I visited Bijapur as part of an organised tour of heritage places in North Karnataka in the first week of September. When our tour group stepped outside Bijapur railway station, there was no indication that we were in a place of any significance—no rickshaws or tour guides trying to hard sell a “good deal” to the sites in the town. There were only some tongas and a few people wandering about here and there. It was so quiet and peaceful that I wondered if we were in the right place at all !
Bijapur was the seat of power for the Adil Shahi dynasty which ruled from 1490 to 1686. The town was established in the 1oth–11th century by the Chalukyas, though it was then known as Vijaypura or the “city of victory”. Though the Chalukyas were renowned for their temple architecture, there is nothing to show for their presence in the town today. What it has to offer is some stunning examples of Islāmic architecture—Gol Gumbaz, Ibrahim Rouza, Jama Masjid, Darbar Hall, etc. Indeed, Bijapur is one of the few places in South India, where you get to see Islāmic architecture.
Bijapur is identified with and is almost synonymous with the Gol Gumbaz, the mausoleum of Muhammad Adil Shah II, who is buried here along with his two wives, his son, his daughter, and his mistress. That is perhaps the only reason all tourists gravitate towards the Gumbaz and for our group too, this was the first stop.
My first impression of the Gumbaz was not very favourable—its rather squat proportions of a plain dome atop a cube with slender seven-storeyed towers at each corner seemed too symmetrical and boring. Its size, though, was impressive, and why not—the dome is reportedly the second largest dome in the world, next only to St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican City.
It is only when you get up close and personal that the simple design and delicate embellishment on the external walls reveals itself. Besides, once inside the mausoleum, the acoustics of the Gol Gumbaz mesmerises you—every sound echoes and lingers for a fairly long time. The Whispering Gallery, which can be accessed by climbing up 7 flights of steep stairs, is another acoustic marvel—even the slightest sound is magnified many times. But to hear the other tourists testing the acoustics of the Whispering Gallery, one would think that they were testing sound for the “Screaming Gallery”! I beat a hasty retreat as all the screaming was giving me a headache.
A walk around the dome revealed the lotus-petalled skirting around the dome, where some of the “petals” were actually doorways to the Whispering Gallery. One could also see well-maintained lawns around the Gol Gumbaz, as well as a good view of Bijapur town from the top of the dome.
Our next stop in Bijapur was the Ibrahim Rouza. Though I had been impressed by the pictures of the Rouza, it was nothing compared to the actual structure. The Ibrahim Rouza is actually two structures—the mausoleum of Ibrahim Adil Shah (the 6th Adil Shahi Sultan), and a mosque. Built in the 1620s, it is believed that the Ibrahim Rouza was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal’s design.
It was late afternoon when our group arrived here and the picture below captures our first glimpse of the Ibrahim Rouza—the mausoluem to the left and the mosque to the right. Thankfully, there were no other visitors and we had the place to ourselves. The cool, green expanse of the grounds beckoned and soon we were inside the ornamental entrance gate exploring the Rouza.
Both the mausoleum and the mosque are built on a common elevated platform, with a fountain and a tank separating them. The Mausolem is larger than the mosque and has finer details as compared to the mosque. The walls of the mausoleum is richly inscribed with Arabic/Persian calligraphy, so much so that even the window screens, are actually screens of calligraphy. This is quite unlike other islamic structures I have seen, where window screens are made up of simple or complex geometrical designs or patterns. In comparison, the mosque is simple and stark.
The visit to the Ibrahim Rouza was an intensely spiritual one for me and I left the place with a sense of peace, knowing that the simple elegance of the Rouza would stay with me for a long time to come.
After the visit to the Ibrahim Rouza, it was to see the craftsmanship of the Malik-e-Maidan or the King of the Battlefield. The Malik-e-Maidan is a cannon, and what a cannon it is ! It is the largest medieval cannon in the world at 4 m length, 1.5 m diameter and a weight of 55 tons. It’s nozzle is shaped like a lion’s head with open jaws and an elephant being crushed to death between its teeth.
The Malik-e-Maidan is located within the Sherzah Burj or the Lion Tower, which was part of the original fortification of Bijapur. A spoil of war, the cannon was set up here with the help of 10 elephants, 400 oxen and hundreds of soldiers. The British had reportedly wanted to add the cannon to their collection of treasures from India, but were forced to give up the idea.
It was evening by the time we arrived at Bara Kaman, the unfinished mausoleum of Ali Adil Shah II. There is always something poignant about mausoleums; add to that an unfinished one and you have a doubly poignant structure in front of you.
The Bara Kaman (literal translation 12 arches) was envisioned to be grander than anything built in Bijapur. The original design of the Bara Kaman had 12 arches extending horizontally as well as vertically. For some reason, the structure was never completed, though Ali Adil Shah II, his wife, mistress and daughters are buried here.
The Bara Kaman had quite a few people wandering about—couples, separate groups of young boys and girls, some school children… I even saw what looked like a study group in progress. The Bara Kaman is the sort of place which allows the visitor do just blend in and be happy with whatever they are doing. Bird-watching enthusiasts in my tour group were soon going around trying to spot the birds in the vicinity.
Our last stop for site-seeing in Bijapur was the Darbar Hall or the Gagan Mahal. Only the rather imposing arches that you can see in the picture below remains from the original audience hall built. The high central arch is flanked by arches that lead to narrow staircases to the upper storey. The Mahal and nearby palaces form the royal centre of Bijapur and are surrounded by a moat and citadel walls (partly seen in the picture below).
The Gagan Mahal seemed to be a popular spot for the locals, if the crowds inside the grounds and the tea/coffee and snack stalls and souvenir shops outside the grounds can be considered as indicators to the popularity of the place.
Given that we had only half a day in Bijapur, our group could not comprehensively cover and spend time at all the heritage structures of Bijapur. One such place was the Jama Masjid of Bijapur. Though it was on our list of places to visit in Bijapur, we could not enter the Masjid as it was closed to the public during the holy month of Ramzan (at least that is what our guide told us, though I did not believe him). We also “saw” two other heritage structures in passing—the Upri Burj (a watch tower), and the Taj Bawdi (a stinking and filthy water tank). Other places we were unable to visit in Bijapur were the Mehtar Mahal, the Asar-e-Sharif, and the Jod Gumbaz.
The photographs in this blog post are only a sampling of the many photographs that I captured. You can see more of the Bijapur heritage structures here.
Like most Indian towns, Bijapur too is a town of contrasts and is notoriously deceptive. The sleepy, dusty and not very clean town encompasses and co-exists with priceless heritage structures with a nonchalance that is difficult to comprehend, until one experiences it first hand. Also, the contrast between the structures maintained by the Archeological Survey of India (for. e.g. Ibrahim Rouza) and those not maintained by it (for e.g. Taj Bawdi) cannot be missed.
At the end of my visit to Bijapur, a question popped up in my mind (and continued popping up across my visit to other places): why has the town not benefited in terms of infrastructure and facilities in spite of the presence of heritage structures?
P.S.: This visit was part of a tour organised by Doreen D’Sa of Doe’s Ecotours. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.