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Travel Blog: Enchanting Bidar

The Deccan Archive had conducted its first ever interstate tour from Hyderabad to the Bahmani capital of Bidar in North Eastern Karnataka on 04 September 2022. The tour was successful thanks to the support of INTACH Hyderabad and Vinay Malge.

Bidar Heritage Tour by The Deccan Archive
The tour group at the steps of the Takht Mahal

The tour started from Hyderabad at 6 AM in a TSRTC bus. With more than 30 participants, we set forth from Hyderabad via the Zaheerabad road, picking up more participants on the way. The distance between Hyderabad and Bidar is roughly 140kms. The very first stop on the trip was after crossing Zaheerabad - although not a historical spot but definitely a wonder - the Dargah of Hazrat Multani Baba. The white minarets of the dargah rise against the rural Telangana landscape and attract travellers passing by. The dargah was built in the last decade but used medieval construction techniques like vault construction and karbandi work in the arches. The main Dargah is a cuboidal building topped off with a dome and a minaret. The unique thing about this Dargah is that the saint who this belongs to is still alive. However, post-pandemic the Dargah authorities have restricted visitors from entering the premises.

The Dargah of Multani Baba at Gangwar, Zaheerabad Road. PC: Ahmed Shabin

Next stop on our tour was the magnificent Chaukhandi of Hazrat Khalilullah Kirmani near the sleepy town of Ashtur. The Chaukhandi and the Bahmani Tombs are located in close proximity. The Bidar Outer Ring Road provides breathtaking views of the medieval tombs from a distance. The Chaukhandi is one of the most fascinating and grand buildings of the Bahmani era. The plan of the Chaukhandi is a octagonal periphery protecting a square inner tomb. The entrance to the Chaukhandi has one of the finest remaining specimens of Quranic calligraphy in multiple scripts like Thuluth, Kufic and Naskh. The corridor encircled by the octagon offers one of the most surreal experiences, displaying the grandiose taste of the Bahmani builders and the elevation of the saint buried here. The complex has several other smaller tombs, a mosque and a step well to irrigate the gardens. The use of gradient is such that the main structure of the Chaukhandi, despite its great height, cannot be seen from below the entrance of the complex.

Chaukhandi at Ashtur
Chaukhandi of Hazrat Khalilullah Kirmani. PC: Ahmed Shabin

A minute long bus ride from Chaukhandi took us to the Bahmani Tombs of Ashtur. Its a fairly simple necropolis in layout, with the tombs of several kings placed linear with respect to chronology. The best preserved tombs are of Sultan Alauddin Shah Bahman and Sultan Ahmad Shah Wali, the king who moved the capital to Bidar from Gulbarga. The exterior of Sultan Alauddin Shah Bahman has remains of surviving blue and yellow tilework on its southern facade while the interiors of Ahmad Shah Wali has the remains of the most beautiful surviving paintings in Gold and Red. While we only have access to the tomb of Ahmad Shah Wali, the rest of the tombs are locked and some have been brought down by lightnings over time.

The Bahmani Tombs at Ashtur. PC: Ahmed Shabin

After spending our time at the Bahmani Tombs until noon, the group now moved to the interior of the Bidar via the Dulhan Darwaza. The next stop would be the humongous ground fort of Bidar-Mohammedabad. The internal fort has the main entrance via the Sharza (Sher Jah) Darwaza which has beautiful lion motifs on the gate. On passing the Sharza Darwaza, we find the infamous triple moat cut into laterite rock. The triple moat, as the name explains, is a series of three moats cut into the laterite rock bed of the plateau. Past the Triple Moat is one of the largest free standing dome in Bidar, a part of the Gumbad Darwaza. If you stand at the centre of the Gumbad Darwaza and speak, you can hear the reverberations of your own voice amplified by the large dome and Muqarna pendentives.

Solah Khamba Masjid Bidar
The Solah Khamba Masjid, Bidar Fort. PC: Ahmed Shabin

Attached to the Gumbad Darwaza is the renowned Rangin Mahal. which boasts of glazed tile work and mother-of-pearl inlaid work in its interiors. The path opens into a complex of multiple palaces, gardens and a mosque. Rangin Mahall literally means the ‘Coloured Palace’, and this name was apparently given to it on account of its walls being originally decorated with tiles of different hues, traces of which still exist on the facade of the eastern halls. Near the Gumbad Darwaza a royal tower has existed perhaps since the time when Ahmad Shah Wall built the fort (a.d. 1429-32). From this tower, which is mentioned as the Shah Burj in contemporary history, the Bahmanl kings often reviewed their troops, which assembled outside the gate of the fort.

Beyond the Rangin Mahal is the Lal Bagh enclosure, with the remains of a medieval fountain in the centre of the garden, flanked by Tarkash Mahal, Hazar Kothri complex and the Solah Khamba Masjid.

The Zanani Masjid or the Solah Khamb Mosque: Both these names have been given in comparatively recent times; the first on account of the building being situated in the Zanana (women) enclosure, adjoining the Lal Bagh towards the west, and the second on account of the presence of sixteen columns {solah khamba) in the middle part of the prayer-hall, which was screened off from the rest of the building after the latter had fallen into ruin. Originally it was the principal mosque, Masjid-i-Jami' , of Bidar, and the Friday prayers, as well as State functions of a religious character, were held here. In a.d. 1656 when Aurangzeb, as Viceroy of the Deccan from the Imperial Court at Delhi, conquered Bidar, he hastened to this mosque to have the Khutba (sermon) recited in the name of his father Shah Jahan, as a proclamation of his sovereignty in the newly acquired territory.

Atop the Takht Mahal

Beyond the Lal Bagh complex are the Royal Palace complexes of Takht Mahal and Chini Mahal. The name Takht Mahal is modern, for it is not mentioned in contemporary history, although the magnificence of the royal palace built by Ahmad Shah al- Wall at Bidar is extolled by Sayyid 'All Tabataba in his work entitled Burhan-i-Mathir. The palace adjoins the audience hall towards the north, and has an imposing entrance facing the east. The facade is much damaged, but such arches as are intact show strength combined with beauty in the style of their architecture.

The Wooden Pavilion and Blue Tile Work at the Rangin Mahal.

Our last stop for the day was Madrasa Mahmud Gawan. The famous Madrasa of Mahmud Gawan at Bidar, which is a unique building of its kind in India, and was apparently copied from a Madrasa in Persia. College buildings of this plan are, however, not rare in other Islamic countries, and the seven great schools of Fez are more or less built in this style, although the wood-carving and cut plaster decoration of these schools are special features of Arab art. The dimensions of the Bidar's Madrasa are of course much larger than those of the Madrasas at Fez, the former covering an area of 205 feet by 180 feet.

The Madrasa of Mahmud Gawan, Bidar. PC: Ahmed Shabin

The Madrasa at Bidar has an open court in the middle, with four sides in which the lecture-rooms, the prayer hall, the library, the professors’ rooms, and the students’ cubicles are built. These sides are divided into three stories, and in the middle of each is a lofty arch giving access to lecture-halls on the north, west, and south, and to the gateway on the east. These remarks may be true in respect of the building when deprived of two-thirds of its facade, which included another lofty minaret with projecting galleries at intervals and a stately entrance. The Madrasa is beautifully decorated with 'encaustic' tiles, the arrangement and colour-schemes of which would also have given feelings of depth and light and shade, as the specimens still sticking to the walls sufficiently show. The south easten portion of the Madrasa had collapsed due to a lightning strike in the year 1696, however Dr Ghulam Yazdani had outlined the plan of the destroyed portion of the Madrasa until the plinth level.

With a tour of the Madrasa, our whirlwind tour of Bidar came to a happy and successful end,

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