The tradition of fortifying cities and kingdoms in India has been prevalent since ancient times, but existing structures date only as far back as 100 AD. As one traverses the length and breadth of this country, one sees these stone and mud structures in various stages of death and decay with only a few protected as being heritage. Be it the chieftain of a small clan, the king of a small kingdom or the emperor of a mighty empire, these were built to protect themselves from invading armies and foreign looters. Many rulers, both Indian and foreign, have left their footprints in the form of strong, mighty structures that were either built near a water source like lakes, rivers or oceans or built on the summit of a hill or a mountain, in the midst of an impassable, dense forest, or amidst sandy dunes and thorny bushes or encircled by earthen walls, quicksand, and sometimes, even surrounded by a wall of loyal warriors.
Travelling from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, and going the west to the east, I have seen many a fort in all its faded glory that has told and retold stories of valour, bravery, victory and defeat. To begin with let me take you to the tip of India, Kanyakumari where the mighty Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea meet one another.
As we go across the district, visiting destinations like the famous Rock temple where Swami Vivekananda meditated or the Kanyakumari temple with the Goddess sporting a diamond nose ring, our cab driver first insisted and then literally forced us to take a peek at the confluence of the three oceans from a small fort. Just about seven kilometres or so from the main township of Kanyakumari, we reached this not so impressive and silent fortified granite structure very quickly. Built in the 18th century during the reign of Travancore king Martandavarman, it is spread over less than four acres of land.
Climbing the ramparts of the Circular Fort or Vattakottai Fort, we reached the highest level with a little bit of effort to get a clear glimpse of the varying colours of the seas. I was amazed to see the clear demarcation of the waters, with Bay of Bengal sporting a dark colour, the Arabian Sea, a clear greenish-blue hue. For the next hour or so, nobody could draw me away from that picturesque sight, which till today is imprinted in my memory. The verdant greenery around the fort, a nearby river and its black sand beaches added to the charming locale.
The fort also has watchtowers, rest rooms and weapon rooms. Many of the walls even have carvings of the fish motif, which is believed to be the symbol of the Pandyas. According to some archaeologists, the Vattakottai Fort was once under the control of the Pandyas. The strong winds that one encounters on the ramparts of the fort cannot be forgotten as one has to literally hold on to something strong.
A part of this fort extends into the sea, though it was built to protect from the long coastline by a Dutch captain who was a commander in the Travancore army. Fortunately, the Circular Fort is a protected monument and has recently undergone renovation, attracting many more visitors.