Bijapur – the city of domes

The only association I make with the city of Bijapur is Gol Gumbaz. I have wondered how this extraordinary piece of architecture came to exist in a city of Karnataka that is otherwise not exactly known for anything else. A visit turned into a lesson in history.

Bijapur
Bijapur seen from Gol Gumbaz

We drove from Hubli to Bijapur along good roads with stretches of clean rural India. Goatherds donned brightly coloured head turbans, and we also saw cows and buffaloes whose horns were painted bright yellow or pink. The speed bump road signs are real, unlike around Bangalore, where the road sign and/or the speed bump may/may not exist! 

Back in the 1300s, Allah-Ud-Din Bahaman Shah, a commander of the Tughlaq Kings revolted against the Tughlaqs and founded the Bahamani Kingdom, ruling chunks of present-day Maharashtra, North Karnataka and Telangana. When the Bahamanis crumbled down, five Sultanates emerged – the Qutub Shahis of Golconda, the Barid Shahis of Bidar, the Nawab Shahis of Ahmadnagar, the Imad Shahis of Berar and the Adil Shahis of Bijapur. 

Bijapur was the capital of the Adil Shahi kings, during whose time the Gol Gumbaz was built. 

Gol Gumbaz
Gol Gumbaz seen while entering the city.

There are several stories about the founder of the Adil Shahis. The boring ones can be completed in one sentence – Yusuf the founder was of Turkish origin or Yusuf was a slave or Yusuf was the son of a commander. The story (which is disputed by certain historical sources) is what I will narrate as it makes for interesting reading.

Yusuf was the son of Ottoman King Murad II. Not being the next in line, he and his brothers were to be killed so that the eldest son could ascend the throne without any threat to his position. Yusuf’s mother sent him off with a trader to a safe place, and a slave boy who resembled Yusuf was sacrificed at the altar of the throne. The trader kept his promise to Yusuf’s mother and brought up Yusuf with care. Word got around that a prince was living among them, forcing the trader and the prince to flee. Eventually, they reached Bidar, a town close to Bijapur that was ruled by the Bahamani Kings, where Yusuf won over the love and appreciation of the king. His hard work and sincerity earned him the title ‘Adil Khan’, and he was appointed Governor of Bijapur. This was also the time of the decline of the Bahamanis. In 1489 Yusuf declared his independence. Yusuf Adil Shahi was proclaimed King, and he was the first in the line of a dynasty that ruled Bijapur for over 200 years.  

The old city walls used to have 96 bastions, five main gates and several smaller gates and posterns. Bijapur is a dry, arid, dusty land, and it was not much else before. Typically, ancient cities were founded near water bodies (sea or river), but not Bijapur. Water had to be brought in from nearby rivers through a complex network of tunnels and clay pipes. These pipes, I hear, can still be found in some parts of the city. 

Bijapur fort
Remains of the fort wall with a bastion and moat

Bijapur is a city of domes. You see different types and sizes of domes. Of course, the biggest and most famous one being the Gol Gumbaz or Gol Gumbad (Gumbad – dome). Minarets are another classic feature of the Adil Shahi architecture. Palaces, arches, cisterns, tombs, and gateways all carved from brown basalt rocks lie about the town. Sufi shrines abound as well.

Bijapur city of domes
Minarets and domes are everywhere

Artistes and builders came from faraway Persia, and their influence on the architectural style is evident in what we see today. Ruins lie about in all of Bijapur. Some have already been lost to development, some have gone on to become government offices, and some are evidently encroached on. It was heartening to see restoration work taking place in some of the lesser-known and not-so-famous monuments.

Bijapur ruins
Ruins in neglect are found all over Bijapur

Bijapur has reverted to its old name of Vijayapura today. I hope all the work being carried out will eventually help preserve history. I suggest giving Bijapur two days. As is typical and like I always lament there is not much info at these sites to gain insight into the hows and whys. Hire a guide (ask me for the contact) to enrich your experience. Will write soon about the historical sites/things to see in Bijapur.

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