The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, September 28, 2003

A city of bulging domes
Arun Gaur

Tomb of Sultan Quli Qutub Shah (reign-1512-43): Founder of Qutub Shahi dynasty
Tomb of Sultan Quli Qutub Shah (reign-1512-43): Founder of Qutub Shahi dynasty.

THE sky-line over the Banjara hills is visible from the top of the Golkunda fort. Amidst the white-washed houses over the wide expanse, the Qutab Shahi tombs are easily noticed because of their bulging domes.

The histories of Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur and Qutub Shahi dynasty of Golkunda had strikingly parallel runs in the 16th and the 17th centuries. The founders of both the dynasties were fugitives from their native places. Both the dynasties rose from the ruins of the Bahmani kingdom and were brought to an end at almost the same historic moment by Aurangzeb against whom they tried to forge a common defence.

Despite these affinities, the art of the two dynasties was quite different. We don’t find at Golkunda the quaint delicacy of Bijapur. Bijapur cannot boast of a constellation of tombs despite its soaring Gol Gumbaz. There is a definite pattern of inter-related architectural progression within the same precincts as we move from the tomb of Sultan Quli Qutub Shah (died in 1543) to that of Abdullah Qutub Shah (died in 1672).

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One can notice a defined evolution of style in the Qutub Shahi tomb, building from simplicity to a complex grandeur. It is interesting to observe how the inter-play of different elements combines to produce a total effect. Platform, exterior and interior configurations of the tomb walls, the height of minarets, the contour and the bulge of domes, the changing shapes and numbers of pointed arches, appearance and disappearance of terraces and balconies, the octagonal corner pillars, the lintel and the ornamented parapet combine to produce a whole.

Tomb of Abdullah(died-1672): Finely differentiated roofs and perfect proportions
Tomb of Abdullah(died-1672): Finely differentiated roofs and perfect proportions.

The tomb of Quli Qutub Shah marks the beginning of a long series of enterprise. It is understandably, diminutive in structure. The squarish exterior configuration of the tomb-walls graduates into an octagonal interior plan. It’s single-storey face manages to carry only three pointed arches on each side. However, the space on the platform outside the tomb is pleasantly filled with graves in dark stone.

The tomb of his successor, Jamsheed, shows a remarkable progress made over a short span of time. The platform remains squarish, a standard configuration for all the future platforms. The tomb itself has been dramatically changed from the square to the octagon. The interior octagon of its predecessor has come to occupy a space in the outside. To create the impression of two storeys, the two octagonal bracket-supported balconies have been fixated all around the facade. It is a unique monument and the impression that it leaves on us is quite different from that of all other monuments. The octagonal walls arches, with painted sleek octagonal balconies surmounted with diminutive minarets and overtopped with a hemisphere bordered at the base with serrated lotus petals seem to make the building whirl.

The tomb of the next king, Ibrahim Quli, demonstrates how the exterior form of the tomb has turned once again squarish which would be maintained for the rest of the tombs. The double-storeyed effect is retained. This effect is produced through a double row of pointed arches, the number of which is marginally increased to five on each face. This number five would remain significant in many of the future tomb-structures. It signifies the number of times a Muslim is expected to offer prayers in a day. The octagonal frame has been taken into the interior of the main hall where its upper portion is catapulted into a 16-sided form through a play of intersecting arches. Enamelled work, though very little of that is left now, is an added feature of the tomb.

Tough stark minarets standing boldly, though bereft of ornaments
Tough stark minarets standing boldly, though bereft of ornaments

As the domes became more massive and as the over-all size of the monuments increased, it became desirable that elegance should be sustained through the running of a gallery on the borders of the base and by the inclusion of double terrace on a certain elevation of the face. These changes were effected in the tomb of Mohamad Quli, the founder of Hyderabad. The gallery continues to have five arches but they are opening up with the two arches around the octagonal corner pillars still being opaque. The number of open arches — greatly reduced in size — overhanging the balcony have considerably increased on the parapet and minaret, the best ornamental work as compared to all the tombs can be seen. The tomb itself is stationed on a considerably high platform.

Though the number of arches has decreased once again in the next tomb of Mohamad Qutub, the ogee arches with reversed curves near the apex have been introduced. The process of balancing of the dome is taken one step further by keeping the roof of the arched gallery on the base-border lower than the roof of the principal hall. The ogee arches and markedly differentiated roof-levels have lent a new grace and depth to the structure, albeit some of the ornamental beauty on the parapet has been lost.

The tiered structure is carried on in the next tomb of Abdullah and the rise from the roof of the gallery to that of the principal hall and finally to the dome and its finial attains the perfect depth and proportion.

The truncated remains of the tomb of Abul Hasan Tana Shah were laid last of all. Being at the extremity of a series of progressive line of monuments, this tomb should have been the best. But it comes as an anti-climax of the entire enterprise. If we say that its present incomplete self fittingly comments upon the last tottering moments of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, it would be an audacious but quite possibly a pertinent statement. Aurangzeb, the great scourge of the Deccan called the Sultan a heretic — a man sunk in debauchery who protected the infidels at the expense of the Shaikhs. The fort of Golkunda was taken after a hard cannonade of eight months and Tana Shah sent to confinement in the fort of Daulatabad. When the Sultan died, he was not interred alongside his ancestors but in a modest grave between Daultabad and Aurangabad.

Photos by the writer