Kannada, Kannadiga, Kannadigaru, Karnataka,

Kannadigarella ondaagi Kannadavannu ulisona, kalisona and belesona

Up the staircase to the Whispering Gallery [Bijapur]

Up the staircase to the Whispering Gallery
Arun Bhatia
If one wants to see everything in Bijapur, one would need to spend a week or ten days. What I remember most is of course those echoes of the lit match going hiss hiss five times…

In the comic strip of Calvin and Hobbes, that mischievous boy Calvin zooms hundreds of years back in time. He makes a time machine using an old shoe box, and then his toy tiger Hobbes and he pretend to go into historic times.

I felt something like that by going 400 kilometers north from Bangalore and I was transported back 400 years.   That is how I felt on my visit to Bijapur, that north Karnataka city famous for the Gol Gumbaz.

My bus from Bangalore took many hours to reach. All along the city as the bus entered Bijapur, and then stopped at the station, one could see monuments with Islamic architecture – mosques, mausoleums, minarets.

There were tongas carrying passengers with the drivers urging the ponies just as they would have done in medieval India.   Those urgings varied with each tongawalla – some went drrrr loudly as they shook the reins, others went tsk tsk and one even whistled to make the pony go faster. After getting off the bus, I decided to hire one such tonga to take me from the station to the Gol Gumbaz.   I felt the cold breeze on my face as we reached.

Before leaving Bangalore, I had read about the Gol Gumbaz. It was built in 1639 and is compared to the Taj Mahal. It has four walls that enclose an enormous hall 1700 sq. meters in area, with seven storey tall towers at each of the corners. The structure is capped by a huge hemispherical dome, the second largest in the world. (The largest is in Italy, at Vatican City, Rome.)

What attracted me to the Gol Gumbaz was the gallery under the enormous dome.  That gallery is 3 meters wide and goes around the base of the dome. The dome and the gallery were engineered in such a way that if you light a match, or snap your fingers, or even whisper, that faint sound would echo over and over, as much as ten times.

Such faint sounds would echo and would be heard by someone standing straight across, all the way 35 meters distance to the other side of the gallery! That is why it is sometimes called the Whispering Gallery.

I wanted to find out for myself if all that was true.  After reaching Gol Gumbaz, I requested my tongawala to go up with me and he agreed.   It was a climb of nine stories on a narrow staircase, to reach the Whispering Gallery on top.  I was panting after going up 108 steep steps and then told the tongawalla to stand on the other side of the gallery and snap his fingers.   He said he didn’t know how to snap fingers but could light a match from his match box.

Standing right across, I signaled to him to go ahead and he lit the match. The flame came alive and I saw the flare but there was no sound at the same time.   Before I could feel disappointed, I heard the hiss sound once, then it echoed a second, and a  third, and a fourth and a fifth time. It was quite a thrill!

But by that time, down below, some school children had entered the Gumbaz and were shouting under the dome.  Their screams drowned out the sss sound of the lit match.  So I got to know that what they say is true. The acoustics are such that even a whisper echoes in the Whispering Gallery.   I don’t know if I would have heard the echo ten times – but hearing it five times was also a delight.

There are other attractions in Bijapur that some say is The Agra of South India. The kingdom of Bijapur was founded by Yusuf Bin Shah in the 15 th century and the city is full of monuments raised by the rulers in the 16th and 17th century. The tongawala took me to the delicately carved Ibrahim Roza, built by Ibrahim Adil Shah II for his queen Taj Sultana.   It is believed that the monument Ibrahim Roza is the inspiration behind the making of the Taj Mahal in Agra. The Jami Masjid and Asar Mahal (Hall of Justice) are interesting.

Bara Kaman with impressive base and magnificent lines of arches were the last Adil Shah’s great project…but he could not complete it. Bijapur has a 10 km long fort wall that has Malik-e-Maidan, (Ruler of the Plains), a huge 55 tonne canon, 4.3 meters long, and 1.5 meters diameter. When this canon was to be fired in a battle, the gunner had to dive into a water tank on the platform – otherwise he would have gone deaf!

If one wants to see everything in Bijapur, one would need to spend a week or ten days. What I remember most is of course those echoes of the lit match going hiss hiss five times.



November 1, 2007 - Posted by | EKAVI BIJAPUR

1 Comment »

  1. The narration and the message given was very interesting and useful for a person who wishes for a wonderful and adventerous tour. personally felt the touch of travel while reading the article. all the best.

    Comment by gilbert | March 13, 2009 | Reply

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