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Sunday
, March 24, 2002
Heritage

Where echoes of history resound

Bijapurís Golgumbaz is one of Indiaís most well-known, yet least visited, monuments, writes Partha S. Banerjee.

The Ibrahim Rouza of Ibrahim Adil Shah II
The Ibrahim Rouza of Ibrahim Adil Shah II

LAUGH aloud and the world laughs with you! Rustle a newspaper and itís as if youíve raised a little storm ó the rustling sound, amplified many times over, flying back and forth in echo after echo. Clap your hands and a thunderous wave of clapping fills the air, as in a theatre after the last act.

For an earful of such overwhelming acoustics, take a trip to Bijapur, the medieval walled city in northern Karnataka dominated by the Golgumbaz. The echoing gigantic/domed mausoleum built three and half centuries ago may well be one of Indiaís most well known monuments. But it draws comparatively few tourists, thanks perhaps to Bijapurís slightly out-of-the-way location.

Which is a pity, because Bijapur, capital for almost two centuries of one of the most powerful Deccan kingdoms that challenged the Mughal empire (before capitulating to Aurangzeb in 1686), is a city brimming with monuments. The walled city spread on 200,000 km still retains a quaint, almost medieval character. Ancient structures with cupolas and minarets peep out of every street corner, women sell vegetables or just gossip in the precincts of grand historical buildings, even a few government offices function out of some of these partly ruined structures. Bijapur isnít awed by its history; it lives with it. The city has over 50 major mosques and some 20 palaces, mostly ruined, and a host of tombs and other structures. It has been called the Agra of the South.

 


And if the Golgumbaz is Bijapurís answer to the Taj Mahal (a scaled-down answer, for sure, because the Taj is beyond comparison), the cityís finely-sculpted Ibrahim Rouza is what the exquisite Itimad-ud-Daulah is to Agra. "Have you been to Agra? one proud Bijapur resident asked me. "Donít you think the minarets of the Ibrahim Rouza are more beautiful than the Taj Mahalís?"

I couldnít answer that question but what I learnt subsequently was that the Ibrahim Rouzaís slender minarets actually inspired those of the Taj Mahal. Two delicately carved structures with cupolas and a profusion of minarets, one a mausoleum the other a mosque, the Ibrahim Rouzaís sheer beauty leaves you simply awestruck.

The Golgumbaz dominates the walled city of Bijapur
The Golgumbaz dominates the walled city of Bijapur

The ornamentation inside is fabulous: richly decorated walls, exquisite latticed windows of stone, superbly crafted wooden doors. Designed by a Persian architect, the twin structures along with a minareted gateway in the middle, lie above basement in an arcade, with secret passages. The entire complex stands in the middle of a vast, manicured lawn. The mausoleum contains the tombs of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, his queen Taj Sultana, his daughter, two sons and his mother.

Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1556-1627) was the fifth king of Bijapurís Adil Shahi Dynasty. Its founder, Yusuf Adil Shah, was a Turkish prince who fled his homeland in the late 15th century to escape assassination and ended up in Bidar, northern Karnataka, then capital of the Bahmini kingdom. The Bahminis, who were Turks, had broken away from the Delhi Sultanate to establish an empire in the Deccan, and in Bidar, Yusuf Adil Shah found favour with the then Bahmini Sultan who appointed him governor of Bijapur.

Soon however, Yusuf Shah found himself crowned King of Bijapur thanks to the break-up (in 1482) of the Bahmini empire into five kingdoms, Bijapur (along with Golconda) being among them. The new kingdom rose to great heights by the middle of the 16th century when under Ali Adil Shah I, it played a key role in bringing down the mighty, fabulously rich Vijanagar empire in 1565. Ali Adil Shah, great grandson of Yusuf Shah, undertook ambitious building projects in his capital city soon after which were a public water supply system, the new Jami Masjid (Grand Mosque) and the Gagan Mahal among them.

While the Jami Masjid, a vast rectangular structure with graceful arches, is still in use, the Gagan Mahal, which house royal residences and the Durbar Hall, is today in ruins, its roof has collapsed and plaster is peeling off its high walls. A towering grand arch, flanked by two narrower arches, still stands. They flank the royal residence on the two sides and the Durbar Hall in the middle, proceedings where could be watched by the public through the grand arch.

The Gagan Mahal is among a complex of other royal buildings, including the ruined Sat Mahal (seven-storeyed palace), that were housed in the citadel, a walled enclosure surrounded by a moat. The architecture of all these structures is characterised by a marked simplicity, indeed a certain austerity. Most monuments of Bijapur and that includes the immense Golgumbaz, eschew excessive ornamentation, the only exception being of course the Ibrahim Rouza of Ibrahim Adil Shah II.

A great patron of art and music, Ibrahim Adil Shah II, Ali Adil Shahís nephew and successor, was a visionary king who sought to bring Hindus and Muslims together. He spoke the local languages, had a Hindu temple built in his palace and composed verses dedicated to Saraswati and Ganpati. He was a disciple of a Sufi saint who lived in nearby Gulbarga and during his long reign of 46 years (1580-1626), Bijapur attracted musicians, dancers and poets from far off lands. It was at Bijapur that the concept of mushaira (gathering of poets) emerged did travelled subsequently to northern India.

But it was Ibrahim Adil Shahís son and successor, Mohammad Adil Shah, who gave Bijapur its greatest marvel the Golgumbaz. It was to be his mausoleum, and it took 20 years to build. Completed in 1659, it houses the tombs of the king, his two wives and one mistress, a daughter and a grandson. Over 150 ft high, this immense square structure is capped by a vast dome that is the worldís second largest, its 38 metre (about 110 ft) diameter exceeded only by that of the Vaticanís St Peterís Basilica. Octagonal seven-storey towers stand attached to the four corners of the building, and itís through the steep spiralling staircase of one of these that you reach the terrace from which the famed Whispering Gallery inside the mausoleum can be accessed.

The Whispering Gallery, 90 ft above ground, runs around the base of the dome; it is so called because even a whisper murmured here can be picked up and echoed some ten times over by the hemispherical dome. But to test that, you need to be here by 6 a m when there is no one around. By mid-morning, the gallery turns into a Tower of Babel as scores of visiting children (and even adults) scream, squeal and shriek to revel in the cacophony of ricocheting reverberations.

Bijapur has several other attractions besides, most notably a huge bell-metal canon (one of the largest forged anywhere in medieval times), the ruined Asar Mahal and the unfinished mausoleum of its last king, Ali Adil Shah II. It takes an entire day to see all the sights, two if you want to do it leisurely and savour the quaint charm of the city. And it sure is well worth it.

Bijapur: Basic travel information

Getting there: No direct train connections from major cities since Bijapur does not fall on any main line. Buses are a better option. Sholapur, three hours away in southern Maharashtra, served by Bombay-Madras trains, is the nearest major railhead. Hyderabad is the nearest metro from where two buses ply. Can also be accessed from Hubli (near Goa) and overnight buses from Bangalore.

Tour plan: Bijapurí main attraction, the Golgumbaz and Ibrahim Rouza, lie on opposite ends of the town and both should ideally be visited in the morning: Golgumbaz for silence in the Whispering Gallery, Ibrahim Rouza for photography since the angle of the light is best then. Keep the other monuments, mostly located in the city centre, for the afternoon. Taxis, auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws available, but bargain hard.

Accommodation: No star hotels but the Karnatakaís State Tourismís Hotel Mayura Adil Shahi on Station Road is perhaps the best bet.

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