A royal palace, a gothic church, an old dusty temple, a shady prison, a mind boggling museum, a ZP office, all in a mighty stone wall in a vast green expanse, Coorg’s tryst with history, heritage, culture and nature come to power in the legendary fort of Madikeri. Withstanding the test of time and the dynamics of changing rulers and numerous reconstructions, Madikeri Fort is one of the most iconic sites in Karnataka, and a marvelous testament to Coorg’s turbulent and colorful history.
Situated right amid Madikeri, Coorg, the Madikeri Fort was built by Mudduraja, the founder of the misty hill station and the ruler of the Kodagu Kingdom from 1633-1687.
The mud fort, along with the king’s palace inside was a perfect postcard subject, a glorious empire in the verdant landscape. But perhaps the most beautiful places have seen the deadliest of wars and thus, the story and glory of Madikeri was restored in granite when the age-old rivalry, a series of failed attempts and finally the bitter betrayal of Tipu Sultan to the Kodagu kings led him to capture and rebuilt the fort. The fort was renamed to Jaffarabad.
The granite stone structure of the Madikeri Fort gives it a very European look, and being situated at the backdrop of vast green slopes and amid coffee plantations, one feels as if they were at Scotland.
However, the two life-size statues of elephants just on the entrance make you feel otherwise. It’s the best of both worlds, rather best of both the countries. The credit of this magnificent architecture cannot be all given to Tipu Sultan. In fact, the Madikeri fort was won back from Jaffarabad by King Dorra Rajendra and subsequently by Lingarajendra Woddeyar, rulers of Kodagu kingdom in 1812, who started a series of constructions. A square Mantapa placed on a height was built for the leisurely relaxation of the erstwhile kings as they enjoyed the cool breeze and the view of the lush landscape. But the fort’s ultimate destiny changed when it came under the hands of the British rule in 1834.
An angelic church, in a glass stained Gothic style replaced the old Veerabhadra temple of the fort under the British. The St. Marks Church as it was called became the most important and perhaps the most alluring landmarks of the British Coorg. A grand clock tower was also added to the exuberance of the fort in 1933. A sculpture of tortoise, with the name of King Vijayarendra engraved on it also sits upon to welcome the visitors. This too was installed by the British, perhaps their way of paying heed to the rightful owners of the fort. The huge and the spacious architecture of the fort were not only grand, but also mysterious. A secret labyrinth of alleys and pass ways inside the fort had dark stories associated with them, often giving rise to animosity within visitors.
The Madikeri Fort has always been held by people of power and grit. This stands true even today, after 400 years of its existence and 70 years of Independence. The palace inside the stone walls of the fort, used to serve as the commissioner’s office until recently. The district prison also sits in the fort. (Yes, the prisoners get to live in the fort!)
The beautiful glass stained windows of the St. Mark’s Church are still intact; however the church has been converted into a museum housing several weapons, historical artifacts and a wealth of knowledge about the history and culture of Madikeri and Coorg.
The eminent personality of Coorg, Field Marshall K.M Cariappa also has a section devoted to him and the honors he has been worthy of. The fort also boasts of a public library named after the father of the nation and an ornate Kote Maha Ganpathi temple.
From weapons to books, from churches to temples, from palaces to prisons, from elephants to tortoise, from nature to culture; the Madikeri Fort is not only a coming together of different religions and traditions, but also an unique amalgamation of different time periods and different walks of life.
Some call it the standing testament of time, some, the link between the past and the present, and some a display of different cultures at its best. The Madikeri Fort near Coorg is one of the most iconic landmarks of the country.
Timings to visit: 10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. all days except Mondays. Entry is free. Please note that the fort now houses a number of government offices and visitors are requested to conduct themselves appropriately.