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The Madrasa of Khwaja Mahmud Gawan

On the left side of the Fort road from the Fateh Darwaza, a time-worn but magnificent structure styled the Madrasa of Mahmūd Gāwān. It is not only the most imposing building of the Baihmanī period, but in its plan and in the general style of its architecture it is a unique monument of its kind in India.

Mahmūd Gāwān, the founder of the Madrasa, had himself come from Gīlān, and as even during his stay in the Deccan he was continually in correspondence with eminent personages in Persia, it is not unlikely that he brought engineers and craftsmen from that country to design this building. The plan, however, for such institutions in Islāmic countries had become stereotyped in the beginning of the fourteenth century A.D., if not earlier; for the Madrasas at Marrakesh, Fez, Rabat, and other places in north-west Africa, have almost the same plan, although they do not possess either the stately round minarets which existed here, or such grand entrances as that which once adorned the eastern façade of the Madrasa of Bidar. 

این مدرسہ رفیع و محمود بنا    تعمیر شدہ است قبله اهل صفا

آثار قبول بین که تاریخش      از آیت ربّنا تقبّل مِنّا


'This exalted school with a high (lit. praiseworthy) basement,

Has been built as the place of adoration (qibla) for the pure.

Look at the signs of its Divine acceptance that its chronogram

(Is contained) in the Qur'anic verse, "‘Our Lord, accept it from us”

Which gives us the date to be 876 Hijri

The Madrasa of Mahmūd Gāwān was built in A.D. 1472 that is, twenty-eight years after the Madrasa at Khargird, which, according to the authorities who have visited the school, in its palmy days was the finest building of its kind in Khurasan. Another school which enjoyed a high reputation both for the beauty of its architecture and for the high standard of its learning, particularly mathematical studies, was Ulugh Beg's Madrasa at Samarqand built in 828 H. (A.D. 1425). According to Firishta, Mahmūd Gāwān was a great scholar and 'in Mathematics he had few equals'. Mahmud Gawan was also a poet and a good prose writer, and a collection of his letters called Riyadh-ul-Insha is stiff extant in manuscript form.

Mahmud Gāwān, under the aegis of the Bahmani kings, who were enthusiastic patrons of learning and architecture, was thus able to found a college at Bidar on the same magnificent lines as its prototypes in Khurasan and other Islāmic countries, and he not only staffed it with eminent divines, philosophers, and scientists, but also equipped it with a library of 3,000 valuable manuscripts.

Mahmud Gawan was perhaps the greatest statesman and general known in the history of the Deccan. The chief reforms introduced during his ministry were: first, the division of the BahmanI kingdom into eight provinces instead of four as previously established, which had become of unmanageable size owing to the exten- sion of the kingdom ; secondly, the assignment of only one fort in each province to the control of the governor, and the retention of other forts of the province, as regards appointment of officers, troops, equipment, munitions, and payment of salaries, in the hands of the king himself; thirdly, the increase in the salaries of army officers, to what were very substantial rates of pay. 

Some officials of the court had become jealous of Mahmud Gawan’s popularity and power forged a letter over the seal of the minister, addressing it to the Rai of Orissa, who was at that time hostile to the king. The letter was shown to the Bahmani king at a time when he was intoxicated with liquor, and suspecting treason he forgot all his previous regard for the minister and gave orders for his immediate execution. The orders were carried out, but the death of the minister caused general alarm and distrust, even among the most devoted officers of the State, who refrained from attending the court when the king invited them. This state of affairs led to the weakening of Muhammad Shah’s authority and to the gradual disruption of the kingdom.

The date of Mahmud Gawan’ s execution is contained in the chronogram:

قصّہ قتل بنا حق

which translates to ‘The story of the unjust execution’

The chronogram gives the Hijri year 886 (a.d. 1481) according to the ahjad system of reckoning

After the execution of Mahmud Gawan, less is known about his Madrasa or when it fell into disuse.

In 1107 H. (A.D. 1696) the building suffered great damage from lightning which deprived it of half of its front and half of its southern wing, and it deteriorated further subsequently through neglect and climatic conditions, so that in 1914 when HEH The Nizam’s Archaeological Department under Dr Ghulam Yazdani took charge of the building which presented a miserable spectacle of decay and vandalism.

Notwithstanding the extensive decay and destruction of the building it still retains enough of the original architectural features and decorative work to afford some notion of its pristine splendor and beauty. The building has a high basement, but to make the approach convenient two terraces have been built in front of it, each about 4 feet high, the total height of both being 8 feet. The main entrance has vanished, but its floor has been exposed by excavations carried out in recent times and the plan shows that the whole comprised an outer arch 21 feet in span and an inner arch 10 feet 5 inches in span, with a recess 5 feet deep between the two arches which corresponded to the thickness of the walls flanking the entrance on either side.

The adornment of the entire façade of the building with tiles, in the arrangement of which the decorators have exhibited a refined taste in the choice of colour and pattern, would indeed have made a grand display, but in the apparent charm of this adornment the art-critic cannot overlook the beauty of line and form, depth and volume, shown in the architectural features of the building.

Corresponding to the mosque, and adjoining the minaret at the south-eastern angle of the Madrasa, was the library, which has completely perished. But as architects in the East generally design the wings of a building of a uniform plan, it is not unlikely that the plan of the library was a replica of that of the mosque.

References: Eaton, Richard M. (2008). A Social History of the Deccan, 1300-1761 : Eight Indian Lives. Sherwani, HK (1978) Mahmud Gawan: The Great Bahmani Wazir Sherwani, HK (1985) Bahmanis of the Deccan.

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