From Golkonda to Hyderabad – An Architectural Journey

In the history of Indian Subcontinent, 15th and 16th centuries were two remarkable centuries. It was the era when the fusion of Indian and Persian/Central Asian cultures and art reached its climax. The region of Deccan bore maximum fruits of these cultural syntheses. The rulers of Bahamani dynasty which laid the foundation of this trend saw new heights under the Qutb Shahis of Golkonda.

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View of Hyderabad City and Qutb Shahi Tombs from Golconda Fort

Tajaddin Firuz (1392 – 1422 CE) was a celebrated Bahamani ruler in Gulbarga. During his rule, there was an influx of Persians, Arabs and Turks into the Deccan. The trend continued throughout the Bahamani rule.

One among these immigrants in the later Bahamani Court was Quli Mulk, a Turk man, who rose to prominence as a governor of the royal court. In 1487 CE, he was sent to Golkonda to quell rebellious leaders. This was a turning point in the history of Deccan in the form of the birth of the Qutb Shahi Dynasty. Golkonda Fort was strengthened and expanded then on. In the succeeding century, Golkonda became a major centre of miniature art, Urdu poetry and literature and majestic architecture. The prosperity of Golkonda reached manifold under the patronage of Muhammad Quli (1580-1611), under whom the new city of Hyderabad was established.

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The Majesty of Qutb Shahi Tombs in Golconda

Golkonda, the first capital of Qutb Shahi can still be appreciated even though many of its buildings are now in ruins. The impact of Iranian urban tradition is witnessed in the axial alignments of royal ceremonial gates, markets, ceremonial portals and audience halls. These elements are distributed within a double series of concentric walls that ring a great rock, the Bala Hisar, rising 140 m from the surrounding plains.

Travel Tips

Hyderabad is a bustling metropolis located in the heart of South-Central India. The city is also the capital of Telangana State and is a major tourist place for its monuments, food culture, museums, architectural jewels, palaces, and vibrant malls, IT corridors, hotels, parks and many more. For an appreciation of Qutb Shahi monuments keep at least 2 days. Your day one should be spent in Golkonda Fort and Qutb Shahi monuments and day 2 at Hyderabad Old City which has also a vibrant street shopping corridor. There are plenty of options for stay and food for all budget. The city is well-connected nationally and internationally by air, rail and road.

 

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Toli Masjid near Golkonda

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Badshahi Ashurkhana – A Qutb Shahi Salute to Imam Hussain

Hyderabad, the shifted capital on the banks of Musi was also built in the Persian model with Char Minar at its core of planning. Char Minar, the largest and most original architectural conceptualization of the Qutb Shahis continues to dominate the city. The nearby Mecca Masjid built towards the end of Qutb Shahi rule in the 17th century is city’s largest mosque.

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Charminar and Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad

Qutb Shahi rulers had built their tombs closer to the former capital Golkonda in a sprawling area. Rising to tower heights, the Qutb Shahi tombs have massive domes of slightly bulbous form. Finials cluster around the petalled neck of the dome, a feature that makes distinctive the Decani tombs among Indo-Islamic monuments of India. The other characteristic features are superimposed arched recesses and projecting balconies with ornate balustrades.

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The Interiors of Charminar in Hyderabad

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The Stucco and Tile Decorations in Qutb Shai Tombs and Mosques

The most remarkable feature that differentiates Qutb Shahi monuments is heavy relay on plasterwork showing ribbed fruits, incised tassels and medallions with calligraphy framed by foliate bands and deeply cut flowers. The monumental gate of Bala Hisar at Golkonda shows ornate arabesque medallions as well as sharply modelled peacocks with long features and curly tailed lions.

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Stucco Decoration in Bala Hisar Gate

Tile decoration was also a prominent feature, but only in fragments have survived. Qutb Shahi were fervent Shias and constructed halls to accommodate the annual ceremonies commencing the martyrdom of Hussain, the Prophet’s grandson. The finest of these Shia halls is Badshahi Asurkhana in Hyderabad. Its interior is covered with mosaic tiles, the finest in India, forming one of the most original decorative schemes of its kind anywhere in the Muslim world.

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Interiors of Badshai Asurkhana

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Bundi Fort – A Confluence of Ideas

In Southeastern Rajasthan, on the lap of Aravali lies Bundi, a picturesque Rajput fortified town. The territory was settled in the 13th and 14th centuries AD by Hada Rajputs, a sub-group of Chauhan Dynasty that migrated from Nadol in Pali District following its defeat by Qutb-ud-Din Aibak in 1197 AD.

Till 16th Century, there was not much happening in Bundi, but its fortune changed with the arrival of Emperor Akbar. Rao Surjan of Bundi broke his relationship with the rulers of Mewar and established friendship tie with Akbar. It was a turning point in Bundi’s history. Then on, Bundi as a result of this alliance became a major centre of cultural creativity. Surjan was immediately awarded prestigious governorship that took him to Chunnar near Varanasi on Ganges.

This was the time of extra ordinary artistic and intellectual creativity being witnessed in North India. Interactions between different communities, religions and cultures were leading often to innovative and exciting results.

Chunnar was a major centre of paintings on Hindu themes in Persian style. Ragamalas that would become the most popular themes at Bundi were first experimented at Chunnar with extraordinary sophistication. An inscription says: ‘the pupils of Mir Sayyid Ali and Khwaja Abd al Samad’, two great artists employed by Emperor Akabar. They had been brought from Iran by Humayun, Akbar’s father to introduce Persian style in India.

Rao Bhoj Singh of Bundi (son of Surjan) when started overseeing Chunnar as the governor of the province came in direct contact with these artists and commissioned them to paint Ragamala series. A new idea was born which later influenced the world famous Bundi style, first executed on walls and ceilings of Badal Mahal, a Rao Bhoj creation.

As parts of imperial campaigns Rao Bhoj also visited Kabul, Gujarat, Odisha and Deccan and was influenced by painting and architectural styles of these regions. In Bundi, one of the major traits drawn from the Mughal/Persian miniatures is evoking a moody night sky.

Rao Bhoj’s successors Rao Raja Ratan Singh and Rao Raja Chhatrasal both continued the trend and added features to their palace and in Bundi. Chitrasala became the iconic painting gallery in the whole of India and famed Bundi worldwide. Creation of several lakes, such as Nawal Sagar, Jait Sagar and baoris like Raniji ki bowri established Bundi as a prominent centre of water architecture.

Come, let’s discover the world renowned artistic heritage of Bundi and appreciate the confluence of ideas that were seen at Bundi in 16th-18th centuries AD.

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.

Sayla Murals – A Lost Heritage

Murals or frescoes have been valuable creations of humankind world over for thousands of years. India though has long roots of mural tradition tracing as far as to the Upper Paleolithic era, it was Ajanta in the 5th century AD, where the classical tradition began.  In the 16th century, a new chapter in Indian murals evolved with ideas merging from Indian mythologies and Persian styles. Soon Rajasthan and Bundelkhand became hotspots of mural art.

In art history literature, we encounter a number of reference on Rajput paintings, but very little on Sauarshtra style. Recently we had come across some rare evidences of 18th century murals at Sayla Darwargadh (palace) which are almost at the vanishing stage.

Sayla is a small town located on the highway running from Ahmedabad to Rajkot. It was a princely state in the pre-independence era ruled by a clan of Jhala Rajputs. It covered a total area of 575 sq km.

The state was founded in 1751 AD by Seshmalji, who captured Sayla from Kathi Darwars and made it the capital of his state. He also built a fort around the capital and founded the Sayla Darwargadh or Rajmahal. The palace has halls for audiences, administrative and judicial meetings, but more than these lies a ruined three storied Rang Mahal containing traces of 18th century murals in Saurashtra style.

Most of these paintings are gone, but a careful observation can still provide interesting insights, such as about the style, religious affinity, colours used, depiction of natural world, and so on.  This is the first time report of these murals.

They differ significantly from other contemporary style and demonstrate a lot of local characters and flavour. Krishna and rasa dominates but there are also worshipping scenes of Shiva lingams. Heavy use of gold colour and stylized trees are the hallmarks of Sayla murals. The other prominent colour is indigo blue.

One remarkable scene is vastraharan by Krishna of gopis, a scene widely portrayed across India in different styles. Krishna seating on a horse pulling chariot is yet another survived painting.

The Jhala clan had come from Sindh and established their reign at Patdi in 12th century AD. After the Islamic invasion, they moved their capital to Halvad and made it their capital. Over the centuries, the Jhalas established several princely states, such as Wankaner, Limdi, Wadhwan, Sayla and Chuda.

The murals of Sayla are important as not much is known about the mural tradition of this region of India. Whatever if left requires urgent attention for preservation.

Bead Craft of Khambhat – A 5000 Year Old Legacy of Indian Civilisation

About 5000 years before, the region of Indian Subcontinent entered through the 1st step of civilization that simultaneously occurred in Egypt, Sumer and China. The human society became complex with rapid rise of urbanism. Status became an important factor to segregate people from one class to another. A specialized craft made out of various semiprecious stones such as agate, carnelian evolved to meet the need of Indus Valley aristocrats.

Indus Valley Civilization died out around 1700 BC, but the craft did not. It has survived till now at Khambhat, a sea side town with rich heritage and history on the coast of Gulf of Khambhat in Gujarat.

After the declining of Indus Valley Civilisation, bead making was practiced throughout the Subcontinent, especially in areas having closer access to raw material. But with the ravage of time the craft declined everywhere except Khambhat.

Gujarat which was the southernmost province of Indus Valley Civilisation has considerable deposit of agate, which upon heating produce red-orange carnelian. These are mined by local people and then brought to Khmabhat through mediators. At Khambhat, first these are dried in the sun to remove the moisture that is trapped. The selected stone nodules are laid out on roof tops or enclosed courtyards where these can be easily monitored.

The next stage is heating. When the nodules are well dried, they are baked in terracotta vessels or simple pit kilns.

The third step is chipping. A pointed iron stake is stuck in the ground and the nodule is chipped by resting it against the point and striking it with a hammer made of hard wood or buffalo horn. There is every possibility that tradition is a continuation of Indus Valley time, except the iron stuck – in Harappan time a copper stuck may have been used.

Polishing or grinding is the next major step. Today, especially power energy wheels are used, but in the past the bead rough out used to be grinded and shaped on a hard sandstone.

Mr Anawar Hussain Shaikh is an award winning bead maker based out in Khambhat. We had recently interviewed him on various aspects related to Khambhat beads. He also demonstrated the process of chipping and polishing. His assistant Pratap Bhai is an expert driller. He also demonstrated his skill and shared his version of Khambhat bead making.

Come, let’s discover the legacy of India’s oldest known craft, the bead making of Khambhat.

Amer Fort of Jaipur – A Marriage of Ideas

In the annals of Indian history, 16th century was a turning point. It was the era of bridging two cultures into a fusion, the culture of Mughals and Rajputs.

Rajputs, known for their bravery had several small states spread over the modern day Rajasthan and parts of Madhya Pradesh. But most of them were in conflict with each other and not willing to surrender to the mighty Mughals, an imperial power based out of Agra, under the dynamic leadership of Emperor Akbar.

The King of Amer, Raja Man Singh I however had different approach. Instead fighting with other Rajputs he went on for a tie with Akbar and became his trusty general. He also became one of the nava ratnas (9 gems) in Akbar’s darwar.

Before Man Singh I, it was Raja Bharmer who is known for marrying his daughter, Jodha Bai (also called Harka Bai) to the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1562. His brother Purnamer was first to realize that Mughals were trustworthy. He offered services of Rajputs to Mughals.

The political and matrimonial ties turned out to be as marriage of ideas, which eventually would contribute immensely towards making of cultural India. Hindu culture was protected then on, not only in Amer or in Rajasthan but as far as Odisha. Raja Man Singh was a follower Lord Krishna and is known to have contributed immensely for popularization of Krishna cult in Amer.

Amer Fort is today one of India’s best known forts displaying the fusion of Mughal-Rajput architecture in the finest form. It is also listed as a world heritage site.

Come lets discover how amazing the Amer Fort is.

Daria Daulat Bagh – an Incredible Painted Palace

India has one of the greatest traditions of paintings on walls. Called murals or frescos, we see a high level of technical excellence, grace and sublime beauty among Indian murals right from the time of Ajanta.

In 1335 AD, the remarkable city of Vijayanagar or the ‘city of victory’ was established in south-central Karnataka. In no time, the city and the empire became a fertile ground for creativity, thanks to the patronage of its powerful King Krishnadeva Rai. A remarkable style of painting evolved with ideas merging from Deccan, Cholas of Tamil Nadu and Jain tradition. When the Vijayanagar Empire collapsed after the battle of Talikota in mid-16th century many of state artists moved to Serirangapatna, a pristine and sacred land surrounded by Cauvery River on all sides. Here they thrived under the royal patronage of the Mysuru Wodeyers. In 1761 AD, the island became the seat of power of Haider Ali Saheb. He and his son Tipu Sulatan established Mysuru as a vibrant Sultanate and continued to patronage the artisan of Vijayanagar ancestry.

Daria Daulat Bagh is a palace situated in the island near the village Ganjam at Seringapatna. The village is set amidst beautiful gardens. It was built by Tipu Sultan in 1784 as his summer palace.

Built entirely out of teakwood, the architecture of the palace shows remarkable fusion of Deccani, Persian and Rajput styles. The most stunning feature of the palace is that all the space available on the walls, pillars, jharokas and arches have colourful fresco work in the style of Vijayanagar-Mysuru paintings.

On the western wall right to the entrance is depicted the battle scene of second Anglo-Mysore war or the battle of Pollilur. The battle had been fought between Haider-Tipu and the British forces, in which Haider and Tipu combated splendidly and won.

The paintings executed by the artists at the instance of Tipu Sultan where primary aim was to glorify their victory over the British. Colonel Bailley, the defeated British officer was taken to Serirangapatna after his defeat. The battle mural is seen in four different panels portraying Tipu and Haider marching in procession towards Pollilur near Kanchipuram. Tipu is depicted in all finery, himself leading the army towards Pollilur riding a beautiful white horse. Baillie sits in a palanquin as he is wounded and biting his pointing figure – a gesture employed by many to signify defeat in dismay.

The climax of the battle scene depict Baillie’s defeat giving special prominence to the explosion of tumbril and to the consternation of the British square colonel.

On the eastern part of the building there are a number of small frames containing figural motifs, architecture in brilliant composition. The most special is the one where the queen is seen seated on a carpet smoking a hookah. Some of the layouts strongly resemble Rajasthani miniature. The other panels illustrate incidents in the lives of princes, rulers and grandees of Tipu’s contemporary and also includes several rajas defeated by him. There are also neighbouring nawabs and kings including the Hindu Rani of Chittore, Rajas of Tanjore, Benaras, and Balajirao Peshwa II.

Come, lets discover the murals of Daria Daulat Bagh and appreciate the legacy of Tipu Sulatan, a brave son of the soil and perhaps one of the earliest freedom fighters.