The City of Victory – 1 – The town

I learnt that Bijapur is a colloquial form of Vijaypur, the City of Victory. It dates back to the 10th century and is believed to have been founded by the Chalukyans of Kalyan. However, anybody who opens his school history textbook (at least those in Maharashtra and Karnataka) are likely to hear of Bijapur from the days of the Adilshah.

In SSC (Maharashtra Board) text books, the Adilshah of Bijapur is the villain. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is the hero. The latter becomes the ruler of Maharashtra after conquering all the forts belonging to the former and then killing his main man, Afzal Khan. Then, if you go to Goa, you find old houses built during the time of Adilshah of Bijapur. You find of his palaces which is now a government institution. Goa was a part of the sultanate and the Portuguese had to battle it out from them. Also, the standard trivia quiz question about Bijapur was pertaining to the Gol Gumbaz, the biggest domed structure in India.

The Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur

All these years, as I keep adding to the list of places to travel to, Bijapur was not there. I didn’t really see much point in going there. There was Hampi on the list. But not Bijapur. It got added to the list when I started reading about the history of the Deccan sultanates and the Vijayanagar empire. Any city that grew and became such a major influence in the national narrative needs to be visited.

There are three different cities in Bijapur.

There is the modern town with its air conditioned shops, large noisy SUVs, bustling traffic, people busy on their way to their factories, businesses and offices.

There is the old town with its broken forts, havelis, mosques, markets and tombs.

But in between the two there is a third town trying to find itself.

The horse buggy (tanga) that I hired for the day was just that. A vehicle that continues to stay in the past but providing a modern day touristy service. The tangawala has a mobile phone which he will give you to call him whenever you are ready to move to the next place. He will stop at a traffic light. In the narrow streets where vehicles can’t overtake, buses line up quietly, shirking the horns, behind the tanga as it trundles along. As the road widens and the tanga shifts to the left, the buses pass by. There is no fuss about it. The same bus honks hard when couple of pedestrians take their time crossing the road.

Bijapur, March 2013
Going around Bijapur in a tanga

The in-between city is present in the streets of the town. You can see the houses which are still inhabited. Large houses that would give the upper class Mumbaikar living in his 1 crore+ 1000 sq ft built up area posh flat an inferiority complex. Some are 18th century old structures, others more recent  i.e. early 20th century.

Bijapur, March 2013
A typical house in Bijapur. The nameplate indicates it is the home and clinic of a doctor.
Sodium light illuminates a government office set inside an old haveli
Sodium light illuminates a government office set inside an old haveli
Bijapur, March 2013
The skyline of Bijapur is still dominated by a 17th century structure – the Gol Gumbaaz

The people in the town seem to know the value of their legacy. They know about the potential to make a living out of it. However, there is a diffidence to it. When compared to the brazen entrepreneurship of people in Hampi, the diffidence is surprising. There is a rich heritage in the town and there is much to share with the world at large.


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