. Balaji, Conservation Architect, Department of Architecture, Thiagarajar Engineering College, who has done a thesis on `Conservation plan for historic city of Madurai'.

In 1841, when the then Collector Black Burn was involved in city extension activities, he demolished all 71 bastions and filled the moats to form the Veli streets.

Survived demolition

One of the bastions that survived demolition still remains to tell the tale of the past. The bastion serves as a corporation office while the ground floor accommodates a library named after a martyr.

The fact that helped the bastion to escape demolition is still a secret.

Perhaps, this bastion might have served as a hospital during that time or as an office of a British official, says Mr. Balaji, and adds that there is no proper record to show why the Collector spared the single bastion.

Similarly, the library in the bastion was founded in remembrance of a 13-year-old boy who died as martyr during the freedom struggle.

In 1942, when a political meeting was organised near Nethaji statue, an eighth standard boy Mani joined the rally, shouting `Vande Matharam.' Following a commotion, he was shot. Though it started as a mere reading room, in 1958, it became a full-fledged library for public use in the name of `Thyagi Mani Ninaivu Bharath Ilavasa Vasaga Salai.'

On the materials used for construction, Mr. Balaji says the Pandya fort was constructed with mud while the Nayak fort had stones.

S.S.KAVITHA

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