Surrounded by hills, the town of Kandhar in Nanded district of Maharashtra is of historic antiquity, full of archaic remains of Hindu and Muslim monuments as well as sculptures of the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions, dating back to the Rashtrakuta dynasty.
Here also stands the 1000-year-old Kandhar Fort founded by Rashtrakuta king Krishna III in the 10th century CE, on the banks of the Manyad River. Spread across 24 acres and in fairly decent shape, the fort is located just 40 km from Nanded town and is a popular tourist attraction.
Known as ‘Kandharpur’ in medieval times, Kandhar was one of the capitals of the Rashtrakutas in the 10th century CE. The heart of this powerful empire, which ruled between the 6th and 10th centuries CE, included nearly all of modern-day Karnataka, Maharashtra and parts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
The Rashtrakutas had their roots in Aurangabad and were master architects, which is evident from the splendid rock-cut cave temples at Ellora. Ironically, when they laid the foundations of the Kandhar Fort, they erected only a small wooden structure there. Kandhar and the surrounding region have since been ruled by many dynasties and kingdoms, including the Kakatiyas of Warangal, Yadavas of Devgiri, the Delhi Sultanate, Bahmani Empire, Nizamshahs of Ahmadnagar and finally the Nizams of Hyderabad. Each of these empires added their own structures to the fort, which was continuously occupied till the 1840s. The advent of modern military technology meant that the fort was not of much use and it was first handed over to Nizam of Hyderabad’s archaeology department and then came into the possession of Maharashtra state’s archeology department after 1960.
The oldest surviving structure in the fort is a stepwell from the Yadava period (9th to 14th centuries CE). Thanks to its layered existence, the main gate of the fort has a Persian inscription from Muhammad bin Tughlaq (r. 1325 – 1351), who is believed to have stayed here during his southern campaigns. Later, Malik Ambar (1548-1626), the prime minister in the court of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate, too sought an alliance with Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur and obtained from him the fortress of Kandhar as a base of operations against the Mughals.
Major additions to the fort were made after the 13th century by the Bahmani Sultans. What sets this fort apart is that it is built on land, unlike many others in the region that are constructed on hill tops. This imposing fort is encircled by a 12-metre wall and it once had as many as 18 watchtowers overlooking the hills in the distance. A wide moat added another layer of protection.
Some of the other structures that survive are a reservoir called Jatatunsagar, which is considered one of the most ancient manmade reservoirs in Maharashtra; the Sheesh Mahal, which appears to be standing where the old Rashtrakuta Palace once stood; and an Ambar Khana.
In the latter half of the 17th century, Kandhar came under the rule of the Mughals. They constructed Rani Mahal and Lal Mahal, whereby noblemen tried to replicate buildings they had seen in Delhi, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. They also tried to replicate the famed Mughal gardens here.
The glory days of Kandhar came to an end in the first decade of the 19th century due to a power vacuum in the region.
Interestingly, there’s much more to Kandhar than its fort. In the 1970s and ‘80s, local villagers and archaeologists found bits and pieces of sculptures here. Among these fragments were parts of a giant statue of a man that once stood 60 feet high. The foundation of this vastupurush was found in excavations carried out by the government of Maharashtra in 1980.
Like so many other forts, Kandhar fort too has its own legend, this one relating to the Mahabharata. The official gazetteer published by the government in 1971 says that Kandhar was originally called ‘Panchalpuri’ and it was here that Draupadi married the Pandavas. The valley near the town is also known as Pandavdara. Clearly, the fort of Kandhar hides as much as it reveals, and is a must-visit.
LHI Travel Guide
By Air – Nanded airport is the closest, 49 km away
By Rail – Nanded-Waghala station, about 45 km away
By Road – Local buses are available from the railway station