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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Karez System of Bidar – A Persian Oasis in Deccan

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

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


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.

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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.

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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

Badshahi Ashurkhana – A Qutb Shahi Salute to Imam Hussain

The Persian Blue has held me in fascination from long. There is no single reason I can attribute to it yet the genesis of this interest goes back to the mid- 1990s when I was a PhD student working on a medieval port site on Odisha coast. In a trial pit we had unearthed a Persian turquoise glazed pottery piece, the first of its kind found on Odisha coast revealing an evidence of contact with the Persian Gulf. My interest grew towards understanding India’s global connection throughout her history. In this process, I discovered the palette of magnificent glazed ceramics that adorned a number of monuments across India – from Agra to Bidar and from Gwalior to Hyderabad.

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Magnificent Persian Tile Work in South Asia

One such monument is the Badshahi Ashurkhana that I came across while leafing through the book ‘Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates’ by George Michell and Mark Zebrowsky.

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In 2015, I landed in Hyderabad and visiting the Ashurkhana was on the top of my list of things-to-do. Though at that time my purpose was to appreciate its Persian inlaid tile work but later what moved me was its deep spiritual connection with a branch of Islam that played a considerable role in shaping the history of Medieval India.


Badshahi Asurkhana in Hyderabad

Badshahi Ashurkhana is a Shia shrine commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Husain at Karbala in Iraq. The shrine was erected in 1593-96 CE with tiles added in 1611 CE.

Built under the patronage of Quli Qutb Shah, the building is famous for its large fine cut tile mosaic decoration particularly the tear shaped medallions in a distinct Deccani palette covering its outer walls.


Tomb of Quli Qutb Shah near Golkonda Fort

Ashura is the 10th day of the first month of Islamic calendar, Muharram. On that day, Imam Hussain and his 72 followers including his sons, brothers, cousins and companions were cruelly put to death. After being surrounded for ten days by enemy forces and cut off from food and water supply, they died fighting on the sands of the scorched plain of Karbala.

In 632 CE, Prophet Muhammad’s last year of life ended in crisis. None his sons had survived to adulthood. So a broad consensus of those present at Medina nominated his uncle Abu Bakr as his successor. But a number of others felt that the selection of the first caliph was inappropriate. For them Ali ibn Talib, who was both the Prophet’s first cousin as well as son-in-law was the natural choice. In 656 CE, Ali was raised to the position of caliph.

However, this decision was not well-received by all Muslims. Ali’s main opponent was the Muslim Governor of Syria, and a member of the Umayyad clan (founder of Umayyad dynasty), Muawiya. Ali was murdered by one of his supporters, a Kharijites in 661 CE because of his mutual agreement with Mu’awiya for attribution.

Mu’awiya became the next caliph in Islam, but his leadership was not accepted by all Muslims, especially in Iraq who hoped for return of Ali’s lineage. In 680 CE, Imam Hussain, Prophet’s grandson was made the third caliph by the Shiites of Iraq. At the same time Yazid I had succeeded his father Muawiya as the caliph among Sunnis.  Yazid having learnt of the rebellious attitude of Shiites sent his army to restore order.

Imam Hussain had set out from Mecca with 72 members of his family and followers for Kufa, a city in Iraq with an expectation to be received by the citizens of the city. However, on his arrival at Karbala, west of the Euphrates River, he was confronted by a large army. Imam Hussain and his people fought bravely but were defeated. They were all killed hungry and thirsty on the 10th day of Muharram.

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Battle of Karbala (Source – Wiki)

Shiites observe this day as Ashura, a day of public mourning.

Shia Islam and India:

India’s Shia population is second to only Iran in the entire world. According to Al-Shaykh-Al-Mutid, the Shia theologian of 10th-11th century CE, before the battle of Karbala, Imam Hussain and Umar ibn Saad, the commander of the enemy force had discussed in length about the former’s willingness to go to one of the border outposts of the rapidly expanding Muslim empire. Some historians believe that the border outpost was Al Hind or India. According to some Shia historians, Imam Hussain’s wife Shehr E Banu was a relative of Hindu king, Chandragupta. They further claim that a band of Indian soldiers known as ‘Mohyal Brahmins’ had gone to Iraq to help Imam Hussain at Karbala but reached late. They still fough with Yazid’s army and exacted revenge of Imam Hussain’s defeat. The Mohyal Brahmins mourn Imam Hussain’s martyrdom till today and thus are known as Hussaini Brahmins.

Even though Imam Hussain did not reach India, some of the Shias did migrate fleeing from Umayyad or Abbasid persecution. These refugees brought with them rituals which kept alive the memory and narrative of Karbala.

Interestingly, the martyrdom of Imam Hussain became an integral part of Indian belief. For centuries, the neighbouring Hindu communities have repetitively been drawn to the ceremony in honour of the beheading of Imam Hussain, venerating him as if he were an Indian ‘god’.

Muharram Procession in Hyderabad (Images 2, 3 and 4 – Source: Flickr – Rajesh Pamnani 2012)

In Hyderabad, where sizeable populations of Shias live, Muharram employs rituals and iconography reflecting Indic influence.

Qutub Shahis were the founding dynasty of Hyderabad in the 16th century. They were staunch Shia Muslims. During their rule, the Qutub Shahis sponsored public Muharram processions and built a number of Ashurkhanas wherein people gathered to mourn Karbala. The Shia Safavid government of Iran cultivated good relations with the Qutub Shahis. As a result there was cross-cultural flow of ideas strengthening the Deccani culture and civilization.

During the rule of the Qutub Shahis, Hyderabad had a number of splendid Ashurkhanas, replete with high exterior walls, spacious courtyards, carpets, tile work, chandeliers, and glass lamps. Inside each Ashurkhana are placed sacred objects that represent the battle standards used by Imam Hussain and his companions. However, in spite of its rich enamel tile decoration and strong historical connection, the best preserved Badshahi Asurkhana, is hardly visited by tourists.

The Badshahi Ashurkhana stands on the High Court Road of the old city of Hyderabad.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Ajanta – India’s First Renaissance

One of the most famous disciples of Gautama Buddha during his lifetime was King Bimbisara. He invited Gautama Buddha and his Sangha members for a meal at his royal court – the Rajagriha. While having dinner, sitting next to Gautama Buddha, the King wondered: ‘Where could I find a place for the Blessed One to stay; neither too far from the village, nor too near; with easy commute, and accessibility to people seeking him; away from the crowds and sounds, where the Buddha and his disciples could be sequestered in peace; a place well suited for a renounced life.’ At that moment, it occurred to Bimbisara: ‘There is Veluvana, my pleasure garden, which is neither too far from the town, nor too near; and is easy to commute to and from. What if I make an offering of the Veluvana to the fraternity of monks, with the Buddha at its head?’ Thus, Veluvana became one of the first monasteries in the Buddhist world. Here, the Buddha delivered a sermon in which he outlined the code of conduct for monks.

Over the centuries, the Sangha tradition grew and spread widely across the subcontinent.  What was begun by Bimbisara was continued by merchants and traders, along with Kings and Ministers, who actively donated dwellings to Buddhist Sanghas. Some were brick and bamboo structures, while several others were rock-cut caves. Among the caves, those that have survived till date, the best ones in terms of artistic merit and technology used, are the rock-cut caves of Ajanta located across the Sahyadri Mountains.


Ajanta 2 251 copy

Gautama Buddha (original name Siddhartha) was born in a royal family at Lumbini (modern day Nepal). It is said that his mother Mahamaya had a dream, while she was pregnant, wherein she saw a white elephant entering her womb. The royal astrologer interpreted this as symbolic of her having conceived a son who would either be a great emperor or a religious teacher. This episode is beautifully narrated in a panel inside Cave 2.


Cave 2 Panel showing Mara’s dream

One day, when the young Prince Siddhartha was touring his kingdom, he came across three instances of human suffering – an old man with infirmities; a very sick man; and a dead body. He got very disturbed. However, another day, he saw a beggar who was at peace with himself. Siddhartha was convinced that he must strive to relieve people from suffering. Therefore, he renounced his kingdom and became a wandering ascetic.


Cave 1 panel showing episodes from Buddha’s early life

The Buddha achieved enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree at Gaya (modern day Bihar). Afterwards, he went around teaching people and had several followers, including members of the Royalty. The Buddha died (achieved Nirvana) at the age of 80 years at Kapilavastu (modern day Piprahwa in Uttar Pradesh).


Cave 26 – Mahaparinirvana of Buddha

Early Buddhism in the Deccan:

Deccan is a land of great natural diversity. On its west lies the Arabian Sea, where ports like Sopara and Kalyan flourished, serving as marine hubs for Ancient India’s West-borne trade. The ports were emporia for the Indo-Greek and Indo-Roman trade that not only brought wealth but ideas as well, from far and wide. These ports led to the development of several trade routes across the mountain passes and valleys, connecting hinterland (example: Paithan) with the cities of central and North India (examples: Ujjain and Kosambi). After the fall of King Ashoka’s Empire, the western branch of the Satavahana dynasty ruled from Paithan. Though they were Hindus, they significantly contributed to the monastic establishments of Buddhism. The rocky outcrops of thick basalt and the serenity of forest provided excellent backdrops for large monastic establishments. Ajanta and Pitalkhora were two among the best known early establishments that can be traced back to the 2nd century BCE.

Sahyadri2Sahyadri1SahyadriAjanta2Ajanta 2 251 copy

Ajanta is nestled in a horseshoe shaped ravine of the Indhyadri Hills, overlooking the Waghora River. The site is a place of tranquillity and contemplation. Ajanta has a total of 28 caves of which caves number 9, 10, 12 and 13 are of the early phase, i.e. of the Satavahana Period. Among these, caves 9 and 10 are Chaityagrihas (Buddhist Prayer Halls), and caves 12 and 13 are Viharas (Monasteries).


A Chaitya is a Buddhist shrine or prayer hall with a stupa at one end. Chaityas were built for ritual circumambulation by monks around the stupa, which symbolizes the Buddha in the Hinayana sect.

The stupa consists of a cylindrical base, with a dome on the top and is crowned by a square box like feature called Harmika, which in turn is surmounted by a triple umbrella made of wood. When the Buddha was breathing his last, he called his disciples and advised them to erect stupas over his corporeal remains after his death (Nirvana). Rock-cut stupas, which are copies of structural ones, also sometimes enshrine the relics of some venerable Buddhist monk. These relics were placed in a reliquary, in a small hole cut out in the dome of the stupa.

The Prayer hall is supported by columns and the circumambulatory path is around the stupa. The columns slope inwards, akin to wooden columns that would have been structurally necessary to keep the roof. The ceiling was barrel vaulted with wooden ribs set into them. A large horseshoe shaped window – the Chaitya window, was set above the arched doorway, and the whole portico area was carved to imitate a multi-storeyed building with balconies and windows.

Cave 9 and 10 are Ajanta’s earliest Chaityagrihas. The interpretation of inscriptions engraved into the walls and pillars of cave 10 clearly establish that they were excavated by the local community.

Caves 9 and 10 – Ajanta’s early chaityas

Both these caves were painted in the early period. However, what we see now are the remains of the later period (5th century CE). The only remains that can be traced to the early period are floral and geometric imprints on the upper levels of right pillars and ceilings. In cave 9, a group of men, and remains of a lengthy sequence from the Jataka tales on a sidewall, are the paintings left from the earlier phase. They are noteworthy for their subject’s unique headgears, similar to the ones at Pitalkhora.


Traces of earliest paintings in Ajanta



A Vihara is generally a square structure or cave with cells in the side walls and on the rear side, which serve as the residence for monks. The Buddha had advised monks not to stay in any place for long, and to keep wandering. It was only during the monsoon that they had to stay at one place, and were provided accommodation in caves known as Vassa-vasa, meaning ‘abode during the rainy season’.

Cave 12 is the best preserved earliest Vihara at Ajanta. A large hall surrounded by cells on three sides, the cave is simple in both its plan and design. Each cell has a Chaitya arch depicted above its doors and windows. The railing pillar below the arches is a typical architectural feature of Ancient India.


Cave 12 – Ajanta’s earliest vihara

After 1st century CE, Buddhism started declining in Ajanta and its surrounding region. It was only in 460 CE, that the religion was revived under the patronage of the Vakatakas, especially Emperor Harisena (460-477 CE).

Harisena was a Shaivite, but his Prime Minister and all of his known Feudatories were Buddhists. It was they who prevailed upon Harisena to support the most ambitious project envisioned in the entire Buddhist world.

The entire project was completed in a span of 18 years. According to Prof. Walter Spink, an expert on Ajanta, ‘Ajanta’s essential development ended within a year after Harisena’s death. The work in 478 CE was done in a rush.’

Cave 7 is the first Mahayana cave in Ajanta. It represents the transitional phase from Hinayana to Mahayana. The unique feature of this cave is its double portico. Planned as a grand and lavish cave, it was reduced to a long porch connected with a modest shrine due to problems with the rock. The excavators of cave 7 had clearly not carved a cave before. It is presumed that they depended almost exclusively on the plan of earlier Hinayana caves at the site. There is a remarkable similarity in the Chaitya arch design, pillars, etc between caves 7 and 12.


Cave 7 – Ajanta’s earliest Mahayana Vihara

The Mahayana Viharas of Ajanta (caves 19 and 26) are actually cave temples.  A revolutionary idea of the time it had a considerable impact on Ajanta’s large caves, making them more impressive and ritually significant.


Buddha Images:

The excavation that started in 460 CE had gradually advanced in the succeeding years. In 468 CE, most of the caves were made liveable. A significant development of that year was the transition from plain stupas to the images of the Buddha engraved on them. This decision was made, perhaps by the powerful Buddhist Sangha at the site. The initial spaces where this transformation was visible were the Chatityagrihas. In the front part of the plain stupa, an image of the Buddha was planned (seen both in caves 19 and 26 at the Mahayana Chaityagrihas at Ajanta). Subsequently, the idea was expanded to all the Viharas. Soon, the sculpture arrangements were elaborated, bringing in various aspects of Buddha’s life, other Buddhist divinities, semi-divine creatures, religious symbols and animals & plants.


Cave 26


Cave 19


Mahayana Paintings:

Ajanta is famous for its wall paintings. The paintings of Ajanta are perhaps the oldest surviving example of Indian classical art. These document the society of that period, depicting its various members, their attire, buildings, customs, and in general, all aspects of their daily life.

The variety in the dresses, ornaments, skin colours, hairstyles, homes and furniture is stunning. The characters are cast in a plethora of situations ranging from coronations to renunciations, intimate moments to moments of separations, and childbirth to the suffering of old age. They depict a world that is both real and spiritual at the same time.

There are also animal depictions, the most common being elephants, swans, deer and horses. The blooming of flowers, the wilting of creepers and the sprouting of leaves are sensitively painted.

The paintings vividly demonstrate the ideals of Indian art – distinct characterisation, depiction of various emotions, beauty, grace, and compassion, all in a variety of colours and shades. In consonance with the beliefs and codes of the three Worlds – Heavenly, Divine and Earthly, the artists used various shapes and sizes to depict characters like the Gandharvas, Yakshas (divine spirits), and Rakshasas (demons). The artists have used a technique where the viewer does not remain outside the paintings but becomes a part of it. Such is the realism and charm of the paintings.

Jataka tales:

Jatakas are a collection of stories concerning the previous births of the Buddha. Before achieving enlightenment, the Buddha studied values of sacrifices, virtue and friendship in his previous lives. A Buddha in the process of learning is referred to as the Bodhisattva. The experiences of these previous lives resulted in the Bodhisattva’s ultimate transformation into the Buddha.

Each Jataka is a story of a Bodhisattva, who is either depicted as a protagonist or a supporting character. Most of the paintings of Ajanta tell stories from the Mahajanaka Jataka that is best illustrated in Cave 1. In Cave 2, a panel depicts the bed chamber of Maya, who dreamt of a white elephant entering her body. Cave 17 depicts scenes from Shada-Danta Jataka, Vassantara Jataka, Mahakalpi Jataka and Suttasama Jataka.

After 5th century CE, Ajanta did not see any major artistic activity. The first renaissance of Indian art was lost in time. However, the artists who created the 5th century wonders did not lose their tradition. They, and their descendants, carried the tradition to India’s neighbouring countries. For example, the paintings of Sigriya caves in Sri Lanka, also created around the same period, show remarkable similarity with Ajanta paintings.

Author – Jitu Mishra

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

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.



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.








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.








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 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.





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.




Interiors of Badshai Asurkhana

Author: Jitu Mishra

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.