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Hiking the Shivneri Fort in Junnar during Hindavi Swaraj Mahotsav

All About the Shivneri Fort in Junnar

Shivneri Fort in Junnar, near Pune is an ancient fortification and an indispensable part of the Maratha military architecture in Maharashtra. While it promises great views of the vistas around, its most significant claim to fame comes from being the birthplace of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, one of the greatest warriors in history. The fort has a strong foundation and has always been acknowledged for standing at a vantage point, keeping a guard on the old trading route of Desh to Kalyan. Despite changing many hands and being under the control of Britishers, the fortification has been invincible. It never lost its sheen. And even today, it shines as a wonderful landmark and acquaints us with important facets of history. This year, I had the opportunity to join the local celebrations or the Shivneri festival for the 394th birth anniversary of the valiant Maratha King- Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja at Junnar.

Known by several names ‘Tiger of the Sahyadris‘, or the ‘Father of the Navy‘, Shivaji Maharaj is not merely a King, a Maratha ruler, or God-like figure, he is an emotion for the people of the state of Maharashtra. He is regarded as the epitome of bravery, sacrifice and good governance. And this was evident in the jubilation in the crowd that had thronged Junnar. The vibe was contagious. People of all ages could be seen dancing on the streets, actively participating in the cultural programs, taking part in marathons, and some, running inside the fort with a burning torch of flame to take back to their village. Shivneri Festival or the Hindavi Swaraj Mahotsav was a 3 days grand affair this year. To mark the occasion, a state-of-the-art tent city had been set up by the Wadaj Dam, and various cultural programmes, nature trails, adventure sports and farm visits were also been organized by the state tourism board to not only salute the great leader but also to put these undiscovered gems of Sayadris on the travelling map. Junnar, this elegant little town is bounded by the Western Ghats and is not only home to age-old temples but also has the largest and longest cave excavations in India. To my ignorance, I had not even heard of Junnar before this. This comes as a beautiful reminder that India is a vibrant country and we know very little about it. Also, our culture-rich regions never cease to amaze.

When in Junnar, you must visit the Shivneri Fort

Shivneri Fort draws a lot of attention for its historical significance. The fort is perched on top of a hill and looks like a Shivlinga when seen from a bird’s view. Shivneri was under the Yadavas of Devagiri and they were the ones who named it- Shivneri. Though not much is left of the fort, it commands an aura unlike any. Some 300-350 steps take you through 7 doors of the fort. It is best to have a local guide with you who can explain the significance of each of these doors and show you some of the significant spots too. If you are on your own, you must keep an eye for the Shivai Mata temple, the Buddhist caves complexes, inscriptions inside the caves, Badami Talav (water tank), the Ambarkhana granary, and a memorial of Shivaji Maharaj. At the top, you will also find the Kamani Mosque, and Shiv Kunj, a pavillion were Shivaji was born. Inside the building, two statues of young Shivaji and his mother, Jijabai, which were installed during the refurbishment of the fort.

Things to do in and around Pune
The Shivneri fort is very well-maintained and it promises picturesque viewpoints

Hiking to the top and exploring the ruins of Shivneri Fort must be on top of your list if you are in Junnar or nearby. There are two routes to reach the top of the citadel. One may opt for the secure stone steps or challenge oneself with a difficult hiking route. It is an easy hike which enables you to appreciate the history and nature around you. I was amused by the landscape views it offers. Dams of Yedgaon, Vadaj, Dimbhe, Pimpalgaon, and Manikdoh are positioned around the fort. Good breezy weather can make you complete the climb within an hour. There is a mix of stairs and plain walkways as well. Our group took some more time because we enjoyed the immersive heritage trail. Our guide, Siddharth Kasbe kept us engaged by explaining the relevance of each of the gates – Maha Darvaja (main gate of Shivneri Fort), Ganesh Darvaja, Piracha Darvaja, Hathi Darvaja, Kulup Darvaja, Mena Darvaja, Shivai Devi Daravaja. He also translated the scripts inside the Buddhist caves and made us aware of the significance of the Shivai Devi Temple. Jijabai used to pray to her and seek her blessings during pregnancy and later, Shivaji was named after her.

Shivai Devi Temple is in Junnar
Shivai Devi Temple – The Goddes after whom Chhatrapati Shivaji was named

The design of the fort exudes an incredible defensible aura, with steep rocks on four facets, massive gates keeping an eye in all directions, and a strongly built citadel. Shivaji spent his early days here. He acquired several skills and his schooling inside this very old fort. There have been references and things found in this fort area that date back to the 1st century AD. Historians suggest that the fort was self-sufficient in more than one way. The preparedness for the siege was such that the storage room had a stock of grains that would be sufficient for 1000 families for 7 years.

Shivaji Maharaj’s birthplace is almost like a pilgrimage for the Maharashtrians. While he is known to have set great examples of making the best use of marine power and watershed management, he is also known to have declared Hindavi Swaraj (self-rule) or good governance for the first time when India was being looted by the outside rulers. One must visit Junnar to find out more about him and discover the other gems of the place like Lenyadri caves, Malshej Ghat, Jivdhan Fort, Naneghat, Pimpalgaon Joga Dam, Wadaj Dam, Kukdeshwar Temple, and Vighnahar¬†Ganapati Temple¬†of Ozar. You will be impressed with the beauty of the Sahyadris.

Views from the Shivneri Fort
Explore the Saydris. The Western Ghats are amazing!

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