Gol Gumbaz Bijapur
Getting off from the railway station at Bijapur, I am lost in a melee of fruit vendors, auto drivers, cyclists and passengers. The 10th century town founded by the Kalyani Chalukyas is now rechristened as Vijaypur, its old name meaning the town of century. But my auto driver points out to the ripe red rounded pomegranates that are sold in every corner of the city and says that the name “ Bijapur” probably referred to the beejas or seeds of the fruit.
Driving down around the town, you barely get a feel of the Kalyani Chalukya influence as the city is filled with domes and tombs, citadels and cannons that take you on a historic trail of the Adil Shahi dynasty. The walls of the city may be crumbled but the city retains its image of being “The Palmyra of the Deccan”. 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.
My trail starts with two mausoleums, one which is considered the “Structural triumph of Deccan architecture and the other, an unfinished monument that probably would have even surpassed the first tomb, if it was allowed to be finished. I am referring to the famous Gol Gumbaz, a 17th century mausoleum built for the Sultan of Bijapur, Mohammad Adil Shah and the incomplete mausoleum of his son, Ali Adil Shah 11, called Bara Kaman.
It is still early morning as I find my way to the ‘Gol Gumbaz’, one of the largest domes that tower over the city. I like to think that I have the monument to myself, but a group of school children on a study tour seem to enjoy playing hide and seek here. I am however lost looking at the dome, designed as a rose bud, the petals emerging at its base . It was often referred to as the rose dome, compared only to that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 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.
What really fascinates me and the children however is the whispering gallery where a little whisper from one end would travel across the other. Looking down from a height of 32 metres , it has a width of 3.25 metres and has children running all across it, screaming instead of whispering in excitement. Perhaps it was the king’s idea of whispering sweet nothings to his wife from one end of the gallery, but to me there is nothing romantic about it.
The Bara Kaman however is wrapped in silence, lost to tourists and school children. 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.
Mohammad Adil Shah apparently started building the Gol Gumbaz during his lifetime to ensure that it stood apart from all the other monuments in the city. Hence he probably was not very happy that his son wished to surpass his mausoleum. The guide there tells me 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.
I leave the melancholy behind and head to another tomb, a personal favourite called the ‘Ibrahim Rauza’, supposed to have been an inspiration for the Taj Mahal .
The 17th century tomb of Ibrahim Adil Shah II is a twin monument, with a mosque and a mausoleum, with some elegantly carved motifs. I spend a few hours here taking in the silence, before heading to a gory site.
The setting of a cold-blooded tale, it is not just a single mausoleum. No pillars or domes are built here. On a dry isolated land surrounded by dense wilderness are 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. A lone man emerges from the shadows, looking like a ghost himself claiming to be the guide. He narrates 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.
There are several other tombs in the city but none seem more poignant and eerie than the Saat Khabar. I hastily return to the city only to see a tall tower, the Upli Burj, built in the 16th century. Climbing up, I see two cannons guarding the city.
Standing there, I watch the sun’s rays stroke the city of Bijapur as it lies in a golden haze. There are no school children screaming and I have the moment to myself. My guide whispers there are more mahals and mosques in the town, but I leave them for another day.