Murals of Bijapur – Splendours of Deccani Odyssey

Contemporary to Akbar, there lived a Sultan at Bijapur, in Deccan, who was a dreamer, with an almost maniacal sensitivity to art. He was Ibrahim Adil Shah II, the patron of the greatest artwork in Deccan. Just as Akbar transformed Mughal art, Ibrahim elevated Bijapur paintings to a level of dramatic power and technical sophistication that had no parallels in contemporary schools.

Ibrahim’s patronized miniatures are difficult to spot for a common traveller of art to Bijapur, but what amuse you is the traces of murals that adorn the interior walls of a few of Bijapur monuments. Even though mostly eroded, the remaining impressions still indulge their curious onlookers. 


The carved mihrab in Jama Masjid is the first one to be noticed and also best preserved. It has retained traces of fantastic paintwork on crisply modelled gesso.







The spandrels above the arch are filled with leafy tendrils exploding into fanciful blue and purple flowers against a rich golden background. The other attractions are Trompe-l’œil (the French term for ‘deceive the eye’– an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions) depiction of books in low relief, painted in rich gold and brown to suggest embossed leather bindings. What further catches your eyes in the mihrab is the treatment of faceted part domes, where calligraphic alams, some on chains are surrounded by the elegant leafy tendrils. 

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These magnificent compositions combine the formal character of Central Asian pictorial tradition and abundant naturalism of Deccani tradition. 

The other building that has preserved Adil Shahi wall murals at Bijapur is Ashar Mahal, the grand courtly structure of the 17th century.

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In one of the upper chambers, there are traces of murals depicting courtly women, now badly damaged and difficult to photograph because of strict restriction and lack of natural light. The chamber next to it, however, appears magical with the depiction of Persian mystical pottery drawn by Chinese or Middle Eastern artists. Harmoniously proportioned these vases are composed of arabesque patterns similar to the 15th century Timurid designs. 

Travel Tips:

Bijapur is a medium-sized city located in North Karnataka near Maharashtra border in the heart of Deccan. The city is well connected both by road and railway. However, the nearest airport is either in Pune or Hyderabad (both 8 hours away). Hubbali is yet another nearby airport which is well connected by both rail and road service. The city has plenty of stay options starting from budget to luxury. Famous for Medieval architecture, especially Indo-Islamic including the second-highest dome and a triumph of Deccani architecture, Bijapur is an art lover’s paradise. While at Bijapur also visit Kumtagi waterworks (25 km from the city). One should keep a minimum of three days for a true appreciation of Bijapur’s water heritage.








Paintings are also seen in the walls and vaults of one of the pavilions at the pleasure resort in Kumtagi, 25 km away from Bijapur. Though badly damaged, the remaining traces show a depiction of courtly pastimes, such as Polo match complete with horses and players, wrestling, drinking and musical performance. One can also find Europeans appearing in formal dress.  










The wall murals of Bijapur are hardly talked about and perhaps it is the only Internet source documenting these valuable artistic assets of South Asia of yore. 

The Adil Shahis were Shia Muslims having a strong bond with their roots in Persia. Yet they had also inherited the local tradition. These paintings reflect in a sense a true amalgamation of ideas, the spirit of the idea of India, an essential subject to ponder at this juncture of the disturbance being faced in the country.   

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at    





Bijapur Water Heritage – An Oasis in Parched Deccan

A little west of Navrashpur, the third city of Bijapur, now in ruins…I chanced upon a freshly painted mural, quite uncommon, depicting a Muslim King as a yogi meditating to invoke Goddess Ganga to descend down to his capital from the Himalayas to quench the thrust of million plus people in the mid 16th century.


He is Ibrahim Adil Shah II, celebrated as the Akbar of Deccan for his religious tolerance and literary ingenuity.

When Ibrahim built Navrashpur as a city of par excellence for performances of dance and music, he needed water. The legend goes: ‘Goddess Ganga was pleased with his prayer and agreed to flow down to the heart of Bijapur but under one condition. Ibrahim would walk in the front and she would follow him behind. The condition was – he would never look back till he reaches Navrashpur. Ibrahim agreed to the condition and was in high spirit. He marched down to Bijapur from the Himalayas and a few kilometres before his destination, he stopped, as he could not hear the cascading sound of water anymore. He was puzzled and looked back. Now the water stopped flowing. Upon asking the reason, Ganga replied: ‘You did not follow my advice. Now it is you to channelize water from here’.



The Ruins of Navrashpur

This place was Torvi, a dry undulating place, but catchment for all the run-off water from the plateau.



Torvi – The Source of all Water for Bijapur

The water heritage of Bijapur, however, begins with Ibrahim’s predecessor Ali Adil Shah, who had pioneered establishing Bijapur as a commercial hub after the battle of Talikota that led to the fall of Vijayanagar Empire.

Ali Adil Shah, the visionary Sultan of Deccan, had initiated grand projects for his capital including the construction of Jami Masjid. He also had established a city called Shahpur for traders and merchants to the east of Bijapur Fort. For all these people and their domestic animals, it was essential to manage water with high sophistication as the region was a harsh semi-arid plateau.

Ramalinga Tank, an existing water facility from the time of Yadavas, was upgraded by constructing a long masonry bund to meet the water requirement of Shahpur. Ramalinga Tank received water from Torvi catchment and was meant for Sahahpur residents. Water was also supplied from here to the main city of Bijapur.











Ramalinga Tank – Now Under Intensive Agriculture

Initially, it was an earthen dam built by the Yadavas. The Adil Shahi engineers brought in a new technology of hydraulic engineering making it one of the most advanced dams in Medieval Deccan.



In the film below, Dr Viswanath Siddhanti, a heritage activist from Bijapur explains the water heritage of Ramalinga which had a series of jack wells across the bund. The dam covered an area of 40 sq km supplying water to more than one million populations that thrived in Bijapur and its suburbs in the 16th century. At present, sadly, the tank is under intense cultivation by the locals.

The bund constitutes a series of jack wells which are intake structures for collecting water from the surface sources like rivers, lakes, and reservoirs and conveying it further to the water treatment plant. These structures are masonry or concrete structures and provide relatively clean water, free from pollution, sand and objectionable floating material.

Travel Tips:

Bijapur is a medium-sized city located in North Karnataka near Maharashtra border in the heart of Deccan. The city is well connected both by road and railway. However, the nearest airport is either in Pune or Hyderabad (both 8 hours away). Hubbali is yet another nearby airport which is well connected by both rail and road service. The city has plenty of stay options starting from budget to luxury. Famous for Medieval architecture, especially Indo-Islamic including the second highest dome and a triumph of Deccani architecture, Bijapur is an art lover’s paradise. While at Bijapur also visit Kumtagi waterworks (25 km from the city). One should keep a minimum of three days for a true appreciation of Bijapur’s water heritage.

The Ramalinga Tank, which formed the core of water management in Bijapur, did not survive for a long time. During the rule of Ibram Adil Shah II, it was breached by Ahmednagar Sultan. Ameenduin Hullur, the heritage activist of Bijapur explains the reason in the film below.

The next stage of development was at Torvi which is situated beyond Navrashpur in the west. It is also the catchment for all run-off water from the plateau. As mentioned earlier, during the rule of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, water was brought from here through earthen pipes till Surang Bavadi near the tombs of Afzal Khan’s wives and then through subterranean channels (qanat system) to Ibrahim Rouza enclosure through Moti Dargarh.


Annicut and Terracotta Pipes Laid by Adil Shahi Engineers from Torvi Source, Photo Credit – Hamza Mehboob

Water Layout at Bijapur

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Burhanpur – A Medieval Water Oasis

During my travel to Bijapur, I was fortunate to be accompanied by Hamza Mehboob, a local heritage activist. We spotted a number of air-shafts, however, except few sadly, most of them are encroached upon.  They are placed at regular intervals along its course, but beyond Ibrahim Rouza it is lost.














The Qanat System in Bijapur

Ameenudhin Hulur explains here about the qanat system in Bijapur.

At the time of Muhammad Adil Shah, the Ramalinga Talav and Torvi waterworks had lost their capacities as these had been destroyed by the Sultan of Ahmednagar during his raid of Bijapur. It was necessary to create a large water facility to meet the growing demand of the city.   In 1651 CE in memory of his wife Jehan Begum, Muhammad Adil Shah constructed Jehan Began Talav to the south of his capital. The talav today is popularly known as Begam Talav. It is located about 5 km to the south of Gol Gumbaz and covers an area of 234 acres. Even today this talav fed southern and eastern side of Bijapur.


Begam Talav

To the right side of the tank is an underground room from where water was supplied to the city through terracotta pipes. The pipes were laid to the death of 15 to 20 feet and were joined and encased in masonry. Many water towers of height 25 to 40 feet called Gunj had been built to release the pressure of water and prevent pipes from bursting. These towers also allowed dirt in pipes to remain at the bottom and the water to flow.



Gunj or Water Towers




Terracotta Pipes

Apart from Begam Talav, several other tanks were created in and around Bijapur to meet the water need of its population. Some of these are Rangrez Talav, Qasim Talav, Fatehpur Talav and Allahapur Talav. There were also a large number of bavadis or step wells constructed at different locations by both sultans and nobles for water management. Among these, the most significant is the Taj Bavadi.

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Prior to Taj Bavadi, it was Chand Bavadi that had formed the most iconic among all water monuments of Bijapur. Chand Bavadi was built by Ali Adil Shah in memory of his queen Chand Bibi in 1549 CE. The square-shaped bavadi is located closed to Shahpur Gate.


Chand Bavadi

Most of Bijapur’s tombs and mosques had also attached water structures which show the engineering achievement of Adil Shahis. These were actually the quarries used for building the structures and later converted into small bavadis. For example, the Gol Gumbaz the largest of all among Adil Shahi monuments had an excellent hydraulic arrangement as suggested by the presence of water tanks, fountains, tank cum lifts, tank cum distributor and wells. At present, there are 28 features within the complex. The main sources are Khandak on the west, Masa Bavadi on the north and Begam Talav on the south.  One of the major water structures is Khandak, a small reservoir along with two tanks on the eastern and western rim. It is actually the quarry used for building the Gol Gumbaz that was eventually converted to a water structure. The two tanks lifted the water from Khandak and supplied to an array of fountains in the complex.



Water Works at Gol Gumbaz Complex

In Bijapur, water was managed not only for sustenance but also for the luxury of Adil Shahi sultans and nobles. You visit any palace or grand public buildings, there are traces of water fountains and Jacuzzi. Ameenudin explains in this film how water was integrated with luxury and amusement of Adil Shahi Sultans.









Today sadly, that entire water heritage for which Bijapur had achieved height benchmark is in shattered ruins. Lately, however, thanks to dedicated efforts of activists like Ameendhin and Dr Sidhanti there is hope for their partial revival for posterity.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at


Hire Benekal – India’s Megalithic Metropolis

1975…a small village of Lanjia Saoras in highlands of South Odisha! Ononti, a young woman Shaman starts to sing in parallel couplet in archaic Saora language, repeating each line but changing one word at a time to enrich the meaning!!

Argalgalsi yuyunji                      bolongsi goden

Argalgalsi yuyunji                      banardub goden….

She is calling the female shamans who had lived before her for help as her soul starts to chamber ‘like a monkey’ down the principle that lead to the underworld. Her husky voice is momentarily overwhelmed by dancers as they surge past, raising a brief cloud of grit. Drums pounding, oboes blasting and women flexing alternate knees while hardly lifting their feet off the ground. A sudden change of direction makes the densely packed body of dancers seem like one creature as they spill over a dike, fanning out, stamping and spinning into a dry out of-season paddy field.

The drums never stop, but now are drifting far away. Nearby with soft thumps, a dozen buffalo are being bashed on the skull to send their souls down to the dead man in the underworld. After a long invocation, Onanti’s voice peters out and her head flops down onto her breast. Her soul had reached there, leaving her body available to convey the voices of the dead as they came up one by one. In this deep trance her limb has gone rigid, and bystanders rush forward to unclench them. It takes several people to flex her knees with a jolt and lay her legs straight again along the ground, and to unclench the fingers and bend her elbows before returning her hands to rest, along her outstretched thighs.

Onanti sits motionless, with a sharp intake of breath her body twitches, and the first in a long line of sonums announces its name. The first is a special helper, her sonum husband from the underworld, others are her shaman predecessors and teachers, but most are the dead relatives of the man for whom they are planting a stone today, adding to the patrilineage’s cluster of memorial standing stones. Sometimes the women weep, sometime they engage him in heated arguments that draw in other men too, and occasionally there is whoop laughter.

Extract: Living without the Dead – Loss and Redemption in a Jungle Cosmos by Piers Vitebsky, HarperCollins Publishers India, 2018

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The Ancient Hill Tribe of Lanjia Saoras – Journey with a Shaman

October 2017…on the auspicious day of Deepawali…I was at Hire Benekal in Karnataka, some 1000 km away from Saora Highlands, amidst prehistoric mortuary ruins across a large span of a granite hilltop.

Hire Benekal Hills and the Village Outskirt

There was neither Onanti nor any medium for a dialogue between the living and the dead here. Instead, here are some 400 odd dolmens, rock art depicting mortuary related activities, an artificial pond, perennial streams against the majestic backdrop of granite hills in the Tungabhadra Valley of Koppal District in North-Central Karnataka. In an hour-long trail, crisscrossing the granite boulders and the forest path, I and my two archaeologist companions hardly came across any other human. Not very surprising as the hills abound in bears and after sunset, you are out at your own risk as the nearest human settlement is nearly 4 km away.

Travel Tips

Hire Benekal is located in Kopal District near the town of Gangavathi, which is well connected by buses of Karnataka State Transport Service. The nearest railway station is, however, Hospet, 33 km away. The World Heritage Site of Hampi is only 26 km. Travellers lodging at Hampi can reserve a day for Hire Benekal. But don’t forget to take a guide or knowledgeable local persons. Once you are at Hire Benekal you are at your solitary space with no souls around for miles. Be prepared for one and half hour trek (one way) and carry plenty of water and food. The hills are infested with sloth bears. So don’t dare to be there after sunset. 

Gangavathi has limited options for stay and food, however, in both Hospet and Hampi there are more options. While at Hampi, you can also explore Anegundi along with Hire Benekal. 

Hire Benekal Village
The Trail
Large Granite Boulders on the Trail
Perennial Water Sources
The Trail
Hire Benekal Landscape

The archaeological ruins dated somewhere around 500 BCE were the epicentre of intense mortuary activities before South India’s earliest recorded history, with shamanic practices, something one can experience and draw an analogy from by studying modern tribal practices in Eastern India, such as the Lanjia Saoras.

Hire Benekal is a large megalithic site. Local villagers call it Moriyara Mane, which translates to ‘the houses of dwarfs’ built long ago by the Moriyars, a dwarfish race endowed with superhuman strength allowing them to heft the heavy slabs with ease.

When we approached the hill, an ASI board and information panels welcomed us describing what is megalithic in the context of South India in general and Hire Benekal in particular.

The information panel says: ‘The dolmens here were built along the contour of a hill. Locals believe they were dwellings of strong dwarf-like people, who lived here thousands of years ago. Although these rows of port-holed dolmens do resemble houses with windows, they were actually constructed as burials and memorials for dead people…Archaeologists conducting trial excavations here in 2001 found charred animal bones and various types of pottery’.

From here the trail starts ascending and descending through small and large boulders in zigzag tracks. After 500 m of walking, we came across a painted rock shelter with hunting scenes as a recurring theme. Many paintings show people carrying spears, axes, bows or lances while hunting deer, tiger and antelope. Dancing is yet another important theme, which probably had some relationship with elaborate mortuary practices and shamanism as we see in Saora paintings. Archaeologists believe that the ones showing horses are from the Megalithic Period and those showing only cattle may belong to the Neolithic Period.







A few hundred meters further up the hill we encountered a large semi-spherical boulder, resembling a half cut orange or lemon. Called Nagara Gund, the locals still beat this stone kettledrum during one of their annual festivals. Archaeologists believe that in the past, its function was similar, a rock gong that was a part of Hire Benekal’s megalithic ritual paraphernalia. When beaten, the sound could allegedly be heard for many kilometres.




Further uphill, maybe another 500 m, we encountered stone houses of small size, packed all along with stone blocks leaving only a small opening. Their small size and isolated distribution may indicate the social hierarchy at the site and perhaps they belong to the people of lower strata. As we moved further east, the landscape unfolded with a spectacular sight of scattered large dolmens erected in a wide clearing. From the distance what looked like card houses were actually granite slabs, within which a grown up man could stand erect.

Quarry Area
Quarry Area distributed with small Dolmens
A Granite Boulder Resembling a Kidney Bean
A Disturbed Area Showing exposed to Vandalism
Beginning of the Core Area
Core Area

Hire Benekal was largely unknown after the Megalithic Culture declined from the region. Despite its close proximity to Hampi, Vijayanagara’s sprawling capital, there was no sign of human activity here. A renewed interest in megalithic culture in the early part of the 19th century led to many excavations across South India. It was around this time that Philip Meadow Taylor, an early expert on Indian heritage, discovered and wrote about megalithic culture in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1835.

Hire Benekal was however excavated for the first time in 1975 by archaeologist A Sundara. He recorded around 300 megaliths of great variety such as dolmens, stone circles, menhirs, cist burials and boulder enclosures.











Another interesting feature of Hire Benekal is that most of the large monuments are near a central water reservoir at the top of the hill. Though this is a quarrying site, the reservoir looked like it was hewned specifically as a tank rather than for mining. According to Andrew Bauer, an archaeologist from the University of Illinois, in the semi-arid landscape water harvesting was essential to survival for both people and their animal herds during the Iron Age. Building commemorative monuments near the water source was probably a way of establishing a connection with these important places. Another likely reason could be the requirement of water for performing burial rituals.



The megalithic dolmens at Hire Benekal are spectacular and mysterious being the oldest known funerary monuments of South India. However, these are exposed to vandalism. Locals believe that most of the relics contain considerable treasure and therefore are being dug illegally on a regular basis. Hire Benekal along with giving us insights into a society of long ago also in its present state gives us a glimpse of the society that there is. How long will the monuments be able to withstand the greed of man or will this incredible heritage be preserved are some of the questions that plague my mind as I leave Hire Benekal.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at


Karkala – On a Jaina Trail in Karnataka

On a full moon night of Kartik month, Chandragupta Maurya saw 16 dreams that left him disturbed and he sought the advice of his spiritual teacher, Acharya Bhadrabahu. The Acharya was the last Shruta Kevalin (all knowing by hearsay) of Jainism before it split into two sects. In one of the 16 dreams, Chandragupta saw a twelve-headed serpent approaching which the Acharya interpreted as the approaching of a 12 year long period of famine and death. Worried about the survival of his Sangha monks, Acharya Bhadrabahu along with Chandragupta left for land south of Vindhyas. On reaching Chandragiri hill in Karnataka, Bhadrabahu felt his end was near so he undertook Sallekhana (Jain ritual of fasting unto death) instructing his disciples to spread the religion. This was 3rd century BCE and the monks traveled in different directions making Karnataka an important Jaina stronghold.

Jainism in Karnataka flourished under various dynasties and a high concentration of Jaina monuments including shrines called Basadis and large Gommata statues are found in the state. Recently, on a trip to Mangalore, I decided to go on a day trip to the medieval Jain center of Karkala in Udupi district.

Although the exact source of how the name ‘Karkala’ came into being is unknown, the most probable answer lies in its geology, as the area is abundant in black flint rocks i.e. Kari Kala which later became Karkala.

The history of Karkala dates back to 1st century CE when Pandyan kings ruled Tulunadu from their capital Barkur. As per “Aliya Kattu”, the law of inheritance of Tulunadu, the next-in-line to the throne is the king’s nephew (sister’s son) and not his own son. Following the tradition, Bhutala Pandya came to rule Tulunadu. In due course, the throne passed to King Vidyumna Pandya who was reluctant to let the throne go to his nephew and instead divided his kingdom into twelve parts – each for his twelve sons. He installed his seven sons as “Hegdes” of Kapu, Ermala, Mudradi, Kantavara, Kapittu, Panambur and Kuthethur, three sons as “Odeyars” of Padubidre, Ernadu and Katpady, and two of them as “Ballals” of Kulur and Irvathur. Of the above, Kapittu in particular is directly related to the history of Karkala.

Kapittu Hedge was drunk on his power and often troubled the people of his dominion. These worried people approached the powerful king of Hombuchapura for help. Seeing that the Kapittu Hegde continued to ignore his kind advices, the enraged king of Hombuchapura attacked and defeated the army of Kapittu Hedge and thus Karkala came under the Hombucha kingdom. Various edicts found around Karkala speak of the region being under Kadamba, Chalukya and Alupa kings in the past. It is said that the ‘Santarasas’ of Hombucha had matrimonial relations with the Alupas of Mangalore. The Santarasas of Hombucha established their rule in Tulunadu after the fall of Alupas around 11th century CE. The direct rule of Bhairava Pandyas (They were called so due to their strong belief in Bhairava Padmavatidevi) over Karkala started somewhere between the end of 12th century CE and the start of 13th century CE. Karkala became a glorious and prosperous city during this time and it could be termed as its golden period.

Along with being a metropolis of those times, having separate residential colonies for each class, schools for music and painting, gymnasia, military schools and large trade centres, Karkala made unforgettable impression in the field of sculpture and architecture as well. Karkala has a total of 18 big and small basadis and a world famous monolithic idol of Bahubali. Out of the 18 basadis, Neminatha basadi at Hiriyangady, Chaturmukha basadi, Shravana basadi and Kere basadi are architecturally more important as these were built under royal patronage. The biggest advantage of Karkala is that the Nellikaru (a variety of granite) rock, perfect for stone sculpture and architecture is found in abundance here.

The most important landmark of Karkala is the Gomateshwara monolith statue that was installed by King Vira Pandya. He was a philosopher and influenced by the teachings of Muni Kalyanakeerti. The King believed that spreading his compassionate religion in the world is the truest way to attain good life after death. Accordingly, he took up the task to install the idol of Gomateshwara after consulting his Guru Lalitakeerti Acharya Mahaswami. A 41.5 feet monolithic statue was carved out by hundreds of sculptors within a year. The piece of rock out of which the statue was carved, was driven uphill on a wagon with 20 wheels with the help of several elephants and countless workers and heaving of pulleys and ropes. The statue was carved from the rock under the shade of a pandal (cloth canopy). Happy with the outcome, the king honored the sculptors with gold.


An auspicious muhurat was fixed by the astrologer and invitations were sent in all the directions. The statue was installed on the hill of Karkala on 13th of February in 1432 CE in front of guests of honor including King Deva Raya II of Vijayanagara Empire. King Vira Pandya’s fame spread in all the directions after the grand ceremony! He also installed a beautiful Brahma stambha in front of the statue later in 1436 CE.



Kannada inscriptions



Yaksha atop a Manastambha



Statues of Tirthankars placed behind the Gomateshwara statue


Kere Basadi is called so due to being situated in middle of a pond (kere) was built by Pandyappodeya VI in 1545. This Basadi too like most other in Karkala is a Chaturkukha Basadi. On the four sides, it has idols of Mahaveera, Adinatha, Chandranatha and Shantinatha. Although I could not make it to the basadi, heard that the pond has now shrunk and an approach road has been made whereas in earlier times, the pond was much bigger and the basadi was accessible only by a boat.


Kere basadi. Picture courtesy –


Chaturmukha Basadi is probably the most important and also the most visited of all. This basadi situated at Karishila Betta opposite Gomata Betta was built in 1586 CE by King Bhairavendra II. Being Chaturmukha, it has one life sized idol represented in three fold, making it a total of 12 idols. It has 40 pillars inside and 68 outside making it a total of 108 pillars. It is said that, the king had a very ambitious plan to build a 3 storeyed basadi and then build a connecting bridge to Gomatabetta. The 100+ pillars were built to support the ground floor structure. However, the king died as soon as the ground floor was completed and the rest of the plan was abandoned. One can have a clear view of the upper half of Gomata Betta from this Basadi.


Chaturmukha Basadi as seen from Gomata Betta






Some other places of heritage in and around Karkala include the Neminathaswamy Basadi, the 15th century Venkataramana Temple, Shri Mahalingeshwara temple, Anantashayana Vishnu temple which was originally built as Anantanatha Jain basadi, Kalikamba temple, Karkala Jamiya masjid built during Tipu Sultan’s reign and the 300 year old Atthur church.

How to reach: Closest major railway stations are Udupi (38 kms) and Mangalore Junction (50 kms). By road, it is most convenient to hire a cab from these two places to Karkala for a day trip.

Best time to visit Karkala: It is warm in Karkala throughout the year but December to February is a rather pleasant time.

Author – Onkar Tendulkar

He can be reached at

Reviving Ballari’s Water Heritage – Hope for the Best

On the border of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, at a distance of 306 km from Bangalore is situated the historic city of Bellary, now Ballari.

There is a story behind the name Ballari. Once upon a time, a caravan of devout merchants had camped here. In the absence of a Shivling to offer prayers, they installed a balla (a measuring cup or seru used to measure grain) upside down. Later, a temple was built at the spot dedicated to Balleshwara or Shiva.

Except for a Nayaka Fort on the top of a granite hill, Ballari has no other visually spectacular monuments and so does not feature prominently on a tourist’s itinerary. Quite unlike the UNESCO world heritage site of Hampi that lies a mere 50 km away. And unlike Hampi where intensive agriculture is practised due to abundant waters of Tungabhadra, Ballari sandwiched between two large granite hills; Ballarigudda and Kumbharagudda, is dry. Water is scarce and summer temperature can rise up to 45 degrees centigrade. During my recent visit, I was told by residents of how acute the water crisis was until a few years back. Women would stand in long queues with their plastic buckets to collect water. Seemed like nothing had changed as this was the scenario I had witnessed in Hospet and Ballari during the 90s when I was working in Hampi for a month.

Travel Tips

Ballari is a major city located on Andhra – Karnataka Border in the Rayalaseema Region. Surrounded by granite hills and agriculture fields, Ballari is also the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hampi (50 km away). The city apart from its water harvesting structures has been known for its Nayaka Period fort on the hilltop. The city has a large number of staying options but for travellers, it is recommended to make Hampi as the base and visit Ballari on a day trip. Also include Sangankallur in your travel plan, the well-known Neolithic Rock art site near Ballari.

I was sure that Ballari’s medieval inhabitants must have built appropriate water harvesting structures for their sustenance that may have gone out of use with time. With this question in mind, I explored Ballari for a day to discover baolis or tanks, talavs or keres and speak to its inhabitants.

Ballari has seven historic baolis (tanks or step-wells) spread over different parts of the city. I was guided by Shri Tarun Kumar, a contractor with the local civic body and resource person for the revival of historic water bodies in the city. Tarun has taken up the job work of cleaning and restoring the step-wells, a project initiated by Ballari Municipal Corporation.



Akka Tangire Well after Cleaning

Once, Ballari city had two major historic talavs (keres) – Basavanakutta and Nallacheruvu, built during the Vijayanagar Period. Rainwater would cascade down the granite hill and fill these talavs in monsoon. However, thanks to unplanned urban growth, both these waterbodies are now dry as modern constructions have obstructed the flow of water into these talavs.

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I was glad to hear that out of seven tanks, four have been cleaned and restored so far. I was fortunate to visit three of them.




Akka Tangire Well before Restoration

The first and the largest is Akka Tangire well also known as Soldiers’ Well. Located in Medhar Street (Opposite BCC Ground) in a crowded colony, it was originally built in the Vijayanagar Era by a woman called Akama Devi. Further additions were made during Tipu’s rule and it supplied water to a nearby Soldiers’ camp. The T shaped tank is built of granite blocks in the typical Vijayanagar style. On its walls are found an array of sculptures including a Nandi and a Shiva Linga, fish, yalis and so on. At the entrance is a pillared mantapa that further leads to steps into the water body. A triple-arched arcade was probably added later in the back corridor near the water lifting pulley system.

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Travel Shot: Community Revival of Taj Baodi – A Success Story













The next tank located in Parvati Nagar locality within a spacious compound is relatively new. It is a rectangular tank built of proportionate granite rocks. It is unnamed but some people call it Sakama Tank. There are no sculptures or other dating materials found in this tank.

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Water Heritage of Jodhpur – Then and Now




The third in the series is the most well-preserved tank located in Sirigupa Main Road. Locals call it Havam Baavi. It was built in the 16th century in the Vijayanagar style. Stylistically it is similar to Akka Tangire well but here there are no sculptures.






The rest of the 4 step wells are difficult to access and yet to be cleaned. Sincere thanks to Tarun for his humble support in documenting these wells and we wish him all the best in his efforts to restore forgotten stepwells and make Ballari a sprawling city of lakes and wells.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Travel Shot : Community Revival of Taj Baodi – A Success Story

It is a pity that the work of local community members in heritage restoration and management has been overlooked by heritage experts. I firmly believe that it is the local community which needs to be motivated, involved and educated because without them no initiative is meaningful. Afterall, it is the local community which takes maximum pride when their heritage is restored and this pride is what makes them feel responsible towards their local heritage and its upkeep.I have been fortunate enough to meet several such individuals and groups during my travels to historic cities across India, who have felt that their local heritage is beyond a mere appreciation of a grand past but deeply rooted in their daily life and their spiritual consciousness.




During my recent travel, I came across such a person and an entire team of heritage enthusiasts at Bijapur in Karnataka. Mr Ameenuddin Hullur, the leader of the team is not a historian or an archaeologist by profession, but his deep interest in local heritage and history has transformed him into an activist, something that many of our universities and civic authorities have failed to achieve.

Travel Tips

Bijapur is a medium-sized city located in North Karnataka near Maharashtra border in the heart of Deccan. The city is well connected both by road and railway. However, the nearest airport is either in Pune or Hyderabad (both 8 hours away). Hubbali is yet another nearby airport which is well connected by both rail and road service. The city has plenty of stay options starting from budget to luxury. Famous for Medieval architecture, especially Indo-Islamic including the second highest dome and a triumph of Deccani architecture, Bijapur is an art lover’s paradise. While at Bijapur also visit Kumtagi waterworks (25 km from the city). One should keep a minimum of three days for a true appreciation of Bijapur’s water heritage. 

Also, Read Here:

Bijapur Water Heritage – An Oasis in Parched Deccan


Taj Baodi, a medieval tank, is Bijapur’s pride, a city which was established by the Adil Shahis in the 16th century after the fall of Bahamani Empire at Bidar. The baodi is located in a crowded area of the city and its walls are encroached upon by houses of local residents. It is the largest tank of Bijapur and is named after Taj Sultana, the favourite queen of Adil Shah II. Built square in shape with each side measuring 71 m, the baodi can be entered through a wide arch flanked by two majestic minarets in signature Adil Shahi style.

Also, Read Here:

Reviving Ballari’s Water Heritage – Hope for the Best



According to an inscription engraved on a plaque against a wall near the entrance gate, it was built by Malik Sandal, a Siddi official in the service of Adil Shahi court. It translates to: ‘The humble slave  Malik Sandal constructed at his own expense the building of Taj Baodi for the service of religious mendicants as a Hammam for bathing and as a resting place for the people of Allah, and bequeathed it to the service of Allah. Whoever seeks possession of it or damages it, may his wife and mother ride a donkey and be overtaken by an eternal curse.’


I first visited Taj Baodi in 2013 and was highly disappointed seeing its pathetic state. It was filled with garbage and the water was filthy. But during my recent visit, I was pleasantly surprised to see clean waters. This revival which was initiated by Ameenuddin Hullur was later funded and joined in by the government.

Also, Read Here:

Water Heritage of Jodhpur – Then and Now





Fresh water flows down to the tank now from a number of natural springs that are located at several points along the walls. The entrance to the baodi is now guarded by government officials. Ameen’s initiatives eventually drew attention of the State Government. Mr. M.B Patil, who is the water resource minister in Karnataka State government, has taken keen interest in its revival. In an interview with Frontline magazine he has been quoted as saying – ‘This is a dream fulfilled. The plan is to meet a part of Vijayapura’s water needs through these baodis. The city requires 65 million liters a day (mld) of water, and I expect that 5 mld can be met through these wells. All these wells have potable water, and moreover, it is the heritage of our elders. We should preserve these monuments for the future’.











Hear the story of the revival of Taj Baodi in the words of Mr Ameenuddin Hullur himself! Watch the video.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Gol Gumbaz – The Triumph of Deccani Architecture

If Taj Mahal is India’s most admired artistic tomb, then the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur that houses the grave of Muhammad Adil Shah is technologically the most advanced tomb of Medieval India. I have been to Gol Gumbaz twice before and each time there was something to be surprised about.


The View of Gol Gumbaz in the Early Morning

Gol Gumbaz, often considered as the triumph of Deccani architecture is actually an unfinished monument. I was told about this fact by Mr. Klaus Rotzer, an expert on Bijapur heritage during my recent visit. Designed by architect Yaqut of Dabul, Gol Gumbaz is a massive cube and its dome (44 m in diameter) is the second largest in the world. However, its plain surface was supposed to have been covered with a range of Persian tiles.



An Unfinished Graffiti

Muhammad Adil Shah started building his tomb immediately after his ascent to throne in 1626 CE. His intention was to build the grandest tomb in India. The construction of the tomb began and ended with his regime in 1656 CE. At Gol Gumbaz, beside the Sultan are buried two of his wives Taj Jahan Begum and Aroos Bibi, his mistress Rambha, his daughter and his grandson.


The tomb is one of the largest single structures in the world. At each of the four corners of the cube is a dome shaped octagonal tower seven stories high with a staircase inside. The top floor of each tower opens into a round gallery which surrounds the dome.



The dome’s exterior walls display examples of fine Adil Shahi stucco work ranging from simple geometric patterns to lotus medallions, branches of trees, leafs, crown of wing, chained motifs, petalled fringes, scroll work and creeper motifs.




Details of Plaster Work

The gallery on the 8th floor is an acoustic marvel. Also known as the whispering gallery, it is the highest achievement of medieval sound engineering wherein an echo reflects for seven times.


Another highlight of this monument is a meteorite that hangs over the main entrance. The meteorite had hit the monument while it was under construction. There is a beautiful story behind it, which is explained by Mr. Ameenuddin Hullur in the video attached here. It is believed to protect the structure from lightning.



A Nakkar Khana (also unfinished) lies to the south of Gol Gumbaz, which now houses a museum of ASI.


The Gol Gumbaz had an excellent water supply system as suggested by the presence of a number of water tanks, fountains, lifts and wells. There are 20 features documented by the ASI related to water supply system at Gol Gumbaz. The main sources are Khandak on the west, Masa Baodi on the north and Jahan Begum Talav on the south. One of the major water structures is Khandak, a small reservoir along with two tanks on the eastern and western rim. It is actually the quarry used for building the Gol Gumbaz that was eventually converted to a water structure. The two tanks lifted the water from Khandak and supplied to an array of fountains in the complex.

Bijapur- old sketch - Sultan Mahomed Shah's Tomb [colour]

A 19th Century Lithograph by Montgomery


My recent trip to Bijapur was hosted by my dear friend Ameenuddin Hullur, a local heritage enthusiast working on the revival of water structures and Hamza Mehmood, another local heritage enthusiast. I was accompanied by Hullur at Gol Gumbaz and as a humble gesture he narrated two interesting stories on Gol Gumbaz. Here is the narration.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Vesara Temple Architecture – Origin and Evolution : A Photo Journey

Ereya was a small boy when his father Kirtivarman- II died and his uncle Mangalesa ascended the Chalukya throne as regent. As the boy came of age so did his uncle’s greed for power and he decided to declare his son as his heir apparent showing Ereya the door. The young prince sought shelter in Bana territory (present day Kolar) and formed his own small army that went on to defeat his uncle. Ereya ascended throne taking the name Pulakesin -II and the title Chalukya Parameshwara. Thus began the golden period of the Chalukyan dynasty.

Chalukyas are one of the first dynasties of the upper Dravida Desha and known as the real builders of Karnata / Kuntala desa (present day Karnataka) region. The scion of the dynasty launched his political career sometime in the 5th century CE from a small territory around the Bijapur town. This region lay north of Banavasi (of the Kadambas) and was a region that gave no sign of notable cultural activities until the advent of Chalukyas as rulers. The twin cities of Aihole (Ahivalli) and Badami (Vatapi) were the nerve centres from where the Chalukyas and their empire spread out to become one of the most powerful .

As the Chalukyan empire started growing rapidly, more and more neighbouring regions fell in the dominion of the dynasty. From these two cities, elements of art and culture travelled to the lands that the Chalukyas newly conquered and the first monuments bearing an authentic brand of the “art of Karnata” started taking shape. The role of first two Chalukya kings was largely insignificant as they were merely seen as the puppets of the previous dynasties that ruled here. The real glory began from the time of Pulakesin I who was an independent ruler and fortified Badami (Vatapi) in 543 CE. His successor Kirtivarman-II, then the next king Mangalesa, then Pulakesin II added to the legacy of Badami (Vatapi) by constructing Hindu, Jain & Buddhist caves as well as the Mahakuta group of temples.


During the reign of Pulakesi II (CE 608-642), Chalukyas attained imperial status. He soon went on to capture Talakadu (of Gangas), Banavasi (of Kadambas), Aluvakheda (of Alupas). He shortly defeated Mauryas of Konkan and conquered large areas of today’s coastal Maharashtra rapidly moving towards North. His army went further north till river Narmada to check advance of his enemies by defeating them and restricting them beyond the river. The same was repeated on the eastern front along the Godavari river. He defeated the Vishnukundinas and added most of Vengi- one of the most fertile regions in the south; to his kingdom. The difficulty in keeping a check on the activities this far east from his capital in Badami might have seemed difficult to Pulakesi II. Very smartly, he stationed his brother Kubja Vishnuvardhana there as his viceroy. Within a decade, Vishnuvardhana declared independence and thus began the eastern branch of Chalukyas (Vengi Chalukyas) who went on to rule Vengi for many centuries outliving the Badami Chalukyas as a dynasty.

From being the Chalukya Parameshwara to defeating the mighty Harshavardhana and assuming the title of Dakshinapatheshvara (Lord of the South), Pulakeshin – II’s achievement on the battlefront have inspired both poets and chroniclers. Huein Tsang, Harshavardhana’s Protégé  could not hold himself from writing about his valour while the poet Ravikriti wrote verses in his praise. Etched in stone at the Meguti temple and known as the Aihole inscription, it still is a reference source of events of the times. But Pulakesin – II’s achievements were not limited to the battlefield alone. During his reign, he added the cave no 2, Sivalaya temples at Badami, Gaudargudi and Meguti temples at Aihole and Mahakuta temples near Badami. Vikramaditya I- one of the sons of Pulakesin II carried his father’s legacy after the latter’s mysterious disappearance.

Badami Agastya lake & Shivalaya templesBadami Shivalaya temples

Agatsya Lake and Sivalaya Temples, Badami

Chalukyans can be considered a pioneering dynasty as they did not patronize either Vaishnavism or Shaivism but followed both. This is amply clear in the construction of both the Shaivite temples (Badami cave 1 and Ravalaphadi cave at Aihole) and Vaishnavite temples (Badami cave 2 & 3, Badami Shivalaya temples). The dynasty further took keen interest in Jainism (Badami cave No.4) and Buddhism (unfinished cave at Badami as well as caves in Aihole).


The Chalukyas of Badami have left prolific monumental remains. The geographical placement of Chalukyas allowed their kingdom to be a unique cultural magnet- a fact reflected in their art. Political circumstances not only put Kuntal desa (today’s Karnataka) but also parts of rest of the Deccan (today’s Maharashtra & Telangana state), southern Kosala (part of today’s Chhattisgarh and western Odisha), Kalinga (today’s coastal Odisha and coastal Andhra) into their areas of influence. As a result, a number of art styles converged and emerged from Chalukya territory. In the nuclear Chalukya cities like Vatapi, Aryapura, Kisuvolal (Pattadakallu) and other sites in western Andhra desa- a curious variety of temple form and architectural and sculptural styles are encountered.

This is the Vesara style or the Chalukyan style of temple architecture. But of course, this style didn’t take birth all of a sudden. The extreme creative curiosity of Chalukyas created marvellous pieces of architecture by experimenting with different styles and forms. They seem to have chosen Aihole- on the banks of Malaprabha river for their architectural experiments. From the rock cut- Rawalaphadi caves, the apsidal Durga temple to the imitation of wooden architecture in Ladkhan temple and planting a Nagara (north Indian) shikhara on a large area otherwise covered by flat roofs at Chakra Gudi temple; they tried it all! It’s not for nothing that this otherwise underdeveloped village of Aihole is bestowed with the honour of being called ‘the cradle of Indian architecture’.

Aihole Ladkhan templeAihole Ladkhan temple- inside

Ladkhan Temple, Aihole

A point to note here is that, the brick and timber structures preceding the Chalukyas have totally disappeared. Nothing is left of the art and architecture of the Kadambas or Konkan Mauryas. Hence it is difficult to say whether the ‘hybrid’ architectural style that Chalukyas are often credited to have developed, was actually exclusively developed by them or was it an experiment in continuum.

Coming back to the style, most of this architectural experimentation of Chalukyas can roughly be categorised as follows:

1) Nirandhara Temples- small temples without a circumambulatory (Pradakshina Patha) eg. Surya  and Huchchappayya temples at Aihole.

2) Sandhara Temples- Bigger temples showing Garbhagriha and pillared hall with an occasional porch. These temples had a circumambulatory path. Eg. Huchhimalli Gudi and Meguti temples at Aihole and Sangameshwara temple at Pattadakal.

3) Temples showing Garbhagriha, pillared hall as well as a porch. However the Garbhagriha is pushed to the back wall of the temple leaving no space for pradakshina. Eg. Ladkhan and Kontigudi temples at Aihole.

4) Apsidal i.e. horseshoe shaped temples in plan. It has an apsidal Garbhagriha as well as apsidal ambulatory path. This type of temples are considered to have been inspired from Buddhist rock-cut chaitya halls which were apsidal in plan. Eg. Durga temple, Aihole.

5) Trikuta Temples- temples with 3 garbhagriha but a common hall and an open porch. Eg. Jambulinga temple, Badami.

In his book ‘Indian Temple Forms’, the author  Shri. Madhusudan Dhaky points out that, although the term Vesara means ‘Hybrid’, this particular hybrid style is assigned to the region between Vindhyas and Nasik (roughly today’s Madhya Pradesh) or to an extent till Krishna river. Umpteen examples of this style are found to the south of this region. As seen from the temples at Aihole & Pattadakal by the early Chalukyas one cannot deny the fact that a transitory phase between the Nagara and the Dravida styles of temple architecture did exist. The features of this ‘architectural phase’ but which may not always be a part of it, are as follows : 

1.      Subsidiary shrines around the main shrine (picked up from Nagara temples)

Pattadakal Group of monumentsPattadakal

2.      Diamond shaped stepped plan that slowly evolved into stellate plinths (picked up from Nagara temples)

Badami Bhutanatha templeBhutanatha Temple, Badami

3.      Presence of a vestibule between the mandapa and the garbhagriha (picked up from Nagara- Kalinga temples)

Pattadakal virupaksha templeVirupaksha Temple, Pattadakal

4.      Minimization of height of each storey (than that of the Vimana of Dravida temples) and arranging them in descending order of height from base to top.


5.      Pillared mandapas with flat roof (a Dravida temple feature)

somnathapura3Chennakeshava Temple, Somnathapura. Picture courtesy – Anupam Mazumdar

Another reason for the birth of Vesara style in this particular region could be the fact that it was not the first time, a ‘combination’ of two or more distinct features was carried out in the architecture of Karnata. Hari-Hara (the combination of Vishnu & Shiva), Ardhanari-Nateshwara (combination of Shiva & Parvati), Yali- the mythical animal (thought to be a combination of multiple animals like lion, bull, elephant, crocodile etc.) are just some of the most famous examples of the above. Given these examples, I think it was only natural that such a distinct hybrid architectural style was born in Karnata. Also, when this style was developed, the architectural features of Nagara and Dravida temples could have naturally mingled as unique features of these two styles were still developing. It took another couple of centuries for various Nagara sub-styles such as Khajuraho, Kalinga (Odisha), Osiyan and Gujarati to fully develop. If one has to chronologically trace various architectural styles, it was the Vesara style which came into being before the various Nagara styles were fully developed. For all we know, the lines between Nagara and Dravida styles were blurred which is what could have given birth to this unique combination and which may not have been regarded as a separate architectural style back then.

Pattadakal group of monuments 2Pattadakal group of monuments 3

Pattadakal group of monuments

Let’s go through various examples of this hybrid style right from its inception till the time it reached its zenith, to understand how this particular style evolved.

The 7th century Durga temple at Aihole may be regarded as one of the first and most prominent examples of this style of architecture. This Gajaprastha (resembling to elephant’s back) temple is dedicated to either Lord Shiva/ Vishnu or Surya is still under debate as there is no such deity in the sanctum. Although the temple shows predominantly Dravida features, it is topped with a Nagara Shikhara on its sanctum. Its apsidal plan takes inspiration from the Buddhist chaityas making it a truly ‘hybrid’ temple.



Aihole Durga temple ambulatory 1Aihole Durga ambulatory 2

The apsidal Ambulatory Path

Aihole Durga temple Durga sculpture

Sculpture of Durga at Durga Temple, Aihole. The deceptive name ’Durga’ here actually refers to Durg i.e. fortification of which it was a part of and not goddess Durga.

Galagnath temple dedicated to Shiva; not too far from here shows presence of Ganga and Yamuna sculptures- necessarily a Nagara feature till then along with chaitya windows.

Pattadakal Galagnath templeGalaganath Temple, Pattadakal

The 8th century Papanatha temple in Pattadakal is the only temple in the UNESCO world heritage site of Pattadakal that has been designed using both north and south Indian architecture styles. It seems that the temple was initially supposed to be a Nagara style temple but there was a change of intention during the course of construction of this temple as is evident from its narrow circumambulatory path. The construction of rest of the temple was continued on the lines of Dravida architecture.

papanatha-pattadakalPapanatha Temple, Pattadakal. Picture courtesy – TeamGsquare

Chakra Gudi temple at Aihole built in 9th century CE shows a Rekha Nagara Shikhara (northern superstructure topped by an amalaka and a kalasa). It encompasses a large mandapa with flat roof and has a large temple tank beside it.

Aihole Chakra gudi templeAihole chakra gudi kund

By 9th century, the western Chalukyas i.e. Kalyani Chalukyas had taken over large parts of Karnata and continued experimenting with the temple architecture. The term western Chalukyas  however refers to a distantly related dynasty- a fraction of Rashtrakuta dynasty that broke off from the Rashtrakutas, defeated them and made Kalyani- in northeastern Karnataka their capital. The western Chalukyas came into the picture much later than the Badami Chalukyas i.e. in 10th century. They built so many exquisite temples in and around today’s Gadag town. Trikuteshwara, Someshwara, Veera Narayana temples at Gadag, Kashi Vishweshwara and Mahavira Jain temples at Lakkundi, Dodabasappa temple at Dambala, Amriteswara temple at Annigeri are some of the best temples built in improved Vesara style by the Kalyani Chalukyan kings. Architectural articulation like the recess chajjas, is the most striking feature that Vesara seems to have picked up from the Nagara style. Most of the above mentioned temples show stepped projections in odd numbers making it appear like stepped or a diamond pattern in plan. Although the later Chalukyans retained features from both Nagara and Dravida styles, surprisingly, they inclined more towards the Nagara style and built smaller shrines around the main shrine as is evident from the presence of smaller shrines. They also seemed fascinated by decorative miniature towers along the Shikhara of the main shrine just like in Shekhari and Bhumija Shikharas with miniature spires horizontally and vertically filling up the quadrants of the four faces of the central projection right upto the top.

Gadag 1Gadag 2

Trikuteshwara Temple, Gadag. Pictures courtesy – TeamGsquare

LakkundiKashivishweshwara Temple, Lakkundi. Picture courtesy – TeamGsquare

DambalDoddabasappa Temple, Dambal. Picture courtesy – TeamGsquare

The Hoysalas picked up from where the Western Chalukyas left. Naturally so, as the initial builders employed by the Hoysalas came from the centres of medieval Chalukyan art. Hoysalas kept the basic architectural form of the Western Chalukyas but built much more detailed temples with intricate sculptures at Belur, Halebidu, Somanathpura and in the vicinity of southern Karnata region.

belur1belur2Chennakeshava Temple, Belur. Pictures courtesy – Anupam Mazumdar

halebid1halebid2Hoysaleshwara Temple, Halebid. Pictures courtesy – Anupam Mazumdar


Chennakeshava Temple, Somnathapura. Pictures courtesy – Anupam Mazumdar

It is very interesting to see how the Vesara style which in its initial phase of development restricted itself only to the Shikhara/ Vimana part, slowly over the centuries looked beyond the superstructure of the sanctum and absorbed more from both the major temple architecture styles in more ways than one – be it plan, features, sculptures, structural members or decorative elements. The outcome of these centuries of experimentation have paid off and we have some unique temples as a standing testimony.  If Pulakeshin II and his Badami Chalukyan successors could come back and see how stunning their hybrid temple style has transformed into by the end of 11th century, the dynasty of art connoisseurs would erupt in joy and do a happy dance. Well, they can or cannot but we surely can !


Author – Onkar Tendulkar

He can be contacted at

Karez System of Bidar – A Persian Oasis in Deccan

Water is very important for survival and in arid regions, it is more precious than gold. In 6th century BCE, when India was heralding a spiritual renaissance, the inhabitants of arid Iran were busy building Qanat or Karez system to tap deep alluvial aquifers and channel the water along an underground tunnel often over many kilometers, using gravity. Qanat is the Arabic word for “channel” and Qanats in Persian are called kārīz or kārēz

According to an inscription, in 714 BCE, when King of Assyria invaded the city of Uhla, Northwest of Lake Urmia in Persia, he was surprised to notice rich vegetation and thriving agriculture even though there were no rivers nearby. This was a result of the efforts of Ursa, the local King who had transformed his kingdom into an oasis. The secret was the Qanat system which helped lifting groundwater to the surface in order to cultivate land and for many other purposes including drinking. The closed channels ensured that evaporation and contamination did not affect the water rendering it fit for human consumption.


The working of the Karez system. Image source- Wikimedia Commons

The practice of Qanat or Karez continued in Persia throughout later history and via the Silk Route spread to other countries as well. Today, more than 30 countries in the world use this system to harness water. One of them is Bidar in Karnataka, the erstwhile stronghold of the Bahmani Sultanate.


Image source – Wikimedia Commons

In 15th century CE, when Bidar in Northeast Karnataka became an established centre and capital of Bahmani dynasty, the Karez system was successfully introduced. Picturesquely perched on the ridge of Deccan Plateau, Bidar has rich laterite formations, a porous rock that allows for optimal groundwater recharge while also serving as a purifier.

Bidar 012

Laterite formation around Bidar. The upper crust of the plateau is of laterite, a soft porous rock with limonitic surface. Water filtered during the monsoons through the laterite stratum is arrested and a nursery of springs is formed. The Karez System is built along a geological fracture. Such fractures are formed at the intersection of laterite and basalt rocks and form lineaments.

Bidar 038Topography of  Bidar

The Bahmanis had their roots in Iran. They adopted the various systems of their ancestral land and invited a large number of Sufi saints, writers, calligraphers, masons, merchants, artisans and soldiers in their courts. They, together with native population, have contributed immensely to Medieval Deccani culture, heritage and architecture.

Triple Moats in Bidar Fort. The water supply to Bidar Fort and its surrounding also used Karez system introduced by Iranian masons

Water has always been a major concern in Deccan as it receives low rainfall and soaring temperatures in the summer with a high rate of evaporation depletes surface water quickly. Hence the Karez system was well accepted. It was one of the most cost effective methods for collecting, transporting, storing and distributing water. The Karez system of Bidar is earliest in Deccan created in the 15th century CE. Its primary objective was to supply water to human settlements. Locally it is also known as ‘Surang Bavi’. The Bahmanis also built Surang Bavis in Bijapur and Gulbarga. Reports indicate the presence of a Karez in Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh. Seems like the Mughals were inspired by the Bahmanis.

There are six Karezes in Bidar, out of which the two most important ones are the Naubad Karez and the Jamuna Mori Karez. While the Naubad karez supplied water to common people, the Jamuna Mori Karez took water to the royal family and others living inside the Bidar fort. The length of Naubad Karez, which starts from Naubad and ends in Aliabad, is nearly about 3.5 km.

Bidar 001An Entrance to the Naubad Karez

A vertical shaft at Naubad Karez. These shafts worked as air vents, wells and an entrance for men to do maintenance work. They also aided in rainwater harvesting and channeling.

There were 27 vertical shafts in Naubad Karez system that were separated from each other at a distance of 50 meters each. These vertical shafts provide necessary ventilation for the workers and allowed them to clear the mud accumulated during the excavation work. Out of these 27 shafts only 21 remain today.

Rajendra Singh, water man of India, who especially visited Bidar to have a close look at the working of the Karez system says

“What is unbelievable is that the engineers of those days discovered the fault lines in the rocks below the ground and traced the aquifer, just by identifying the particular kind of trees that grow on the ground,” Mr. Singh said. The ‘karez’ gallery and tunnels carved 40 ft below the ground had been created entirely by hand. It was a great piece of art, he said. Mr. Singh described the ‘karez’ as a living textbook for water-related studies. “We could emulate the design whenever large water harvesting projects are undertaken,” he said.

According to Mr. Singh, the system of excavation in the laterite rock that had ensured that the ceiling had not fallen off or the walls had not crumbled for over 600 years was worthy of a detailed academic study.

Inside view of the Naubad Karez System

The Karez system in Bidar is unique. With rainfall patterns going awry and polluted surface water, groundwater is our answer to water woes. Their level is not affected by rains or drought for a few years making it the most reliable source of potable water in arid and semi-arid regions. However, it is neglected and encroached upon. In 2012, the local government took the long awaited decision to clean and excavate the aquaduct with the help of a team of experts from Indian Heritage Cities Network, Deccan Heritage Foundation, UNESCO, and Kerala University.

The collaborative effort between the local government and experts produced fruitful results. According to a report published in The Hindu on 16th September 2015, ‘water began flowing out of the mouth of the cave that leads to the duct from Tuesday afternoon, attracting residents of Naubad and surrounding areas who were thrilled to see the stream. Water that gushed out of the Karez gallery got collected in the Kalyani of nearby Sangameshwar Temple before running into the fields and the Manjra River below.

Indeed, Karez system in Bidar is one of the most promising revival and conservation project on modern-day usage of ancient secular heritage structures in India. This experiment has given enough reasons for locals to have pride in their built-in heritage rendering it as a benchmark for similar efforts in other heritage towns and cities.

I am thankful to Mr. Rishikesh Desai, the local Hindu correspondent of Bidar for his inputs and Mr. Valliyil Govindankutty, a geology professor and expert on Karez system for guiding me and taking me around in Bidar.

Author – Jitu Mishra (with inputs from Zehra Chhapiwala)

He can be contacted at

Tile Work at Bidar – A Touch of Persia

In the history of India, the decision taken by Muhammad Bin Tughluk for shifting his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad is often seen as a crazy decision by historians. But everyone would agree to the fact that eventually this decision was turned to be a boon for Deccan as it became a hot seat for introducing new ideas, Sufism and many more.

One of the earliest dynasties that ruled Deccan aftermath the shifting of capital was the Bahamanis, who had their ancestral roots in Iran. The Sultans had invited a large number of Sufi saints, writers, calligraphers, merchants, artisans and soldiers from Iran to serve in their courts.

Bidar in northeast Karnataka was one of the best Deccani courts in the 15th-16th centuries AD under the Bahamanis and Baridshahis. The city’s Islamic monuments show a great degree of fusion of Deccani and Persian styles. One of the interesting features of this cross-cultural fertilization is colourful tile work, which once adorned heavily on the walls of Bidar monuments.

The use of tiles on walls and floors was common in Iran before Hellenistic times and had revived by Sassanids. In Islamic buildings the first occurrence of tile work was in Abbasid time and was wide spread from the 13th century onwards. A major innovation happened in Iran with relation to tile decoration – mosaic tiles that could be cut into small pieces and reassembled into rich and complex designs.

Tajaddin Firuz (1397 – 1422 AD) was a celebrated Bahamani ruler. During his rule, there was an influx of Persians, Arabs and Turks into the Deccan. The trend continued after Bidar became the Bahamani capital.

The Tomb of Ala ud Din Shah (the second Bahamani ruler of Bidar) is known for its exclusive tile work though most of it has suffered much wear after the climatic condition. The designs comprise of floral scrolls, geometric patterns and calligraphic motifs. The principal colours represented are blue, green and yellow on a white background.

The Tomb of Ali Barid Shah also contains beautiful tile work of Persian inscriptions and floral designs. Some of calligraphic work shows lines by the 12th century Persian poet Sheikh Fariduddin Attar. A pioneer of mystic poetry, his ‘Parliament of Birds’ is considered a global classic. He is said to have influenced the life and work of other major mystic poets, like Rumi, Omar Kahayam and Jami.

Poets and scholars who served the court of Ali Barid Shah had brought Fariduddin’s poetry and had popularized in Bidar.

The next important building covered with mosaic tiles is the madrassa of Mahmud Gawan, which was founded in 1472 AD. It was one of the greatest centres of learning in Medieval Deccan.

Rangeen Mahal inside Bidar Fort is considered a jewel of Deccan. Its walls once had entirely carved with tile work, but now only has survived around the black basalt arched doorway leading to the royal chamber.

The colours are mainly blue and white along with the inclusion of mustard yellow and grass green. The design includes floral arabesque pattern.

Today most of these tile works have disappeared, but whatever is left offers a pleasing sight. Come, lets discover the beautiful tile work of Medieval Bidar in Karnataka and take every step to preserve them for posterity.