Dual defenses and a dual past

Nausheen Fazal details the trajectory of Vijayapura’s central jail, which was once a royal guesthouse.
Last Updated : 06 June 2024, 03:44 IST
Last Updated : 06 June 2024, 03:44 IST

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In the heart of Vijayapura (once Bijapur), is the central jail. Its gloomy and grim  atmosphere is in stark contrast to the vibrant city that surrounds it. It carries a legend going back centuries on its walls. This is the Bijapur Central Jail, famous for its fortified double wall, and a testament to architectural marvels of the past.

The origin of the prison can be traced back to 17th-century politics. Built during the reign of the Adil Shahi dynasty, the building was known as a “qilah” — a fortress. The outer wall and inner enclosure served as added measures of security for the ruling class. 

The architectural style is an interesting blend of Indo-Islamic influences. There is a narrow and lofty Persian-style entrance adorning the building, which has white walls  and blue accents. There is a plaque above the entrance with a golden frame and carvings in Arabic, which wish visitors a ‘peaceful and safe stay’. 

Inside, there are two tall granite walls with impressive artwork and carvings. The walls are thick, with a distance of around 6 feet between them. 

It was built by Nawab Mustafa Khan, a nobleman of Muhammad Adil Shah in 1640. Initially, the space housed distinguished guests of the king as a ‘sarai’ or an inn. The British government converted the structure into a prison in 1887. 

“This renowned ‘sarai’ was selected by the British, who had the idea of turning it into a  prison. They executed it. The double walls just make it stronger,” says Mr. Abdul Ali, a history professor. 

The transition from royal structure to prison was a meticulous process. Large buildings were demolished to build prisons. Watchtowers were erected to keep a vigilant eye on the prisoners. 

Once a symbol of wealth, the intricate design would become a constant reminder of lost glory for those locked away. It is fascinating to think that even the most enthralling structures can be repurposed. The double wall was intended to act as a dual deterrent for those within. If the prisoner successfully climbed a wall of such great height, and planned to escape, they would have another humongous obstacle stopping them.

Present day

With a history that spans centuries, the Vijayapura central jail still functions today. “Vijayapura is known for its numerous monumental structures and this British-era jail is one of them,” says Alam Mukhtar, a Vijayapura localite.

Beyond the complexities of crime and justice, the jail’s construction and its intricate carvings stand strong as an architectural marvel. It is a testament to the architectural prowess of the Adil Shahi dynasty. The transformation of the royal structure into a prison is also representative of the changing tides of history, that turn many things as they come. 

Published 06 June 2024, 03:44 IST

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