ADILABAD: The only witnesses to the grandeur of the Utnoor garhi (minor fort) are the old banyan trees that have taken roots on the crumbled ramparts and the inner walls of the once magnificent structure spread over 7 to 8 acres. A glimpse into the hoary past of the Raj Gond tribal kings of Adilabad, however, will be possible once the Tribal Welfare department is through with renovation of the runious garhi.

Yes, the Utnoor fort, located in that town on the main road close to KB comple, about 55 from Adilabad district head quarter, will get a facelift soon. The Tribal Welfare department has sanctioned nearly Rs. 4 crore from the Telangana State Scheduled Tribes Cooperative Finance Corporation Ltd (TRICOR) for renovation of the fort and stepwell inside it, establishing a permanent photo gallery, tribal arts cluster with open air theatre, stalls and indigenous tribal artisans and craftsmen.

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The living quarters for the king’s family was built on a 100 square metre area within the ramparts. The four corners of this structure were heavily fortified and once boasted of cannons, three of which are still intact.
The minor fort had at least six narrow underground passages, three outside and three inside the living area. It is generally believed that these passages were caves leading to far off places but a more acceptable explanation if these were entries to the underground granary existing below the living quarters.

There is a beautiful step well on the northern corner of the garhi and it is the only structure which is comparatively intact. Another step well similar in plan exists in old Utnoor near the Ram mandir.
The ramparts, like the inner walls of garhi, were built of stone and brick and were at least 5 ft thick. A moat was the primary means of defence for the fort besides the fortified corners.

The garhi has been in possession of the Seetagondi Atram rajas since the second eldest son of Israi Jangu Bapu, Linga Hanumanth Rao moved into it sometime in the late 18th century. In his book The Gonds of Andhra Pradesh, the famous Austrian Anthropologist Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf says Hanumanth Rao went to Utnoor and built a house within the walls of the ruined fort.

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He was given the villages of Lakkaram, Gangannapet, Jannaram, Persa Koinur and Pamelawada on a thirty year lease for an annual rent of Rs. 22 per village. This bestowed upon him the status of a minor zamindar which was lost by the local Gond rajas of the previous generation.

“After Hanumant Rao, my grandfather SA Jagpat took over as raja until his death in 1951. My father SA Dev Shah was the successor until his death in 2006,” recalled SA Sudhakar Rao, the current scion of the once ruling family.
Mr. Sudhakar Rao says the family had lived within the garhi until the early 1930s when a plague in the area had them move to the present residence in Lakkaram, about 5 km away. Old timers, nevertheless, recall the goat sacrifices that were given inside the crumbling fort as part of Dasara celebrations by the ruling family.

In 1975, the department of Archaeology took possession of the garhi as it was recognised as a heritage structure. But the department did nothing to preserve or conserve it and it was vandalised by treasure hunters.
“We welcome the effort of the government in renovating the heritage structure but we want to be associated with all such development. After all, this is our heritage,” the scion of the erstwhile ruling family sough.

S. Harpal Singh

S. Harpal Singh has been working as a reporter for 32 years in Telangana, the last 20 working in Adilabad district. He has been covering tribal and environmental issues. After a 16 year stint at The Hindu, he retired as Senior Assistant Editor, in June 2020.

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