Living History: A cannon in monumental neglect
The 17th century big gun is said to be protected by ASI but is in a sorry state
Beerangi Medu, where a 17th century forge-welded iron cannon is mounted at Keela Alankam in Thanjavur town, a heritage monument, remains a place of neglect. Liquor bottles, plastic packets and eatables strewn around the cannon at the heritage site indicate the sorry state of affairs.
Interestingly, it is a monument protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). A board put up at the entrance of the fleet of steps leading to the mounted cannon at the site says: “This monument has been declared to be of National Importance under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological sites and Remains Act 1958. As per the Ancient Monuments and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act 2010, whoever destroys, removes, injures, alters, defaces or misuses this monument, shall be punishable with imprisonment up to two years or with fine up to Rs one lakh or with both”. Walls of the site are defaced and names engraved on them.
The cannon is said to be one of the biggest in the world. It is of amazing size and speaks volumes of the metallurgical skill of the people in 17th century. The cannon has been made using Danish technical skills. It was mounted in 1620 when Ragunatha Nayak was the King of Thanjavur (1600-1645 A.D.).
The 26-foot-long cannon weighs 22 tonnes. It is forge-welded and has not been made by casting. The nearly 400-year-old cannon, though exposed to sun and rain, has not rusted. The outer circle is 300 mm in diameter, while the inner circle is 150 mm in diameter. Inside, it is made using 43 long iron plates and the outer of 94 iron rings. To lift the cannon eight rings were present on top. But now, only two rings are found. It was used to protect Thanjavur from enemies who used to enter through ‘keelavasal' (east gate).
Unfortunately, encroachments around the site – pucca built houses (which are not allowed around an archaeological site), – cattle rearing by people in the vicinity, wild growth of weeds rob the cannon site of all beauty. From the site (top) one can see the Sarja madi (seven-floor structure) and the Arsenal tower of Nayak Palace on the western side. The cannon is called Rajagopala cannon.
However, the Thanjavur chapter of the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has taken steps to protect and popularise the site and to maintain it well. It organised heritage walk to the site and celebrated India Tourism day recently with foreign tourists. But after these events, the place remains neglected.
According to Rajeswaran, an INTACH member and councillor of the ward, where the cannon is located, the site can be made into an interesting tourist attraction if the ASI, the district administration, the municipality and art-lovers take steps. “There are no lights at the top. This helps anti-social elements during night time to misuse the place,” Mr. Rajeswaran said.