Friday, April 5, 2013

The Gol Gumbaz and other monuments of Bijapur – Personal Photo Album Part 20

The city of Bijapur in north Karnataka is famous for its historical monuments of Islamic architecture dating back to the Adil Shahi dynasty that ruled the Deccan region of southern India during 1490 to 1686.  The most famous of these monuments is the world renowned Gol Gumbaz, comparable in grandeur and size to a handful of such ancient edifices in the country.  But for these monuments, most of which are well looked after by the Archeological Survey of India, Bijapur is a dusty and rusty old city with little else distinctive about it.

As mentioned in two of my recent blog posts, I had paid a breezy visit to Bijapur in November last year as part of a family of seven spanning three generations.  We had arrived at Bijapur on a bright sunny morning after a long overnight journey by bus from Bangalore, spent some time in a local hotel, and set out on the visit.  We had hired a taxi for our various visits that also included Badami, Pattadkal, and Aihole the next day as narrated in my earlier blog posts.
I had first visited Bijapur about twenty years ago, but this was before the days of digital photography and had nothing to show from the visit.  This time I have been able to put together a short pictorial documentary, focusing on just a few of the sights of this ancient city.

Gol Gumbaz

The following is typically the first view of the gigantic monument as one enters the well- maintained quadrangle of the sprawling Gol Gumbaz complex:

[As in my previous albums, all pictures are in high resolution and can be blown up to their full size by clicking on a picture and opening it in a separate window]

This is a rather deceptive view since the building in the foreground, now housing a museum, appears to be an integral part of the monument when in fact the domed structure is located well behind it as subsequent pictures will show.

The next picture captures the building in the foreground from some distance on the right side, with part of the domed structure barely visible.

A close-up shot of the same building from the left side shows it in its full glory, accentuated by the huge cannons on either side of the entrance.

As one walks past this building further up on the left, a fuller view of the Gol Gumbuz unfolds as in the next picture, highlighting one of the four seven-storey octagonal corner towers:

The next picture is a frontal view of the whole of Gol Gumbaz as visible from behind a second building that lies between the museum building and Gol Gumbaz.  This second building is seen in an aerial view appearing later.  Apart from indicating how massive it really is (as can be made out from the rather puny looking visitors in the foreground), it also shows how far behind it really is from the unseen museum building in the foreground.

Completed in 1656, the Gol Gumbaz is a massive mausoleum built in memory of Mohammed Adil Shah, Sultan of Bijapur.  This cubical structure is about 48 meters on each side and capped by a huge dome of 44 meters diameter.  At each of the four corners of the cube is a dome-capped octagonal tower seven stories high, as seen in the previous picture, with a narrow roughhewn stone staircase inside.  The dome is comparable in size to such buildings as St Paul’s Cathedral in London and St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, though architecturally and otherwise very different.  Incidentally, I have been inside both.

The following picture gives a view of the interior of the building showing the pleasing intersecting arches that give a distinctive look to it, though it is devoid of the intricate carvings and inlay work characteristic of similar buildings of Islamic architecture.  The enclosed structure, seen at the centre of the hall and dwarfed by the arches, surrounds the tomb of Adil Shah.

The Whispering Gallery

Running around the inside of the huge dome is the highly popular and over abused ‘whispering gallery’, so called because even the softest sound note generated at any point can be heard at other nodal points along the interior wall very clearly.  This is because of the large circumference of the gallery with its smooth circular interior that makes possible sound waves clinging to the surface and decreasing in intensity with distance at a slower rate than they normally do because of special acoustic conditions prevailing in the chamber.  The somewhat complicated physics of this phenomenon was first unraveled out by the great British physicist Lord Rayleigh in reference to a similar phenomenon noticed in London’s famous St Paul’s Cathedral.

Visitors to the whispering gallery in Gol Gumbaz almost always shout rather than whisper, thus missing out on the wonderful effects heard with soft sounds.  They end up hearing loud multiple echoes of their voices, often raucous, always eerie, something that amounts to a desecration of the wonderful place.
When we visited the gallery, a thoughtful and helpful guard took charge of the situation briefly and showed us the expected audio effects without interference from other sounds.  Here is a picture of a small portion of the large gallery showing my daughter and grandson listening to the whispers in enthralled admiration.  Mercifully there was no shouting match.

Reaching the whispering gallery at the top (clearly visible in the last picture) in Gol Gumbaz involves climbing up the very narrow roughhewn and very irregular stone steps of a spiraling staircase built into the octagonal corner towers.  This can be strenuous, particularly for the elderly, and I am glad to say I made it to the top without too much effort, but with some assistance from the younger members of the family.  In between the floors I rested a bit, looked around, and absorbed the scene both outside and along the edges of the gigantic building, with camera in hand all the time.

Some sidelights

The view from the top can be spectacular as the next picture shows.  It captures the museum building as well as the other building one has to pass through before reaching the monument.  The lawns and the greenery add to the overall effect.

The next picture shows a view of the intricate sculptured protrusions from one of the sides of Gol Gumbaz at one of the upper floors of the octagonal tower.  Similar sights, though perhaps slightly less spectacular, greet the visitor at each floor.

My last picture of Gol Gumbaz presented in this album is unusual by any standards.  While climbing up the stairs, I noticed an overhanging live beehive at some distance and instinctively zoomed in on it and took a picture.  The bees appeared to be so active and I was so fascinated by what I saw that I tried a super zoom (hand-held) shot of the bees and obtained several good pictures.  Here is a composite of the two pictures, the first showing the hive at a distance and the second an ultra-close up of the busy bees in action.  These are among the most treasured pictures in my collection over the years.  I also captured a short HD video clip of the bees at work.

Before leaving the Gol Gumbaz complex we spent a little while inside the impressive museum building, but my enthusiasm for the exhibits had been deflated by the sight of the ubiquitous ‘No Photography’ or some such stupid exhortation adorning most museums in the country, something that the otherwise efficient Archaeological Survey of India is hard put to justify considering that they ought to be promoting tourism among other things.

Bara Kaman

Located in the heart of the city, Bara Kaman is like an unfinished, indeed barely begun, symphony.  Apparently, Ali Adil Shah wanted to build a mausoleum of unmatched architectural quality.  Twelve great arches were planned to be placed vertically as well as horizontally surrounding his future tomb.  However, for reasons unknown, the work on the structure was left grossly incomplete.  One outlandishly incredible myth is that the construction of the mausoleum was stopped because once completed its shadow would touch the Gol Gombaz!

Though the site itself is well maintained, the entrance to it through a busy side street is an absolute insult to such a heritage site (see picture below).  On one side of the prominently displayed name board is an ice-cream parlor and on the other side a poster (in Kannada) advertising non-surgical solutions for some nagging physical ailments!  Such ads are generally found in public urinals and I had the feeling the entrance was not very different from one.

Stepping inside, we were indeed greeted by a very impressive sight as the next picture shows.  Incidentally, all humans seen in the picture belonged to my entourage; only I was missing for obvious reasons.

The next picture of Bara Kaman shot from the elevated floor level shows the raw and rugged beauty of the intended structure, without any disturbing human presence.


Located on the western ramparts of the very extensive Bijapur Fort between two bastions is the Malik-e-Maidan, roughly translated as the Master of the Battlefield, known to be one of the largest cannons in the world.  Being 4 m long, 1.5 m in diameter and weighing 55 tons, this was transported from Ahmednagar in the 17th century as a war trophy employing a huge convoy of oxen, elephants, and men.  The next picture shows it amidst its surroundings in its present location in Bijapur.

Here is a close-up view of the famed cannon on a platform specially built for it.  The cannon's nozzle is fashioned into the shape of a lion's head with open jaws and between the carved fangs is depicted an elephant being crushed to death.

When I saw this behemoth, I was reminded of the one in the Jaigharh Fort near Jaipur in Rajasthan.  It is displayed fully mounted on its carriage within a covered enclosure [See my earlier blog post: 14) Jaipur the Pink City - Personal Photo Album Part 3 (Oct 10)]

Ibrahim Rouza

The Ibrahim-Rauza is a pair of beautifully symmetric buildings with large central domes and tall narrow minarets facing each other, built by Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1580-1627).  As one enters the complex through a long pathway in a large courtyard with excellently maintained lawns, the building seen on the left is his tomb and the one on the right is a mosque.  The two monuments are separated by a water tank containing a fountain, all on a raised common platform.  The complex is captured in the next picture from just inside the main entrance.  In sharp contrast to the green courtyard, the buildings present a picture of decay and discoloration, even desolation, mainly through ravages of harsh weather over a period of several centuries.

When we entered through the main gate without realizing we had to buy entry tickets, we were harshly pulled up by the tickets clerk who then went on to perform his job as if he was doing us a special favor.

The next picture is a close-up of the tomb with the empty water tank in the foreground.  Without the rusty exterior, it would have been a great sight indeed.

The façade of intricately and superbly sculpted arches embellishing the entrance to the mosque is captured in the following picture:

The arches and pillars inside the mosque present a pleasing picture as seen in the next photograph despite the discoloration and decay.

I sign off with a very curious and interesting  zoomed-in picture of an overhanging ‘key-chain’ of huge intersecting rings supporting what looks like the tip of a gigantic ‘key’ near one of the upper sections of the mosque protruding outward.  I have no idea of what this signifies.


Because of paucity of time we had planned on seeing only four of the numerous monuments dotting the city and regrettably missed out on some that deserved as much attention as the ones filling these pages of my album.  After a quick lunch we hit the road to the Alamatti Dam site near Bagalkot and other places.  The dam site presented some unexpectedly beautiful sights which I intend to feature in a future blog post.


A. P. Poulose said...

Going through your blog, Sir, was exactly like going through the pathways, doors and stairs of the monument. Simple, accurate and captivating description with apt, high quality photographs. It is a delicious treat.

Mysore Hotel said...

Thanks for sharing post, most of the time people just post the images it was great pleasure to read this blog post.

Unknown said...

Dear Dr. Prasad,
I am in Bijapur now and was trying to read up a bit on the historical sites of this city before seeing them and was pleasantly surprised to see your blog post! Wonderful photos and nice read ! Thank you Sir!

your student,

UII Photography said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)

Anant Singhi said...

great blog, i got good information about gol gumbaz just because of this blog

Anonymous said...

Dr.SN Prasad ji,
Very nice, blog, infact just 15 days back I was I Bijapur, and nice recollect my memories thru your blog.

dimpy roy said...

Its just wow. Thanks for sharing this post. Bijapur, located in Karnataka, promises to take you back in the bygone era thorugh its grand historical monuments which have interesting tales to tell about that period. The city is home to several world-famous attractions like Gol Gumbaz, Ibrahim Rauza, Jumma Masjid and Malik-e-Maidan. Some other famous places to visit in Bijapur is Asar Mahal, Gagan Mahal and Barakaman among others. Check out Gol Gumbaz an important Indo-Islamic monument known for its unique structure.

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