The Tribune - Spectrum


, January 20, 2002

Bewitched by Bidar
M.P. Nathanael

THERE is scarcely a Sikh who has not heard of or seen to Bidar, which is a pilgrimage centre for all Sikhs. There are places of interest in Bidar for Hindus, Muslims and even for the Christians.

Nanak Jhira at Bidar: Sikhs consider the town sacred
Nanak Jhira at Bidar: Sikhs consider the town sacred

Having spent a day in Hyderabad, I set off for Bidar, by bus. After a three-and-a-half-hour journey, covering over 140 km, I checked into the Habshi Kot Guest House of Karnataka Government. "Habshi Kot", meaning the "fortress of Abyssinians", is so known because the Negro slaves (the Abyssinians) brought to India by the Muslim rulers were called habshis. Apart from a cemetery enclosed by arched screens, there are five tombs nearby of Abyssinian nobles who were in the courts of the Bahamani and Baridi Sultans.

From the guesthouse, I could get a panoramic view of the lowlands and fort’s ramparts. How did Bidar get its name? According to one version, the place at one time had dense bamboo clusters and used to be called Bidarooru, bidaroo meaning bamboo and uru meaning town and thus a "town of bamboos". With the passage of time, the name got distorted as Bidare and then ‘Bidar’ — its present name.

With no conveyance available at the guesthouse which is situated in a corner of the town on a hillock, Iset out for the fort on foot.

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Passing by the huge Methodist complex that houses the St. Paul’s Methodist Church constructed in 1964, I spoke to a few elderly people in the area. They informed me that Christianity made its presence in the district in 1896 through one Rev A.E. Cook.

According to the Census of 1971, the Christian population was 32,746 and there were as many as 53 Protestant Churches in different parts of the district. Though Christmas is celebrated with much fervour, it is during the Easter that huge crowds gather in the area every year for worship. The Methodist Church of India runs an educational institute, a hospital and an orphanage.

The Amritkund: A reminder of Guru Nanak’s visit
The Amritkund: A reminder of Guru Nanak’s visit

Having walked up to the Mangalpet road junction, I try hiring an autorickshaw to go to fort through Mangalpet Darwaza. The autorickshaw driver refused, saying that only cycle rickshaws are permitted inside the small township.

As a rule, autorickshaws are not permitted into the small township mainly because rickshaw drivers would be left high and dry if autorickshaws were to ply in the area.

After half-a-kilometre on foot, I reach the Chaubara, a mighty 71-foot-long tower at the junction of the road. Constructed as an observation post with clear all-round visibility, this cylindrical structure gives a commanding view of the entire city from the top. A flight of 80 steps through a winding staircase leads to the top of the tower.

Further up, as one turns right towards the fort, is a magnificent building with a unique architectural style known as the madrasa of Mahmud Gawan. Built in 1472 by KhwajaMohammad Gilani (also known as Mahmud Gawan), the Prime Minister during the reign of Muhammad-III, (a Bahamani ruler) this university was a renowned centre of learning in the Muslim world for the scholars of Persian, Arabic, philosophy, theology and mathematics. Free boarding, lodging and education to over 100 scholars from the world over was provided at any given time. The massive three-storey building housed a mosque, a laboratory, lecture halls, quarters for the teaching faculty and a students’ hostel. A library with over 300 books was another unique feature of this madrasa.

Traces of exquisite colourful tile work can still be seen on the walls of the building. Extracts from the Koran adorn the walls. A 90ft tall minaret adorns one end of the madrasa. Though the madrasa suffered extensive damages due to lightning in 1696, a large portion still remains intact and is no less impressive. A large part of the building crumbled when explosives that were stored in a room near the entrance caught fire.

It is, indeed, a sad fact that there is no tomb for the famous Prime Minister Mahmud Gawan. A small grave besides a lake, on the outskirts of Bidar, is believed to be his burial place, after he was beheaded on the orders of the ruler Sultan Muhammad-IIIdue to a misunderstanding. Less than a kilometre ahead, I entered the famed fort of Bidar through the Sharaza Darwaza and then the Gumbaz Darwaza.

The Tomb of Sultan Humayan which was destroyed by lightning
The Tomb of Sultan Humayan which was destroyed by lightning

The ancient sites here, according to the Archaeological Survey of India, date back to the 3rd century B.C. The fort, originally constructed in 8th century was strengthened and renovated in 1426 by Sultan Ahmad Shah Bahamani.

Next to the Gumbaz Darwaza on the left side is the Rangin Mahal, or the coloured palace. Built by Ali Barid (1542-1580), the palace is known for its beautiful wood carvings, fascinating glazed tile mosaics and mother-of-pearl decorations which apparently are designs inspired by Persian architecture.

The double-storeyed palace has a hall whose ceiling is supported on pillars with exquisite carvings of both Muslims and Hindu designs. The inner arch of the doorways, richly decorated with mother-of-pearl inlaid in black basalt stones, is one of the main attractions of the palace.

The Shahi hamam, on the royal bath, these days houses the small museum of the Archaeological Survey of India. Potteries, terracota, Persianware, Chinaware, ancient weapons, massive locks, statues of the Hindu period and hollow cannonballs filled with iron shrapnels form the exhibits of the museum.

Across the museum, about 100 metres away, is the Tarkash Mahal which is in a dilapidated state. The two-storeyed palace accommodated the women in the top storey, while the lower portion was exclusively meant for stores and guards. The Barid Shahi Kings had women of different nationalities in their harem. The remnants of a fountain and a series of water cascades are still present in the palace.

Near the museum is the Solah Khambah Masjid, so known because of the 16 pillars of the mosque. Built by Qubli Sultan in 1423, this is known to be one of the largest mosques in India. Aurangzeb, it is believed, offered prayers here soon after the conquest of Bidar to proclaim Mughal suzerainty over the area.

At the Diwan-e-Am or the hall of public audience, the Bahamani Kings held court and entertained other foreign dignitaries. With the magnificent turquoise throne placed here, the accession to the throne took place in this hall which reflected opulence in all possible manner. The granite bases of wooden pillars that once supported the wood-and-mortar ceiling are still visible.

The Takht Mahal or the Throne Palace, a little ahead, was the royal palace where kings lived. Apart from a hot water swimming pool that once existed here, it is the carvings on granite that are significant. While the geometrical figures signify the Muslim influence, the floral engravings speak of Hindu culture.

After seeing the major palaces, I move to the Royal pavilion which has some underground rooms, the Hazar Kothri meaning a thousand cells (which in reality are not 1000 cells) and the Naubat Khana, which at one time may have been the Fort Commander’s residence. Walking ahead towards the fort wall, I climb up a bastion where a large canon rests facing the city across the fort wall. The massive canon measures 14’-9" in length and has a bore of 1’-7". Right below the bastion is the magazine for storage of arms and explosives.

With the trip to Bidar fort over, I move to Nanak Jhira which is located in an atmosphere that is replete with serenity foothills.

Jhira meaning fountain or spring, the place came to be known as Nanak Jhira after Guru Nanak’s name.

Guru Nanak visited Bidar, then a small village, in the course of his tours across the country. People thronged to hear him. Guru Nanak heard of their woes about only brackish water being available in the area and their longing for sweet potable water. Pir Jalaluddin and his followers from the nearby Muslims monastery also paid obeisance to the Guru and impressed upon him the need for sweet water in Bidar. In deference to their wishes, the compassionate Guruji uttering Sat Kartar shifted a stone with his wooden sandal, and lo and behold out gushed a spring of sweet water from the spot that has never dried since. The water at this place is known to cure several ailments.

At the spot where the spring originated, the management got an Amrit Kund built with the contributions of devotees. With the water channeled into a sarovar close by, the devotees take dips in the sacred water.

The management of Gurdwara Sri Nanak Jhira Sahib now runs a free hospital, an engineering college, a Polytechnic, a college and two schools, one of them being in Hyderabad. According to Daljit Singh, a receptionist at the Nanak Jhira office, about 4 to 5 lakh pilgrims and tourists visit Nanak Jhira every year. During the three melas held during Holi in March, Dashera in October and Guru Nanak’s birthday in November, the numbers of visitors swells to about 30,000 a day.

Since the autorickshaw is the main mode of conveyance, I had to hire one to go to Ashtoor on the outskirts of Bidar. The handicrafts from Bidar are also very much in demand.

Bidriware handicraft derives its name from Bidar as the craft was introduced here by one Abdulla-bin-Kaiser. He was a Persian artisan who was skilled in this art since he was among the skilled workers brought from Iran by Sultan Ahmed Shah Wali Bahamani in the early 5th century.

Abdulla-bin-Kaiser was adept in the art of inlaying silver and gold on zinc alloy. So impressed was the Sultan by this art that he introduced this art in the Mahmud Gawan madrasa for other craftsmen to be trained in Bidriware handicraft. Some expert Bidri-work craftsmen migrated to Hyderabad and Aurangabad after reorganisation of the states in 1956.

There are over 200 articles available in Bidriwork in the market, some of them being goblets, flower vases, ash trays, boxes etc. I buy a flower vase after some bargaining. The shop- keeper informs me, before I leave his shop, that the vase should be rubbed with a cloth after applying coconut oil so that it shines.

After a downhill drive from Bidar, I arrive at Ashtoor in the lowlands to see the cluster of tombs. The tomb of Ahmad Shah-al-Wali Bahamani at the far corner with its white exterior draws my attention. The square shaped lofty tomb has fine paintings inside. Interestingly, the Swastika symbol has been used for ornamentation. "An annual Urs in honour of Ahmad Shah-al-Wali, who after Holi was a venerated figure is held for five days at this place in March. It is also called "Allama Prabhu Jatra" and both Hindu as well as Muslims gather in large numbers", says Abdul Wahab, a watchman at the Archaeological Survey of India.

The Urs is inaugurated by Veershawa Jangama of Madiyal village in nearby Gulburga district who comes on foot all the way. Close to the tomb, but at a lower plain, is the tomb of Ahmad Shah’s queen which is under renovation. Just across, facing Ahmad Shah’s tomb is the tomb of his sons — in dilapidated state without a roof.

The tomb of Sultan Allauddin Shah-II nearby was constructed during the Sultan’s lifetime in advance and the ceiling has traces of old paintings.

Unique amongst the tombs is the tomb of Sultan Humayun, the dome of which split due to lightning some decades back. Only half the dome of this tomb remains. A unique feature of this tomb is that to lighten the load on the dome, ‘spongy bricks’ which float in water were used in its construction.

Other tombs in the immediate vicinity are those of Malika-e-Jahan, the wife of Sultan Humayun; of Sultan Nizam Shah who ruled for two years and died at the age of 10; an incomplete tomb of Sultan Muhammad Shah-III, the brother of Sultan Nizam Shah and that of Muhammad Shah Bahamani who ruled for 36 years.

On the way back, still in the lowlands, I venture to take photographs of the Chaukhandi of Hazrat Khalil Ullah while two women in burqa were getting down the stairs. No protests whatsoever. But a little later, when I am about to leave they advise me not to photograph women. I smile and leave.

Chaukhandi, the tomb is a square externally. It was built in memory of Hazrat Khalil-ullah a religious teacher of Sultan Ahmed Shah. Though called Chaukhandi, (meaning four-storeyed) it actually has only two storeys. Traces of fine decorations on the wall and beautifully carved granite pillars are the main attractions of the tomb that can be reached by a flight of stairs.

Yet another place to visit is the Narasimha Cave Temple, which is about a kilometre away from the town. To see the roughly-carved image of Narasimha on the wall at the end of a cave, one has to wade through knee-deep water. Because of the natural spring here, it is also known as Jharani Narasimha temple.