Kannada, Kannadiga, Kannadigaru, Karnataka,

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Bidar, A Forgotten capital of the Deccan

Bidar, A Forgotten capital of the Deccan

Bidar is a walled fortress town lying 673 metres above sea level on a red laterite plateau in northern part of the Indian state of Karnataka. Barid Shahi Tomb (Photo by Dr. Bimla Verma)Although only a small regional centre today, it was once a flourishing capital of two major Sultanates of the Deccan – the Bahmanis and the Barid Shahis. The ninth ruler of the Bahmani kingdom, Ahmad Shah I, shifted his capital from Gulbarga to Bidar in 1424. He rebuilt the old Hindu fort to withstand cannon attacks, and laid out beautiful palaces and gardens. As the Bahmani capital declined, the Barid Shahi family took over the reins of the state from 1487. They continued to hold power till 1619, when Bidar was annexed to Bijapur. The town and the surrounding area fell to Aurangzeb in 1656. The Asaf Jahi dynasty, founded by Nizam-ul-Mulk took over Bidar. It continued as part of Hyderabad state till 1956, when it became part of the expanded state of Mysore, later named Karnataka.

Although Bidar’s period of glory lasted for less than 200 years, it still attracts travellers with its haunting beauty, modesty and lack of pretension as well as old-world charm. It lies a little over 100 kilometres to the northwest of Hyderabad, and about 25 kilometres north of Mumbai-Hyderabad national highway.

The main monuments are the Fort and some other buildings erected by Ahmad Shah Wali in 1429. The Fort owes its construction to Allauddin Bahmani in the 14th century AD. The moat is its most remarkable feature. The fortifications, built by Turkish mercenaries, possess a certain resemblance to medieval European fortresses. This is seen in the disposition of barbicans, covered passages and bastions. However, local features such as labyrinthine secret passages, carved stones and dainty architectural details are also to be seen here. The inner Fort was built by Mohammad Shah out of the red laterite and dark trapstone available in the area, and it was later decorated by Ali Barid. The steep hill to the north and east provided a natural defence, and a triple Bidar Fort  (Photo by Dr. Bimla Verma) moat was built to the south and west. A series of gates and a drawbridge over the moat to the south formed the main entrance from the town. One of the other two gates is the Sharaza Darvaza, built in 1503. It has tigers carved in bas-relief on each side and a Naubatkhana (drum gallery) above it. The other one is Gumbad Darwaza, which shows Persian influence. It has a decorated gumbad or dome, and is said to have been built by Ahmad Shah Wali in the 1420s.

The palace of Ahmad Shah Wali still boasts of some remarkable architectural features. The Rangeen Mahal of Muhammad Shah has elaborately coloured tiles, and mother of pearl inlay on polished black granite. On the western side of the square is the Shahi Mathak, or kitchen (once a palace); the Shahi Hamam or bathhouse, converted into a small museum, and an old banyan tree. The remains of water channels and a fountain are witnesses to the former glory of the Lal Bagh. Perhaps the oldest Islamic-style building in Bidar, and also one of the largest, is the Sola Khamba (sixteen columned) Madarsa of Mahmud Gawan  (Photo by Dr. Bimla Verma) mosque, also known as the Zanani mosque, which dates back to 1423. The adjacent Tarkash Mahal, to the south of Lal Bagh, still has some tilework. The Gagan Mahal, the Diwan-i-Am and the Takht Mahal are other buildings worthy of a visit. Of the royal apartments, a well, part of the Hazar Kothri (underground rooms), and the Naubat Khana are among the few buildings which survive.

The Madarsa of Mahmud Gawan is one of the most ambitious pieces of medieval architecture in India that still survives. It was built around 1472 by a man who held the high post of Vazir (Prime Minister) to three Bahmani rulers, and who was reputed to be a warrior, statesman and scholar. His military campaigns had added most of the present day Karnataka and Goa to the Bahmani kingdom between 1466 and 1481. Goa, however, fell to the Portuguese in 1510. The Madarsa was a famous college and centre of learning, which attracted scholars from distant Muslim lands. It has been described as a copy of a similar building in central Asia; in any case it is a brilliant example of Persian influence on the Bahmani architecture of the period. Green, white and yellow tiles once covered the whole facade, with floral patterns and bold calligraphy.

Among the other structures of interest are the Chaubara, a circular watch tower, 23 mt high, near the city centre. Close by is the Jamai Masjid, built in 1430. It bears the Barid Shahi chain and pendant motif. Another mosque worthy of note is the Kali Masjid, built in 1694, south of the Talghat Darwaza. It has fine plaster decorations on the vaulted ceiling, and is made of black trapstone. There are also a number of Khanqabs (hospices), which may be described as Sufi versions of an ashram or monastery. Some of them are still in use.

Zenana (ladies) madarsa inside the fort   (Photo by Dr. Bimla Verma)Another interesting group of buildings in Bidar comprises of tombs and shrines at Ashtur, which were erected by Bahmani kings from 1436 to 1535. It is significant that the Bahmani tombs are quite distinct and located away from those of the Barid Shahi rulers, who usurped power from the Bahmanis. They are square, with arched arcades all around. The interiors have coloured and gilded paintings of great beauty on the ceilings, while the exteriors have bulbous domes, stone carvings, and decorations with coloured tiles. The two most impressive are those of the ninth and tenth Bahmani rulers, Ahmad Shah I and Allauddin Shah II. A very attractive building is the Chaukhandi of Hazrat Khalillulah, a spiritual adviser to the rulers. This is approached by a flight of steps.

The Barid Shahi tombs and mausoleums constitute yet another group of buildings in Bidar. Some of the lesser Barid Shahi tombs have been enclosed in a compound and gardens have been laid between them in somewhat dramatic style. The stress appears to be on the trees and flowers and not on the monuments! The Habshi Kot, outside the city walls, was a site of important Abyssinian officials. The Narasimha Jharani is an underground cave temple, with a spring nearby.

Bidar reminds of a medieval city which played an important part in the history of the Deccan. It is a symbol of the harmonious culture which prevailed at the time, in spite of the dominance of Islamic rulers.

Credits

  • This article is reproduced courtsey India Perspective
  • The author, Dr. Vasant Kumar Bawa, is a freelance writer.

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July 8, 2007 - Posted by | EKAVI BIDAR, RCILTS Kannada

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