The dry dusty city of Bijapur is synonymous with historical monuments like Gol Gumbaz, and other mosques and mausoleums.
Most of the tourists come to Bijapur to take a look at some of the innumerable heritage structures that the town is strewn with. But if you delve deeper into its glorious past, the historic importance of this place during the reign of various rulers comes to the fore.
The city which was earlier called Vijayapura or Vijapur to signify a war victory, was founded as early as the period between 10th-12th centuries by Chalukyas of Kalyana. It reached the zenith of development during the late medieval period under the successive rulers of the Bahamani dynasty. During those days, the Deccan region was dominated by the Bahamani kingdom which consisted of parts of present Karnataka, the nascent Telengana and parts of Maharashtra state.
The other well-known empire was that of Vijayanagar located further south. But the rise and fall of the Bahamani empire, better known as Bahamani Sultanate evoke more interest.
It was in 1347 AD that an independent Bahamani state was founded by Alaudin Bahman Shah who revolted against the Delhi Sultanate.
And for nearly 200 years thereafter, Bahamani kings dominated the Deccan. By 1518, the kingdom broke up and five independent provinces together called the Deccan Sultanates, of which Bijapur was one, emerged.
For the love of art
The lineage of Adil Shahi dynasty ruled Bijapur until 1686 AD when the Mughals conquered it. During 18th and the 19th centuries, the rule of Bijapur province was taken over briefly by the Nizam of Hyderabad, Maratha Peshwas and the British successively.
After reorganisation of the states, Bijapur became a district of the present Karnataka state. But the golden era of Bijapur was undoubtedly during the Adil Shahi rule as most of the monuments we see today were built in their times.
My sightseeing spree began early morning with a visit to the Gol Gumbaz towards the eastern periphery of the city. A nice walkway flanked by spacious green lawns leads to the monument. Climbing few steps through an arch, I stood face-to-face with the imposing structure. With four tall minarets at the corners and a large central dome, the attractive edifice rising high from a green grassy field shined brilliantly in the golden hour of the morning. The four sides with arched gateways look similar and symmetrical. The dome is touted as the largest dome in India.
The simple mosque to its right is however dwarfed by the colossal Gumbaz. Stepping in, I could see the tombs of Mohamed Adil Shah (1627-1657) at the centre of the spacious interiors.
The minarets have spiraling steps leading up to the open space around the dome from where a bird’s eye view of the whole city can be enjoyed. But the most interesting part of Gol Gumbaz is in the circular corridor around the hollow of the dome where a whispering gallery exists. Here, even feeble sounds of whispering or lighting a match are clearly heard across the other side of the dome. At the Echo Point, every sound or clap is echoed seven times.
Close to Gol Gumbaz is the Jamia Masjid with a large courtyard flanked by an artistic archway. With nine bays and large uniform arches, it looks elegant. Built by Ali Adil Shah in 1578 AD, the Mosque has the mehrab with gilded inscription of verses from Koran.
A stroll further down brought me to the fort area with a cluster of ruined structures. The fort is surrounded by high walls and a moat but a dense overgrowth and rubbish strewn around has dampened its appearance.
Asar Mahal with a beautiful green pond in the front was built as a hall of justice in 1646 AD. It is surrounded by a ruined palace and dargahs. The Gagan Mahal nearby is called so because it is an open air theatre with beautiful lawns and ornamental plants. Some fine frescoes can be seen on the upper floor here.
My next pit stop was Barah Kaman, a sweeping array of arches on a raised platform. Built to house the tomb of Ali Adil Shah, the initial plan was to have 12 arches but they were never completed. Still the incomplete structure, which incidentally is said to be the twelfth monument, looks very artistic with tall columns of arched pillars.
Towards the east are a few more monuments that should not be missed. A huge tower stands at a busy cross-section of the city. Called Uppili Burz, this Tower with a circular flight of stairs has two cannons at the top.
Malik-e-Maidan, meaning ‘Monarch of the Plains’ is the name of a huge cannon. Brought from Ahmadnagar as a war trophy, this 14 foot, 55 tonne massive cannon is the largest medieval cannon in the world. It is said that the gunner after igniting the cannon would go underwater in the tank beside to avoid the deafening noise. Adil Shahi kings also gave importance to people’s needs like drinking water. A perfect example of this is the Taj Bawdi, a large rectangular pond with a large capacity to store water. Sadly, it is filled with rotting garbage today.
The last monument I visited was Ibrahim Rouza, easily one of the best examples of Indo-Islamic architecture of the Bijapur Sultanate. It is a sprawling complex with identical structures of a mausoleum and a mosque facing each other with an ornamental pond in the centre.
The Mausoleum has the tombs of the fifth king, Ibrahim Adil Shah II and his queen, Taj Sultana. With a neatly tended garden around and a long central path leading to it, the whole complex looks captivating. It is said that this massive structure was the inspiration for Taj Mahal in Agra.
Bijapur houses some of best architectural legacies of the state and deserves all the attention and admiration.