Table of contents for Karnataka Kapers
- Aihole: A Peep into Chalukyan Temple Architecture
- Badami Delight
- Bidar – Of Hasan Gangu, Mahmud Gawan and Barid Shahis
- Ashtur Dreams – The Technicolour Royal Necropolis of Bahmani Sultanate
Bidar is a pretty city with a mix of old and new world. The old city defended by the surviving outer citadel walls of Bidar Fort is like any other old city in India with gateways, minars and monuments. The new city is planned and clean with sprawling roads, parks, education centres and the Air Force Station. The comfortable distance of about forty kilometres off the Hyderabad Mumbai NH 9 gives Bidar just the right reclusiveness.
The city got its name from ‘bidiru’ or bamboo. Along with bamboo clusters, the place has abundance of fruit trees, lush green vegetation and perennial springs. Bidar located on the Northern tip of Karnataka sits on the top of a plateau at a height of 2000 feet. You ride into Bidar in the summer of May. The temperature is threatening to touch 35 degrees; clouds soon roll in to cool down the city. The next day you drive into Gulbarga just 115 kms to the west. Gulbarga is a fiery furnace at 45 degrees. Bidar is a place you would gladly want to settle down in. You thought the same thing about Nasik when you visited the city ten years ago. Now Nasik is unrecognisable with its wild growth. You don’t want the same fate to befall Bidar.
You are not the only one to fall for Bidar’s charms. Bahmani Sultan Ahmad Shah I Wali (1422-1436), perhaps blistered by the intense summers of Gulbarga, shifted the capital of Bahmani Sultanate to the cooler climes of Muhammadabad or Bidar. The salubrious weather and abundance of water sources made the decision to shift the Bahmani Sultanate from Gulbarga to Bidar easier. Also Bidar was strategically closer to Golconda and Warangal.
Just as you leave the old city behind and go past Dulhan Darwaza, the road suddenly drops. On the left you can see the fort walls perched on the edge of the plateau meandering to the north. The auto rickshaw driver turns off the engine and we glide unpowered to the east towards the village of Ashtur.
Ashtur could possibly be the biggest surprise of monument rich Karnataka. You had done some rudimentary research before hitting Bidar. You came across few posts with these strange looking structures tucked away from the city. Google Earth reveals a series of monuments. The hypothalamus in your brain has started buzzing. Before even visiting the Bidar Fort you want to see Ashtur first.
In the middle of rolling fields, away from any apparent inhabitation the tombs of Bahmani Sultans appear suddenly soaring over the land. The first reaction on seeing these huge edifices is of incredulity and euphoria – it is as if you have found another lost jewel from the vast treasure chest of India. This makes you kind of delirious and for the first few minutes you are running up and down the complex. You have felt this before also. It is like as if you have been given five minutes to see whatever you can before it all disappears. The auto driver who was standing disinterested by the side of the road and has just seen you darting in and out, has now decided to follow you to figure out what the heck is going on. He does not find any rabid dog chasing you and is wondering what you have been smoking.
This is bliss – just you and a handful of tombs waiting to be discovered. The complex about 200 metres in length is like a huge procession of tomb floats gliding along Rajpath on Republic Day. The tombs are imposing; some are incomplete while some have their domes blown away. After your initial photography burst, you go back to the tombs in the east for more detailed examination.
Bahmani Sultans after moving to Bidar decided upon Ashtur as their final resting place. Since the going rate of land was cheap then, an elongated plot of land along the road was bought on the edge of the city for their proposed grand tombs. At the same time they could keep an eye on the contractor from the safety of the bastioned walls of Bidar Fort.
Just looking at the long line of tombs you know the big daddy is the Ahmad Shah I Wali Tomb. The tomb is the second from the east. Ahmad Shah shifted the capital to Bidar in 1430 and rebuilt the old fort. Riches from different conquests brought opulence to Bidar which turned the city into a centre of culture and progress. He was religiously inclined and invited saints to Bidar. He was devoted to Hadrat Banda Nawaz of Gulbarga and later to Shah Nimat Ullah of Kirman, reportedly a Sufi dervish. He also respected the doctrine of Lingayats, a religious order of Deccan established by the philosopher, statesman and social reformer Basavanna (1134-1196). Ahmad Shah was like an earlier Akbar.
Ahmad Shah Wali the ninth Bahmani Sultan died in 1436 and his son Alauddin built a majestic tomb for his father.
The Ahmad Shah I Wali Tomb is majestic and looks solid. The walls are about twelve feet thick supporting a huge orb dome on the top. There are three doors built into huge recessed arches. The walls carry three tiers of arches of varying dimensions. The tomb looks similar to its contemporary tombs in Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens.
You enter the tomb from the southern entrance. It is pitch dark inside. You can just make out the satin covered grave with a canopy over it. The eyes adjust a little and it is then you realise you have just stepped into the most colourful jewel box.
You know the feeling. You felt the same when you stepped into the charming Jamali Tomb in Delhi’s Mehrauli Archaeological Park. That tomb was tiny, was largely two toned and you knew what to expect. It is a huge surprise here. The interior is still very dark but it is apparent that seemingly all colours from the artist’s palette have been used on the walls and the ceiling. You can see the most brilliant shades of gold, vermilion, cobalt, buff, azure and grey. The tomb is Technicolor. You just point the camera in the general direction of the walls hoping the photos come out good without using the flash. Bands of Kufic inscriptions, creepers, floral designs, and geometric patterns all have the most tasteful blend of contrasting sheer colours. Ajanta Cave One also carries amazing colour paintings but they have dulled because of age. Here the upper reaches of the walls still retain their glorious colours.
Above, the dome has its different decorations outlined with white that gives it a three dimensional feel. The concentric bands around the apex of the dome have dazzling display of colours.
The quiet of the evening is suddenly broken by the beating of drums. You see a stream of people coming along the road probably from the village of Ashtur. It probably is a marriage procession going to the next village – men in dhotis, women in saris accompanied with beating of drums. It is a distinct Hindu celebration. Wait a minute, the procession has suddenly swerved onto the tomb complex, and the people have climbed the tomb platform and are approaching the door to the tomb. This is amazing.
The Ahmad Shah Wali tomb is a centre for syncretic religious harmony. During the annual Urs of Ahmad Shah, Sri Shivacharya Swamiji or the head Lingayat, walks with hundreds of followers from Gulbarga to the tomb in Ashtur. This walk has been taking place for the last six hundred years. The Swami is met by the Mutawalli of the dargah. The two together perform the Urs rituals by reciting fatehas and chanting shlokas. The grave is covered with sandal paste and coconuts broken and prasad distributed. The observations go on for five days after which the seer returns to Gulbarga. The Muslims revere the tomb as the resting place of Sultan Ahmad Shah. The Hindus regard it as a symbol of Allama Prabhu, a saint poet and contemporary of Basavanna.
The devotees you see today have come to pray at the grave of the mystic king Ahmad Shah I Wali Bahmani popular as al-Wali and Allama Prabhu who embodied cultural synthesis and integration during medieval times.
East of Ahmad Shah Tomb is the tomb attributed to his wife possibly named Shah Jehan Begum (the first tomb from the east). The tomb is built at a lower level. It is similar in design but smaller. There are five graves inside with the largest one said to be of his wife. There is another shattered tomb to the south of Ahmad Shah tomb. The tomb was intact when Dr. Yazdani visited Bidar around 1920. The tomb appears to be of one of younger sons or nephew of Ahmad Shah. On the immediate west of Ahmad Shah Tomb is a small whitewashed mosque.
Alauddin Ahmad Shah II (1436-1458) was a cultured and pleasure loving king with great oratorical skills. Along with the tomb for his father, he built a hospital, garden and a palace. Allauddin had to deal with a number of rebellions during his time and suffered a crushing defeat in Konkan. He died of a wound in 1458. He perhaps in his lifetime built himself a magnificent tomb next to Ahmad Shah Tomb. It was during the time of Alauddin that Mahmud Gawan entered the services of Bahmani Sultanate.
Alauddin Tomb shows great improvement over Ahmad Shah’s tomb. There are lot of decorations and carvings on the exterior walls. Arches edges are decorated with carved black stones. Hundred years ago when Dr. Yazdani visited Bidar, the tile panels were blue, green, yellow, white and embellished with calligraphy. Now only few scraps of blue tiles survive.
Humayun Shah (1458-1461), son of Alauddin earned the epithet of Zalim Shah for his reportedly cruel streak. Owing to his deteriorating health, family members and nobles started to rebel to oust him. Zalim went medieval on them and thus earned his well deserved name. During his lifetime he named Nizam Shah his young son aged eight years as his successor. As per his command, the affairs of the kingdom would be managed by Khwaja Mahmud Gawan, Khwaja Jahan Turk and the queen mother constituting the Council of Regency.
Zalim only ruled for three years and died young at the age of twenty one years.
Folk lore says that as a punishment for his cruel ways, Humayun Shah’s tomb was struck by lightning and most of its dome and two walls collapsed. The shattered tomb is a strange sight. It seems like a cross section cut model of a tomb especially set up for students of architecture. Other times it gives a feeling as if a retractable roof will just slide in and complete the dome. The inside of the tomb has trabeate niches, lintels and the dome uses light spongy bricks; a clear influence of Hindu temples and the Hindu masons who probably built the mausoleum.
South west to Humayun’s Tomb is the tomb of his wife Malika-i-Jahan or Queen of the World. Her name according to the local guide could possibly be Makhdum Shah Begum. She played an important role during the reign of her minor sons Nizam Shah and Mohammed Shah.
Nizam Shah (1461-1463) reign was eventful. Queen mother appointed Khwaja Mahmud Gawan as the Prime Minister and Khwaja Jahan Turk was appointed as the Controller of the State. Bidar being ruled by a kid attracted many neighbours. Rai of Orissa was defeated and had to pay an indemnity. Mahmud Khalji of Malwa captured Bidar city and laid a siege of the fort. On request of Mahmud Gawan, Mahmud Shah of Gujarat came to help which made Mahmud Khalji retreat. Too many Mahmuds fighting each other!
Nizam Shah suddenly died in 1463 when preparations for his marriage were going on. He was buried next to his father.
Nizam Shah Tomb was probably built by Malika-i-Jahan and is situated next to Humayun Tomb. The tomb inexplicably remained incomplete and is open with the dome missing. The strongly built walls suggest that they were designed to hold a big dome.
Another boy of nine years, Mohammed Shah III Lashkari (1463-1482), brother of Nizam Shah took charge. Council of Regency continued to govern. Queen mother felt threatened by the growing powers of Jahan Turk had him put to death. The prince grew into a learned king and his first conquest was the fort of Kherla in Malwa. Mahmud Gawan subjugated Goa. Now the Kingdom stretched from Goa to Rajahmundry in AP and Kanjeevaram in the South. This time nobles were feeling threatened by Mahmud Gawan’s popularity. They forged a letter with Mahmud’s signature and showed it to the king who was drunk. Orders were immediately dispatched to kill Mahmud Gawan. Later the king realised his mistake and drank himself to death.
Mohammed Shah III was buried in a tomb next to his brother Nizam Shah. His tomb again is incomplete. Probably, the death of Mahmud Gawan weighed down heavy on the kingdom and the building of the tomb.
Mohammed Shah IV (1482-1518) again a boy of twelve years succeeded his father. Though he ruled for a long time but Bahmani Sultanate as a result of rebellions soon broke up into independent kingdoms of Ahmadnagar, Berar and Bijapur, His minister Qasim Barid – founder of Barid Shahid Dynasty – also proclaimed his independence and was made the Prime Minister. At this stage Bahmanis were no longer a dynasty.
Mohammed Shah IV built his own tomb along with several additions to the Bidar Fort. The tomb is majestic with arches on the walls. However the exterior has no decorations like Alauddin Tomb and the interior has no paintings like the Ahmad Shah Tomb.
Mohammed Shah IV’s nominal successors were his sons Ahmad Vira Shah III (1518-1521), Alauddin Shah III (1521-1522) – both sons, Wali-Ullah Shah (1522-1525) and Kalim-Ullah Shah (1525-1527) who were under the control of Barid Shahis. Amir Barid killed Ahmad Shah, imprisoned Alauddin, killed Wali Ullah and married his wife, and made Kalim Ullah a fugitive.
All four tombs are similar with conical domes and are situated to the south and west of the Mohammad Shah IV Tomb.
The diminishing size of the tombs depicts the declining fortunes of the Bahmanis with the tombs of last four kings mere pavilions.
Back in your hotel, you search for more information about Ashtur. That night you dream of Ashtur and come back early in the morning. Last evening’s rain clouds are gone. Fighter trainers from Bidar’s Air Force Station leave streaks in the blue sky with wispy clouds. You spend an hour discovering the golden and vermilion calligraphy in the Ahmad Shah Wali Tomb. You feel infused and elated. Ashtur has a strangely familiar vibe to it. It is beautiful and forlorn. It is majestic yet shattered. The historian Dr. Yazdani who has been composed and objective describing Bidar in his book after seeing the grandeur and destruction of Ashtur turned philosophical, “The whirligig of time occasionally takes strange turns to mock the glory of the mightiest of kings.”
It is time to leave for Gulbarga to catch the early days of Bahmani Sultanate.