Wednesday, July 29, 2009

History: Gingee, a fort of love and valour

How many countless men have lived and loved, fought and died at Gingee (Chenji, Jinji), possibly the oldest surviving fort in South India? It is located about 160kms from Chennai, in Villipuram District, near Pondicherry.

Shivaji had called Gingee the most impregnable fort in India. But it changed hands several times since the Cholas originally built it in 9c CE. The control passed on to Vijayanagar, Nayaks, Marathas, Bijapur, Moghuls, Carnatic Nawabs, Mysore, French and the British.

There were two Rajput kings as well at Gingee, under the suzerainty of the Nawab of Arcot - Raja Sawrup Singh and his son Raja De Singh. The former was appointed by Emperor Aurangazeb. The dispute over payment of arrears of revenue and the matter of succession after the death of Sawrup Singh led to a war.
The Nawab’s forces that marched to Gingee consisted of 8,000 horsemen and 10,000 soldiers. The 22 years old De Singh defended his land with a cavalry of 350 horses and 500 foot soldiers.

The valiant young ruler died (either killed in battle of committing suicideto escape capture) on 3rd October 1714 and that was the end of the war. Ballads are still sung in the area about the bravery of De Singh. The young Raja was cremated with full honours as ordered by the victorious Nawab of Arcot.

Mr. CK Gariyali IAS, who was the Collector of Villipuram in the 1980s writes, “Equally famous is his [De Singh’s] horse that has been buried in Gingee close to his master. The character of Raja De Singh is reminiscent of the stories of Maharana Pratap of Chittoor and his horse Chetak.”
Articles on Gingee by the former Collector can be accessed at Two specific sites are:
We should be grateful to him for recording many details about Gingee.

Raja De Singh’s wife committed sati (the practice of a wife immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre). It is claimed that the Nawab of Arcot built a town and named it Ranipet to honor the lady. I have not been able to find out her name.

A European priest, Father Pinments, referred to Gingee as the "Troy of the East".

Reproduced below are some recent pictures (©KO Isaac) of Gingee by KO Isaac, President of the Photographic Society of Madras:

All photos ©KO Isaac. Click to enlarge.
Also see:


Kamini said...

Thank you for a very interesting post, and lovely photographs. I have never been to Gingee, even though it is not that far from Madras. Now I am inspired to definitely try to pay a visit, the next time I am there!

Maddy said...

I have also never been to Ginjee, thoughthe name is of course familiar, hv to see it


A nice piece of history -In Thamizh lore there is a name is always pronounced and written as one word Desingh, and he is known as Raja Desingu. Wonder if he is the same.

The pictures are excellent.

Now I want to go to Gingee too, though I have visited it in my childhood

Unknown said...

I am glad that you liked the post, Kamini. There is so much history around us but often we do not realize it.

Unknown said...

Thanks Maddy.

Unknown said...

Raji thanks very much for the correction. Actually while researching I came across both 'De Singh' and 'Desingh'. Of ocurse it is the same person who is referred to in Tamizh lore.

Anonymous said...

Very informative post, on my next visit to Chennai,I'd love to include Gingee in to my list.

Incicently former Madras Governer AJ John is from my place in Kerala.

Ashvin said...

Amother name for Kollam (Quilon) was Desinghanadu or Jayasimhanad....

pgo said...

Let me introduce myself as P.Gopinath a hotel owner in Gingee (Senji) and one who is trying to promote this magnificient fort to be a more popular tourist spot.
Its interesting to know that Quilon is also known as Desinghunadu. Wonder if there is correlation between Gingee and Quilon, though the title Ranipet, the industrial town near Vellore, was given by the Nawab of Arcot in remembrance of Desinghu raja's wife who committed sati following her husband's death.
Anyone who is willing to explore this great fort could take my help. P.Gopinath 94432 32218

Harish Singh said...

Myself Harish Singh from Coimbatore (Tamilnadu). I belong to Desingji Raja's lineage. I am very glad to share that this lineage is still existing in South India. In Coimbatore, we are going to release a Tamil book (poetic version) on Desinghji Raja titled "Rajaputhira Maa Veeran Raja Desingh - Veer Varalaru", authored by Shri G. Sardar Singh from Jayamkondan (Tamilnadu). Pl visit to know more about our lineage and also pl share :) Also pl contact me if you are from the same lineage :)
thank you :)
Harish Singh (