Lakhs of people are expected to visit Raigad Fort on Thursday to mark the 346th anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s coronation. But the fort, once the proud capital of the Maratha empire, continues to lie in a decrepit state. Though the state government initiated a restoration project worth Rs 600 crore two years ago, the followers of Chhatrapati Shivaji will once again struggle to climb the treacherous steps of the fort on Thursday.
On June 6, 1674, Shivaji was coronated at Raigad Fort in a grand rajyabhishek ceremony. Shivaji had seized the fort from the royal house of Chandrarao Mores, under whom the fort was known as Rairi. Shivaji later renamed it Raigad. Surrounded by deep valleys, the fort is said to be one-of-its-kind in India, and was known as the ‘Gibraltar of the East’ during British rule.
The fort has several significant structures such as watchtowers, an execution point, temples, darwajas or massive gates, as well as lakes and tanks. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s samadhi and the main palace, the Raj Bhavan, are located at the top of the fort.
For those who have started converging in Raigad area on Tuesday evening, the task of reaching the fort is an uphill one. Right from the foothills all the way to the top, the steps are a risky proposition. All along the route, the steps are either broken or missing at several points. The protruding stones add to the risk. The protective railing is present at some points, but missing in others. Last year, 19-year-old Ashok Umbare, a resident of Osmanabad, died and 14 others were injured when a boulder fell during the coronation event celebrations at Raigad fort. Umbare was apparently on his way down from the fort when a boulder fell on his head.
Lahoo Landge, a resident of Pune who at the fort on Tuesday, said every year, lakhs of followers of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj gather at the fort. “However, climbing all the way to the fort takes more than three hours as the huge crowd tries to use the rough pathway… It is a scary situation, even a little error or a slight push could result in death or serious injury,” he said.
Landge said parts of the protective railing have been missing for years. “In fact, there should be a protective wall. If it rains heavily, things are going to get very difficult. The crowd could panic as the boulders come crashing here. It is sad that nothing has changed in the last two-three years despite the state government’s promise to redevelop the fort,” he said.
Landge said the drinking water facility at the fort was inadequate and there was no toilet facility. On Monday, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis visited Raigad Fort and spent nearly five hours taking stock of the restoration project. “The restoration work of Raigad Fort is going on at a brisk pace. We are using technology that was used during Shivaji’s regime. Once the work is completed, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s followers from across the nation will head for Raigad,” he said, adding that the government will ensure that there is no shortage of funds for the restoration work.
The state government has set up the Raigad Development Authority under MP Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati to oversee the project. Meanwhile, neither the decrepit fort nor the inadequate arrangements could dampen the enthusiasm of followers of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who have started arriving from all parts of the state. Vasantrao Bhosale, 75, from Satara, took one step at a time and reached the top of the fort after an almost four-hour trek. “The Raigad Fort is proof of Shivaji’s courage and bravery and it has always inspired me,” he said.
A group of 50 people from Beed district has also come here to mark the occasion. “We have come for Shivaji’s rajyabhishek…,” one of them said. Several youngsters were seen climbing to reach the fort. One of them was nine-year-old Shreya Kotwal, who trekked up the fort along with her father. “I am not afraid of scaling the fort..,” she said.