Thanjavur Cannon (Rajagopalaswami Beerangi) - a neglected heritage site needs renovation

A forge-welded Iron Cannon in Thanjavur,

Raja Gopalaswami beerangi - cannon, ThanjavurTN.

 The city of Thanjavur, TN is one of the oldest cities in India  and in the past served as the capitol of Chola rulers,  later Pandyas,  Vijayanagara,  Nayaks (Sevappa Nayak (1532–80), the Vijayanagar viceroy of Arcot, established himself as an independent monarch in 1532) and finally Marathas ( conquered in 1674 by Ekoji I:1675–84). The kingdom was in a smart way came under the East India Co in 1855  through  the Doctrine of Lapse.  Shivaji II (1832–55), the last Thanjavur Maratha ruler, died without a legitimate male heir to the throne. The British referred to the city as Tanjore in their records.

part of Thanjavur fort wall, Tamil Nadu. uk/onlinegallery

Many visitors to this heritage city,  where the 1010 year old Big temple  dedicated to God Shiva (UNESCO recognized  world heritage site)  and the palace  complex are popular tourist destinations, never visited one important monument called Rajagopala swami Beerangi (Cannon) in a place  called  "Beerangi medu'',  an elevated (25'high) -  defense barricade in  the Eastern Rampart of the Thanjavur Fort  Three good reasons could be attributed as to why visitors miss this historical site:   01. Lack of publicity by the  tourism deptt. 02. Poor upkeep ans filth around this site and 03. Encroachments and buildings  close to  the monument site damage the heritage value of this place.  This thing happened though  a govt. warning notice board is very much there.  The board  at the entrance of the fleet of steps leading to the  tower  reads: “This monument has been declared to be of National Importance under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological sites and Remains Act 1958. Further, this place is not properly barricaded to discourage trespassers. Thanjavur Fort, Tamil Nadu, India (Rajagopala Beerangi) was used in 1650 during the Nayak period to protect Thanjavur from enemies who entered through Keelavasal (east gate). This huge cannon was cast at Kollumedu near Thanjavur and erected in1620( by caliber)..............

The Thanjavur chapter of the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH)   several years ago took steps to protect and popularize the site and to maintain it well. It also organized heritage walk to the site and celebrated India Tourism day  with foreign tourists. But, this place still remains as  it was before  and the authorities concerned should come forward and allocate funds to renovate this site.  Presently, lots of civil works are going on under the Central Govt.'s Smart City Program. This is the right time to renovate the heritage site that carries the huge cannon  close to the old bus stand.

Thanjavur enc brtiitanica 

Unfortunately, predominance of local population have no idea  whatsoever about this heritage site where stands a huge cannon  made of  forged welded iron mounted   during the reign of Raghunatha Nayak (1600-1645 CE).  This  25 ft long cannon weighing roughly  22 tonnes  that does not show any sign of  rust in spite of long exposure to vagaries of weather is believed to be one of the largest cannons in the world. The outer diameter is 37 inches and the inner diameter is  25 inches. It is capable of firing  cannon ball (iron) of 1000 Kg  weight. Perched atop an old structure, it was set in a strategically good place  close to the East gate (Keezha vaasal) from where the  enemy could access the  fort. Yet another advantage is this site had a good open range and the guards on the watch  tower could spot any suspicious activities at far off  places.

Raja Gopalaswami beerangi -cannon, thanjavur

The site where this massive cannon is on display in the past  six or seven years is not well taken care of either by the local municipal administration or by the  Archaeological Survey of India - ASI because of preoccupation with other civil work, etc and paucity of funds for certain specified monuments. Now, it is a place of neglect, a heaven for anti-social people, dunks and hobos.
 The presence of trashes, broken plastic bottles, plastic bags, eatable  etc.,  around the 17th century  forge-welded iron cannon is an eye-soar. A nice heritage object of historical importance is just lying there not taken proper care.

Thanjavur cannon.

Some historians believe this huge cannon was cast at Kollumedu near Thanjavur and others  are of the view that it was made by Danes in Denmark.  The Nayaks rulers  of Thanjavur had a close contact with the Danish govt. and leased out the land in Thrangampadi (Tranquebar) in Nagapatnam dist. TN for the purpose of establishing a Danish settlement with a fort (Fort Dansborg along the Coromandel coast )  and construction of a Church there in.  The church was built in 1701 A.D by Rev. Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg,  the first Protestant missionary in India and the Church is believed to be the first Protestant Church in India The Danish fort complex, etc is a heritage monument. 

This large 400 year old cannon is not made by casting and is forge-welded with 43 long iron plates. Once this cannon had 8 iron rings to push and lift the cannon. But now, only two rings are found. The outer circle is 300 mm in diameter, the inner circle is 150 mm in diameter. Considering the time, length and weight and its metal alloy that went into its making; it was an excellent metallurgical technique  employed  by the workers then.   The concrete supports rest on the ground. The cannon is a muzzle-loading type cannon, wherein the gunpowder and the projectile objects are loaded from the muzzle (i.e. front end) of the cannon.

Rajagopalaswamy beerangi, Thanjavur

Above image: Beerangee maadu, look at the flight of steps to access the tower where the cannon is kept. It  an old image.  Now, surrounding areas have  lots of buildings in violation of heritage regulation. On the terrace, there are plant, vegetation growths that might weaken the structure.................

 Such an heritage site  in the center of Thanjavur  needs repairs and renovation  as early as possible.  My dad used to take me to the top of this structure in  1954 when I was a  student in an elementary school in this town.  I could see the palace complex, arsenal tower, etc., on the west  as well as  the impressive red colored Ranee's  clock tower  at the corner of Gandhiji road and Hospital road. Near the monument    there were no buildings; no encroachments.  This place turned sour and lost its value after 1968. Since then it has been in a poor state and lots of encroachments had taken place after that and no action was taken by  either  by the municipal authority or by  the ASI. 

 Nayak ruler Raghunatha Nayak was the greatest of the Nayak rulers of Thanjavur. Danish and English traders  were keen to trade with his prosperous kingdom. During the reign of  Maratha king Serfoji I (1711 - 1729 AD), a literary work on Thanjavur called Sarabhariiji Vilisam  mentioned the the presence of an Agniyantra (fire weapon) on the Eastern Rampart of the fort. The elevated part on  which the  large cannon is mounted  was  known as  'kizhaku kothalam ' ( Kezhakku Alangam)  during the Nayak rule. The entire outer space around the fort comprising all the ramparts on four sides had a wide and deep moat with  a long  open range to face the enemy attack (if there was one) and for easy direct  firing from the fort as in other famous forts of India.  The cannon is said  to have been constructed in the Manojipatti area of Thanjavur. Historical records mention that a locality in this area known as kollimedu was very famous for iron works.
Tit-bits/ Vintage town:

vintage image massive gun,Tanjore, facebook

Above image:  This photograph of a view of the massive gun, Tanjore, Tamilnadu, is part of a collection entitled 'Photographic Views in Tanjore and Trivady ' (Madras, 1858) and was taken by Linnaeus Tripe in 1858. It shows a view of the barrel of the massive cannon (length 24 feet 5 inches), with a 'native' posed beside it for scale. The photographer writes: ''It has received the name of Rajah Gopala, and as this is a name of Vishnu it may be inferred that it was made by one of the Vaishnava Nayakar kings. It certainly belongs to that period. It is said to have been once fired, on which occasion the inhabitants of the Fort were warned by beat of drum to leave their houses. A trail of powder was laid for two miles and 40 minutes elapsed before the fire reached the gun.  The sound, it seems, was as if Mount Meru had exploded'' 

1869 image. Thanjavur, TN old moat and ramparts .

Above image: ''View of the old moat and ramparts, Tanjore, taken by Samuel Bourne in 1869. The outer gopura of the Brihadishvara temple can be seen to the right of the moat. Tanjore dominated the political history of the region for nearly thousand years as the capital of the Cholas (9th-13th centuries), the Nayakas (1535-1676) and the Marathas (1676-1855). The circular fort surrounded by a moat dates from the 18th century Maratha period. Within the fort there is the Palace of the Nayakas and the most famous Chola monument, the Brihadishvara Temple is to the south-west''. ......