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History of the fort
The Gingee country then came under the rule of the Hoysalas in the later part of the 13th and in the first half of the 14th century. From the Hoysalas it passed on, by relatively easy efforts, into the hands of the first rulers of Vijayanagar. The Vijayanagar dominion gradually expanded over South India and and divided the administration into three important provinces, which were under the control of Nayaks. These were the Nayaks of Madura, Tanjore and Gingee. Information about the Gingee Nayaks and their rule is very scanty. It is said that the Tubaki Krishnappa Nayaka (1490 to1521) was the founder of the Nayak line of Gingee kings. He seems to have ruled gloriously all over the coast from Nellore down to the Coleroon up to 1521 A.D. Under the Nayaks the Forts were strengthened and the town was greatly enlarged.

The last Nayak of Gingee was forced to surrender to the Bijapur army towards the end of December 1649 A.D. The booty acquired by the Mohammedan rulers of Bijapur was 20 crores of rupees in cash and jewels. Gingee assumed a new and enhanced strategic importance under the Bijapur governors. Bijapur was in possession of the fortress of Gingee till 1677 A.D., when the famous Sivaji, the son of Shaji fell upon it in his momentous Carnatic expedition. The Marathas greatly strengthened and fortified its defences.

The Mughals were then able to capture the fort of Gingee in the Carnatic from Ramaraja the King of the Marathas, early in 1698, after a protracted and weak siege of seven years. Zulfikar Khan, the son of Asad Khan, the Grand Vizir in the court of Aurangazeb, was in command of the siege operation of Gingee and of its governor till he left the Carnatic after about a year from its fall.

After that Aurangazeb, granted a mansab of 2,500 rank and jagir of 12 lakhs to Sawrup Singh, a Bundela Chieftain, along with the killedari of Gingee in 1700 A.D. Raja Sawrup Singh died of old age in 1714 A.D. His arrears of payments due to the faujdari amounted to 70 lakhs, being a defaulter for ten years. The Nawab of Arcot reported this matter to the Badshah (Mughal Emperor) at Delhi. Hearing about the death of his father, Desingh, the son of Raja Sarup Singh, started for Gingee from Bundelkhand, his ancestral home.
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On arriving at Gingee, Desingh assumed the government of Gingee after performing the last rites of his father. Aurangazeb had granted a firman to his father and Desingh took formal possession of his father’s jaghir on ground of his hereditary right. Desingh did not receive a warm welcome from the Mughal officers. The Nawab of Arcot, Sadatullah Khan, who attempted to dispossess Desingh, pleaded that the firman was not valid. When Payya Ramakrishna, who was his secretary, informed him of the legal necessity of getting the firman renewed by the new Emperor before assuming the jaghir, Desingh replied that he had got the firman of Aurangazeb and that he need not apply to anybody else.

In fact after regaining the fort from Marathas, Aurangzeb had first appointed Nawab Daud Khan as the deputy subhadar of the Deccan. Nawab Daud Khan removed his headquarters from Gingee to the town of Arcot, as he believed that the place was not healthy. This diminished the importance of Gingee. While shifting his headquarters, Daud Khan appointed Sadatullah Khan as his Diwan and Faujdar in 1708. Sadatullah Khan later became the Nawab of the two Carnatics in 1713, under Nizam-Ul-Mulk. He was the regular and acknowledged Nawab of the Carnatic between the years 1710 and 1732 A.D. After the death of Raja Sawrup Singh he renewed the demand for the arrears of revenue with his son Raja Desingh. This lead to a battle between the two, which unfortunately ended in the death of the young and valiant Rajput, Desingh on 3rd October 1714.

The gallantry displayed by Desingh at the young age of 22, against the powerful Nawab Sadatulla Khan of Arcot in a struggle that was hopeless from the outset (Desingh’s army consisted of only 350 horses and 500 troopers, while the Nawab’s army had 8,000 horsemen and 10,000 sepoys) has made us remember him forever. The ballets are sung in and around Gingee till date about his bravery. However, the fortress of Gingee lost its pre-eminent position and political importance within a few years of the extinction of the Rajput rule.

Subsequently, the two European rival powers in India, the English and the French, got themselves involved in the internal quarrels and fights and the French won for themselves the Gingee fortress on the 11th Sept., 1750, under the initiative of Bussy. They took good care to secure the fort by a strong garrison, which was well supported with artillery and ammunition.

Gingee remained firmly in French possession until after the fall of Pondicherry to Sir Eyre Coote in January 1761. The English commander was Captain Stephen Smith. With the fall of Gingee the French lost their last possession in the Carnatic.

Gingee regained its political importance, for the last time in its fateful history, in 1780 A.D, when Haidar Ali, helped by some able French Officers, invaded Carnatic with a force of 90,000 men. Haidar’s men appeared before the fortress and easily carried it by their assault in November 1780. The English re-conquered it at the close of the second Mysore war from Tippu Sultan in 1799. After that Gingee had been free from the ravages and anarchy of war, but subject to desolation and decay. During the frequent Indo-French Wars, the British resident wanted the Fort and The Fortification to be demolished. Luckily his suggestion was not accepted and the Fort remains for us to experience and relive the history.

C K Gariyali IAS
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