Bijapur – On a History Trail

It was 1995, much before the time when digital photography had made inroads into India. I was a fresh PhD student then. While returning back to Pune after spending a month plus of work in an archaeological site in North Karnataka I had stepped into the Gol Gumbaz, only for an hour. There was no scope to appreciate the monument in particular and Bijapur in general as the time was too short. I did not have a camera to capture its grandeur. But its vastness had trapped deep inside my heart. It was almost 20 years later I revisited Bijapur last weekend thanks to Aruni, my dear friend with whom I was accompanied from Bangalore.

Bijapur is a picture postcard city of a number of Indo-Sarcanic monuments that were creation of Adil Shahi rulers. Some call it the ‘Agra’ of Deccan and others label it as the ‘Jewel’ of Deccan. It has the largest number of Indo-Sarcanic monuments in the whole of Deccan, ranging from a tiny tomb or mosque to the gigantic Gol Gumbaz, all built at a span of 200 years in the 16th and the 17th centuries AD, before it fell into the hands of the mighty Aurangzeb of the Mughal Empire.

Bijapur is a city where the tradition is typically medieval. This is where the granite hills of south central Deccan fade away to the vast barren land of grass and basalt rock, a feature typical of Maharashtra. The climate is harsh, arid, but there are little oasis – verdant valleys formed by river Don and its tributaries. In it’s hey days, the river was the lifeline of Bijapur. It was further supplemented by produce from the valleys of Bhima and Krishna.

In the words of Meddows Taylor, an explorer of the British India –

“But mournful as it is, the picturesque beauty of the combination of buildings, the fine old tamarind and peepul trees the hoary ruins and distant views of the more perfect edifices combine to produce an ever-changing and impressive series of landscapes. Nowhere in the Deccan, not even at Beedar, is there any evidence of general public taste and expenditure, like that proved by the remains of Beejapore – and for days together for traveller, or sketcher, will wander among these remains with his wonder still excited and unsatisfied. It is not by the grandeur of the edifices, now perfect noble as they are that the imagination is not much filled as by the countless other objects of interest in ruin, which far exceed than in number. Palaces, arches, tombs, cisterns, gateways, minarets, all carved from the rich brown basalt rock of the locality garlanded by the creepers, broken and disjointed by peepul, or banyan trees, each, in its turn, is a gem of art, and the whole a treasury to the sketcher or artist”.

We reached Bijapur after a long night travel of 600 plus kilometre from Bangalore and immediately checked into a hotel near the bus-stand. Over a cup of chai and a plate of Deccani breakfast, we worked out the plan for the day. While entering into the city we saw glimpses of its crumbled fortification walls and bastions. The bastions, which are placed at regular intervals, are mostly semi-circular in plans. Upon these guns were mounted. We also passed through a couple of gates, small and big, some of which were well protected by flunky bastions. The fortification surrounds for 10 km and the whole medieval city within it is about 13, 00 acres.

Our immediate interest was not however on the fortification, but on the Bijapur’s pride, the Gol Gumbaz, where we spent considerable time to appreciate its beauty and medieval engineering. Gol Gumbaz or Gol Gumbadh means rose dome due to the lotus petal that surround the dome at its base, making it appear as a budding rose. Gol Gumbaz is the mausoleum of Mohammed Adil Shah, the sultan of Bijapur. The monument is massive. It was built in 1656 and is the tallest tomb in whole of Asia. We were guided by an ASI staff through the steps into the round galley which surrounds the dome. One of the unforgettable memories was experiencing the eco in the whispering gallery where even soft sounds could be heard from the other side of the mausoleum.

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From Gol Gumbaz we travelled to Nauraspur, 3 km outside Bijapur. Nauraspur used to be the twin city once, however nothing is left except the crumbling fortification and a massive ruined palace called the Sangeet Mahal attached with a water pavilion. The city was founded in 1594 by Ibrahim Adil Shah II and was destroyed in 1624. We also walked around the ruins into the open fields and a hamlet to experience the earthy charm of rural Bijapur.

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As it was approaching dusk we rushed to the city again to visit Ibrahim Rouza, yet another architectural wonder of Bijapur. Built over a high platform within an enclosure are twin tombs standing beside each other and separated through a tank and fountain. The building facing east is the tomb of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, the most celebrity ruler of Bijapur and his queen Taj Sultana.

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The buildings are noteworthy for their superb artistic elements, comprising of perforated stonework, interlaced Arabic writing, graceful minarets and deep rich cornices. The columns of colonnades are curiously wrought from the springing of the arches in imitation of wood carving. The buildings put together are perhaps the best among the Islamic buildings I have ever seen outside Agra and Delhi.

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On the next day, the agenda was different. I was alone as Aruni was off for a history seminar. I first went to Kumtagi, a village 20 km away located in a picturesque valley surrounded by dry pasture land. Kumtagi now may look a place deserted, but at one time a place frequented by the nobles of Bijapur Court. It was a pleasure resort. There is a lake, the remnants of Bijapur’s medieval water work, buildings, walls and gateways. It was also used as a hunting ground. I had been told about the remnants of some old paintings traced in one of the ruins, but I could not locate them. Kumtagi is well-known for its hydraulic work. There is a large square tank in front of the pavilion, through the masonry of which pipes are carried up to the scores of jets on both sides. These all opened outwards, when the water was turned on, and spouted forth splashing into the tank below it. The water was raised manually to a cistern on the top of a high tower, and from this distributed through pipes to the various points below.

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After spending an hour I headed back to Bijapur in a shared tom tom (a miniature bus of carrying capacity 8). A couple of kilometres before the city while viewing through the window I came across the ruins of Ainapur at a distance. I got down and walked straight to the ruins through the village. The village life was earthy; rongolis drawn in front of houses of various patterns and sizes; there were cows panned in front of houses; village boys and girls playing and the elders were seen in laidback postures. Most of the villagers are devotees of the Lingayat sect, a form of Shaivism. After chitchatting with a few villagers I was guided though the fields to the ruins of the unfinished tomb of Jehan Begum. The plan of this building is exactly the same both in size and design as that of the Gol Gumbaz. There are also the four corner towers as in Gol Gumbaz. With the help of a local man I walked through the field and reached the ruins of Ain-ul-Malik’s Tomb, located in isolation in a vast enclosure of barren land. This looks similar to the Gol Gumbaz, but it is earlier in date. The mosque attached to the tomb has preserved very pretty stucco work in the shape of great pendants hanging down upon the face of each.

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The village Yogapur that lies beside the monument was a fascinating one. It is a settlement primarily of Lambadi community, who has migrated from Rajasthan decades of years back in search of better live. Though the men folk and the younger women have adopted to the local costumes and dressing, the old women have still retained their traditional fancy dressing – phetya (ghagra) and kanchalli (top) and ornaments made of silver rings, coins, chain and their pleats, tied together at the end by chotla.

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As the time was short, after a brief chitchat I headed again to the city to see the other historical landmarks.

The first one was the Jod Tomb, a pair of tombs and a Sufi shrine, built typically in the style of Adil Shahi architectural style. The next stop was Taj Baori, a magnificent water work and the largest in Bijapur. Marked by a great arch and two domed towers, the baodi is built in a square plan. There were also attached rest houses for travellers. It was built by Malik Sandul, the architect of Ibrahim Rouza, in honour of Taj Sultana, the queen of Ibrahim II, in the year 1620.

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From Taj Baori I moved to Malik – I- Maidan or the King of the Plain, known for housing the greatest iron canon, the Londa Kasab, the largest in Bijapur. Its muzzle has been worked into the shape of head of a dragon with open jaws between the sharp carved teeth of which are small elephants, one on either side of the muzzle. It was used in the battle of Tialkot to defeat the mighty Vijayanagar Empire. The next was the Haider Burj – a solitary tower showcasing the splendid military engineering of the Adil Shahis. It is also the highest gun platform in Bijapur.

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My last stop before the lunch was the unfinished tomb of Ali (II) Adil Shah. The building stands upon a high basement. Its plan resembles the tomb of Mubarak Sayyed at Sajoli near Mehemedabad in Gujarat.

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After finishing a delicious Deccani lunch I headed to the Juma Masjid, the grandest amongst all mosques in South India. One of the major attractions of the masjid is tiles and richly decorated meherabs.

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I left Bijapur in the evening by partly fulfilling a long due desire that was sown in my mind and soul 20 years back during my first visit to the city.

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2 thoughts on “Bijapur – On a History Trail

  1. I was delighted to read the account about your second visit to Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur. The photographs also tell a tale. The place is also in my wishlist. However, can you kindly indicate your present involvements -job and work etc. and the topic of your PhD? I presume that you did work on a topi in archaeology and now stationed at Pune. We are also FB friends, if you recall.

    1. Thanks Ranbir Ji. I work in an educational company in Ahmedabad. I did not complete my PhD – I was working on a topic related to geo-archaeology in Mahanadi Delta, Odisha. The focus was on Buddhism and Urbanisation in their environmental context. Yes I can recall.

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