Gol Gumbaz and Beyond: Bijapur’s Marvels

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    Also known as the Taj Mahal of South India, the Gol Gumbaz is the mausoleum of Muhammad Adil Shah, who was the Sultan of Bijapur between 1626 and 1656 AD. The Gol Gumbaz is famous the world over as it has the second largest free-standing dome in the world - after the grand St. Peter’s Basilica, in Rome.

    The size of the Gol Gumbaz gives it its own unique character, but the first thing that takes you by surprise is that what you see from the main entrance to the monument is a spectacular visual illusion!

    The visual access to the structure is designed in such a way that the viewer can appreciate this incredible monument as a whole - even though it is actually layers!

    After first seeing it from a distance (hence the long walkway from the main entrance) one has to go around the Nagar Khana or drum house- now the Archaeological Survey of India museum. The actual entrance is through a relatively small gateway which is now the security check point.

    Stand beneath it and you will get a sense of just how massive the dome is. With an internal diameter of124 ft and a total building height of 167 ft, the structure has a floor area of about 18,300 sq.ft. The size of this structure and its height create the perfect setting for some great acoustics and echoes!

    The whispering gallery at the springing level of the dome is a big draw. Speak or make a sound at any point over here and you will hear it with impeccable clarity, at the diametrically opposite end!

    At the center, are the cenotaphs of the royal family and Adil Shah’s famous mistress, Rhumba. The real tombs lie a few feet under this, in underground chambers.

    The presence of these underground chambers are ‘felt’ when you walk across the ventilated floors. Perforations at certain strategic points on the floor allow cool wind from the chambers underneath to come in at the base of the dome and cool the floor space we were walking on! The Taj Mahal, in Agra, also has a similar ventilation system.

    The four octagonal towers which adorn the corners of the main structure are also a must-see. As you climb up, you will see the heavy Vijayanagar influenced brackets under the cornice with Persian motifs. These make the building a mix of aesthetic, cultural and architectural styles.

    We then went around the base of the magnificent dome, which is also decorated with the mixed architectural styles seen on the octagonal towers. The dome truly dwarfs anyone standing near it, asserting the fact that it the largest of the 200 domes in the city of Bijapur.

    We then headed over to the Jama Masjid nearby, which is one of the largest mosques in south India. Adil Shah built it after the victory over Vijayanagara dynasty at the Battle in Talikoti in 1565. The western wall is adorned with inscriptions from the Holy Quran, making the central mihrab a beautiful composition. On special days, this large arched mosque can accommodate up to 2500 people.

    Bijapur extends even beyond its fortification walls and Ibrahim Rauza is worth venturing outside them. Built by Ibrahim Adil Shah II, it consists of his tomb and mosque within a square compound. The two structures stand impressively on an elevated porch.

    As we left Bijapur, images like these remained etched in our memory. The architectural marvels here deserve much greater recognition than passing interest from locals and motley tourists, as they are at par with some of the world’s most famous monuments! Hopefully, they will get their due.

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