A grandeur twelve arches promised

HERITAGE

Construction of Bijapur’s Bara Kaman was abandoned after the death of Ali Adil Shah II in 1672. It would’ve been nothing like anyone had seen before, surpassing even the Gol Gumbaz in scale and architecture. Its shadow would have touched the Gol Gumbaz, which probably was why construction was abandoned, writes Anil Purohit.

Many years ago, on a visit to the Gol Gumbaz during vacations from school, I distinctly remember a man in a group of visitors dwarfed by the Gol Gumbaz point West in the distance, across the expanse of gardens, and briefly mention Bara Kaman, the unfinished mausoleum of Ali Adil Shah II, now a picture of abandoned stone arches and columns that leap in unison at the sky from a large raised platform surrounded by a tranquil garden where families come to partake of a slice of peace and quiet.

He said, “If Bara Kaman had been completed, its shadows would’ve arced toward Gol Gumbaz and touched it.” Schoolboy curiosity stoked, I arched my heels and balanced on my raised instep, lifting my barely five-foot frame to the fullest height possible before stretching my neck to the furthest it would, following his raised hand pointing West in the direction of Bara Kaman. I do not remember what I expected to see but remember vividly searching the distance for the path the shadow would’ve traced.

A town of monuments
Behind me the Gol Gumbaz loomed large, lending the Bijapur landscape a certain permanence that very large structures are wont to and there’s no dearth of them around the city that’s home to mosques, stepwells, mausoleums, and palaces built by successive rulers of the Adil Shahi dynasty, each attempting to surpass the other with monuments embellishing their reigns.

Of the many monuments now held up as notable examples of Islamic architecture in the Deccan, the Ibrahim Rauza, consisting of a mosque and the tomb of Ibrahim Adil Shah II and the colossal Gol Gumbaz, the tomb of his son, Mohammed Adil Shah, are particularly famous. And it’s widely believed that if completed, Bara Kaman, the resting place of his grandson, Ali Adil Shah II, would have surpassed those of his predecessors for its architecture.

“Once completed, its shadows would’ve slanted across this way and touched Gol Gumbaz,” the man continued as the group listened on, each lost to visions of grandeur the man painted in the late afternoon sun.

I made a mental note of the shadow the hulking whispering dome, second only in size to St. Peter’s in Rome, threw across the ground and tried to imagine the scale the Bara Kaman would need to be if its shadows were to arc across to the Gol Gumbaz. The Bara Kaman would’ve been nothing like anyone had seen before, surpassing even the Gol Gumbaz in scale, and architecture.

There’s no doubting that was the intent behind the ambitious project of an Adil Shahi king and the very last gasp at eternity before the dynasty floundered to extinction soon after at the hands of the Mughals in 1686 who’d been pressing at Bijapur’s gate under Aurangzeb. Ali Adil Shah II died relatively young and is buried among the arches of Bara Kaman, exposed to the elements. His son, Sikandar, the last king of the Adil Shahi dynasty died even younger.

It was late afternoon when I had peeled away from the visiting group and the man who had pointed West, wandering away until I found myself at the stairs that would lead me to the whispering gallery the Gol Gumbaz is famous for, his comment about the shadow from Bara Kaman lapping Gol Gumbaz ringing in my ears.

Back then I was intrigued by the thought that someone could and would build a tomb, planning its scale and reach so its shadow could stretch all the way to Gol Gumbaz, the tomb of his father Mohammed Adil Shah, had left me intrigued about the ways of the Kings and the extent of their imagination and the resources to back it up in erecting monuments that would catch the public imagination and achieve permanence on a global architectural landscape.

Interlocking stone arches
Unlike the Gol Gumbaz whose 44-metre diameter dome surmounts the cubic tomb 47.5 metres along each length and buttressed on each corner by a dome-capped octagonal tower seven stories high, the Bara Kaman, at least from what remains of its originally unfinished state, is a series of interlocking stone arches rising from a base larger than the one Gol Gumbaz rises from.

According to the original plan, Bara Kaman was to be built with twelve arches placed horizontally and another twelve placed vertically, together surrounding the tomb of Ali Adil Shah II on a raised platform in the central courtyard.

The twelve arches placed horizontally can be seen to this day.  I didn’t know back then that far from architecting Bara Kaman so its shadow would travel to Gol Gumbaz the opposite was likely the reason its construction was abandoned so its shadow would not fall on the Gol Gumbaz or so it’s widely believed.

Commenced in 1658, Bara Kaman was abandoned after the death of Ali Adil Shah II in 1672, and so it follows that if the reason given is true then the realisation had dawned late on the architects and the king was consigned to lie amidst a promised splendour that never took shape. And the impressive line of arches interspersed among columns designed to launch them into the sky over Ali’s resting place capped by an imposing dome that never saw the light of day, now stand witness to the very last moments of an empire.

Within fourteen years of his death the reign of the Adil Shahi dynasty came to an end after his son, Sikandar Adil Shah who ascended to the throne aged four, was captured and presented to Aurangzeb bound in silver chains. Sikandar was barely out of his teens at the time. And Bijapur never got to see another architectural marvel.

As I sauntered among the arches, the sun was steadily dipping among the trees and houses ringing the monument. The open arches traced gentle shadows, stepping among curious visitors who had climbed a flight of stairs to reach the high platform set amidst a garden. A couple of disinterested policemen lounged on wooden chairs, their lathis by their sides.   

It was a place to extrapolate one’s own sense of proportion to match the missing grandeur on a scale not easily imaginable to visitors sallying forth from tightly boxed lives not very different from the unruly clutch of matchbox apartments that now ring the remains of the monument. These apartments are edging ever closer and offer a stark contrast with the scale the unfinished mausoleum once originally promised.

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