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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org