The City of Victory 3 – The Domes

This work by George Michell and Mark Zebrowski laments that:

The plateau region in the centre of peninsular India, known as the Deccan, is one of the country’s most mysterious and unknown regions in terms of artistic heritage. Few scholars, Indian or foreign, have worked extensively in the Deccan, which remains little visited and surprisingly unexplored.

(Introduction, Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates, George Michell and Mark Zebrowski, Cambridge University Press, 1987)

It is quite easy to use “Mughal” architecture as a common label for all Islamic structures in the country, wherever they might be. It is a bit like most Indian non-vegetarian food is termed as “Mughlai cuisine”. The Islamic structures in the Deccan have a number of subtle differences. For one, most of the sultanates were descended from Persian generals and were mainly subscribers of the Shia sect. The Mughals were more mixed – Turks, Arabs and Persian – and more importantly, Sunni. Instead of looking northward for artistic influences, most often the Deccan art patrons would turn west – to Persia. The geographic characteristic of the peninsula made this region a sponge for influences from all over the world. These influences included material (e.g. tiles from Kashan in Iran) and people (e.g. Persian calligraphers). There is also a much stronger influence of Indian i.e. Hindu elements in the design and construction of the structures.

So, with this basic background, when one looks at the monuments of Bijapur, there are three main observations with respect to its independent identity vis a vis the Mughals.

Firstly, unlike the Mughal architecture (and specific examples would include Humayun’s tomb, the Red Fort, etc.), the monuments at Bijapur were much more simple and to some extent drab. The Gol Gumbaz for example is a fine architectural wonder. However, there is no major detailing on the walls, the doorways, the windows, etc. For comparison, let us take two pictures, one of Humayun’s tomb and one of the Gol Gumbaz.

Secondly, there is a major difference in the level of preservation / restoration work that is in place. The Mughal monuments, more high profile and much visited, obviously get the best conservationists to take care of them. The high degree of attention, in a way, drives the pressure to prioritise all maintenance of these sites. As opposed to that, the sites in the Deccan area seem to have been left to the elements. Barring the Gol Gumbaz and the Ibrahim Rauza, there was no ASI operation. The local people were the sweepers, shoe deposit counter operators, souvenir sellers and quick fix guides. As a consequence, the general appearance of most of the sites were extremely unattractive.

Thirdly, and this is spoken of by the authors I quoted above, there is no definite histories of the sites. There are oral histories which have come down the years – in some cases, oral histories were recorded down in the 17th century (by the Persian historian Firishta who was specially invited by the Ahmadnagar sultan to write a history of the region, see my first post of my Bijapur series). As a result, for the same structure, different people on the ground had different stories. Ask the tangawala, he will give you one story. Ask the caretaker of a monument and he will give you another story. The available ASI literature is restricted to the technical specifications of the structure and they do not seem to be interested in speculating any further history about the subjects.

All these factors add to the mysteriousness of the Deccan region. For the Gol Gumbaz itself, there are some interesting questions that one may want to ask

1. According to the ASI inscription, the Gol Gumbaz was commissioned by Muhammad Adil Shah in 1626, the year he became sultan. He ruled for 30 years. In 1656, when he died, he was interred in the structure. So effectively, he built his own grave. The question is why? The wikipedia article mentions some tales of Sufi mystics helping him. There are no citations. I don’t think there will be any citations on this.

2. Ibrahim Adil Shah, the predecessor of Muhammad Adil Shah, reigned from 1580 till 1627. He is buried at the Ibrahim Rauza. The local tangawala calls it the Taj Mahal of the South. (another doffing of the hat to the more famous northern cousin). He was greatly interested in music and specifically Indian music. He has written a work on the nine rasas. There is a structure called Sangeet Mahal in the outskirts of the city. There is no ASI inscription there. Did Ibrahim Adil Shah have anything to do with this? Is this an example of syncretism in the south. Ibrahim Adil Shah was also a contemporary of Akbar who was also dabbling in designing syncretic religions.

3. How did the people manage the heat?

Here is a set of pictures on the edifices of the Bijapur sultanate?


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