Glimpses of History: Ruins of Kotaha

October 25, 20114 Comments

Kotaha Fort: Kotaha or Garhi-Kotaha, 20 miles north of  Umballa, was the seat of power under the Rule of the Mirs that started with the coming of Hakim General Qasim-ul-Khan in early 17th century. The Mirs ruled the Hills of Morni and the ilaqa of Kotaha and Naraingarh from their formidable fort at Kotaha.  Major William Lloyd  and  Captain Alexander Gerard marched by the fort in July 1821 and described it as ‘the large well built fort of Mahummad Jaffeer, a mile from Raeepoor’ in their ‘Narrative of a journey from Caunpoor to the Boorendo Pass in the Himalaya Mountains’.  The fort stood upon an elevated spot with a commanding view of the country around. It was octagonal with each side somewhat more than 100 feet in length and with round towers or bastions at the angles. The fort wall enclosed an area of around 50000 Square Feet – a little over 1 acre.

Layout plan of Kotaha Fort at the time of demolition

Layout plan of Kotaha Fort at the time of demolition

The fort had a formidable reputation and was reputedly the third strongest in Punjab. Runjeet Singh is said to have come down himself with an army to take it but after marching round it, he had gone back intimidated by the defences.

Maharaja Runjeet Singh (2)

The walls of the fort were from 26 to 30 feet high, and consisted of an outer facing of boulder masonry, in lime mortar, 6 feet thick at the bottom and 2 1/2 to 4 feet at top; then an earthern rampart about 10 feet thick and 12 feet high, then another masonry wall about 3 feet thick, then a row of mantled casemates about 16 feet wide, making a total thickness from outside to inside of about 35 feet at bottom. The towers were about 22 feet in diameter and 30 feet high. Above the earthern rampart was a line of barracks and store rooms, about 13 feet deep, and their flat roofs formed a platform for musketry, protected by a parapet 3 to 4 feet high. The details were, however, in no two places exactly alike.The gateway was furnished with flanking defences. Upon entering the fort, the two faces to the left were occupied by rows of barracks and storerooms. To the left front were the public rooms and palace of the Meer, arcaded buildings surrounding a courtyard and having an underground series of vaults supported by thick pillars. Upon the face opposite the gateway were offices and servants’ houses; to the right front three faces were occupied by the zenana and a small mosque, and immediately to the right of the entrance was the guard room etc. A small postern gate lead out from the casemates and was the secret entrance to the fort, the door being artfully concealed on the outside by bushes etc. The postern gate was connected with the interior of the zenana. There was an underground dungeon beneath the vaults with its entrance in the passage leading to the postern serving as its sole opening.

The fort finds mention in numerous British sources including the Gazetteers. It was intially damaged under the orders of the British Deputy Commissioner of Ambala, T D Forsyth in 1857 when the Mir of Kotaha Akbar-ul-Khan came under suspicion of sympathizing with the mutineers. The fort was later completely destroyed in 1864 under the orders of the Governor General. A blow by blow account of the destruction of the fort has been given by R.G. Elwes, Executive Engineer in his 1868 paper-‘Demolition of Fort Kotaha’. The destruction was entrusted to him in September 1864 after earlier attempts by the Tehsildar had failed. An open barrel of gunpowder had been exploded under the gateway with virtually no impact. The engineer took two months to destroy the massive fort, bit by bit, with the use of explosives and mines.Deep shafts were dug into the ramparts and bastions to facilitate the destruction.  The Meer had encamped opposite the fort of his ancestors as it was ruthlessly and systematically pulled down by the British engineer. The locals are said to have watched the destruction with awe and astonishment as their indomitable fort disappeared before their eyes under the impact of high explosives. Earlier, in 1857, the outer defences of the fort had been destroyed by the British and the debris had filled up the protective ditch around the fort.

 

Demolition of Fort Kotaha Bastion 2

Effect of Mines in No. 6 Bastion, Kotaha Fort

The police station building inside the fort was spared and its ruins are still visible today on the mound at the entry to the village Garhi-Kotaha on the Raipur Rani-Naraingarh road. The police station was shifted to the new building at Raipur Rani in 1914 and the police station still functions from this 100 year old building.

The other fort of the Mirs in the foothills of Morni at Masumpur, about five kilometres from Kotaha, also lies in ruins. A small rectangular platform, a tehkhana and a few cells is all that remains of the fort.

Ruins of Qila Kotaha

17th Century Masjid: An old masjid that is said to have been located inside the Qila was also spared by the British. A stone inscription on the entry reads as follows: ” 786- Yeh masjid darsaal tak hazareesh sadro panchad do isvih 1652 tamir shud Hakim General Qasim Khan, bayainh Garhi-Kotaha, Zila Ambala“. Thus, the masjid seems to have been constructed in 1652 AD in the time of Hakim Qasim Khan. The Jama Masjid of Delhi was completed in 1658 AD.

17th Century Masjid at Garhi Kotaha

Masjid Inscription

 

Royal Cemetry: Across the road behind the shrine of the ‘Peer Baba’ lies the modest ‘Royal Cemetry’ of the Mirs. The main structure enshrines the graves of the Mir Jafar Ali Khan who was granted the Morni Hills and the Kotaha ilaqa in 1816 by the British, his successor Mir Akbar-ul-Khan who incurred the wrath of the British power in the mutiny years and died in exile and one Qasim-ul-Khan Shahid. The tombstone inscriptions read as follows:

Raja Mir Jafar-ul-Khan Awalh, Rais Garhi Kotaha Morni Hills, 1785-1830 AD

Raja Mir Akbar-ul-Khan Awalh, Garhi-Kotaha aur Morni Hills 1830-1864 AD

Tapkah Qasim-ul-Khan Shahid 1849 padr Bakar-ul-Khan Doyam

The cemetry is overgrown with weeds though the main gateway is reasonably well preserved.

Gateway to Royal Cemetry

Cemetry of the Mirs

Jafar-ul-Khan I 1785-1830

Jafar-ul-Khan I 1785-1830

Qasim-ul-Khan Shahid 1849

Akbar-ul-Khan I 1830-1864

 

 Kothi Gulabi Bagh: A much more contempory structure is the ‘Kothi Gulabi Bagh’, the residence of the later Mirs. The brightly coloured lake-side mansion has today lost most of its splendour. The lake is reduced to a pond and the ‘estate’ is all but gone with most of the surrounding land bearing ugly brick encroachments. The kothi itself is in a state of disrepair and is overgrown with weeds. While parts of the outer structures have collapsed, yet the principal structure with high, decorated ceilings, still stands strong.  The ‘Gulabs’ (roses) defy the all pervasive gloom and are a reminder of the faded glory under the Mirs.

 

Kothi Gulabi Bagh, Garhi Kotaha

Kothi Gulabi Bagh, The Lost Splendour

Kothi Gulabi Bagh lost to weeds

 

Source:

  1. Professional Papers on Indian Engineering- Thomason Civil Engineering College, Roorkee, Volume 5 (1868)
  2. Narrative of a journey from Caunpoor to the Boorendo Pass in the Himalaya Mountains (1840); Author: William Lloyd  and  Alexander Gerard

 

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An environmental enthusiast who loves tramping through the hills in search of the picturesque.

Comments (4)

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  1. Syed Ali raza of kotaha & pindrawal says:

    Submitted on 2011/10/18 at 7:29 pm
    Hakim qasim khan the imperial physian during emperor Aurangzeb was sent to assits the jagirdar of kotaha during his fight with nahan raja . Later on hakim qasim khan become jagirdar of kotaha. He was also given the title of Mir of kotaha by mogul emperor. Hakim qasim khan was succeeded by his only son Mir baker Ali khan first . He was brave enough to withhold the first Sikh war and later died fighting Sikhs near sadhura. He was succeeded by his only son Mir Mohammad jaffar Ali khan ,Mir of kotaha. He was later on in 1816 granted a sanad by general david octerlony in return for his services during Gurkha campaign including morni illaqa with full rights kharji & dakhili , he remained independent ruler of kotaha & morni till his death in1831. He was survived by his only son Mir Mohammad akbar Ali khan second , he came under british punishment during 1857 mutiny . He had one son Mir qasim Ali khan second , who was married to famous Rajput talukdar of united province thakur nahar Ali khan of pitampura in bulandshahr. He died at young age in Lahore on a visit to that city in 1849-50, leaving behind young widow begum Luftunnisa and son raja Mir Mohammad baker Ali khan second ,c I e, founder& first vice- president of m a o college ,Aligarh & many more social service works. He died in January ,1902 leaving behind two sons & two daughters kuwar jaffer Ali khan & kuwar asghar Ali khan ,the former resided at pindrawal & later built a magnificent fort near town atrauli, Aligarh in 1909, it still stands tall & beautiful . Kuwar Mir jafer Ali khan died in 1920 at Aligarh & was succeeded by raja mir Mohammad Akbar Ali khan sahib , o b e & he was also member u p legislative assembly in 1937 , he was also accorded by governor of Punjab at sir hand with a kalghi& khillat , he also built a hospital at morni village. He died in 1958 leaving behind three sons namely, Mir moan ad qasim Ali khan third, Mir Mohammad kasim Ali khan of pindrawal & kotaha & raja Mir Mohammad raza Ali khan sahib of pindrawal & kotaha, he is presently president Shia degree college Lucknow & also member a m u court. His second son is rajazada Mir ahmad Ali khan is engineer & lives in new Delhi . He is married to zahra sarwat bano daughter of doctor shahenshash hussain zaidi a talukdar of Oudh , he has two sons Mir hani raza & Mir sayyid Ali raza & a daughter kaunain Fatima .

    • Syed Waseem Haider says:

      My grandfather Syed Manzoor-ul-Hassan was from Shamspur (Aurangabad) and my aunt was married to Syed Qasim Ali Khan of Kotaha. My Father name is Kanwar Syed Mumtaz Ahmed

      Regards

      Syed Waseem Haider

  2. The real slim shady says:

    Loser!

  3. Pankaj Rana says:

    Excellent

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