Sagargad or the Sea Fort [Partly from an account by Mr. F. B. O’Shea, Superintendent of Post Offices,; Konkan Division, in the Bombay Gazette of 5th January 1882.] (T. Alibag, p. 59), nineteen miles south of Bombay, six east of Alibag, and six west of the Dharamtar landing-place, is a fortified hill and health resort 1,357 feet above the sea.
The spur on which Sagargad fort is built holds a somewhat central position in the range of hills that forms the backbone of Alibag taluka. On the east, south, and north it rises steeply from the forests and rice lands below. To the north-west and west, beyond a narrow neck, it stretches a bare waving hill top about two miles long and half a mile to a mile broad. Its height and its nearness to the sea make it pleasantly cool during the latter part of the hot weather. There are two main roads to Sagargad fort, from the east and from the west, and two hill-tracts, one from the south-west up the Andarjod ravine to the narrow neck that joins the fort spur to the rest of the range, and the other from the village of Vadavali in the south-east to a sallyport in the eastern wall of the fort. From the east the road from Dharamtar and Poynad passes through the villages of Ambepur and Vagholi, across the slopes of outlying spurs, up the steep, wild, and woody Gangir ravine, joining the Alibag or west approach, on the crest of the narrow neck that joins the fort spur with the western parts of the Sagargad range. From Alibag the way to the Sagargad hills lies north-east along the Dharamtar high road about two and a half miles to Khandala village. From Khandala a fair cart or pony-cart track runs south-east up the valley of the Dhondane or Alibag river. About two miles from Khandala the valley passes within forest limits, the whole breadth between the hills being covered by a sprinkling of young trees, chiefly teak. The hills on both sides are well wooded. To the; south the Nigdi slopes are thick with teak, and, on the north, the southern face of the Poil hills is also well clothed with timber. The valley ends eastward in a horse-shoe curve. At the head of the valley, to the right of the spur which the Sagargad path climbs, to a sheer cliff, several hundred feet high, over which in the rainy season the Dhondane dashes in lofty but slender fall of more than 300 feet. The path winds up fairly easy ascent, about 900 feet in half a mile, to the brow of the spur a few hundred yards to the north of a temple of Mahadev. From the temple, the path continues, with a considerable upwards slope, through mango groves and rich teak coppice for about another half mile. The hill top then grows bare, except a few scattered trees and patches of brushwood, the slope being still on the whole upward. After about another half mile, the path dips into a dell with a spring and the remains of an old mango-grove. When the path crests the east slope of this dell, Sagargad fort lies opposite on its nearly isolated spur about 1,200 feet high and about 900 yards long by 100 to 300 yards broad. Between lies the deep richly wooded ravine of Andarjod. Across the ravine from the top-most fringe of trees, rise the sheer cliffs which form the west and south faces of Sagargad fort. Towards the north-west, the cliffs change to steep earthen slopes which are protected by a double line of battlemented walls. Within the inner walls rises the rounded hill top, with some trees in the north, a house in the centre, the old citadel further to the south and at the end of the spur a bluff cliff, and, in front, separated by a narrow chasm, a high isolated rock ending in the sharp-cut pinnacle known as the Monkey’s Seat or Vanar Tok which is now completely in ruins.
About fifty yards to the left of the point in the road which commands this view of Sagargad fort, is the Sati’s plot or mal, where, scattered over the hillside, are nine square or round topped pillarshaped tombs, some of them in the centre of rough masonry plinths. Some are ornamented with a pair of feet, or have a niche in the east face with two small rude figures, the sati and her lord in heaven. Beyond the Sati tombs, the path sweeps to the north, round the head of the Andarjod ravine, with a wide view to the south, over beautiful woods, across a rich rice plain to the bare Ceul range, the windings of Roha creek, and the level lines of the Roha and Janjira hills.
On the left of the very narrow neck that joins the fort spur to the main Sagargad range, is the richly wooded Gangir ravine, and, beyond it, the Dharamtar rice fields and salt swamps, the Nagothana creek, Karanja island, the long level backs of Matheran and Prabal to the north-east, and the distant Sahyadri hills. From the crest of this narrow pass, the path winds east and then south-east up a steep ascent to the main gate. The gateway faces the north and is protected by two strong side towers, and a line of embattled loopholed walls which stretch east along the north-east of the scarp. The last part of the approach is up a steepish incline, the few yards in front of the gateway being paved. The masonry of the gate is of blocks of partly dressed stone, from 2½ to 4½ feet long and broad, some of them of rough red laterite, others of smooth black trap, laid together without mortar. Inside the gate the paved path turns south-east about twenty yards, and then south up a paved slope of twenty yards more. On the right is a modern platform for tents. Behind the tent platform, the line of the outer wall runs south, some 200 or 300 yards, to the north end of the western cliff. It then passes north-east, and, strengthened by two towers, runs north along the upper brow of the hill, till it meets the wall that crowns the scarp to the east of the entrance gate. The distance along the path, from the outer to the inner wall, is about two hundred and thirty yards. Except the ascent to the inner gateway, this is across a flat grass plot where elephants and horses used to be kept. Inside of the inner gate, leaving the bungalow on the top of the hill to the left, the path passes about 230 yards to the south-east, to the gate of the citadel or commandant’s quarters. Except on the west, where the wall has been removed, the citadal is surrounded by a slight rough masonry wall about twelve feet high strengthened by five towers. It encloses a space about 240 feet from north to south and 120 from east to west. In the west of the enclosure is a one-storeyed house with some garden plants and casuarina trees. Beyond the citadel the south point of the hill stretches with a. downward slope. On the left is a small round pond, and, in front, near the point, are a little shrine with a lamp-pillar, and a small building said to be an old powder magazine.
From the south tower of the citadel the chief view is the sea to the north-west, west, and south-west. To the south is a rice plain, and, beyond the plain, rise the bare Ceul hills, crowned with Dattatraya’s shrine. To the right are the palm groves of Revdanda, and the great square tower of St. Barbara’s, the fortified church of the Franciscans. To the left the broad Roha river winds far inland, and behind the river rise the level lines of the Roha and Janjira hills. Further to the east, close at hand, wild woody slopes and spurs stretch to the great Belosi and Mahan forests. To the east lies the Nagothana creek, the long even back of Miryadongar near Pen, and the distant line of the Sahyadris. To the north-east, across the broad mouth of the Nagothana river, are the sharp peaks of Karanja, the salt swamps of north Pen, and, in the distance, the long level tops of Matheran and Prabal. To the north stretches the Bombay harbour, the Prongs light-house and Colaba as far as and including the Colaba church. The rest of Bombay island is hid by the wooded crest of Kankesvar.
To the east is a small ruined chamber, thirty-six feet long by eighteen broad, believed to have been used as a prison, and, near the chamber, a watch tower. There are also four Hindu shrines and one Musalman tomb. Of the four Hindu shrines, two of Ganapati and Munjaba are to the west, and two of Kherjabai and Vetal or Yetal are on the south-west.
Ganapati’s shrine which is in bad repairs is fifteen feet by twelve, and has a stone image of Ganapati two feet high, an image of Siva, and a broken Nandi. Munjaba’s shrine is fourteen feet by twelve. The object of worship is a large round stone with fissure in the middle. The Musalman tomb, to the north of the upper bungalow, is seventeen feet long by fifteen broad. It contains three small white-washed graves said to belong to a man, his wife, and their son. There are other tomb-stones outside.
About twenty yards to the south of the hill-top bungalow under a large nandruk tree, is a modern rudely-carved image of Mahisasuramardini or the Buffaloslayer (2′ 6″ x 1′ 4″) with one head and four hands. The upper right hand holds a dagger and the lower right hand a trisul or trident; the upper left hand holds a cup and the lower left holds, by the tongue, a rudely cut pig-like buffalo. Her right foot rests on the buffalo’s back. Inside of the inner gateway, on a small mound to the east of the road, is an upright block of laterite which seems to have been set there as the head stone of a grave. About two feet from the top the face of the stone has been hollowed out to a depth of about four inches. The surface is rough and decayed, and there seem to be traces of carved figures. Except during the latter part of May and of October, when it is generally visited by some of the district officers, a servant in charge of the houses is usually the only inmate of the fort. The water-supply is from three cisterns, two rock-cut and one built. The two rock-cut cisterns are below the east sallyport, the lower double-mouthed and holding water said to be good though it is seldom drunk, the upper smaller and filled with earth and stones. The residents’ drinking and bathing water is taken from a built masonry cistern, measuring six feet by seven, on the west side of the fort within the walls and about 150 feet below the hill-top bungalow. Cattle are watered at a pond which collects the rain water from the southern slopes of the citadel. The only big game generally found on the Sagargad slopes are panthers, wild pig, and hog-deer or bhekri. A tiger occasionally comes from the Mahan forests.
Sagargad was perhaps never a place of consequence except under the Angres. It is mentioned in 1713 as one of sixteen fortified posts that were given to Kanhoji Angre by Pesva Balaji Visvanath, [Grant Duff, Vol. I, 328.] and, in 1740, Sambhaji Angre is said to have taken Sagargad from his half-brother Manajr. [Grant Duff, Vol. I, 411.] Prisoners, sentenced to death, are said to have been hurled down the precipice from Monkey Point.
From the fort there are pleasant walks towards the south-west and towards the northwest. But the only walk of special interest is to go down,, by the Alibag road, to within a few hundred yards of the foot of the west spur of the hill, and then a turn to the left, along a scrambling path to the hollow behind the waterfall. Here, with the brow of the great cliff stretching several hundred feet in front, the back wall of rock is in places cut into the beginnings of caves. Nearly at the middle of the horse-shoe curve a great natural cavern runs into the hill. At the mouth, where it is about fifty-six feet broad, the sides are roughly hewn into the form of pillars, and the roof in places has been smoothed by the chisel. The cavern is of very irregular shape, with long hollows running into the sides of the hill. The floor is rough with rocks and great water-worn boulders, which, and the arched water-worn roof, look as if the cavern had been formed before the river had worn away the lower slopes of the hill. The length of the cavern is roughly about 110 feet, the breadth near the back about thirty-six feet, and the height from twelve to fifteen feet. It is said to be a haunt of wild beasts and many bones are strewn about. The mouth of the cave has a beautiful view to the north-west, from under the great overhanging cliff, out over the rocky thickly wooded hill sides, across the rice fields and palm groves to Underi and Khander islands and the broad sea. The cave is the shrine of a much-dreaded spirit known as Saptasri Devi. Her home is in some stones marked with red near the back of the cave. She has a fair on the full-moon of Caitra (April-May), when people, chiefly from the neighbouring villages, bring her coconuts. Those who have no children, or whose children are sick, vow, if the goddess answers their prayers, to give her a goat, a cock, or a coconut, and a necklace and bracelets. The worship of this Devi in this great natural cavern suggests, what the worship of Ekvira at Karli, of a local goddess in a niche at Bedsa, and the mention of local deities in Buddhist books support, that the Buddhists took advantage of old local spirit worship to make their religion popular. Such is the history of the site of many a Christian Church in Europe and in Thana, and so, in turn, many Musalman saints are popular, chiefly because their tombs stand on the sites of old Buddhist mounds and places of worship. [Ekvira, or the One Heroine, the Karli goddess, is held in very great sanctity all over the Konkan. The name is explained to mean the mother of the one hero, that is, of Parashuram. It seems more probable that the word is a corruption of the Dravidian Akka Auveyar or venerable mother. The worship of Ekvira is still mixed with the Buddhism of the great cave, the ceremony of walking round the goddess being performed by walking round the Daghoba instead of round her temple. There is also in the Bedsa Vihar cave a goddess carved in the wall, which seems of the same age as the cave, and is still worshipped as the deity of the place.] Beyond the great cavern are several beginnings of cuttings and many chisel marks. About 300 yards to the west, across a stream bed, at a sharp turn in the rock, is an overhanging cliff, apparently a rock slip, which has dropped as clean as if it had been hewn. The overhanging rock is not unlike a lintel and has given to the place the name of Devica Darvaza or the Goddess’ Gate. Long ago, they say, this door used to stand open, and inside were some of the Pandavas’ tools and cooking vessels. But a thief stole some of the tools and the door closed on what was left. Returning a few yards, a steep but not a difficult climb leads up the boulders of the stream bed to the crest of the hill a few hundred yards to the south-west of Mahadev’s temple at the top of the regular path.