A monumental feast

Vijayapura, the city of domes, mosques, mausoleums and monuments, is where history breathes and where legends come alive, writes Chitra Ramaswamy

Gol Gumbaz

Think Vijayapura, and the mind immediately conjures up images of Gol Gumbaz, an architectural masterpiece which dominates the city’s skyline. It is crowned by the world’s second largest dome unsupported by pillars, and was built around the same time as the dome of Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica. Needless to say, we began our explorative tour of Vijayapura with this landmark which is built in the midst of a lush sprawl.

It is the tomb of Muhammed Adil Shah, the seventh Adil Shahi ruler, his two queens, and his Hindu mistress Rambha. As the story goes, Rambha plunged to her death when she jumped from the ceiling of the gallery to the floor below to prove her love for the Sultan when he challenged her in jest.

Gol Gumbaz, which was designed by Yaqut of Dabul, took 30 years to complete, and stands enclosed within a huge compound wall, along with two other structures, the Naqquarkhana or the Hall of the Trumpeteers (now an ASI Museum) and a mosque. The dome of the Gumbaz measures 144 feet in diameter and appears to be rising from lotus petals. The edifice, considered a structural geometric marvel that echoes the impressive
Deccan architectural style, has seven-storeyed octagonal minarets at its four corners. Another distinguishing feature of the monument is the whispering gallery in the circular corridor around the hollow of the dome. No secret ever remains safe here, for, even feeble whispers or sounds as weak as the striking of a matchstick, is amplified several times over, and heard clearly across the other end.

Bijapur or Vijayapura, meaning ‘City of Victory,’ was founded by the Kalyani Chalukyas between the 10th and 11th centuries. It subsequently came under the sway of various dynasties that included the Bahmani, Adil Shahis, Mughuls, Nizams of Hyderabad, Maratha Peshwas and the British.

Jahan Begum's Tomb
Jahan Begum's Tomb

Sights to behold

Vijayapura is an architect’s delight, a historian’s feast, and a treasure trove of sights for travel enthusiasts. The region was an Adil Shahi stronghold and the capital of their kingdom for over two centuries, between the Battle of Talikota in 1565, and the Mughul invasions of the Deccan in the late 17th century. At its peak, it was the subcontinent’s second largest polity in terms of size after the Mughal empire. It stretched from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal.

However, the city reached the zenith of glory and development under Adil Shahi dynasty, founded by Yusuf Adil Shah, whose origin is rather nebulous. While some historians claim him to be the son of Murad II, the Sultan of Turkey, others suggest he was a Georgian slave. According to a certain legend, his mother secretly substituted a slave boy in his place and helped Adil Shah escape to Persia in order to protect him from being executed along with her other sons following the death of Marud II. The crescent symbol of Vijayapura’s large monuments bear testimony to Yusuf Shah’s Ottoman descent.

Whatever his origins, Yusuf Adil Shah who reached the court of the Bidar Sultanate, rose in the Sultan’s esteem and was appointed as the Governor of Vijayapura. A man of culture and refined tastes, Yusuf Adil Shah encouraged literature and the fine arts in his court by inviting poets and artistes from Rome, Persia and Turkey. He wed Punji, the sister of a Maratha warrior. Following Yusuf’s death in 1510, his minor son Ismail, ascended the throne. Assuming the mantle of warrior herself, Punji, disguised in male garb, bravely defended her young son from a coup to usurp the throne. Upon the demise of Ismail as king of Vijayapura, his son Ibrahim Adil Shah succeeded him. He fortified the city and built Jami Masjid. However, art, architecture and literature in Bijapur witnessed its historical high during the reign of Adil Shah II, between 1580 and 1627.

Jahan Begum's Tomb
Jahan Begum's Tomb

Striking features

The onion-shaped dome of the Jami Masjid nearby catches our attention as we leave the Gol Gumbaz. Its large courtyard is flanked by an artistic archway with nine bays and uniform arches. Its most striking feature, considered one of the world’s most beautiful, is the 7m high and 6m wide mihrab with fine Islamic calligraphy in gold, further embellished with carvings, similar to that seen in Baroque churches in Europe.

The trend of building royal funeraries in Vijayapura was begun by Ali Adil Shah, father of Ibrahim II. Ali-I-Rauza, a modest square edifice without a dome is dedicated to him.

We skip a detailed visit to this tomb, and instead, proceed to Bara Kaman, the unfinished mausoleum of Ali Adil Shah II. A sweeping array of 12 vertical and horizontal arches on an elevated platform, beckon us to explore it leisurely. Built in 1672, it was earlier called Ali Roza, but underwent a name change when Shah Nawab Khan named it Bara Kaman since this was the 12th monument built during his reign.

Malik Sandal, a Siddi official in the court of Adil Shah, was the architect of the Ibrahim
Rauza, the next monument that we visit. This tomb of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, built in 1626, is believed to have been inspired by Taj Mahal and is one of the best examples of Indo-Islamic architecture of the Vijayapura Sultanate. The most ornamental of the Adil Shahi tombs, its walls are adorned with Arabic calligraphy, and tulip-shaped minarets surround its dome. Palpably, the tomb blends Indian art and architecture with Arabic, Persian and Turkish flavours. The mausoleum, which was built for Taj Sultana the wife of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, also contains the graves of other family members in addition to the Sultan’s.

Baolis or tanks and open stepwells, were one of the most important amenities that the Adil Shahi kings provided to their citizens as Vijayapura, even then, was known for its dry and arid status with frequent droughts. The Adil Shahi rulers designed and built a series of intricate stepwells that numbered over 340, and around 700 tanks sans steps within the fortified walls of the city. However, with the fall of the Adil Shahi dynasty, many of these fell into disuse and with time, even became dumping sites. Barely 60 of them survive today and have been revived. The most stunning of the Adil Shahi stepwells is the Taj Baoli, built in 1620, named for Taj Sultana, the queen of Abrahim Adil Shah II. Located in the heart of the city, close to Ibrahim Rauza, its walls sit cheek by jowl with humble city houses. 

Mul-E-Maidan Cannon
Mul-E-Maidan Cannon

Fine artillery

While in the area, we also visit Jahan Begum Mahal and Tomb, Kummatagi Summer Palace and museum with its murals, and Malik-e-Maidan which is one of the world’s largest cannons. The 55-ton cannon with a 1.5 m diameter, used in the Battle of Talikota is mounted on an equally gigantic bastion. The cannon, a mix of five metals, has a green sheen and its muzzle is beautifully stylised in the form of a lion holding a pachyderm along with a goat trapped in its mouth. Persian and Arabic calligraphy are etched on the weapon which was cast in Ahmednagar. Following Muhammad Adil Shah’s victory of the Vijayanagara king at Ahmednagar, the cannon was brought to Vijayapura with the help of hundreds of soldiers, 10 elephants and 400 oxen.

Having sated ourselves by visiting several monuments in Vijayapura, we proceed to Sangeet Mahal in Nauraspur, about 40 km from Vijayapura city. Ibrahim Adil Shah patronised art and architecture and even authored Kitab-e-Navras, a book of poems in Dakhani language. A keen learner who was constantly in pursuit of knowledge, he referred to his capital Vijayapura as Vidyapura, a centre of learning. 


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