As a history researcher, there are very few what I call “Eureka” moments, when while going through drab history books, you suddenly discover something very interesting and think to yourself “Hey! Why are others not talking about this? Do they even know?”
I too had similar such “Eureka” moment during a casual phone conversation with a TOI journalist from Jhansi. During our conversation, he casually mentioned existence of a “second fort” in Jhansi which no one knew about. My ears could not believe it and my heart was beating fast with excitement. This was the scoop I knew my blog readers would love to read. And I needed to find more about this “secret” and “hidden” fort of Jhansi which hardly anyone knew about.
Infact, this fort is such an enigma that that even Archaeological Survey of India did not about its existence till recently. Nor were locals aware of it. Incredible, isn’t it? But what is so secretive about this fort that has remained hidden for so long. Does it hide any dark secrets? Who built this secret fort and why?
Unfortunately, there are too many questions and too few answers. Passing by the narrow by lanes of Jhansi, as you cross the Sadar Bazar area and enter the cantonment area, you need to look carefully. Carefully hidden behind row of houses, you will slowly start seeing walls and battlements of a fortification. However, they have been built in such a way that it is well camouflaged and almost impossible to photograph. But what you are seeing is actually the “hidden fort” of Jhansi, also known as the Star Fort due to its star like shape.
Satellite Image of Star Fort of Jhansi. The fort has been hidden it such a way, that it makes it very difficult to photograph. It is under Army’s possession and a forbidden area.
The magnificent six contoured star fort is of extremely peculiar shape, perhaps being the only monument in the country in shape of the star. Such a design is no peculiar to India. It was seen in castles in Italy and France. This special star shape makes the fort least vulnerable to artillery attack.
Little is known about the circumstances in which this fort was built. The Third Anglo Maratha war ended in 1818. During that time, Raja a Ramchandrarao Newalkar was ruling Jhansi as a subedar on behalf of Peshwa at Pune. After the fall of the Maratha empire, Raja Ramchandrarao signed a treaty of friendship with British East India company represented by John Bean Chapp. As per this treaty, the British stationed subsidiary force in Jhansi. To house this army, a fort was built. It is this very star fort. Built around 1.4 acres of land, it was used to house treasury and magazine (arms and ammunition depot) and also used to house 14th cavalry, mainly comprising Indian soldiers under Captain Campbell.
A very rare image of Star Fort of Jhansi taken by a British Photographer in 1890s
According to some historians, this fort has played an importance role in the revolt of 1857. It is claimed that it was here where the revolt of the East India company sepoys actually began in Jhansi. The 14th Cavalry revolted, attacked the British who took refuge in the main Jhansi fort. They then marched to Rani Mahal and proclaimed Rani Lakshmibai as their leader.
Today, this fort is under the control of the Indian army and entry to this fort is restricted. However, to commemorate the events of 1857, the fort was opened to civilians for first time in 153 years. Local historians in Jhansi hope that more and more people would get aware of this unique piece of India’s heritage.
Completely ignored by historians and public, this intriguing story of the hidden fort of Jhansi is dying to be told. I hope that this blog article spurs interest in this forgotten piece of history. And I hope my readers go away from this blog enriched with something new.
By Akshay Chavan