Vellore Fort (Tamil:வேலூர் கோட்டை) is a large 16th-century fort situated in Vellore city near Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. It was built by the Nayakar governors of the Vijayanagara Empire and was constructed with large granite blocks. The fort is known for its grand ramparts, wide moat and robust masonry.
The Fort's ownership passed from the Nayaks, to the Bijapur Sultans, to Marathas, to the Carnatic Nawabs and finally to the British, who held the fort until India gained independence. During British rule, the Tippu Sultan's family and the last king of Sri Lanka, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha were held in as royal prisoners in the fort. The fort houses a Christian church, a Muslim mosque and a Hindu temple, the latter of which is famous for its magnificent carvings. The first rebellion against British rule erupted at this fort in 1806, and it is also a witness to the tragic massacre of the Vijayanagara royal family of Emperor Sriranga Raya.
The Fort was built around 1566 by Chinna Bommi Nayak and Thimma Reddy Nayak, subordinate Chieftains under Sadasiva Raya of the Vijayanagara Empire. The Vijayanagara kings called it "Raya Vellore" to differentiate it from "Uppu Vellore" in the Godavari region. The name Vellore is also spelt "Belur." The present day Chennai region and Tirupathi were under the domain of the Fort.
Vellore Fort gained strategic prominence following the re-establishment of Vijayanagar rule after the Talikota battle in Chandragiri. The Aravidu Dynasty that held the title of Rayas in 17th century resided in this fort, using it as a base in the battle of Toppur in the 1620s. This major battle took place for the claiming of the Raya title between two faction of the Raya family. Each faction was by their respective subordinates; the Nayaks of Tanjore, the Gingee and the Madurai taking sides to suit their interests.
The Rayas also had long-running battles with their long time rivals, the Bijapur Sultans, and with the Nayaks of Madurai and the Gingee over non-remittance of annual tributes. In the 1640s, during the reign of Sriranga Raya III, the Fort was briefly captured by the Bijapur army, but was eventually recaptured with the help of the Nayaks of Tanjore.
During Sriranga Raya's reign in 1614 a coup broke out within the royal family and the reigning Emperor Sriranga Raya and his royal family were murdered, with the younger son Rama Deva Raya of the Emperor smuggled out from the fort by several supporters. These events led to the Battle of Toppur in 1616, one of the largest South Indian wars of the century, with all other Nayak rulers of Tamil Country taking part. The war was won by the legal claimants with the minor Rama Deva Raya getting crowned as the Aravidu Vijayanagara Emperor in 1617.
In 1639, Francis Day of the East India Company obtained a small strip of land in the Coromandel Coast from the Chieftains of Vellore-Chandragiri regions to do trading, which is now in present day Chennai.
In the 1650s, Sriranga allied with the Mysore and Tanjore Nayaks and marched south to attack Gingee and Madurai. His first stop was the capture of Gingee Fort, but Thirumalai Nayak of Madurai responded by requesting the Sultan of Bijapur to attack Vellore from the North to divert Sriranga's attention. The Bijapur Sultan promptly dispatched a large army and captured Vellore Fort. Subsequently, both the Madurai-Bijapur armies converged on Gingee, defeating the Vellore-Tanjore forces. After a melee, both the Forts ended up in the hands of the Sultan of Bijapur. The defeat also marked the end of the last direct line of Vijayanagara emperors. Within 20 years after this incident, the Marathas seized the fort from the Bijapur Sultans.
In 1676, the Marathas under Shivaji marched south to the Tanjore country, which had recently been attacked and captured by Chokkanatha Nayak of Madurai. That same year, Ekoji, the brother of Shivaji, took control of Tanjore, but was under threat from his immediate neighbours Madurai and Bijapur Sultans, based in Gingee and Vellore respectively. Shivaji's army first captured the Gingee Fort in 1677, but left the task of attacking Vellore to his assistant and rushed to Deccan as his territories were being attacked by Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb. In 1688, after a prolonged fourteen-month siege, the Fort passed on to the Marathas. Shivaji's representative strengthened the fort's fortifications and ruled the area in relative peace.
In 1707, the year that Aurangazeb died, the Delhi Army under Daud Khan captured Vellore Fort after defeating the Marathas. The struggle for the Delhi throne empowered the Deccan Muslim governors to declare independence. In 1710 the recently established Nawab of Arcot under Sadat Ullah Khan followed suit. Dost Ali, the latter's successor in 1733, gifted the fort to one of his sons-in-law.
Following the decline of Madurai Nayaks and coinciding with the emergence of the British on the Madras coast, the Nawab and his sons-in-law broke out into a feud over the title of Nawab. The Nawab was supported by the British and the rival claimants by the French resulting in the Carnatic Wars. The British Nawab's victory in the 1760s in the Battle of Plassey finally sealed the fate of the French in India and launched Britain's dominance of the Indian subcontinent. In addition, the British took possession of Vellore fort with relative ease and used the Fort as a major garrison until the Indian independence.
In 1780, the Fort was attacked by Hyder Ali in his wars against the British, but an English garrison held out against Hyder Ali for over two years.
In 1806, Vellore fort was used by the British to station Infantry Military units of the Madras Regiment. The British Commander in chief of the Madras Army prescribed a new round hat for soldiers, which would replace turbans, and the removal of beards, caste markings and jewellery. The Sepoys considered this offensive, and the situation was worsened by rumours that the hat was made of the hides of cows and pigs.
On July 10, 1806, before sunrise, Indian Sepoys stationed in the fort attacked the European barracks there, and by late morning had killed about 15 Officers and 100 English soldiers and ransacked their houses. Some of the rebelling soldiers also instigated the sons of Tipu Sultan to lead the campaign. The news quickly reached the colonel commanding the Cavalry Cantonment in Arcot, who reached the Fort with heavy battalions. The rebelling Sepoys, numbering more than 800, were mercilessly hounded and killed, and by noon the rebellion was put down. The events lead to a Court inquiry by the British, who decided to shift the Tipu Sultan's family from Vellore to faraway Calcutta, in isolation.
The news of the Vellore Rebellion sent shockwaves to England. The Governor, William Bentinck, and Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army, Sir John Cradock both were recalled on this count. This was the first rebellion experienced in the fort by the British.
The fort was constructed in granite from the nearby quarries in Arcot and Chittor districts. It spreads over an area of 133 acres and is located at an altitude of 220m within a broken mountain range. The fort is surrounded by a moat which was once used as an additional line of defence in the case of an invasion. It includes an escape tunnel leading to Virinjipuram about 12 km away, which could be used by the king and other royals in the event of an attack. The fort is considered to be among the best of military architecture in Southern India and is known for its grand ramparts, wide moat and robust masonry.
This 13th century fort was opened up to tourists and is now maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, and is well maintained compared to other monuments.
Jacques de Coutré, a European traveller in the region during the 1610s, stated that “We arrived in the city of Belur, which is also walled, with two walls of stone, and is more than two leagues in circuit, with very deep moats full of water. It seemed to be almost two cities. I have never seen a city that was so fortified and which had such lovely walls and bastions as this one. We prize the cities of Antwerp and Flanders, but neither can compare in their fortifications or loveliness to this city”.
The fort houses a Temple, a Mosque and a Church, the renown Vellore Christian Hospital, and many other buildings that are now used as public offices.
During mughal period the idol was removed and kept away from the town, forgotten by the generation. In the year 1983 a Christian missionary spoke out side the fort ground, inside the fort an empty temple. This evoked a quick response from the Vellore elites and all gathered together and promptly placed the idol and started their prayers. Though he incited violence it ended in awakening the public to complete the temple and prayers started and continuing. Its now the destination for the vellore folks to say their prayers. Thanks to the Rayas who meticulously built this wonderful temple. The Britishers want to loot and take this large wedding hall piece by piece to England.Latter it was dropped. What they looted from India will last for their generations. The temple has a large wedding hall adorned with elegant reliefs and monolithic sculptures. The temple manifests a double Gopuram and impressive mandapam. The temple is maintained by a Trust.
Vellore Fort has housed several royal captives over its history.
After the fall of Srirangapatnam in 1799 and the death of Tipu Sultan, his family, including his sons, daughters, wife and mother (who was the wife of Hyder Ali), was detained in the fort. After the 1806 Sepoy Mutiny, the British transferred Tipu's sons and daughters to Calcutta. The Tombs of Bakshi Begum (d. 1806), widow of Hyder Ali and Padshah Begum, Tipu's wife, who died in 1834 are located with a kilometre to the eastern side of the Fort.
Vellore Fort also became the final destination for the last ruling monarch of Sri Lanka, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha (1798–1815). He was the last king from the Nayakar dynasty, and the last reigning monarch of Sri Lanka. Prior to succeeding his uncle, Sri Rajadhi Rajasinha to the throne, he was known as Prince Kannasamy and was a member Madurai royal family. Following the Kandian Wars he was deposed by the British in 1815 and along with members of his family he was taken as a royal prisoner and exiled to Vellore Fort.
The King and his family were supplied with everything they needed, including clothing, jewels and workmen for making ornaments for the ladies. The King lived for 17 years in confinement, and died of dropsy on January 30, 1832, aged fifty-two years.
The Fort is situated in the centre of Vellore town oppostie to Old Bus stand. Vellore is in Chennai-Bangalore highway and is 120 km from Chennai and 210 km from Bangalore. The nearest rail station is Katpadi, where almost all important trains stop. The nearest Airports are Tirupathi, Chennai and Bangalore.
In 1981 the Post and Telegraph Department of India released a stamp commemorating the Fort, and on July 2006 a stamp marking the 200th anniversary of the Mutiny was released by the Tamilnadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.