Bijapur: A hidden heritage

I visited Bijapur as part of an organised tour of heritage places in North Karnataka in the first week of September. When our tour group stepped outside Bijapur railway station, there was no indication that we were in a place of any significance—no rickshaws or tour guides trying to hard sell a “good deal” to the sites in the town. There were only some tongas and a few people wandering about here and there. It was so quiet and peaceful that I wondered if we were in the right place at all !

Bijapur was the seat of power for the Adil Shahi dynasty which ruled from 1490 to 1686. The town was established in the 1oth–11th century by the Chalukyas, though it was then known as Vijaypura or the “city of victory”. Though the Chalukyas were renowned for their temple architecture, there is nothing to show for their presence in the town today. What it has to offer is some stunning examples of Islāmic architectureGol Gumbaz, Ibrahim Rouza, Jama Masjid, Darbar Hall, etc. Indeed, Bijapur is one of the few places in South India, where you get to see Islāmic architecture.

Bijapur is identified with and is almost synonymous with the Gol Gumbaz, the mausoleum of Muhammad Adil Shah II, who is buried here along with his two wives, his son, his daughter, and his mistress. That is perhaps the only reason all tourists gravitate towards the Gumbaz and for our group too, this was the first stop.

My first impression of the Gumbaz was not very favourable—its rather squat proportions of a plain dome atop a cube with slender seven-storeyed towers at each corner seemed too symmetrical and boring. Its size, though, was impressive, and why not—the dome is reportedly the second largest dome in the world, next only to St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican City.

The Gol Gumbaz

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