Gandhari Khilla or Fort and Maisamma jatara

Gandhari Khilla or Fort is located in Gandhari khilla is a hill fort located near Bokkalagutta, in Mandamarri Mandal in Mancherial district, Telangana State, India is a geological wonder to see: its sky-looking rock formations, deep gorges and narrow valleys inside the hillocks make the visitor filled with the thrilling feeling of deep sigh. The visitor will be greeted by a small stream of water running through the hills and hill-bounded Medi Cheruvu (tank).

There are three main entrances to the fort, which are carved out of stone. The fort contains idols of Kala Bhairava Swamy, Lord Siva, Lord Ganesh and Hanuman. The way to the fort atop the hill was built in such a way that horses and elephants can trek the hill. There’s an eight-foot tall Naga Seshu idol carved out of a single rock. The fort’s magnificent architecture, defensive constructions, bathing tanks and sculpture leaves visitors spellbound

There are three wells, which never dries up even during severe summer. There is also another well named as ‘Yenugula Bavi’ (Elephants Well). The well is designed in such a way that elephants and horses can quench thirst by reaching the well through steps. 

Gandhari Maisamma Jatra is a three days long festival, done in the temple on the fort of Gandhari for every 2 years on the third day of full moon day of Hindu month Magha (January/February)

Naikpod tribals living on the banks of the river Godavari celebrate an annual fair on the eve of Magha Pournami (February) at the unique rock-cut fort of Gandhari. Artistes of Naikpod community perform a dance show using representation of their deity Laxmi Devara during cultural programmes held to mark Maisamma Jatara on the outskirts of Bokkalagutta village in Mandamarri mandal.

Tribals from various districts including Gonds, Naikpod, Koyas, Mannes and devotees from neighbouring states i.e maharashtra, Chhattisgarh on the other bankside flock the Jatara. The jatara was suspended in 1998 due to a murder incident that took place during the celebrations.

The unique rock cut fort of Gandhari is originally an abode of history, epigraphy, architecture and culture and subsequently became a center for the Jatara in which tribals and non-tribals also take part. It has future scope of developing it into a historical, adventurous and tribal tourist site with the potential of boating in Pulimadugu pond and Medi Cheruvu Tank nearby. The State Government is supporting the Jatara with a financial aid for the past half decade.

The aboriginal tribals had darshan of the deity as they waited for serpentine queue lines since early morning. Artistes of this community presented traditional dance forms Thappetagullu and Pillanagovi, and many other art forms. They also showcased oral art forms on Saturday, enthralling audiences.

On the second day night, the elders of Rodda clan and priests revered Maisamma by performing Pedda Puja, the main event of the affair. They purified the deity and performed traditional rituals at the idol of the deity situated atop of the hillock. They drew Patnam, a unique drawing pattern to appease the Goddess.

The tribals camped under the trees and woods. They dined and celebrated along with family members and friends. They swarmed an ancient picturesque tank near the fort for taking photos. They gathered herbal plants found on the top of the hillock and at foothills for curing certain diseases. They arrived at the holy place, using different means of transit including trolleys, lorries, vans, auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers.

Devotees playing ‘kolatam’ during the cultural programmes at Gandhari Maisamma Jatara on the outskirts of Bokkalagutta village on Sunday.

The Forgotten City
Remnants of a series of steps, ponds, potsherds, etc. lie inside the Pattanam. Almost opposite to the Pattanam one has to climb a rock cliff to see rock cut wells (3) called Savatula Baavulu. Their finest finishing leaves us with wondered face. There we find Padmanayaka traditional sculptures
of Ganapati, Shivalinga, etc. which are in mutilated state now.

If we cross the Pattanam and move further we come across a deep rock cut well with steps and arrangements showing that once the Enugula Baavi (Elephant Well) served the purpose of drinking water for the people living inside the fort, with the help of Elephant-drawn-Mota (huge water lifting container). Or, the well might have been segregated for elephants. A stream coming from higher altitudes stores water in this pond-size well and flows across it running through a gorge between two hillocks.

In about a furlong distance from Enugula Baavi we find a series of caves in a hillock towards our left side. One cave by name Gonthemma Pokkalu has two sections with pre-historic petroglyphs belonging to Mesolithic and Megalithic ages. The petroglyph motifs contain hundreds of pairs of feet, bullocks, horses, nets, oblong map (Patnam in the words of Naikpods), etc.

There are two rock-cut cells / temples which must have served as shelters to Buddhist Chaityas earlier. However, Bhairava sculpture was subsequently hewn beside the cells during the reign of Padmanayakas.

Almost opposite to these cells there was another huge cell hewn into hard rock and a line drawing was chiseled probably to depict Buddha. On 3.3.2005 a news appeared that some thieves unearthed a panchaloha idol of Buddha here and were arrested. It signifies the presence of Buddhism here.

After crossing the stream we come across a series of 3 rock-cut entrances flanked by sculptures of Bhairava and Hanuman which stand as testimony to the traditional practice of Padmanayaka rulers during 14 th and 15 th centuries. The first entrance has an awful sculpture of Mondi Bhairava. En-route to other entrances one will come across an elephant sculpture with a man hanging in its trunk. The
fourth and main entrance is the most wonderful gate cut into a connecting hillock.

Its left door jamb has a sculpture called Maisamma by the devotees. Naikpod tribals worship this deity as the chief goddess and conduct traditional pujas in front of the deity by temporarily drawing her figure in rangoli colours.

Then, one has to move up left to climb a series of rock cut steps to reach its pinnacle called Nagaara Gundu – stone of drum – wherefrom, it is said, royal attendants used to beat huge royal drums to keep people alert of hours and threats of outside foes during medieval times.
The Deities

The straightway from the Maisamma Darwaja will lead us to, to our left, a series of rock cut caves wherein seers are said to have observed penance once upon a time.

The caves are followed by two structural temples that appear to have been built during 12 th to 14 th century. The carvings of the temples are attractive enough to draw the attention of the enthusiasts.

These temples are followed by the chief temple of the fort – Naga Sheshuni Gudi. Its door jambs have been decorated with Dwarapalas and Jaalis in the Antarala in an appreciable style. The 7 hooded Naga sculpture is sculpted as holding Shivalinga in its folds. The huge sculpture is one of the finest sculptures of Telangana. The temple is pinnacled by a superstructure, the shikhara.

As part of visiting the Jatara the visitors get amused to see the wonderful architecture of the rock fort called Gandhari Khilla. 

The history of the Khilla is shrouded in many mythical accounts. The post Satavahana kings – Kandaras –ruled from Kandarapura. Even the Pallava king Anandavarma is said to have ruled from the same Kandarapura. K. Gopalachari, a well known historian, wrote that even the celebrated kings Kakatiyas migrated from Kandarapura. The post Kakatiya feudatories of Padmanayaka kings undertook several constructions in the fort which can be seen till date. However, the Naikpods believe that Gandhari is Peddamma to their Lord Bheemanna, the second of Pandava brothers. They worship the goddess Peddamma.

The Gandhari Fort is believed to have been built by Tribal kings who ruled over this region with the assistance of Kakatiya rulers in c.1200 AD. It houses the ancient temple of Maisamma. Similarly, it has idols of Kala Bhairava Swamy, Lord Siva, Lord Ganesh and Hanuman, idols carved out on rocks and an eight-foot 10-headed Naga Seshu idol carved on a single rock. The fort, which has Gandhari Maisamma temple, was built within a dense forest, which has a rich flora and fauna including many medicinal herbs.

The name of the tank Medi cheruvu and several inscriptions of 12 th century A.D. found in north Telangana prompt historians to say that the Medi Cheruvu and the nearby village Medaram were constructed by Medaraja, a local king, in his name. An archaeological wonder here is the rock cut canal. It runs for a furlong distance from Medi Cheruvu to Jeedikota valley. There is a heap of iron slag, wastage of iron industry, with the help of which the rock fort, cave temples, sculptures and canals were created here.

An inscription from 1403 AD carved on a huge rock in the precincts of Gandhari Fort in Mancherial district deciphered by a Hyderabad-based-historian has unlocked decades long mystery as to who was ruler from the only rock-cut fort in Telangana. It also shows how some traditions continue for centuries and has unveiled how Vaishnavism was propagated in this area once, which is now famous for the Gandhari maisamma jatara. The photograph of the inscription was clicked by state department of Archaeology two decades ago but was not deciphered until now.

1403 AD : Peddiraju Anantaraju, who was a vassal during reign of king Anapota-II 
A Telugu inscription of 1403 A.D. is engraved on its right side. Its decipherment reveals that one feudatory (of Padmanayaka Kings) Sri Peddiraju Ananataraju presented the sculpture of Hanumanta along with Thirunamas to Lord Raghunayakulu. 

As far as the memory of the locality is concerned the local Naikpod tribals have been holding their traditional worships here periodically. Several of the Naikpods living in this locality bear the surname Peddi(raju) and Sri Peddulu is still the chief priest of the Gandhari Jatara. These inferences lead us to surmise that the local Nakpod tribals must be the descendants of the chieftain Peddiraju who
might have also constructed the temple of Raghunayakulu, opposite to the sculpture of Lord Hanuman and the epigraph.

Ranam Kudupu
During the Gandhari maisamma jatara tradition, known as “ranam kudupu” is still followed which dates back to the rule of Anapota-II. The tradition was a religious ritual practiced during a battle which included conducting sacrifice of animals, which is conducted even now in the jatara.

1824 AD - 1897 AD : Sardeshmukhs of Mutyampalli
1824 A.D. copper plate inscription reveals that Sardeshmukhs of Mutyampalli issued the Sannad to Sri Kova Baburao and Sri Kova Somuju conferring the post of Mokasi to collect taxes from the Gonds of Gandharla taluq and pay to the Sardeshmukhs.

The contents of the inscription revealed that it was originally issued by Venkata Mutyam Rao, Venkata Jagannatha Rao and Venkata Rama Rao (Sardeshmukhs of Mutyampalli) to Kova Baburao and Kova Somuju (ancestors of Kova Babu Rao and Kova Doulath Rao) in 1824 to collect taxes from the Gonds of Gandhari Taluq. But, the recipients were said to have lost the inscription. Upon their request, they were reissued it in 1871. It was revaluated again in 1897 in Urdu language.
Dr. Dyavanapalli Satyanarayana