Wednesday, May 9, 2012
It sits there on the shore, its dark, morose silhouette rising from just above the water line, brooding eyes looking down at the water, like a giant predator sprawled across the top of a hillock, now exhausted by the weight of its history, the bastion of Bekal. Well worth a visit if one is in the area, 16 km south of the town of Kasargod.
The Bekal Fort is the largest fort in Kerala and is a circular structure made of laterite rising to about 130ft above sea level, standing on a 40acre headland that runs into the Arabian Sea. Unlike most other Indian forts, it was not a center of administration for no remains of a palace or mansions are found within its walls. Perhaps the fort fulfilled purely defensive roles and maintained a garrison. The fort is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India and the sea bastion, underground tunnels and observation tower are all still intact.
Historical evidence states that Sivappa Nayaka of the Ikkeri dynasty completed the constructed the Bekal Fort in 1650AD. The Battle of Talikota in 1565 led to the decline of the mighty Vijayanagara Empire and many feudatory chieftains rose in political prominence including the Keladi Nayaks (also known as Ikkeri Nayaks). The Nayakas realized the political and economic importance of the northern part of the Kasargod district and attacked and annexed the region. Bekal served as a nucleus in establishing the dominance of the Nayakas in Malabar and the economic importance of the port town prompted the Nayakas to fortify Bekal. Hiriya Venkatappa Nayaka initiated the construction of the fort and it was completed during the reign of Shivappa Nayaka. There followed an extended period of intermittent warfare as a consequence of the struggle between the Kolathiries and Nayaks to maintain their dominance over this area. These battles came to an end with the rise of Hyder Ali of Mysore who conquered the Nayakas. Bekal served as an important military station of Tipu Sultan supporting his military campaign in Malabar. The coins and other artifacts unearthed by an archaeological excavation in the Bekal fort are evidences of the presence of the Mysore Sultans here. The death of Tipu Sultan in Fourth Anglo-Mysore War in 1799 resulted in the fort being controlled by the British East India Company.
Modifications to the fort were made by all the rulers of Bekal. In certain areas it resembles the St. Angelo Fort at Kannur built by Portuguese and the Thalassery Fort. It is not certain that the Ikkeri Nayakas possessed the capability for naval warfare and defense but the western part of the fort has been reinforced with numerous slits on the walls for defending the fort from attack from the sea. Thus it is believed that the current design of the fort was the outcome of the conflict between European powers at some point in time. Located at the centre of the fort is an Observation Tower built by Tipu Sultan that offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the coastline. The weapon ports on the outer walls of the fort are specially designed to defend the fort effectively with those at the highest points meant for aiming at the farthest points; the ports below for striking when the enemy was nearer and those at the lowest level meant attacking when the enemy was very near to the fort all remarkable evidences of a defensive strategy in warfare. Another important feature of this fort is the water-tank with its flight of steps, the tunnel opening towards the south, the magazine for keeping ammunition and the broad and wide steps leading to the Observation Tower. The Mukhyaprana Temple of Hanuman and an ancient Muslim Mosque nearby bear testimony to the secular ethos of the occupants of the fort.
Undoubtedly stunning is the superb view from the ramparts of the fort, the beach below and the sea stretching to the horizon. Do speak to the resort manager should you desire to travel to places of interest in Kerala. He will glad to make arrangements for your travel.