Sunday, February 24, 2013


The prayer niche, or Mihrab, of Bijapur's Jama Masjid. Dating from the first half of the sixteenth century, the Jama Masjid was built by one of the earlier rulers of the Adil Shahi dynasty, which, after the precipitous decline of the Bahmanids and the violent destruction of the Vijayanagar Empire, briefly rose to become the primary power in the Deccan. Inscribed in Persian and painted in gold, the Mihrab of the Bijapur Jama Masjid is, thankfully, in nearly perfect condition, and is but one highlight among many in a city that is simply awash in wonders of Islamic art and architecture.

For me, visiting Bijapur was like going to Agra and having the whole city to yourself. While it is more heavily visited than Bidar, I still only saw two foreign tourists while I was there. There are a fair number of domestic tourists who travel there, but in comparison to the vast crowds who flock to Agra, the city is remarkably laid-back. Now, I'm not knocking Agra; It does contain a fair number of the most impressive things human beings have ever made, but just as a city it's not too much fun, at least if you're a foreigner. In Agra the fleecing culture is deeply entrenched, and one has to constantly fend off every species of tout, beggar, and hawker all at once. But in Bijapur, it's possible to see sights which are, at times, comparable to those in Agra, but practically without any hassle whatsoever (other than curious staring, and loads of rowdy kids....if you don't like kids, you would probably want to give Bijapur, and all of India for that matter, a miss). It's a place I would be perfectly happy to visit a second time. For one thing, even though I spent hours and hours on my feet, there are still plenty of things in Bijapur that I have yet to see.

The Adil Shahis, the 15th-17th century rulers of Bijapur, began as a line of governors under the Bahmanids. As such, they were originally Tajiks, and Shias, though their rule was a period of constantly shifting religious affiliations, with rulers switching back and fourth between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam. At the fragmentation of the Bahmanid Sultinate, the Adil Shahis  asserted their independence in the city of Bijapur (which translates roughly into "City of Victory"). Though they fought with all of the other offshoots of the Bahmanids, such as the Golconda and Bidar Sultans, they temporarily allied with them against the great Hindu Empire of Vijayanagara, which was destroyed in a single stroke by the combined army of the Deccan Sultanates at the battle of Talikota in 1565. After destroying the Hindu army, the Muslims entered the city of Vijayanagara, at the time one of the biggest and richest urban areas in the world, and in a six month orgy of looting and destruction, laid it to waist. But it was the incredible riches stolen from Vijayanagar by the Adil Shahis that financed their most incredible building projects. Later on, the Adil Shahis maintained friendly relations with the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan, though they were forced to accept Moghul suzerainty. However, the Bijapur-Moghul relationship soured under Aurangzeb, who opted to do away the Adil Shahi's entirely.

The Gol Gumbaz, or Rose Dome, tomb of Mohammed Adil Shah. Built over 30 years in the early to mid 17th century, it may not be the most architecturally pleasing of Islamic tombs, but it is perhaps the most awe-inspiring. It's dome is said to be the largest after that of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, while the surface area of the floor space under the dome is actually more than under the dome in the Vatican. It's design is quite unusual for an Islamic tomb, in that the four minarets of the building are not free standing, but are instead set into the primary structure. This picture was taken at around 7 A.M., shortly after sunrise.

The grave of Mohammed Adil Shah, inside the Gol Gumbaz. The high water mark of the Bijapur Sultinate was reached during Mohammed Adil Shah's reign, but it's decline began with the rise of the Hindu Marathas, a formidable adversary and a challenge not only for the Adil Shahis, but for the Moghuls and the Europeans as well.

Beam of light.

Sweeper with early morning light beaming in through the eastern windows of the Gol Gumbaz. With the Gol Gumbaz, the interior of the mausoleum is, if anything, more overwhelming than the exterior. Particularly in the lighting I had, the overall effect of being in the vast, echoing chamber under the dome was positively supernatural. In this respect the Gol Gumbaz actually beats out the Taj-Mahal: the exterior of the Taj-Mahal is unequivocally sublime, but the interior is something of an anti-climax.  Also, you can climb up onto the roof of the Gol Gumbaz, something you can't do at the Taj. 

Supernatural lighting around the grave of Mohammed Adil Shah.

When you climb up onto the roof of the Gol Gumbaz, you go via one of the minarets.  Each floor in each tower has a staircase that leads up to the next one. From the top you can see well out over the whole of Bijapur. Even now, the Gol Gumbaz is the tallest building in the city. I'm sure that's deliberate.

Ruined tomb on the grounds of the Gol Gumbaz. This was just an interesting thing I could see way off in the distance from the roof  (this photo is fairly heavily cropped, with the contrast turned way up so it's possible to make out the building against the background). It seems to be a tomb, but I haven't the foggiest who's buried there. The person can't have been too important, as the Archaeological Survey of India seems to be totally content to allow their tomb to rot away....then again, though some of the old buildings from the period of the Bijapur Sultanate are in good shape, far more are being rapidly ground down into dust.

Close on the capitol of one of the minarets. Note all the parrots.

The whispering gallery of the Gol Gumbaz. This is looking directly across the opening of the dome. Once you get onto the roof of the building, small openings lead you to a walkway that goes around the circumference of the dome. Here the acoustics are so peculiar that, if  you whisper into the side of the dome, the sound will carry all the way over to the opposite side, so that for a person standing there it will sound as if you're right next to them. All the noise you make inside the dome reverberates seven or eight times, but as it echos it becomes oddly distorted in a way that sounds almost as though it's being fed through a synthesizer. However,  if you're ever there, go as early in the morning as possible: by the time I showed up, a few loud tourists had arrived, and inside the Gol Gumbaz, one screaming tourist is as loud as ten thousand anywhere else. It wasn't long before I started feeling like I was swimming in sound.

Looking straight down at the grave of Mohammed Adil Shah from the Whispering Gallery.

After visiting the Gol Gumbaz, I headed south through the old city. Bijapur is the sort of place where practically around every corner there's a 16th or 17th century tomb, mosque, or gateway. Actually, in a place with so many things to see, it can be a little difficult to stay focused.

The next major sight I visited, after exploring an assortment of minor tombs and old buildings scattered about the city, was the Jama Masjid. 

A kid walking into the gate house of the Bijapur Jama Masjid...No, I don't know what that thing he's carrying is.

A shot of the Mihrab of the Bijapur Jama Masjid in it's entirety. The mosque was built by sultan Ali Adil Shah I in commemoration of the triumph of the Deccan Sultans over Hindu Vijayanagar Empire...Perhaps the gold used to paint the Mihrab was melted down from gold that had been looted from the Hindus. All of the great architectural achievements of the Adil Shahs are from the period after the defeat of the Vijayanagara empire, which, among other things, provided the Bijapur Sultans the funds to hire artisans from as far away as Italy to work on their construction projects. They also employed mercenaries from all over the world, including Central Asians, Arabs, Portuguese and, again, Italians.

After visiting the Jama Masjid, I walked back to my hotel, had breakfast and a shower, and then went right back out and spent the whole rest of the day exploring the lesser known corners of the city.

Ek Tha Tiger Auto.

Kids going to an Islamic school, outside the ruins of the Asar Mahal. They thought I was pretty funny. It must have been my hat.

More kids playing cricket in front of the ruins of the entrance to the Asar Mahal. Originally built as a court house during the reign of Mohammed Adil Shah (the builder of the Gol Gumbaz), the main claim to fame of the structure was that it once housed two hairs of the Prophet Mohammed's beard (don't ask me how they got there). 

Coins pounded into a wooden beam, at the entrance of the Asar Mahal. I don't know what the significance of this was, but judging by how worn out some of the coins are, they seem to have been there for a while. 

A huge ruinous arch, just outside the old citadel of Bijapur. It now serves as a stand for big private buses. The highest concentration of ruins in Bijapur are in the citadel, though many of them are now falling to bits.

Motorcycle passing through an arch in the citadel. The area on the other side of this arch was full of ruinous mosques, tombs, gateway, and defensive structures, most of them now being used either as homes, or as places to dry laundry.

This aquarium looks terrifying. 

Dargah in one of the twin tombs known collectively known as the Jod Gumbaz, or (I think) twin domes. A Dargah is a sufi shrine placed over the grave of a holy person. From what little I've been able to dig up on the Jod Gumbaz, it seems that the tombs were built for two Adil Shahi ministers who were instrumental in overthrowing the last sultan of Bijapur and thereby allowing the Aurangzeb and the Moghuls to take over. I'm not sure why, then, people come to their graves to prey. My experience there was rather on the creepy side. The actual dome of the tomb was closed, but it was possible to go into the catacombs under it, which is where the dargah is. But I went in, and found that all the passages were full of figures hidden under blankets and shawls...I suppose, since it's been converted to a shrine, whoever maintains it also allows it to be used as a homeless shelter, or at least as a place where homeless people can hide away from the heat of the day. But, for me, being the white person in the tomb, the place gave off a peculiar vibe.

Kids on the ground of the Jod Gumbaz. The dome of the tomb I was in was situated on a raised platform, with the catacombs leading down under it. When I was up on top platform, these kids started hollering at me to take their picture from all the way over on the other side of the tomb complex. At one point they even started dancing...In recognition of the effort they put into it, I thought it only proper that I should post their picture.

Numerous and rather exquisitely carved Hindu temple columns in a neglected corner of the Bijapur citadel. In this part of the strong hold (the citadel making up the whole center part of the city), there is a large area which appears to have once been part of a large Hindu temple complex. Nearby there is a Mosque named after a certain Malik Karimuddin, which has all the appearances of a Hindu temple, except that all of the carvings on the pillars were effaced, and there's a mihrab in the back. I've read that an inscription on one of the pillars indicates that the original structure was built in the early 14th century, not as a mosque but as a Hindu temple or college. The columns pictured above may date from the same period. However, they were at the back of a trash strewn parking-lot. Note the sign on the middle of the center column, which reads"Parking." 

One of the more interesting columns, along with empty cement bags and a ball of tin-foil. What the carving appears to depict is some sort of building, which, to my knowledge, no longer exists. Perhaps the carving is an image of what the temple once looked like.

Either a stylized duck, or a mythical creature (or both). Rather a nice carving for a parking lot/ garbage dump.

Carving of an elephant. Before the city was captured by the Bahmani Sultinate in the 14th century, Bijapur was ruled by the Hindu Chalukya dynasty, and these pillars reflect Chalukyan artistic sensibilities. 

Two kids on the crumbling battlements of the Citadel, the fortified core of Bijapur. Unlike the majority of Indian forts, the citadel in Bijapur does not take advantage of any natural features. These battlements are behind the ancient temple/parking lot, on top of a large, though dilapidated, gate, which must have once been an important entrance to the fort, though it's now right up against a small cluster of houses. It must be something being a kid with an ancient ruined fort in your back yard. I know if I were a kid growing up in Bijapur, that is exactly where I would hang out.

The Jal Manzil, or Water Palace, also in the citadel. This was designed as a pleasure palace for Adil Shahi noble men and women. It is now surrounded by an empty square basin, which was once filled with water, so that the pavilion became a sort of small private Island right in the middle of the city.

The Sat Manzil, or seven storied palace (though only five survive), which is right next to the Jal Manzil. This is one of the very tallest buildings in the citadel, and one can see it from quite some distance. Though it was originally a palace, a large portion of it, along with much of the adjacent area within the citadel, has now been converted into government offices. I had heard that it was possible to actually go into the Sat Manzil, though at the time the government workers there were having none of that. 

Government typists in front of the Sat Manzil. Evidently, it was such a nice day that the typists who worked inside the Sat Mazil decided to set up shop outside in the street....yes, they're still using type writers.

They caught a crab.This was in front of the moat that once defended the citadel. Note the quite large crab at the lower right hand corner of the photo (the kid in the middle has it by a string). I had no idea that you could find crabs that big so far inland anywhere in the world, but I actually saw quite a few of them in Karnataka. These kids were, quite justifiably, very proud of the crustacean they caught in the moat in the middle of the city....I wonder if you can eat those....

The Bara Kaman, hands down Bijapur's most bizarre and unique sight, and also what inspired me to visit the city in the first place. I've heard that the Bara Kaman was originally envisioned as a tomb that would be even more ridiculously awe-inspiring than the Gol Gumbaz. However, the man who would be buried there, Ali Adil Shah II, was a less brilliant ruler than his forbears, and during his reign the kingdom of Bijapur was sent inexorably into decline by the twin threats of Aurangzeb's rising power and the expansion of the Hindu Marathas. Hence the cyclopean building project never got much beyond the first set of arches.

Looking at modern Bijapur through the arches of the Bara Kaman. Note the man to the left for scale. I've encountered a couple variants of the story, but what one hears is that the building was left unfinished because it would diminish the Gol Gumbaz by comparison. I've heard it claimed that Ali Adil Shah II was killed by his father simply to prevent him from completing the structure. Other sources claim that it was left unfinished to ensure that its shadow didn't touch the Gol Gumbaz. However, the rapidly waning fortunes of the Adil Shahis must also have had something to do with it.  It seems to have been an ill-fated project from the start.

Even unfinished, the Bara Kaman is an extremely impressive site, and unlike anything else I've seen.

The Bara Kaman was the last thing I visited on my first day in Bijapur. That night, I got a little sick, and I wound up spending the first half of the next day resting up...I didn't eat practically anything for about 24 hours. However, in the afternoon, once the heat of the day had broken, I went and climbed up onto an old watchtower called the Upli Burj, and had a pomegranate. After that I immediately felt better. Pomegranates really must be magical, because after that I didn't have the slightest trace of an illness for the whole rest of my time in Karnataka.

leaving the Upli Burj, I tried to go and find what's known as the Malik-e-Maiden, which is apparently the largest cannon from that period in Indian history. But I took a wrong turn, and I still wanted to see another tomb called the Ibrahim Rouza, so I sadly had to skip the Malik-e-Maiden altogether, as I was leaving the next day. A pity, though, like I wrote before, Bijapur is a place I would be happy to visit a second time.

As I was all turned around searching for India's largest medieval cannon, I encountered this fellow and his plucked chicken.

I now decided to head straight for the Ibrahim Rouza. It was the last thing I visited in Bijapur, and the most beautiful. 

The Ibrahim Rouza and its adjacent mosque, as viewed from about two miles away, from the Upli Burj.

The pathway leading up to the tomb and mosque.

The Ibrahim Rouza, with ladies to the left. Arguably the architectural masterpiece of the Bijapur Sultanate and the most aesthetically pleasing Islamic building in South India, the Ibrahim Rouza was built in the early 17th century and designed by a Persian architect by the name of Malik Sandal, who was also behind many of the buildings in the Citadel and also the unfinished Bara Kaman. The Ibrahim Rouza was intended as a tomb for the wife of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, though by a twist of fate he died before she did, and so wound up buried there first. Later, both his wife and Malik Sandal were eventually interred there. 

Arches and columns  For one of the most sublime pieces of Islamic architecture in all of India (which is really saying something), the Ibrahim Rouza is surprisingly unknown. I've heard that bus tours to Bijapur don't even bother to stop there, and the tomb doesn't even get its own Wikipedia article. I was there at around sundown, at, lighting wise, one the best time to view the tomb, and there were very few tourists of any sort.

Arches, black marble door, calligraphy inscriptions, niches. Stylistically  the Ibrahim is the exact opposite of the Gol Gumbaz in that, rather than being simple architecturally overwhelming, the emphasis at the Ibrahim Rouza is on the details. Virtually every inch of stone on the building is covered with inscriptions and interesting designs. In that it's primary impact is in the smaller details, the tomb is actually more like a Hindu temple than it is most other Islamic Mausoleums. I've read that Ibrahim Adil Shah II was in many ways rather a syncretist, after the fashion of emperor Akbar of the Moghuls, and I wonder if this is reflected somewhat in the unusual artistic emphases on the tomb. 

Passages of the Koran carved into the side of the tomb, in the last rays of light. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the whole book is written on the walls of the Ibrahim Rouza.

So, that was Bijapur. The next day I left for points further south.

 After Bijapur, I headed into areas where the monuments were Hindu rather than Muslim, and that was a different kettle of fish entirely.

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