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?


The Chalukyas of Badami

Badami, February 2010Badami Fort, February 2010Badami, February 2010Badami, February 2010Badami, February 2010Badami, March 2010
Badami Town, February 2010Badami, February 2010Badami, February 2010Badami, February 2010Malaprabha River (confluences with the Krishna), Pattadakal, February 2010Virupaksha (the main temple) at Pattadakal, February 2010
View from Digambar Jain Temple, February 2010Huchchimalli, February 2010Aihole (present day village), February 2010Mallikarjuna Complex (Aihole), February 2010Mallikarjuna Complex (Aihole), February 2010Ravanaphudi (Aihole), February 2010
Aihole (Gaudaragudi), February 2010Aihole, February 2010Aihole, February 2010Aihole, February 2010Aihole, February 2010Aihole, February 2010

The Chalukyas of Badami, a set on Flickr.

There were three main strands of the Chalukyan Empire. The Chalukyas of Badami were the first, established by Pulakesin I in 543 CE. Since then, for about 200 years, they held sway over most parts of the peninsula from the banks of the Narmada right down to present day Tamil Nadu.There was a brief period of 13 years when the Pallava king Narasimhavarman defeated Pulakesin II and captured Badami. The kingdom was later retaken by the son and successor of Pulakesin II, Vikramaditya I. In 753, they were overthrown by the Rashtrakutas forcing the dynasty to flee. Descendents would later form the next generation of the Chalukya empire about 200 years later.

In terms of legacy, the Chalukyas were the most influential empire in peninsular India in the first Millennium. As the Gupta empire faded out by the 2nd century, there was a period of chaos before the empire was established.

Badami, the capital of the empire, today bares a pitiable look of a semi-urban area. That it was once a rich city of successful kings who ruled an area almost half of present day India cannot be perceived from the hamlet-like ambiance that is prevalent today.

The temple complex of Pattadakal is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was here that victory inscriptions, coronations of kings and important state functions were held. Aihole was a trading centre where the Chalukyans were originally based. They were feudatories to the Kadambas. A temple dating back to 450 CE is considered to be the oldest of all the structures in the area.

The three sites of Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole are within a 1 hour 3-wheeler ride of each other and can be covered in one day. Of course, there are numerous structures relating to the period scattered all over the area (present day northern Karnataka).

The architecture of the period has its own style – the Chalukyan style. It was a fusion of Indo-Aryan and Dravidian styles which later took on its own identity. From the cave temples in Badami to the huge complex temple structures in Pattadakal, there is a gradual improvement in the competence and imagination of the sculptors and their patrons. This can be clearly seen even today.

More explorations:

Historic City of Badami

Historic City of Aihole

Coronation Street – Pattadakal (UNESCO World Heritage Site)


Sri Lanka Diaries – Dagoba Hopping in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura, as the history books tell us, was the first capital of the Sinhala kingdom and the main Buddhist centre on the island. Today, there are two towns, like any historic city. There is the sacred city which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and there is the new town where local industry and the population live.

Typically, all the hotels, guest houses, home stays, etc are in the new town. The buses and trains also bring you here. On the first day I was here, I decided to venture out walking to the sacred city area.  The three wheeler autorickshaws were offering a full tour of the area for 3500 LKR (all tickets included). The general information I had was that one needed to buy tickets to access the area. The ticket value was LKR 3500 (but for Indians and other SAARC countries, there was a 50% discount). Later I found out, after buying a ticked for LKR 1750, that the tickets were only for the museums. In general all the other places were freely accessible. Most of them were holy sites which were still in use. So there were restrictions like leaving your slippers, dress code and body searches. But no monetary restrictions.

I thought the distance of 4 kms was easily manageable. I miscalculated the heat of the sun. But I did not want to take an autorickshaw and commit to a full tour. I wanted the flexibility to walk up, see the area and if I liked it then enter and engage with it. So I kept it simple. I found an auto driver who wasn’t very pushy. He dropped me at the entrance of the Maha Bodhi Tree.

Entrance path to the Maha Bodhi Tree From Sri Lanka Holiday

The Bodhi tree was planted when a cutting from the original tree in Gaya was brought here by Sanghamitta, daughter of Asoka in the 3rd century BCE. Her brother Mahinda had come earlier and had already converted Tissa, the third of the Sinhala kings. This was the birth of Buddhism in the country.

The tree stands till today but is heavily fenced.

From Sri Lanka Holiday

But the area around the tree is a throbbing place. This was the week leading to the Sinhala New Year and there were people thronging the area dressed in all whites.

From Sri Lanka Holiday

The place was decorated by multi-coloured patakas, the ubiquitous Buddhist pennants that are hung all over the place. It gave the whole area the feel of a fair without making it trivial or frivolous.

After spending about half an hour here, I started walking around the area.

From Sri Lanka Holiday

The entire place is littered with artefacts, structures (some in excellent condition, some merely blocks of stone). The first thing that strikes you is the sense of calmness – in all aspects. There is cleanliness on the roads and most importantly on the sides of the roads. There was order amongst the Lankans as they lined up peacefully to enter or exit the respective areas. There was no loud music playing on country made loud speakers. Traffic was sparse but orderly.

From Sri Lanka Holiday

Even taking photographs of water lilies could be done without worrying about any plastic shit floating on the waters.

A smallish dagoba on the side of the road    From Sri Lanka Holiday

The stupas of India and the pagodas of Burma are called dagobas in Sri Lanka. They are numerous. Spotless white, I had to really adjust my camera settings to distinguish the domes from the white clouds in the background.
As I said earlier, I did pay LKR 1750 at the Archaeological Museum. The ticket mentioned that I could enter three museums. I went into the first. There were two things that I found really interesting. The building itself and this giant lizard that kept running around.

A giant lizard scampering around the museum grounds   From Sri Lanka Holiday
The Verandah of the museum       From Sri Lanka Holiday

The entire sacred city area is spread over some stunning greenery.

The green areas around the different structures    From Sri Lanka Holiday

Everywhere there were odd stones, dolmens, monoliths, etc sprayed around. Some were randomly scattered, others were arranged in some geometric structure suggesting that there was some human activity here.
The Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba is the biggest of them all in Anuradhapura. It is also in active service. There was a fair crowd making its way in and out of the complex. Once again the cleanliness of the area was the first thing that caught the eye. Anyone who has seen any temple site in India will immediately wonder at the difference in attitude in an island which is just across a few kilometres away (the distance between the Indian coast and the Mannar jetty)

The Ruwanawelisaya     From Sri Lanka Holiday

I completed the walk about with a visit to Abhaygiri. This site is a ruin in the truest sense. But well kept of course. A bit far away from the Ruwanwelisaya, one had to take an autorickshaw to it. But it was worth the visit.

The Abhayagiri From Sri Lanka Holiday

The Abhayagiri vihara was a full fledged Buddhist monastery. The entire area shows evidence of living quarters, dining halls, pools for taking bath and latrines. One key element of Sri Lankan Buddhist architecture is the moonstone (not to be confused with the gemstone) – a crescent shaped stone platform on which are built the steps leading to any structure. From plain simple stone platforms to intricately carved ones (from what is possible to see today after all the erosion caused by weather and billions of human and canine feet). Later when I was seeing other places in Sri Lanka, this moonstone element seemed ubiquitous – from doormats to the leading step of a house to small souvenirs.

From Sri Lanka Holiday

I spent maybe 4 hours tramping around with an occasional ride in an autorickshaw when the heat became unbearable. Drinking lots of water along with puffing of the odd cigarette, I had a quiet but extremely filling day. I closed it with the physical filling of fried rice and chicken curry.

From Sri Lanka Holiday

That’s it for now.