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The fort at Gingee is the most spectacular and strategic of all forts in Tamil Nadu. Founded by the Cholas, it rose to prominence in the 16th century under the Nayakas when most of the fortifications, temples and granaries were built. Thereafter it was successively occupied by the Adil Shahis, Marathas, Mughals, French and British until it was abandoned in the beginning of the 19th century. The site is composed of three hills, each separately fortified. Curtain walls connecting the hills form the vast outer fort. An enclosed area around the highest fort Rajagiri forms the inner fort and palace zone.

Venkataramana Temple
This large well-planned temple complex, now abandoned and dilapidated, is at the south-east side of the outer fort. Most of the temple, except perhaps a small Chola core, was built by Muthiah Nayaka in the mid-16th century. Tall swing pavilions stand outside the compund walls, each with multiple brick towers.

Venkataramana Temple: Gopuram
This seven-storeyed gopuram is the main east entrance to the complex. It is flanked on either side by pavilions with moulded bases. Each of its seven storeys has rows of alternating shala and kuta shrines. Ramayana scenes and Vishnu divinities, including a Dashavatara panel are carved on the side walls of the passageway.

Venkataramana Temple: Courtyard
Several pillared mandapams of different designs occupy the enclosure. The main shrine is entered through the large open mandapa on the right. Colossal Vishnu Dvarpalakas in polished granite are placed inside at the entrance to the ardha-mandapam. On the left is a kalyana mandapa with more elaborate columns, overhanding eave, and a dais in the middle.

Chandrayan Hill
Steps lead to the fort at the top of the southern hill. Several deep tanks excavated along this path and inside the fort, stored rainwater.

At the top of Chandrayan hill is this small pavilion. It has excellent views of the site, especially the Venkataramana Temple complex.

Palace Zone
The inner fort area as seen from Rajagiri. The structures are dominated by the Kalyana Mahal, a six-storeyed structure overlooking a tank surrounded by an arcade. The Mahal has rows of arched openings on each side and a staircase block in the middle. The Parage Ground in front of the Mahal is flanked by stables and colonnades. The square structure next to it was probably a royal residence. Several large Granaries with curving brick vaults stand nearby, some with ornate plaster decoration.

A gap shows a sheer rock-face with battlements at the top.

Rajagiri: Fort Walls
To reach the fort at the top an attacking army would have to cross seven fort-walls, each with its narrow gate and moat.

Rajagiri: Granaries
There are several structures at the top of the hill from various periods of occupation. Prominent among these are two large granaries with vaulted roofs, the Venugopalaswamy shrine, and a ruined pyramidal tower. This three-storeyed building was a watchtower or a flagstaff tower. It has rows of false arches with small openings on the second storey. Similar arches on the lower floor are open and lead to rooms inside.

Rajagiri: Drawbridge
This wooden drawbridge, covering a chasm 20 metres deep, leads to the fort at the top of Rajagiri.

Rajagiri: Ranganatha Temple
This temple from the Nayaka period is off the main path to the top of Rajagiri. The painted barrel-vaulted tower is a recent replacement.

Elephant Tank
This large tank to the south of the Kalyana Mahal and palace zone is partly cut into the rock. It is surrounded by bathing steps and a colonnade.

Rocks in unusual shapes lie along steps leading to the top of Krishnagiri.

Krishnagiri: Plaform
The citadel at the top of Krishnagiri has several structures including granaries, temples and wells. This pavilion at the edge of the hill has a high, moulded dias at the centre with pillars at the four corners. Another row of pillars lines the periphery. Each pillar has several sculpted sections and ornate capitals. The iconography is mainly Vaishnavite.

Krishnagiri: Darbar Mandapa
This Audience Hall at the highest point of Krishnagiri was built in the 18th century by Raja Desingh, a Rajput feudatory of the Nawab of Arcot. The mandapa has window-like projections on each wall flanked by pointed arches. The interior is divided into arcades with vaulted ceilings. The ensemble is capped by an unusual fluted dome.

Krishnagiri: Colonnade
Part of the ambulatory that surrounds the base of the Darbar Mandapa.

Krishnagiri: Temple Platform
This raised platform is at the end of a hall located at the east of Krishnagiri Fort. The base of the platform is carved with a row of elephants, mouldings include a row of lotus petals. Pillars on the platform have images of donor figures at the base.

The 7th century Ranganatha Cave temple is carved into a hill at Singavaram, a few miles north of Gingee. The original Pallava shrine consists of an pillared hall and an image of Vishnu Anantasayini cut into the rock. The Nayakas and Rajputs who patronized this temple are responsible for later structural additions. The Nayaka mandapa seen in this picture is at the top of the hill.

Singavaram: Gopuram
This second gopuram, at the base of Singavaram Hill, is unused and ruined. It has lost its brick superstructure, but the stone walls are preserved. Window niches on its walls have candrasala motifs above.

Photos and Text © Amit Guha