Thanjavur Forge-welded Iron Cannon - a legacy of Nayak dynasty who excelled in Medieval Indian Metallurgy

One of the interesting heritage sites in Thanjavur city, Tamil Nadu near the main bus stand and Thanjavur palace is Beerangi Medu where a Nayak era cannon is installed . Not that many visitors come to this site for reasons of poor publicity, official negligence and above all encroachments that mar this listed heritage site. Any way, it is mentioned in the media that the government has in the recent past  allocated Rs,21 lakhs to repair the site and make it attractive for the visitors.  The Smart City Project has been going on in the last few years.  

Tanjore cannon

Forge welded iron cannon, Thanjavur

Placed atop  25 ft tall structure, once part of a bastian (?) of an old fort is  a huge 22- 25 ton cannon measuring roughly 25ft. (outer diameter 37 inches; inner diameter 25 inches) facing the  street.  The huge cannon, believed to be one of the powerful cannons in South India, is  capable of firing 1000 kg cannon ball  with a long range.  Perched  strategically atop the  old outer  fortification  facing the East Rampart (Keezha Alangam; close to the East gate bazaar area and Vellai Pillayar kovil)  the gunner could spot enemy movement in the open range and act accordingly.

king Raghunatha nayak of Tanjore, TN 

Above image: Raghunatha Nayak (1600–1645 A.D of Thanjavur Nayak Dynasty. Raja of Thanjavur (Reign 1600–1634) son of king  Achuthappa Nayak; ascended throne in 1614. His successor was Vijaya Raghava Nayak. A patron of literature, art, languages and Carnatic music  Raghunatha Nayak strengthened  his army by including artillery troops to handle cannons, Artillery power was game changer in the wars in those days.........

It  is believed the Tanjore cannon was cast during the time of  Raghunatha Nayak (1600–1645 A.D of Thanjavur Nayak Dynasty. Some historians believe this huge cannon was  either cast at Kollumedu near Thanjavur or in the Manojipatti, near  Thanjavur, famous for iron working. 

Others are of the view that the cannon  was made by Danes in Denmark. Th Danes  leased out the land in Tarangambadi (Tranquebar) in Nagapattinam dist., TN  to build a  Danish settlement with a fort (Fort Dansborg along the Coromandel coast; a famous tourist spot).  

Thanjavur  was the center of making high quality bronze idols of gods, etc (using  the lost -wax process  and the artisans had excellent skills in metallurgy and in the making of alloys. The Thanjavur cannon is a  forge-welded  component comprising numerous ring assemblies with 43 long iron plates   The heavy cannon was placed in 1620 on the fort near the east  entrance by king Raghunath Nayak.  and locally it is known as Rajagopala Beerangi. Though reliable records are not available about the Tanjore Cannon, unsubstantiated information  mentioned  about the presence in the Thanjavur fort of an object referred to as a  “fire-breathing barrel shaped weapon.”  The cannon's origin is subject to dispute. 

With respect to metallurgy and structure of this famous cannon, research workers mention that the  fabrication of the cannon was done by forge welding (i.e.,forging together of rings assemblies of welded iron) to join the layers of  ring. The purpose was to  further strengthen it. Both the barrel and chamber parts were carefully designed. The barrel needed to be tough and not deformable. Its main function was to contain the lateral exhaust of the gas (from the explosion of the gunpowder) and, in this process, the projectile was pushed out.  

In the case of the chamber rear side had to be tightly closed to withstand the gunpowder explosion. because  it was subject to higher gas pressures than the barrel due to  gunpowder explosion at the point of ignition. Additional ring assemblies  at the rear end means extra strength to the cannons  when fired.This 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. 

Monster Gun of Tanjore

Above image: Monster Gun of Tanjore (Thanjavur), Tamil Nadu, India. This enormous iron cannon was built during the reign of Raghunatha Nayak (17th century), and is thought to be one of the largest in the world,-The Rajah’s old gun, Tanjore, India Creator Not Known. Contributor Gifford M. Mast. UC Riverside, California Museum of Photography