Somehow the word temple often gets associated with Mahabalipuram after all this place has some of the finest shore temples but in reality, this place has another history attached to it. All along the coastline of ancient India various trading posts were present often operated by the English, Portuguese, French and Dutch. India was the hub for exports and these European powers found the perfect place to trade in muslin, gemstones, pearl, coir and other export goods. If you look at the present map of India you would find various forts and trading posts all along the coastline and one such is that of Sadras Fort.
Sadras was obviously not the real name, it was what the Dutch called it as they found it much easier to pronounce than Sadrangapatnam or Sadrafpatan. Nestled between the major ports of Nagapattinam and Madras (Chennai) this was more of a small fort which also acted as a trading post or trading office. Sadras along with Pulicat were the two most famous trading post built by the Dutch in the Coromandel Coast by VOC (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) or better known as the Dutch East India Company. People are aware of Pulicat but Sadras is almost forgotten.
How to Reach
If you are visiting Mahabalipuram then you can hire a taxi or a scooty to drive towards Sadras Fort. The drive takes you on MDR239 which is almost empty and a smooth drive is ensured. It’s around 12-14 Kilometres from main Mahabalipuram town thus depending on your mode of transport it can take from 20 to 30 minutes. This route will also cross Madras Atomic Power Station at Kalpakkam. Enjoy from a distance but do not try to go near the security gate or try to photograph it. It’s a very sensitive location and thus drive away to your final destination.
Very little is left of the actual fort, only the outer boundary and some crumbling structures inside. This fort was built in the year 1648 and it may come as a surprise that this fort was built around a factory which was run by the Dutch traders. The fort was necessary to protect the trade that the factories were involved in. This part of India was once very famous for its cloth especially Muslin and a bulk of the trade was revolved around it.
ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) has done some major restoration to one of the structures inside which is the only visible prominent structure present.
In the year 1795 the fort was taken over by the English and remained in their hands till 1818 post which it was handed back to the Dutch and finally, when all the Dutch settlements were taken over by the English this fort again changed hands in the year 1825.
Visible Present Structures
Fort walls: The entire fort is built with bricks which are contemporary of this period in history. Unlike the construction bricks that we use now these are quite smaller in size. The outer walls have two layers which are filled with earth to give that extra layer of protection. The height of the walls is comparatively low something which I have never seen before.
Entrance Gate: The fort has the main entrance from the West which has a single watchtower on the top and another one toward the sea so that the people living inside can have direct access to the sea. The main entrance has two cannons placed on either side.
Cannons: Two iron cannons at the entrance, not sure if these were originally placed or were later added.
Bastions: As with a typical fort this one had four bastions on the four different corners, however only three present now, one might have vanished with time.
Cemetery: A total of nineteen tombs are present, the oldest one being that of 1670 and the newest that on 1790. Needless to say, these belong to the Dutch traders and interestingly most of them carry an emblem which I assume denoted to either the regiment or the ship that they belonged to.
Water Well: Saw two, one active and is present right at the entrance and the other one damaged at the back towards the East.
Secret Chamber: At the moment this cannot be seen from the open and now restricted. This room can be accessed from the cemetery side. The rooms are positioned below the bastion which suggests that this can be a gunpowder room positioned for supply to the cannons which are usually mounted atop the bastions.
Garden Area: The entire area is overrun by shrubs and one can only assume from the map the positions of the two gardens.
Warehouse: There are two visible warehouses present, the one on the North has been completely restored by ASI and serves as an example to the visitors. The one on the south has original structures but in complete desolate condition.
Other Structures: There is only one section where the terracotta tiles are still visible and this room like section with no roof is present towards the entrance. Other than this one can assume a church like structure and an elephant mount station.
Battle of Sadras
This place was witness to one of the fierce naval warfare between the English and the Dutch. The English naval fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Edward Hughes was defeated by the French Admiral Bailli de Suffren marking a key shift in their relationship.
The reason for this war was a mix of international relationships and conflict of trading interest. The American civil war was nearing its end and the Dutch were still trading with the French and the Americans in spite of the warnings from the English not to. This led to several naval battles across the globe and India was not to be left behind.
On 15th of February 1782, Admiral Bailli de Suffren wanted to have a surprise attack on the port of Madras but instead found the fleet of English ships under the command of Admiral Sir Edward Hughes anchored at the port. He changed his mind and decided to sail to Porto Novo which was assumed to be less fortified and could easily land the forces and then lead a ground attack capturing posts.
Admiral Sir Edward Hughes chased Admiral Bailli de Suffren’s French troupes and what followed was a classic naval battle on 17th of February 1782. The English fleet had suffered severe damages and had no option but to retreat back to its base.
Admiral Bailli de Suffren later managed to pack up with Haider Ali of the Mysore Kingdom and together fight the English forces.
Mahabalipuram to Sadras Fort Route Map
Click here to open the route on Google Map