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IV. The Birthplace of Shivaji

About half a mile westward of the town of Junnar there rises from the plain a colossal hill, the lower portion whereof consists of steep slopes covered with rough grass and a few trees, and the upper part of two nearly perpendicular tiers of scarped rock, surmounted by an undulating and triangular-shaped summit. The upper tier commences at a height of six hundred feet from the level of the plain and, rising another 200 feet, extends dark and repellant round the entire circumference of the hill. Viewed from the outskirts of the town, the upper scarp, which runs straight to a point in the north, bears the strongest similarity to the side of a huge battleship, riding over billows long since petrified and grass grown: and the similarity is accentuated by the presence in both scarps of a line of small Buddhist cells, the apertures of which are visible at a considerable distance and appear like the portholes or gun-ports of the fossilised vessel. Unless one has a predilection for pushing one's way through a perpendicular jungle or crawling over jagged and sunbaked rock, the only way to ascend the hill is from the south-western side, from the upper portion of which still frown the outworks and bastioned walls which once rendered the fortress impregnable. The road from the town of Junnar is in tolerable repair and leads you across a stream, past the ruined mud walls of an old fortified enclosure, and past the camping-ground of the Twelve Wells, until you reach a group of trees overshadowing the ruined tombs of a former captain of the fort and other Musulmans. The grave of the Killedar is still in fair condition; but the walls which enclose it are sorely dilapidated, and the wild thorn and prickly pear, creeping unchecked through the interstices, have run riot over the whole enclosure.

At this point one must leave the main road, which runs forward to the crest of the Pirpadi Pass, and after crossing a level stretch of rock, set one's steps upon the pathway which, flanked on one side by the lofty rock-bastions of the hill and on the other by the rolling slopes, leads upwards to the First Gate. At your feet lies the deserted and ruined village of Bhatkala, which once supplied the Musulman garrison with food and other necessaries, and is now but a memory; and above your head the wall and outwork of the Phatak Tower mark the vicinity of the shrine of Shivabai, the family goddess of the founder of the Maratha Empire. The pathway yields place to a steep and roughly-paved ascent, girt with dense clumps of prickly pear, extending as far as the first gateway of the fortress. There are in all seven great gateways guarding the approach to the hill-top, of which the first already mentioned, the second or "Parvangicha Darvaja," the fourth or Saint's gate, and the fifth or Shivabai gate are perhaps more interesting than the rest. One wonders why there should be seven gateways, no more and no less. Was it merely an accident or the physical formation of the hill-side which led to the choice of this number? Or was it perhaps a memory of the mysterious power of the number seven exemplified in both Hebrew and Hindu writings, which induced the Musulman to build that number of entrances to his hill-citadel? The coincidence merits passing thought. The second gateway originally bore on either side, at the level of the point of its arch, a mystic tiger, carved on the face of a stone slab, holding in its right forepaw some animal, which the Gazetteer declares is an elephant but which more closely resembles a dog. The tiger on the left of the arch alone abides in its place; the other lies on the ground at the threshold of the gate. Local wiseacres believe the tiger to have been the crest of the Killedar who built the gate and to have signified to the public of those lawless days much the same as the famous escutcheon in "Marmion," with its legend, "who laughs at me to Death is dight!"

The Saint's gate, so called from the tomb of a "Pir" hidden in the surrounding growth of prickly pear, is the largest of all the gates and is formed of splendid slabs of dressed stone, each about 8 feet in length. On either side of the gateway are rectangular recesses, which were doubtless used as dwellings or guardrooms by the soldiers in charge of the gate. Thence the pathway divides; one track, intended for cavalry, leading round to the north-western side of the hill, and the other for foot-passengers, composed of rock-hewn steps and passing directly upwards to the Shivabai gate, where still hangs the great teak-door, studded with iron spikes, against which the mad elephants of an opposing force might fruitlessly hurl their titanic bulk.

Leaving for a moment the direct path, which climbs to the crest of the hill past the Buddhist caves and cisterns, we walk along a dainty terrace lined with champak and sandalwood trees and passing under a carved stone gateway halt before the shrine dedicated to Shivaji's family goddess. The dark inner shrine must have once been a Buddhist cave, carved out of the wall of rock; and to it later generations added the outer hall, with its carved pillars of teakwood, which hangs over the very edge of a precipitous descent. Repairs to the shrine are at present in progress; and on the day of our visit two bullocks were tethered in the outer chamber, the materials of the stone-mason were lying here and there among the carved pillars, and a painfully modern stone wall is rising in face of the austere threshold of the inner sanctuary. The lintel of the shrine is surmounted with inferior coloured pictures of Hindu deities, and two printed and tolerably faithful portraits of the great Maratha chieftain. "Thence," in the words of the poet, "we turned and slowly clomb the last hard footstep of that iron crag," and traversing the seventh and last gate reached the ruined Ambarkhana or Elephant-stable on the hill top. It is a picture of great desolation which meets the eye. The fragment of a wall or plinth, covered with rank creepers, an archway of which the stones are sagging into final disruption, and many a tumulus of coarse brown grass are all that remain of the wide buildings which once surrounded the Ambarkhana. The latter, gray and time-scarred, still rears on high its double row of arched vaults; but Vandalism, in the guise of the local shepherd and grass-cutter, has claimed it as her own and has bricked up in the rudest fashion, for the shelter of goats and kine, the pointed stone arches which were once its pride.

Another noteworthy feature of the summit of the hill is a collection of stone cisterns of varying ages, still containing water. The smaller open cisterns, in which the water is thick and covered with slime, are of Musalman origin, but there are one or two in other parts of the hill which clearly date from Buddhist ages and are coeval with the rock-cells. The most important and interesting of all are four large reservoirs, supported on massive pillars and hewn out of the side of the hill, which date from about 1100 A.D., and were in all probability built by the Yadav dynasty of Deogiri. One of them known as Ganga and Jamna is full of clear cool water which, the people say, is excellent for drinking. Here again the hand of the vandal has not been idle; for such names as Gopal, Ramchandra, etc., are scrawled in English characters over the face of the chief reservoir-- the holiday work no doubt of school-boys from Junnar. The presence of these four reservoirs, coupled with other disappearing clues, proves that between the Buddhist era and the date of the Musulman conquest, the hill must have been fortified and held by Hindu chieftains, probably the Yadavas already mentioned. The purely Musulman remains include the Ambarkhana, a prayer-wall or Idga, the skeleton of a mosque, with a delicate flying arch, and a domed tomb. In front of the prayer wall still stands the stone pulpit from which the moulvis of the fortress preached and intoned the daily prayers; but neither the prayer-wall nor the mosque have withstood the attacks of time as bravely as the tomb. For here scarce a stone has become displaced, and the four pointed arches which rise upwards to the circular dome are as unblemished as on the day when the builder gazed upon his finished work and found it good. The Gazetteer speaks of it as a man's tomb; but the flat burial-slab within the arches points to it being a woman's grave; and local tradition declares that it is the body of the mother of one Daulat Khan which lies here. Had those she left behind sought to bring peace to her dust, they could have chosen no more fitting site for her entombment. For each face of the grave commands a wide prospect of mountain and valley, the massive hills rising tier after tier in the distance until they are but faint shadows on the horizon; the intense solitude peculiar to mountain-country is broken but fitfully by the wild-dove's lamentation; and even when the sun in mid-heaven beats down fiercely upon the grassy barrows of the hill top, the breeze blows chill through the open arches and the dome casts a deep shadow over all.

At a little distance from the flying-arch mosque are two rooms built of stone, in one of which according to our Muhammadan guide Shivaji was born. Whether it was actually upon the rough walls of this small chamber that Shivaji's eyes first rested is open to considerable doubt, and probably they are but a small portion of a once spacious mansion which covered the surrounding area, now relic-strewn and desolate, and in which the family of the chieftain resided. These crumbling halls, the shrine of Shivabai, and the outwork at the extreme north point of the hill are the only remains directly connected with Maratha supremacy. The out-work which overhangs the sheer northern scarp performed the same function as the famous Tarpeian Rock of old Rome. Thence the malefactor of Maratha days was hurled down to swift death; and history records one instance of seven outlaws being cast "unrespited, unpitied, unreprieved" into space from this inaccessible eyrie by an officer of the Peshwa. Viewed from this point the whole plain seems a vast brown sea streaked here and there with green: and the smaller hills rise like islands from it, their feet folded in the mist which creeps across the levels. To the north beyond the larger ranges which encircle the valley the peak of Harischandragad is dimly visible, towering above the Sahyadris; and across the plain to eastward the Suleman range ends in the huge rounded shoulders of the Ganesh Lena spur.

Shivner has known many changes. It gave shelter to the Buddhist in the first and second centuries of the Christian era; It was excavated and fortified by early Hindu Kings who in turn yielded place to the "imperial banditti," and they held it until the English came and cried a truce to the old fierce wars. And all these have left traces of their sovereignty amid the rocks, the grass and the rank weeds of the hill. It is a living illustration of the words of the poet:--

"Think, in this batter'd Caravanserai
Whose Portals are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp.
Abode his destined Hour and went his way."