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At 3000 ft in the Western Ghats, Panhala according to mythology was called Pannga allay (the domain of snakes ) which was renamed as Panhala. Built between 1178-1209 AD, by the ruler of the Silahara dynasty of Konkan, Raja Bhoj II, the fort is the largest of all the Deccan forts.
It was the seat of the Silahara dynasty before being held successively by the Yadava and the Bahmani kingodms. The fort came under the control of the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur in 1489. But it gained its name and fame, when the Maratha King Shivaji spend here for more than one and half years of his life (it is said that he never spent too many days at a place). He seized the fort in 1659 and was retaken two years later. It was then stormed once more and subsequently held by the Marathas, except for a short period between 1690 and 1707 when it surrendered to the Mughals. After a local rebellion in 1844 the fort was taken by the British.
Built in Bijapuri style of architecture, the fort also witnessed one of the greatest sacrifices in Maratha history, was made by Bajiprabhu Deshpande one of the lieutenants of Chattrapati Shivaji. Baji Prabhu is intricately linked with an important rear guard battle enabling Shivaji's escape from Panhala fort. He gave himself upto the enemy to protect his king and country.
Panhalgad as it was known, has more than 7 km of fortifications. Almost invincible from outside, the fort is triangular and the walls are protected for long sections by steep escarpments. There are narrow Parapet slit holes in walls to know about the danger outside. The remaining sections have 5-9 m high ramparts, guarded and strengthened by rounded bastions the most notable of which is Rajdindi.
It can be entered through a strong hedge besieges in the innermost fortress and three magnificent double-walled gates. The East Gate, in which the road passes on arrival at the fort was destroyed by the English. There are a number of ruined monuments in the fort. The most important of them are Sajja Kothi, Teen Darwaja and Andhaar Bawada.
Built in the year 1008 A. D., Sajja Koti or Sardar-e-Mahal, is a two storeyed structure situated in the midst of lustrous greenery. It is a classic example of Mugal architecture. Literally means punishment and cell, Sajja Kothi is the place where Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj used to plan his courageous activities. Built by the Mohammedians in 1008 AD, Sajja Kothi is situated in the midst of lustrous greenery. Literally means punishment and cell, it is the place where Shivaji had imprisoned his son, Sambhaji for his criminal activities. Sajja Kothi is also a place where Sambhaji, Shivaji's son was imprisoned by his father for his criminal activities. From the top, one can enjoy the fine veiws of the Waranna valley from the plains below through a telescope.
The Teen Darwaza (Triple Gate) also known as Konkan Darwaza, is an imposing and powerful structure, which has five arches of black basalt and three doors, one behind the other on the western walls of the Panhala fort. It faces western side towards region of Konkan and Shivaji had visited this fort after his Konkan conquest and since then it is called as Konkan Darwaza. One of the main entrances to the fort, it's architect is a blend Hindu, Muslim and western architecture. It's first part was constructed by Hindu rulers so the first part seems to be a Hindu architecture, the second part was constructed by Muslim rulers and hence it is in shape and dome and the third part was constructed by British and hence it looks like gate of a church.
Within Teen Darwaza is the Vishnu Tirth Well a secret path running through the middle. Just near the Teen Darwaza is a tree-storeyed building Known as Andhaar Bawada (Well), it was built in the 17th century. Localites said that it was so called because one cannot recognise the well from outside the Fort as the chambers at the upper level are arranged on three sides of this well. And the well would be poisoned when the enemy was at the gates.
The three doors leading to a central courtyard or killing chamber, lined with arcades. The inner gate leades to the Guard Room. One can see carving of Hanuman and a lotus roof in the third gate, Ganesha with two lions in the second gate and a slab with a Persian inscription of Ibrahim Adil Shah in the first gate.
There is a chor darwaza through which people could enter in the night on a particular password.
The Amberkhana, situated in the center of the fort, included three rectangular buildings Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati built by Raja Bhoj II. The Ganga which was a largest granary , had a capacity of 25,000 khandis of grain. Steps on the outside give access to the roof. It is said that at the time of Siddhi Johar’s attack, it enabled Shivaji to store a 5 months siege. There were an armoury and an underground mint. There is Shiva Temple near to this. It is said that, the linga's colour changes according to the temperature. The other noteworthy building at Panhala fort are Kali Masjid built by Ali Adil Shah II for his soldiers and Balle Killa, Shivaji's private quarters.