History has the power to shock and awe the witness. Without warning, the jaw-dropping sight of the Gol Gumbaz surprises the visitor to Bijapur as they drive through the Karnataka road. From afar, the eye is drawn to the smooth rounded dome from which the tomb of Sultan Mohammed Adil Shah gets its name. Set amidst landscaped gardens, the dome is perched on a solid limestone structure on a raised platform with towers and minarets.
Gol Gumbaz is equally striking on the inside. Built around 1650 AD, this architectural gem of the Bahmani dynsasty rises almost 200 feet at its highest. Built in the shape of a cube, the structure is nearly 38 feet in diameter and supports the second largest dome in the world after the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Narrow, steep and dingy steps lead up to the gallery from where visitors can look down into the mausoleum hall, where in the centre of a podium, a cenotaph slab sits over the grave below. The ghosts of the past come alive in the fading evening light seeping in through arched windows. However, the Whispering Gallery is unique to Gol Gumbaz, running along the inside of the dome where even the slighest whisper is amplified by a miracle of acoustics. Of ourse, if there are children around, it becomes a shouting gallery.
Though the Gumbaz defines Bijapur owing to its turbulent history, it is not the only attraction the city offers. There are believed to be more than 300 domes and at least four dozen mosques in addition to countless other structures.
Chief among these structures is the Ibrahim Rouza, the tranquil tomb of the fifth ruler of the dynasty, Ibrahim Adil Shah II, the predecessor to Gol Gumbaz’s builder. It has a tragic history, built as a future mausoleum for Adil Shah’s queen, Taj Sultana. But it was he who died first and interred there. Today, his queen, children and mother keep him company in eternal sleep. Legends say this exquisitely proportioned Islamic monument was the inspiration behind the Taj Mahal. It is a set of twin structures, a mosque and a tomb, both sitting on sprawling grounds, facing each other and are studded with towers, minarets, and elaborate carvings.
Death seems to have skipped the impressive Bara Kaman (12 arches) which is an unfinished masoleum. It is the final resting place of the 17th century king Ali Roza, who is buried here along with his queens.
At the other end of Bijapur stands the Malik-e-Maidan (Bijapur Citadel) where the ruins of a fort and other buildings are visible. Laying emphasis to the citadel’s function is a large medieval cannon standing on a raised platform, embellished with ornate carvings. Weighing 55 tonnes, it is among the largest of its kind and is made of panchaloha (the five metals—gold, silver, copper, brass and iron). Prominent among the designs is a lion carved into the nozzle. According to lore, the cannon was brought back from Ahmadnagar by the Adil Shahi kings as a trophy after a conquest.
Hidden in the city’s narrow lanes is the Taj Bavdi, an enormous tank hidden behind walls, with an arched entrance and surrounded by a verandah on pillars. The city was full of such step wells at one time. However, for every spectacular sight, Bijapur has dozens more that beckon, including Jumma Masjid, Asar Mahal, Gagan Mahal and scores of other monuments. Bijapur has three parts: the citadel, the fort and ruins of a city outside the fort walls. It is a confluence of eras: in the vicinity stands temples built in the architectural style of its founders, the Kalyani Chalukyas. The British left behind the King Edward VII tower, built in his honour in Indo-Islamic style.
While a couple of days in this city of five rivers will give the visitor just a taste, it is easy to spend several days wandering around the handposts of history.
Bijapur is in North Karnataka, about 575 km from Bengaluru and 380 km from Hyderabad.
How to reach: Though Belgaum (200 km) is the nearest airport, it has sparse connections.
Instead fly to Hyderabad and drive or take a train to Bijapur.