What to see in Bijapur?

During its heydays, the kingdom of Bijapur extended from Pune in Maharashtra to Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Wars were fought and won, old scores settled, and alliances made through marriage and the sword’s edge. Friends today were enemies tomorrow. The timeframe between staying friends or turning enemies could be a few years’ time or over generations. Overall, Bijapur was busy and strategically important as it lay along the path to South India. Evidence shows that this region was essential to the Chalukyas of Badami, Chalukyas of Kalyani, the Tughlaqs and Khiljis of Delhi and, of course, the Bahamanis. The decline of the Bahamani’s gave birth to the Adil Shahi dynasty, one of five Sultanates. When the British took over, Bijapur was in ruins. Buildings that were in better condition became their offices, and the artefacts found were housed in the Naqqar Khana (drum house) in the Gol Gumbaz complex. The Adil Shahis who ruled from Bijapur were patrons of art and architecture, and Bijapur has some excellent monuments from their nearly 200-year reign. Every building has a special feature that makes it unique. Take, for example, the Gol Gumbaz and its spectacular dome or the ceiling of Ibrahim Rauza, both engineering marvels.

Listed here are a few sites other than Gol Gumbaz and Ibrahim Rauza that are worth your time. If you wish to read about a spookily interesting place, read this.

Jama Masjid

The Jama Masjid is even today the largest mosque in Bijapur. It has a spectacular dome and nine large arches. The mihrab, a semi-circular niche in the wall that points towards the direction of Mecca is gilded and inscribed with Persian verses. In 1537, Ali Adil Shah I commissioned the construction. Malik Yakub, the architect behind the Gol Gumbaz was chosen to build this masjid. Mohammed Adil Shah ordered the gilding work of the mihrab. Mohammed Adil Shah loved gilded work and many structures from his time, including the residence of his favourite mistress Rambha were known for it.

Barah Kamaan

The poor king Adil Shah II died before completing the work on his mausoleum. I wonder why no one took over to finish it. Several arches stand on an elevated platform and, when finished, would have probably surpassed the Gol Gumbaz in its beauty. Instead, the arches now give out very Bollywood-esque feelings. Without sounding disrespectful, I somehow imagined a song-dance sequence taking place here: a heroine in a plain saree running around the arches and the hero in mock-pursuit.

Mehtar Mahal

Mehtar Mahal is no mahal (palace), nor a mosque, but a tower gate (if I may call it so) that leads into a mosque. Little is available about its history (who built it, how it got its name, etc.). When I visited, restoration work was going on just past the doorway in that transitional area (equivalent to the ardhamantapa of a temple) between the gate and the mosque located further inside. Women are not allowed past this tower gate. The two-level square tower gate is a slender beauty with two minarets on the top front corners, balconies on the first level, and a terrace on the second level. From outside, one can see a cluster of plant bulb-like pendants hanging from the underside of the front balcony. This decorative element is very Moorish and probably trendy during its time. The side windows on the second level are far more elaborate than the ones facing the road.

Asar Mahal
Built by Mohammed Adil Shah around 1646 it was a Hall of Justice. Women are not allowed inside, and men can visit, subject to following the dress code (full pants; shorts not allowed). There is a cool tank outside Asar Mahal, and many young boys were playing cricket in the vicinity. The Asar Mahal houses two strands of hair from Prophet Muhammed’s beard, which is displayed during the Urs (death anniversary of a Sufi saint) festival. (Sadly I have no pic of this place).

Jod Gumbaz

A pair of similar-looking tombs stand next to each other and go by the name ‘Jod Gumbaz’ or ‘Two Sisters’. The first tomb is that of Abdul Razzaq Qadri, the religious teacher of Khan Mohammed, an army general when Ali Adil Shah II was king. The second tomb is that of Khan Mohammed and his son Khawas Khan who was a minister in the court of Sikander Shah (son of Ali Adil Shah II). Abdul Razzaq Qadri is revered as a saint; people come here to worship at his dargah, which is an enormous mausoleum with simple interiors. To the Adil Shahis, Khan Mohammed and his son were traitors who switched allegiance to Aurangzeb, the Mughal King. While Khan Mohammed gave up an opportune moment to subdue Aurangzeb and had to pay the price – he was assassinated on his return to Bijapur, his son Khawas Khan was imprisoned and executed for his treason. Aurangzeb ordered the building of the tomb to with the money that Bijapur remitted to him annually.
Both the tombs have low lattice arched windows and doors on four sides. The entrances to both the tombs are opposite each other.
Women cannot enter the dargah, and neither can men in shorts. The tomb of Khan Mohammed and his son is grand and well-maintained, with mirrored ceiling and marble flooring. There is a circular path around the graves, between the outer and inner wall that enshrines the tombs.
There is a third mausoleum on the grounds, of a certain Siddi Rehan Sholapuri who along with his mother, was bought by Ibrahim Adil Shah II as a playmate to his young son Mohammed Adil Shah. He must have grown in prominence to have such a fine tomb. Today it is the office of the Archaeological Survey of India.

Taj Bawdi

It is the largest water tank in Bijapur and a very serene place. A sizeable arched entrance flanked by a pair of reasonably large minarets leads one down a few steps to the water’s edge. The other three sides of the square tank have niches which probably served as rooms. Ibrahim Adil Shah II built this tank in honour of his wife Taj Sultana. There is an inscription on the wall at the entrance, which I assume is Persian which I will be delighted to share with anyone who can translate it.

Mulk-i-maidan

A cannon of considerable size and weight (length of 4 meters, a diameter of 1.5m and weighing 55 tons) the mulk-i-maidan initially belonged to the Nizam Shah of Ahmadnagar. It was brought to Bijapur as a post-war trophy. According to legend, shots fired from this cannon towards an approaching Aurangzeb to startle him, knocked a glass tumbler off his hand – from a distance of half a mile!!
The world’s largest medieval cannon was fashioned to look like an open-mouthed lion eating an elephant.
The cannon resides at one of the largest bastions of the Bijapur fort, known as Sherza Burj (lion tower), named after the two lions carved on the wall. There is an inscription between the lion reliefs that states that Ali Adil Shah II built this tower.

Uppali Burj

Also known as Haidar Burj, it is a standalone tower built in 1583 by Haidar Khan, a general at the time of Ali Adil Shah II and Ibrahim Adil Shah II. A flight of steep stairs winds along the outer wall and leads to the tower’s top. Two slender and long cannons sit on top of the tower. Ali Adil Shah asked all his generals to contribute towards fortifying the city walls. Haidar Khan who was away on business related to the king, was disappointed to find out on his return of his missed opportunity to chip in. So the King asked him to build this tower. A Persian inscription on the wall states the builder’s name and year of construction.

Gagan Mahal

Gagan Mahal literally translates to ‘sky palace’. Built by Ali Adil Shah it must have been tall enough to touch the skies. Very little is left of the palace today. It must have been a grand building that housed the king’s darbar hall (audience hall) and residence. The façade has a large wide arch flanked by two smaller arches with typical relief works recurring again and again similar to the ones seen in Gol Gumbaz (the mausoleum of Ali Adil Shah I’s grandson) and in the tower at Saat Kabr that has links to Ali Adil Shah’s son Ibrahim Adil Shah II’s contemporary and commander Afzal Khan. As an aside, the famous Chand Bibi was married to Ali Adil Shah I and probably lived here and served as the regent queen upon the king’s death till Ibrahim Adil Shah II came of age. She belonged to the Nawab Shah dynasty of Ahmadnagar. It was a marriage of alliance. Ali Adil Shah I’s sister was married to Nizam Shah’s son and Nizam’s Shah’s daughter Chand Bibi was married to Adil Shah I.

Anand Mahal

Anand Mahal, ‘palace of joy’ or ‘palace of pleasure’, who knows 😉 Restoration work was on when I visited. So all I saw was the entry hall with a wooden staircase leading to the upper floor. Once the restoration is complete, it will be a delightful place to visit. Hilarious as it might sound, townsfolk use these historical sites for their morning exercise routine. I saw a shuttle-badminton court marked out on the entry hall floor. If you visit early in the morning you will see people stretching and warming up in front of the Naqqar Khana of Gol Gumbaz. You see similar activities in the Baridi tombs of Bidar too!

Ruins near Arkila Gate

As I said previously, ruins lie everywhere and will undoubtedly decay and disappear soon. We were driving around like vagabonds without a purpose when we passed by what might have been one of the city gates. Completely encroached on one side, there is a well-settled shanty, a garage, and even a tea seller! Just off the gate is a dargah and the caretaker said I could enter. There were tombs to one side and a gate further up. Adjacent to the entrance was abandoned pillars and statues that seemed older, probably from the times of the Chalukyas or Kakatiyas. I walked through the second gate past the fort wall and found a bunch of boys playing cricket which may be a blessing in disguise as this seemed to prevent undergrowth.

In Bijapur, accommodation options are basic, as are food options. Our guide Jahangir recommended a farm-to-table restaurant called Halli Mane. A simple rustic restaurant set up in an old home, the food is manna from heaven. They even retail some products that grow on their farm and go into the dishes cooked there. Breakfast is available, but only after 9am. This is the best place for a vegetarian meal; probably even otherwise. The restaurant is located very close to Gol Gumbaz.

Halli Mane thali

Car park facilities, water and restrooms are available in the Gol Gumbaz, Ibrahim Rauza and Jod Gumbaz. At all other sites, you best park your vehicle on the congested roadside. In places of worship and mausoleums, footwear is not allowed inside the complex.

After being on my must-see list for many years, I finally got a chance to visit Bidar, another town smaller than Bijapur but equally fascinating. Bidar has a lovely fort that has been restored and is FREE to visit at the time of writing this blog. So you can look forward to a few entries under Bidar very soon. Until then, take care!

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