Of echoes and arches

Of echoes and arches

TRAVEL Lakshmi Sharath goes on a trail of Adil Shahi monuments in Bijapur and comes away enriched with tales of kings, their battles and feats.

Of echoes and arches

The first thing that I hear when I get into an auto in Bijapur is that it owes its name to a fruit. Driving around the dry dusty town, I see stalls of bright red rounded pomegranates being hawked everywhere. The town founded by the Kalyana Chalukyas in the 10th century as Vijaypur apparently got corrupted to Bijapur after the beejas or seeds of the pomegranates that became synonymous with the city.

But Bijapur is not synonymous with pomegranates alone. It is the ‘Gol Gumbaz’, one of the largest domes ever to be built which is the symbol of Bijapur. You see it the moment you get off from the railway station; it stares at you from your hotel room and it remains with you throughout the trip.

Driving around Bijapur is like taking a historic route. The ‘Palmyra of the Deccan’, as the town is referred to, takes me on a trail of the Adil Shahi dynasty. The walls of the modern city look both crumbled and stately at the same time. Built by Yusuf Adil Shah, the founder of the Adil Shah dynasty in the 15th century, one can also see the citadel or the Arakella along with the Faroukh Mahal, which were one of the earliest monuments with the dynasty’s stamp.

I start my trail with a visit to the ‘Gol Gumbaz’, a mausoleum built in the 17th century for the Sultan of Bijapur, Mohammad Adil Shah, and it is proudly referred to as the “structural triumph of Deccan architecture.” The pillars tower above to form a cube, which is then capped by a perfect symmetrical dome, compared only to the dome of  St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The dome, one of the largest in the world, was supposed to be like a budding rose, emerging from the petals of the flower that stood at its base and hence it was called the “rose dome”. The entire area of the mausoleum is about 18,000 sq ft, while the external diameter of the dome alone is about 45 metres. An octagonal tower stands at each corner of the cube and it opens into a narrow flight of steps that goes up seven storeys high.

But the most fascinating aspect of the ‘Gol Gumbaz’ is the whispering gallery located at a height of 32 metres from the floor of the hall, having a width of 3.25 metres. A little whisper from one end of the gallery would travel across the walls, even if you happened to be on the other side. It was believed that the king whispered to his wife from one end of the gallery. Today, however it is pandemonium out there with howls and screams echoing from every corner of the gallery that it is an assault on your aural senses.

Play of shadows

Mohammad Adil Shah apparently started building it during his lifetime to ensure that it stood apart from all the other monuments in the city. And yet, for me it is ‘Bara Kaman’, the unfinished mausoleum of his son, Ali Adil Shah II, that seemed to shadow the ‘Gol Gumbaz’. One never knows why this mausoleum was never completed, but a plausible theory is that the shadow of this structure would have fallen on the ‘Gol Gumbaz’ if it had been finished. A conspiracy theory said that the pride between the father-son duo as to whose mausoleum surpassed the other would have led to its current state. Perhaps the son was murdered, says the guide. There are no domes or pillars here. Just towering stone walls that curve into arches, built to represent death and immortality, as they try to reach out to each other.

We move on, stopping over at the ‘Jami’ or the ‘Jamia Masjid’. This 16th-century mosque which has a huge dome with nine bays and is the largest mosque in Bijapur. In the 17th century, Mohammad Adil Shah insisted that the mehrab, shaped like an arch, is gilded with gold as verses in Persian are inscribed on it.

I head to one of my personal favourites, ‘Ibrahim Rauza’, the tomb of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, built in the 17th century. Standing as a twin monument, with a mosque and a mausoleum, this is a beautiful structure with some elegantly carved motifs. The tomb is supposed to have been the inspiration for the Taj Mahal in Agra.

A tall tower greets me right in the middle of the road. This is the ‘Upli Burj’ built by Hyder Khan in the 16th century. A flight of steps carved in the tower takes me to the top from where I can see two cannons guarding the town of Bijapur.

But the most fascinating cannon is the ‘Malik-e-Maidan’ or ‘The Monarch of the Plains’, which lies inside the Sheraza Burj or the Lion’s Gate. One of the largest cannons of the medieval times, it is 15 feet long with a diameter of about 5 feet and weighs about 55 tonnes. It was a war trophy erected by Ibrahim Rauza after the Vijayanagar Empire was defeated in the Battle of Talikota in the 16th century. The muzzle was shaped like a lion’s head, crushing an elephant to death in its jaws. Cast in Ahmednagar, I am told, it was apparently dragged here by oxen and elephants.

Gory tale

My last halt in Bijapur turns out to be a bit of a grave destination and the setting of a cold-blooded tale. It is eerie and quiet and I am actually standing in the middle of nowhere looking for sixty graves made of black stone. This is ‘Saat Kabar’ or the sixty graves of the murdered wives of Afzal Khan, the army chief of Adil Shahi II. The graves narrate the gruesome fate of these women who were killed by none other than their own husband.

During the war between Shivaji and Adil Shah, in the 17th century, Afzal Khan led the forces but was distracted by an astrologer who told him that he would not survive the battle. The jealous and possessive commander decided to kill all his 60 wives lest they remarry after the war. So, he beckoned them to an isolated spot and pushed them into a well and murdered them. Afzal Khan apparently wanted to be buried near his wives as well, but he never returned from the battlefield.

It is well past sunset and the auto driver insists that we leave. Another tower peeps through the tangled branches of a tree in the distance. Walking around, I realise that monuments come with their own secrets and mausoleums have deep emotions hidden beneath their walls. And somewhere in those tales, you can read the real story of Bijapur.