Stars of the battlefield

Stars of the battlefield

History is essentially a set of stories comprising rich detail, anecdotes and lofty names. This particular story is about the devices that were an integral part of the Adil Shahi dynasty. This dynasty ruled from Bijapur, now known as Vijayapura. It was an unlikely choice for a city as there was a lack of natural defence. It is located on the flat plains formed by the rivers Krishna and Bhima. The city was first founded by the Chalukyas.  

Holding the fort

Yusuf Adil Shah started out as the Bahamani governor of the city and eventually founded the Adil Shahi Dynasty in the 15th century and maintained its sovereignty, while the Mughals ruled in the north. To secure his position in the area, he built a citadel or ark kila that survives to date.

The succeeding rulers of the dynasty further fortified the citadel often reusing pillars and ceilings from the destroyed temples of the Kalyani Chalukya period. The fort walls are punctuated with 96 massive bastions of various designs. In addition, a bastion flanks each of the five principal gateways. On these bastions were placed the famed cannons of Bijapur. Most of these were cast in iron in the city. A few survive today and each of them has a story to tell.  

The most famous of the cannons is Malik-e-Maidan or 'lord of the plains', the only one frequently visited by the tourists. The cannon is placed on the largest bastion of the fort, Sherza-i-Buruj (lion gate), named after the two lions carved on it. The cannon weighs 55 tonnes, is 15 feet long and five feet wide. The unique aspect about it is that it's cast in an unknown alloy, unlike most other cannons that are cast in iron.    

The inscriptions on the cannon say that it was cast by Muhammad bin Hasan Rumi in 1549. Aurangzeb added an inscription after he conquered the city, recording his victory. The muzzle is shaped like a lion's head with the jaws open and sharp teeth digging into an elephant.

The cannon was cast for the Nizam Shahi rulers of Ahmednagar and was used in the Battle of Talikota (1565) in which the Vijayanagar Empire was brought down by the confederacy of   Deccan Sultanates. It was then mounted on a fort under the Ahmednagar Sultan, but was captured from him by the Sultan of Bijapur in the mid-17th century as a war trophy.

The mount of the gun is missing and the tourists have defaced the surface of the cannon by carving initials onto it.  

Interesting anecdotes

There are interesting tales about the cannon and the caretaker was happy to share them. One such story is of how such cannons were made and transported, and how one drowned in a river while transporting it to the battlefield at Talikota. Another tale is of how bags of copper coins were fired from the cannon to bribe the attacking soldiers. And, another tale mentions the difficulties of firing the cannon. It is said that the cannon makes such a loud noise that the person firing it had to jump into a water tank lest he turned deaf.

One of the interesting anecdotes is that during Aurangzeb's siege of the town he was seen by Sikander Adil Shah, who ordered the operator to fire at Aurangzeb using Malik-i-Maidan. The operator was unwilling, but he did not want to openly disobey the king. So he aimed as near as he could at Aurangzeb and ended up knocking the lota he had in his hand. The anecdote may not be true, yet it adds to the fascination that surrounds the cannon.

The Landa Kasab Tope is Vijayapura's largest gun and is at least five feet longer than  Malik-e-Maidan. Its pompous name translates into the 'neck-cutter'. It is cast in iron and sits atop a crumbling bastion in the southern part of the fort wall. Again, the mount is missing and the cannon is kept on the grass. While not much is recorded about this cannon, I was told by a person at the museum in the Gol Gumbaz complex, that it was cast during the reign of Ali Adil Shah I.    

The Mustafabad cannon from the Ibrahim Adil Shah II period is another antiquity, sadly it was defaced because of neglect. It had rolled down from the bastion it was placed on as the walls around it crumbled. However, it was placed back on the bastion in 2012 by National Cadet Corps (NCC) cadets and National Service Scheme (NSS) volunteers under the guidance of the historian H D Daddi, but it is again being neglected now. The cannon weighs 10 tonnes and is 12 feet long, it was mounted in 1597. The cannon can be seen from the terrace of Gol Gumbaz.

The next surviving cannon is called the Lamcharri, meaning the 'far flier'. This is not placed on a bastion, but on a tower built in 1583 by Haider Khan, a general during the reigns of Ali Adil Shah I and Ibrahim Adil Shah II. It is the highest cannon platform in Vijayapura and is a conspicuous structure. The tower is called Haider Burj or Upri Burj. A spiral stairway leads to the top, which houses another long cannon alongside the Lamcharri. The tower may have been customised for the Lamcharri, as it  needed to be fired from a height in order to have a long range.

Over a dozen cannons along with cannon balls made of iron and stone are on display in the museum situated in the Naqqar Khana in front of Gol Gumbaz.

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