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Studies on fortification in India

Jean Deloche

General Introduction

Texte intégral

  • 1 There is no dearth of building materials in India.
    a. Throughout the valleys and the deltas of the (...)

1Citadels crowning the broken hills of the Aravallis, the scarped blocks of Central India or topping the rugged and cragged ridges of the Deccan with several lines of walls built at different levels upto the summit, and also strongholds of greater extent in the large alluvial Indo-gangetic plains or on the peninsular plateau, enclosing huge cities, on flat land, around occasional outcrops, on the banks of a river or in the slopes of a broad interfluve, innumerable are the fortifications scattered over the Indian subcontinent.1

2These countless defensive works, small or big, which had a crucial influence on the growth of kingdoms or on the expansion of empires, are of exceptional magnitude and importance. Yet, very little attention has been given to them. Despite wealth of books on religious monuments, there is a dearth of reliable literature on this particular subject: except for a few meritorious monographs, military architecture of India is almost unknown.

3A precise and detailed history of fortifications in India is a subject that would amply repay the labour spent on its production. The present work barely indicates even the outline of such a history and has a far less ambitious aim.

4These pages bring together essays on some prominent defensive works which have been constructed over many centuries across the Indian subcontinent, particularly South India.

5The first chapter, on the Harappan period and Early Historic Indian sites, is based mainly on archaeological reports; all the other chapters, covering South India from the 3rd to the 18th century A.D., draw on the available historical material, both documentary and epigraphic, as well as on intense fieldwork and personal investigations carried out by the author over the past twenty years in numerous hill forts and fortified towns in India.

6Much of the information has been already published piecemeal in a range of articles written in French in the Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient. Here, the findings of this body of work are freshly presented with an attempt at synthesis.

7For each period a selection has been made of outstanding examples of fortification in order to analyse the building techniques, considering the evolution of military technology, particularly the development of artillery, to establish the typology of the structures and to bring into focus a reliable method for identifying and dating defensive works in India.

8The northern limit of our investigations being Aurangabad, it is hoped that similar researches will be carried out in the fortified sites of North India, including the Maratha hill forts and the much visited strongholds of Rajasthan.


1 There is no dearth of building materials in India.
a. Throughout the valleys and the deltas of the Indus and the Ganges, it is difficult to obtain stone within an easy distance of cities situated in the alluvial plain; therefore mud and clay were used as mud brick or baked brick, instead of stone; this is the reason why most of the buildings were erected almost exclusively of this material.
b. But, to the east and south of a line drawn from Rohtasgarh to Goa, granito-gneissic rocks occupy a very considerable area and most of the varieties of these metamorphic masses of stone are suited to building purposes: on account of their durability and strength, they have been abundantly used in temples and fortifications.
c. The greater part of Western India and the Deccan is occupied by a vast accumulation of eruptive rocks which are generally spoken as Deccan traps or basalt; some of these rocks are soft and brittle, but there are varieties which are characterized by strength, toughness and resistance: they have been used in temples, particularly in the famous caves of Western India, in dwelling places and strongholds.
d. Finally, sandstones and limestones, found in various places, in general fine-grained and perfectly homogenous, are admirably suited for building; as for laterite, used as the inner material in temples or public buildings, it is also suited to the rough walls of fortifications.

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2007

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