Gandikota is a region with a vibrant history, located in Kadapa District of Andhra Pradesh. Perched on a hill, at a height of approximately 100 metres, it overlooks the Penna River gorge. The name Gandikota is derived from the Telugu words ‘Gandi’ (gorge) and ‘Kota’ (fort). The Gandikota Kaifiyat reveals that the region’s renowned ancient fortress dates back to 1123. The region gained significance during the rule of the Kakatiyas and their subordinate Kayasthas. Over the centuries, it has been governed by various dynasties, including the Kalyani Chalukya, Kakatiya, Vijayanagara Empire, Qutb Shahi Dynasty, Mughal Empire, Mayana Nawabs, Kingdom of Mysore, and finally, the British in 1791. Its name frequently appears in historical accounts of the ancient conflicts in the area.
Yogi Vemana, the celebrated Telugu poet, is believed to have resided in the Gandikota area. It is endowed with natural resources and historical accounts reflect that diamonds were mined in the region. Its grandeur impressed the French traveller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who visited the Gandikota fort in 1952, likening it to the majestic Hampi Vijayanagara and remarked that it is “one of the strongest cities in the kingdom of Golkonda”. Tavernier, a gem merchant, travelled to Gandikota to seek Mir Jumla’s endorsement for the jewels he intended to sell to the Sultan of Golconda, with Mir Jumla, then the prime minister of the Sultan, having recently conquered Gandikota from Timma Nayar. During his stay at Gandikota, Tavernier closely interacted with Mir Jumla, as detailed in his travelogues. He documented Jumla’s improvement of roads leading to Gandikota, the establishment of the famous Jama Masjid and cannon-foundries.
Attractions inside Gandikota
The Mini Charminar visible from the entrance enclosure The fort’s first view reveals its towering stone walls, featuring square-shaped watchtowers and a notched upper edge. The main entrance on the east side is accessed through a series of defensive enclosures, leading to an arched gate. A short distance past the iron gate of the fort lies the House of the Drums. This historic building once signaled the king’s arrivals and departures and alerted soldiers during attacks.
Inside the fort stands the Mini Charminar, a triple-storeyed tower, a remnant of the Golconda sultanate. It has a square base and stands on four pillars. There are two storeys above, with a fretted screen wall — likely for pigeons — on either side, and a vaulted arch in the centre. Four minarets emerge from the corner turrets, with pointed circular domes. Although smaller than the Charminar of Hyderabad, its square outline and minarets with domes mark a similarity with the latter.
Adjacent to the Charminar stands the old jail building. It features entrances on both the southern and northern sides, leading to a central hall. Cells flank either side of the floor while the ceiling has a flat circular space with a single aperture meant for ventilation.
The Madhavaraya Temple is distinguished by its four-storeyed entrance tower — the gopura. The gopura measures 16.20 m X 10.72 m at its base. The tower displays intricate carvings of deities and detailed pilasters on its four-storeyed, steeply pyramidal structure. It features detailed mouldings and densely arrayed wall pilasters. Towards the interior of the gopura, double chambers flank the passageway, with columns featuring figural carvings, including Shalabhanjika on both sides. Besides the gopura, there are narrow entrances on all other three sides. The sikhara of the gopura has fallen.
The temple faces east and is surrounded by prakara, a pillared hall extending on all sides, and forms a rectangular courtyard. The main temple is situated amidst the courtyard and stands on a raised platform called Adhishthana. On the projections of the Adhishthana, the temple features carvings of various deities, including Venugopala, Surya, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Ganapati, and Yoga Narasimha. The plan of the temple consists of a series of pillared halls called Ardhamandapam, Mahamandapam, and Mukhamandapam followed by Antaralaya and Garbhgriha. The Ardhamandapam is the extension of Maha Mandapa towards the east, having a width of 2.44 m and length of 10.15 m, supported by four ornate pillars, each adorned with intricate carving. The Mahamandapam consists of thirty-six pillars, out of which sixteen pillars are at the inner layer, while twenty stand on the outer edge of the platform. The Mahamandapam, measuring 18.29 m east-west and 13.72 m south-north, features a central rectangular court situated at a lower elevation, creating a semblance of a shallow pit, surrounded by a raised platform on all sides. Access to the central court is facilitated through a narrow passage in the centre from the east, as well as a flight of steps connecting it to the eastern doorway of the Mukhamandapam. The interior columns are sculpted into the forms of rearing yalis and have Vijayanagara style brackets, while outer pillars are adorned with deity figures, decorative motifs, animal figures, etc.
The Mukhamandapam has four interior pillars and is rectangular in plan, measuring 11.18 m X 9.14 m. It has two porches, one in the north and the other in the south, each supported by two outer columns and one flight of stairs in the centre. The walls of Mukhamandapam are mostly plain with some line drawings representing figures such as lions and lotus flowers. The garbhagriha is square in plan, measuring 4.2 m on each side, and is linked to Mukhamandapam through Antaralaya. The walls of the garbhagriha and Antaralaya are plain, and the superstructure above the garbhagriha is not present. Adjacent to the temple, there is a kitchen hall situated in the south-east corner of the courtyard, Kalyana Mandapam at the south-west corner, and Navagraha Mandapam at the north-east corner of the courtyard.
To the north of Madhavaraya Temple lies the imposing Jama Masjid constructed by Mir Jumla who occupied the fort in 1650. The Jama Masjid, has two circular buttresses at the corners of the facade, which extend into minarets, culminating in domical finials. It stands in a spacious quadrangle, possibly used as a caravanserai. The facade features triple arches, and a decorated parapet with arched openings. Inside, sixty-four rooms line the mosque wall, with additional thirty-two rooms outside, likely serving as stables. A (now dysfunctional) water fountain lies at the centre of an expansive open area directly before the mosque.
The mosque displays distinctive elements of Islamic architecture. Its ceiling is vaulted, upheld by two ribbed, pointed arches. Each vault’s interior is adorned with geometric patterns , forming a circle at the top. The soft, diffused light illuminates the vaults, further enhancing the ceiling’s beauty. The mosque’s two minarets are masterpieces in their own right, embellished with lotus petal capitals, arched circular galleries, geometric patterns, and topped with onion domes.
Opposite the Jumma Masjid lies the Erra Koneru, also known as the Kathula Koneru, or ‘the pond of swords.’ It is said that soldiers used to cleanse their swords in this pond after battles.
The large Granary to the mosque’s north stands with a vaulted roof and a spacious hall supported by two rows of twelve massive pillars each. These pillars extend to a significant height.
Raghunatha Swamy Temple
The Raghunatha Swamy Temple is a significant historical structure situated to the south of the Pennar gorge and north of the granary and Jama Masjid. The temple, constructed by Pemmasani chiefs, faces east and is built on high ground. Unlike the Madhavaraya Temple, it lacks a tall gopura. The temple complex encompasses a rectangular courtyard, spanning 54.96 metres east-west and 25.91 metres south-north, encircled by a protective prakara wall. The gopura’s base and vertical elements feature decorative elements and carvings, including dvarapalakas and female figures.
The main temple consists of a mahamandapa, mukhamandapa, antarala, and garbhagriha, each featuring detailed architectural elements, carvings, and decorative motifs.The Mukhamandapa houses twenty-four pillars in a rectangular arrangement, with the central pillars showcasing vyala brackets. The mukhamandapa, a square structure, is positioned between the mahamandapa and antarala, showcasing a doorway adorned with lotus petals, creepers, and flower designs. The garbhagriha’s doorway is similarly embellished with lotus and floral motifs. The Kalyanamandapam, situated in the courtyard’s southwest corner, is supported by sixteen elaborately carved pillars, and features a ceiling with a lotus medallion. The idol of Ranganayaka Swamy, originally housed in this temple, is now located in the Mylavaram Archaeological Museum near Gandikota. One can take a peak of the Gandikota canyon from the Raghunatha Swamy temple.
Penna River Viewpoint
The viewpoint offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Penna river gorge flowing between the cliffs of Erramala hills, with a width of around 200 metres, forming one of the finest gorges in South India. It offers mesmerizing views of sunrise and sunset and presents a blend of natural beauty and architectural marvel. The terrain is made up of sedimentary rocks called Gandikota quartzite.
Books written on Gandikota
- Gandikota — A Guide To Gandikota Fort. 2016. Tavaa Obul Reddy. Telugu Samajam.
- Four forts of the Deccan. 2009. Jean Deloche. Institut Francais de Pondichery.
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How to Reach:
Nearest Airport: Cuddapah airport. Cities connected directly to Kadapa include Hyderabad, Vishakhapatnam, Vijaywada, Chennai and Bangalore.
Nearest major railway station: Yerraguntla. Yerraguntla to Gandikota: 47 KM (60 min)
Kadapa to Gandikota: 85 KM (90 min). Jammalamadugu to Gandikota: 16 KM (20 min).