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Bobbili Fort

The Bobbili Fort, located in the Vizianagaram district of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, was built in the mid-19th century in Bobbili. It has a historical link to the nearby mud fort of the same name which was destroyed during the Bobbili War in 1757 in a feud between the Rajas of Bobbili and the neighbouring Maharaja of Vizianagaram. Located in the Vizianagaram district of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, the Bobbili Fort was built in the mid-19th century by Chinna Ranga Rao, who had survived the Battle of Bobbili and later became the ruler of Bobbili.

History of Bobbili Fort

The history of Bobbili can be traced back to 1652, when Sher Muhammad Khan, Fouzdar of the Nawab of Srikakulam under the Nizam, came to the Vizianagaram district. He was accompanied by Peddarayadu, the 15th scion of the Rajas of Venkatagiri, of Velia community and the ancestor of the Raja of Bobbili, and Pusapati Madhava Varma, the ancestor of Vijayanagram family who were rivals. In one version of this story, it is said that the Nawab, pleased with the gallant services rendered by Peddarayadu, granted land holdings to him. Peddarayalu then constructed a fort and named it Bobbili, meaning ‘the royal tiger’, as a token of appreciation for the benevolent gift of the Nawab, who was known as Sher (sher means a ‘tiger’ in Hindi). In another version, it is said that Rayudu's son Lingappa chose Bobbili as his capital, built a fort, and established a town there, and named it Pedda-puli (in Telugu language this stands for a ‘big tiger’); this name eventually changed to Pebbuli and then Bebbuli, finally to become Bobbili. In this period, Sher Khan's son was abducted and Lingappa rescued him. In appreciation, Sher Khan gifted 12 villages to Lingappa and gave him the title of Ranga Rao. Lingappa was succeeded by his adopted son Vengal Ranga Rao, who was then succeeded by his son Rangapati, followed by his son Rayadappa. At the time when the fort was under construction, a Muslim saint cautioned the two royal brothers of the Bobbili family that the place they had chosen to erect the fort in was ill-fated, but they ignored this warning. It was during Gopalakrishna's reign in 1753, that the Nizam of Hyderabad gave Northern Circars to the French. French General Charles Bussy leased Chicacole and Rajahmundry circles to Pedda Viziarama Raju, the Maharaja of Vizianagaram. As a result, ties between General Bussy and the Nizam became severed. (more in the History section)

The Fort as seen today

The existing fort covering an area of 10 acres (4.0 ha) was built by Chinna Ranga Rao after he regained his kingdom which was improved upon by his successors in the mid-19th century. The fort used to be the residence of the royal family. The fort complex has an impressive entrance gate in Indo-Saracenic architectural style with high dome and many mantapas, Durbar Hall, four major palaces, and two temples. Ranga Rao and his son had probably liked this style during their exile in Hyderabad where they had spent more than a decade and a half under the protection of the Nizam of Hyderabad. The north-eastern entry to the fort is a tall domed structure. Chinna Ranga Rao had built the oldest part of the main palace with its Saracenic arches supporting the first level. The facade of the fort has the elegance of a palace with its high walls, which are 20 feet (6.1 m) high at some places.

In 1861, in a report submitted by the Acting District Engineer to the Chief Secretary to the British Government at Saint George, it was said that the stone fort at Bobbili did not have adequate defence capacity.

The entire palace complex covers an area of 40,000 square feet (3,700 square metres). Within the fort area there are four major monuments. These are: the Durbar Hall, the palace of the prince, the palace for guests, and the Raja's palace, where the royal family members live, which is the largest with three floors. The Durbar Hall, or the main meeting hall, is where the Rajas held their crowning ceremonies. The main palace, which has an area of 6,000 square feet (560 square metres), also houses a museum and offices of the family. Within the fort complex there are two temples: one is dedicated to the family deity of the Venugopala Swamy and was built at the time when Bobbili was founded; the another one was erected by Chinna Ranga Rao in the aftermath of the war, after he regained his territory. The Gopura or entrance of this temple was constructed in 1851. Another mandapa built at the centre of a lake is known as the Vasant Mandapa where, according to the local belief, Venugopala Swamy takes rest for a day with his consort. After this the image of the Venugopala Swamy is kept at the Dola Yatra Mandapa on the shores of the lake for one day and then moved back to the main shrine. These mandapas were built in 1825 by Maharaja Krishna Das Ranga Rao. Another functional palace in the fort is the Pooja Mahal. Opposite to this palace there is the Prangmahal, the residence of the Raja, which is very well preserved and decorated with elegant tapestry, paintings, and porcelain brought from many countries.

Bobbili is 55 kilometres (34 mi) away from Vizianagaram, which is well-connected by rail and road. The nearest railway station is Vizianagaram, which is a key railway junction on the Raipur-Vizianagaram railway line. There is a bridge across Vedavati River which provides access to the area.

Tourist Information

The fort is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. throughout the week. The nearest railway station is in Vizianagaram and is well-connected with the entire country.

Text by Sammik C Basuu