It was quite a sultry afternoon and I wiped my face for the hundredth time as I walked on the streets of Bijapur( The city has now been renamed as Vijapura), a small city which is situated about 530 Kilometers from Bangalore, the capital city of the Southern Indian state of Karnataka. Bijapur is famous for its beautiful monuments built in the Islamic architectural style during the reign of the Adil Shahi dynasty. Bijapur was also the home of Chand Bibi, the brave Muslim woman warrior who later moved to Ahmednagar and is famous for defending the city of Ahmednagar against the Mughal forces of Emperor Akbar in the sixteenth century.
I had just finished my lunch which consisted of some of the local specialties which included Jowar Roti, bread or pancakes made of White Millet, Enne-Gai, Eggplants stuffed with ground peanuts and spices including ginger, garlic, chillies, etc.,. The food had been a treat for the palate, though bordering on the outer limits of the “Spice-O-Meter”!
I should have taken an auto rickshaw (Tuk tuk), I thought, as I wiped the sweat from my brow, yet again. But I always like to walk around the new places that I visit, just to soak in the atmosphere of the place, but in this case, a heavy lunch followed by a walk in the sun was probably not one of my wisest decisions.
But as I turned the corner, the view of the magnificent Gol Gumbaz, ensured that all the questions that were sprouting like weeds in my mind just melted away and were replaced by a simple sense of awe. I gazed and gazed at the imposing structure, my only reason for coming to Bijapur.
What is the Gol Gumbaz
Gol Gumbaz literally means ‘Circular Dome’. It is the mausoleum of Sultan Mohammed Adil Shah who once ruled the city of Bijapur. The mausoleum was built in the year 1656 by an architect named Yaqut who ostensibly hailed from a place called Dabul, also known as Dabhol, a small seaport town in Ratnagiri District, Maharashtra, India.
The Gol Gumbaz stands majestically, as an ode to the symmetry and elegance of Islamic architecture, it bears the hallmark of the Islamic style of architecture in its overall structure, the dome, the minarets and semi-circular doorways, etc.. But what really makes this structure unique are :
- The central dome of the Gol Gumbaz has a diameter of 44 meters, making it the second largest dome in the world after the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Another remarkable feature of the dome is that it stands proudly without the support of pillars!
- The inside of the mausoleum has a chamber which has an area of 1,700 Sq./meters, making it one of the biggest single chamber spaces in the world
- Inside the mausoleum is a circular gallery, right below the tomb, this is known as the whispering gallery, the unique structure is built in such a way that a small whisper gets amplified and is carried across a distance of more than 40 meters in the vast dome and can be heard clearly. Another remarkable feature is that any sound made inside, is echoed back 7 to 10 times!
Watch this video of Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur to get a feel of how it looks from outside. (Courtesy: geobeats)
Experiencing the Whispering Gallery
After negotiating a steep staircase of a hundred odd steps, I stepped into the Whispering Gallery. By a stroke of luck or because of my Karma or just because of the sweltering heat, the gallery was virtually empty, barring a group of students which included a guitar toting young man with a rock star kind of hairdo.
I entered the whispering gallery which was in a semi darkness with beams of light periodically piercing the curtain of darkness. I stood and looked all around and was enveloped by an eerie feeling, as I stood alone inside the vast dome enveloped in semi-darkness. I looked across the other side of the gallery, and saw the group of students sitting down by a ledge, at a distance of approximately 40 meters from where I stood. As I turned, I froze in my tracks as I heard a piercing, shrill laughter, besides me, I quickly turned and realized that there was no one near me, I looked across at the students as the devilish laughter continued echoing around the dome to finally die down as horrendously as it had begun. I could see the devilish grin on one of the girls in the group that sat 40 meters away as I realized that this had been my bizarre introduction to the Whispering gallery.
Experience the mystery of whispering gallery in this video. (Courtesy: Me…yeah ME!)
I smiled to myself and said, “Hello”, softly, “Hello”, “Hello”, “Hello”,”Hello”, “Hello”,”Hello”…….., the words echoed throughout the dome as they emerged from my mouth and flew across the huge gallery, finally passing me to slowly die down. As I prepared to let forth another volley of syllables with childish glee, the strains of a guitar assailed my ears. I saw the young man with the rock star hairdo, strumming his guitar and singing in a rich baritone. He sang reasonably well and his guitar too made fairly good music. But the acoustics of the Mausoleum elevated him to the stature of a real rock star. The music seemed to transcend all limits of space and time as it echoed through the dome, creating a kaleidoscopic effect, which literally mesmerized me. No sound technology or Sound engineer would probably be able to duplicate the kind of sound effect that emanated from the semi-darkness of the whispering gallery inside the Gol Gumbaz, that day. The music went on and on and time seemed to have stood still as I immersed myself completely into this wonderful and uplifting experience. The loud ticking of a watch brought me back from my reverie and I realized that the music had stopped, I looked at my wrist, and realized that, I was not wearing a watch! The ‘tick’, tick’, ‘tick’, was coming from a watch that someone was wearing in the group of students who stood at the other side of the dome, at a distance of 40 meters!
In a daze, I walked out of the Whispering Gallery, stopping at the doorway, to have one last glance at this amazing and mysterious place. The place was now totally empty as the group of students had left a few minutes back. The emptiness of the vast space added to its aura of eeriness, and as I turned away, I thought or imagined a soft whisper, building inside the dome, “Come back”, “Come back”, “Come back”, “Come back”, “Come back”, “Come back”, “Come back”,………….
How to get to Bijapur
- You can travel by road or rail from Bangalore to Bijapur. It is at a distance of about 530 Kilometers
- You can also reach Bijapur from Mumbai by covering a distance of about 497 Kilometers by road or rail
- Belgaum at a distance of about 214 Kilometers, is the nearest airport and is covered by a limited number of domestic flights
Where to Stay in Bijapur
- Bijapur is a small city and if you are looking for a really luxurious accommodation, you could be disappointed, some of the hotels that you can consider are Hotel Pearl (near to Gol Gumbaz), Shashinag Residency and Madhuvan International
Where to Eat in Bijapur
- For food too, you will not have too many options. But I recommend you go for the local food as described in the earlier part of this post, you can eat either in Madhuvan International, which is a favorite amongst locals or settle for the more well known brand, Kamath Restaurant
Tips for a great experience in Gol Gumbaz
- The monument is open from 10 AM to 5 PM on all days expect Fridays, make sure to go there early and preferably on weekdays to avoid crowds and really enjoy your whispering gallery experience
- The best season to visit is winter as it can get pretty hot from March to June. Nothing like it if you can get there between September to February
Other Attractions in Bijapur
This is another piece of poetry in stone that you will love in Bijapur. It consists of a mosque and tomb, built in the finest of Islamic architectural styles and flanked by green, lush gardens. The symmetrical perfection of the structures, that were built in the 15th century are said to have inspired the Taj Mahal, that was built later in the 17th century.
This is a beautiful gateway which leads to an exquisite mosque and garden. It was built in 1620 AD and is also known as the ‘Sweepers Palace’. The gate blends elements of the Hindu and Islamic architectural styles.
This is a mosque again standing as an outstanding example of Islamic architecture. The mosque is quite huge and grandiose. The arches are symmetrically built in a linear form and each dome has a different design on the inside.
This was supposed to be the Mausoleum for Ali Adil Shah and his wives, he wanted it to be an architectural wonder, par excellence. The plan was to build a structure with twelve arches on the vertical plane and twelve arches on the horizontal plane which would surround the tomb. Sadly the structure never saw the light of day and only two vertical arches stand as silent testimony to the royal intrigues of the Adil Shahi dynasty. It is believed that once completed the Bara Kaman would have cast its shadow on the Gol Gumbaz at a distance of 4 Kilometers and hence the structure never took shape. Some accounts also suggest that Ali Adil Shah was murdered by his own father Mohammed Adil Shah to ensure that the Bara Kaman would not rise from the ground to surpass the glory of his very own Gol Gumbaz.
It was indeed a unique experience for me in Bijapur. If you too have been to similar places and had similar experiences, do whisper back to me through our comments section.