The Gol Gumbaz is the mausoleum of the 7th king Mohammed Adil Shah (1625-1656) who wanted to build something bigger and better than his father, Ibrahim Adil Shah II, whose tomb the Ibrahim Roza, they say, was the inspiration behind the world-famous Taj Mahal.
There used to be four gates to the 65-acre mausoleum complex, the elephant gate (called so because it was wide and tall enough to let in visitors on elephants) being the principal entry.
Today, we enter the complex through what used to be the elephant gate though there is nothing to show for the enormity. However, remnants of the wall, gate and serai (inns) are still visible.
Past the wall/gate remnants, the first building that you see is what used to be the Naqqar Khana, the drum house where musicians played the drums to announce the arrival of visitors. Today it is a museum.
From a distance, it is easy to mistake the Naqqar Khana for the Gol Gumbaz as the alignment of the Naqqar Khana and the Gol Gumbaz is so perfect that the dome of the Gol Gumbaz appears to be a part of the Naqqar Khana!
Behind the Naqqar Khana is a short, wide building (which houses the museum office today) and it is only when you get behind this second building that you get the whole picture of the Gol Gumbaz. Standing majestically is a rather plain-looking 47.5mx47.5m square building whose dome with an external diameter of 44m is next only in size to the one in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The massive dome is supported by a system of eight intersecting arches that create interlocking pendentives which bear the load of the dome.
The four corners of the building are adorned with a seven-storey tower that rises along the height of the mausoleum all the way up to the base of the dome.
Entry to the tower is on the inside of the mausoleum. Short but steep steps make up the spiral stairway that leads all the way up to the dome’s base.
While every level is further away from the ground, it is that much closer to the higher reaches of the mausoleum, giving intimate views of the façade of the mausoleum through pointed arched windows. Lime plaster relief work on the walls is visible, and the motifs are Indo-Saracenic in nature.
A stone in an open metal case hangs down on a metal chain. This stone is a ‘meteorite’ that crashed into the earth somewhere near Bijapur during the reign of Mohammed Adil Shah, who wanted it hung on the mausoleum because he believed it would protect the mausoleum. It is called ‘bijli pathar’, a ‘lightning stone’.
On the top seventh floor, once you step out of the tower, a circular path allows circumventing along the dome’s base, which is adorned with slender petal relief work.
As you walk along, you can get a bird’s eye view of Bijapur and spot domes that are strewn all around the city; no wonder that Bijapur is known as the city of domes. You will also notice that the round minarets of the four towers are surrounded by smaller minarets, and four pairs of minarets line the parapet at regular intervals. Look closely, and you will spot Persian calligraphy on the undersides of the eaves of these minarets.
Small low, narrow doors lead into the whispering gallery. The amazingly sharp and clear echoes in this gallery are what have made this mausoleum famous. The dome was not constructed to be a whispering gallery. It was an accidental by-product of the dimensions of the dome! The tour guide gave us an excellent demo of the sound reflections. If you wish to experience the sound reverberations, it is best to visit early in the morning, as later in the day, the echoes become a cacophony of sounds because of all the tourists trying out the echo test (pun unintended). Our guide sang the famous Bollywood song Kabhi Kabhie Mere Dil Mein for us from the diametrically opposite side of the whispering gallery, which is 60 metres away. The sound produced was unquestionably fantastic. After that, we had fun chatting with each other from either side, talking at normal audible levels yet being heard so clearly!
The tomb replicas of Mohammed Adil Shah (with a wooden canopy), his two wives, favourite mistress Rambha, daughter and grandson lie right under the dome. The real tombs are in the vault of the mausoleum.
The Naqqar Khana now houses the museum. The entrance is lined with cannons similar to the ones seen in Uppli Burj, a standalone tower located close by. Some interesting treasures of the region like coins, paintings, manuscripts, and sculptures, can be found here. But sadly, there is not much info attached to the exhibits. What caught my eye was the most beautiful Persian calligraphy of the word ‘Allah’. Persian was the language of the land until Ibrahim Adil Shah I changed it to Marathi.
It is said that Gol Gumbaz could be seen from as far as Bagalkot, a town which is 85km away! Today, the city has grown beyond the fort area, and the train tracks run right behind the Gol Gumbaz. As you drive into the city, you catch a glimpse of the dome from a flyover across the railway station.
As is typical of Islamic architecture, the mausoleum compound has an ablution tank (wazoo khan) and a mosque. I am unsure why, but the mosque is out of bounds for tourists.
Malik Yakut of Dabul (present day Dabhol, a seaport in Maharashtra) is the mausoleum architect. It is rather difficult to find out more about Malik Yakut, who I presume was of Persian origin (the Deccan kings had many of them in their services) and as I did not find another Dabul in GoogleMaps, I presume yet again that there is not another Dabul/Dabhol in the world.
If you are interested in knowing more about the intricacies of the architectural splendour, read here. For tour guide reference, contact me using the contact form on this website or leave a comment and I will get back to you.