The name Janjira is a corrupted form of ‘zizera’, which, in Arabic, means ‘an island’.
A wooden fort was initially built in the 15th century by the Koli fishermen of Rajpuri village on a rock in the sea. It was taken over by the Siddis, who are believed to be descendants of East African slaves. The Siddis were first employed in the army of Ahmednagar Sultans and later ran a fiefdom from Janjira. At the site of the earlier wooden island fort, they built a stone citadel, work on which started in 1569 and to which they added over the next 150 years.
The fort was spread over 22 acres, and there were 19 towers mounted with cannons and many turrets. Three particularly huge cannons – Kala Bangdi, Chavri and Landa Kasam – can still be seen among the ruins. The fort had two sweet water tanks and earned a reputation for being impregnable – arguably as much an outcome of the diplomatic games the Siddis played with the Marathas, Mughals, Portuguese and the English.
Today, a deserted air hangs over the watchtowers. But there was a time, as recent as four decades ago, when the school room resounded with laughter; when the granary was heaped with stores to outlast the lashing rains; and Begum Zubeida looked down from her palace and watched as the glass-surfaced Chirekani Talav rippled with the demands of 550 families that lived within the fort premises. The last family to have occupied the fort was an uncle-niece duo. The niece sought out the mainland only in 1984, after the death of her uncle.
The fort has deteriorated fast over these past few decades. It is now forlorn, though the ruins are impressive and worth a visit. You may take a guide along (negotiate the price beforehand) to make the tour interesting but do not mistake the sensational tales the guides tell for truth.
Getting There: The island fort or Janjira is located inside the sea. Sail boats ply between the Rajapuri Jetty off Murud and the fort. Carry adequate sun protective gear and drinking water. Getting off or on the boat at the fort gate can be a little tricky, especially for the elderly or those with weak knees. Also expect along queues at the jetty for the boat ride during tourist season. Tickets for boats are available near the jetty. The fort is usually open between 9am and 5pm.