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.

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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’.

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The Ruins of Navrashpur

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Gunj or Water Towers

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Dhar – History in Layers

Chandragupta Vikramaditya, the king of Ujjain, was well-known for his bravery, intelligence and his keen sense of judgement. One day, Indra, the king of Gods arranged a dance competition between two of his favourite apsaras, Urvashi and Rambha and invited Vikramaditya to judge the event.

Vikramaditya gave a bunch of flowers each to both Urvashi and Rambha to hold with the condition – the flowers must remain erect while dancing. He quietly slipped a scorpion in each of the flower bunches. When the apsaras started dancing, the scorpions stung them viciously. Rambha threw away the flowers and stopped dancing. However, Urvashi danced so well that the scorpion did not harm her and instead went into a deep slumber in the bouquet. Urvashi thus emerged as a winner of the competition.

Indra was impressed with Vikramaditya’s judgement prowess and as a token of appreciation gifted him a golden throne with 32 talking statues. These statues were none other than the cursed apsaras who got redemption on serving Vikramaditya.

Centuries later, a group of children while playing got into a dispute. They decided to select a judge among them to solve the dispute. One of the boys sat on a small mound and solved the dispute in a jiffy. In due course of time, the boy from Ujjain became famous for resolving disputes between various parties and his reputation grew until it reached the ears of Raja Bhoja.

Raja Bhoja’s interest was suitably piqued when he was told that the boy would sit on a particular mound before pronouncing his judgement. He promptly sent his men to dig up the suspected mound and discovered a throne; the same golden throne that Indra gifted Vikramaditya.

When King Bhoja sat on the throne, one of the apsaras came to life and told him that by simply sitting on the throne he will not become a great king. She then proceeded to tell him a story explaining about a quality that the king lacked and flew away. This continued, one after another, the apsaras told stories highlighting the importance of a particular quality that a king should possess and flew away. Bhoja at last realized that to be a great king he needs to practice certain qualities like selflessness, honesty and lack of favouritism among others.

Raja Bhoja ruled from Dhara Nagari, the present day Dhar in the Malwa Plateau of Madhya Pradesh. He was a Parmar King.  Parmars, also known as Ponwars or Puars were a Rajput clan who hailed from the Abu region on Rajasthan – Gujarat border. They entered Malwa in the 9th century CE and ruled till 1310 CE. Their former capital was Avanti, present day Ujjain.

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The region around Dhar in the Malwa Plateau, Central India

Vairasinha (914 – 941 CE), the Parmar king, shifted his capital from Avanti to Dhar after its conquest by the sharp edge of a sword (dhara). The next prominent Parmar ruler was Munja Raja who ruled from 973 CE. He was not only a mighty warrior, but also a great poet. According to Merutuga, the court writer, when all accomplished Munja died, Saraswati, the patron goddess of learning was left destitute. His successor was the legendary King Bhoja I (1010 -1055 CE), Munja’s nephew.

Raja Bhoja was a great patron of art and literature along with being a celebrated warrior. Historical evidences suggest that his kingdom extended from Chittor in the north to Upper Konkan in the south and Sabarmati River in the west to Vidisha in the east. During Bhoja’s rule, Dhar became a prime centre of intellectual learning in India. He paid great attention to education of his people and established Bhojashala, a centre for Sanskrit studies and a temple of Saraswati.

During his reign of 40 years he cultivated an art of maintaining peace in spite of constant turmoil going around him. According to a temple inscription at Udepur, near Vidisha ‘He accomplished, ordered, gave and knew what was not in the power of anybody else; whatever praise can be given to the illustrious Bhoja, the poet king’. After Bhoja’s death, misfortune fell on Parmars and led to the decline of the dynasty.

In 1235 CE, Delhi Sultan Iltutmish seized Ujjain and sacked Bhilsa, two prominent Parmar strongholds. In 1300 CE, Ala – Ud – Din Khilji is said to have subdued Dhar, while his minister Malik Kafur halted here in the same year. Dhar was again captured by Muhammad Tughluk in 1344 CE. In 1398-99 CE, the whole of North India was swept by Timur thus weakening central control. Taking advantage of the situation, Dilawar Khan Ghori, the then Governor of Malwa declared independence starting the Malwa Sultanate. Dilawar Khan died in 1405 CE and was succeeded by his son Hoshang Shah, who shifted the capital from Dhar to Mandu.  Baz Bahadur was the last sultan of Mandu. In the beginning of the 17th century, Malwa was captured by Akbar under whom Dhar was the chief town of a mahal in Mandu Sarkar of the subah of Malwa. Akbar stayed at Dhar for seven days, while directing the invasion of Deccan. Dhar was established as a Maratha bastion in 1729 CE under Uday Rao I Puar. Multhan was first capital of Puars and it was transferred to Dhar in 1732 CE. It continued to be a Puar strong hold till independence.

Parmar Monuments in Dhar

Munj Sagar, the largest water body in Dhar is attributed to Raja Munj. According to Wikipedia entry, there are traces of earthen ramparts on the bank of the talav built during the Parmar reign. The city was circular in plan and surrounded by tanks and moats. Its layout was similar to the fort of Warangal in Deccan. However, during my visit I did not see any remains of earthen ramparts.

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A Parmer Period Sculpture of Goddess Saraswati – Courtesy: British Museum

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Munj Sagar, the largest waterbody in Dhar

Bhoja Shala, the iconic monument of Dhar, was built by Raja Bhoja, which was later converted into a mosque by Dilawar Khan in 1392 CE, the founder of Malwa Sultanate. The columns used in the mosque are made out of recycled temple columns. In 1903, an inscription in Sanskrit was discovered by K. K. Lele, then Superintendent of Education of Princely State of Dhar. The text included part of a drama called Vijayasrinatika composed by Madana, the king’s preceptor who also bore the title Balasaraswati.

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Bhoj Shala – The Earliest Parmar Monument Picture Courtesy: Parag Bhonsle

Bhoja Shala was a great centre of learning and housed a temple of Goddess Saraswati. Beside Bhoja Shala is a spacious enclosure containing four tombs, the most notable being that of Shaikh Kamal Maulvi or Kamal – al – Din. He was a follower of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.

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Tombs of Shaikh Kamal Maulvi or Kamal – al – Din

The pillar mosque or the Lat Masjid is yet another monument built by Dilawar Khan using the recycled pillars of Hindu temples. The mosque is named after three fragments of an iron pillar, called Lat in Hindi.

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Lat or Pillar Mosque

A report published in the Journal of Asiatic Society in 1898 mentions: ‘close to the masjid is lying, in a sloping position against the terraces, a fragment of an iron column, or lat, a square of 10 inches on each side, and 24 feet long, with a Persian inscription of Akbar Shah, dated A.H. 1100, incised on its longer length; a second piece, similar and original belonging to it, is standing opposite the Jami Masjid at Mandugarh, being an octagon, 2 ft. 8 inch in circumference, with 10 inches of a circular end (showing another piece is missing), and 12 feet long. A third piece, a square 10 inches, with a bell capital, 6 feet high, is standing in the garden of the Maharaja’s guesthouse at Dhar. The total height of this remarkable column would be 42 ft. 8 inch less than the lat near the Qutub Masjid at Dhar… so far as can be judged from a description so deficient in details and unaccompanied by any illustration, the pillar at Dhar must, like the similar monument near Delhi, date from the Gupta Period’.

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The Iron Pillar of Dhar

The iron pillars of Dhar displays the height of metallurgical skill in Ancient India. The mosque otherwise shows a fusion of local and Afghan architecture. While its colonnades have pillars showing Hindu and Jain carvings, its mihrabs and minbar reflect Afghan influence.

Dhar Fort

Dhar Fort, now in ruins, stands on a low hill to the north of the town of Dhar. It was constructed by Muhammad Bin Tughluq in 1344 CE over an earlier fort built by the Parmars. It is made of red sandstone and surrounded by ramparts with 26 bastions.

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Dhar Fort

A major draw of this fort is a large baoli, partly rock-cut, partly structural. The baoli, 30 feet deep was hewn in the 15th century. The fort also has significant remains of buildings of Malwa Sultanate, Mughal, Puars and British.

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The Large Baoli inside Dhar Fort

Architecturally speaking, the most significant structure is the Kharbuja Mahal built in the Mughal Rajput style. It was here that Jahangir and Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan took shelter. The palace got its name due to its musk melon shaped dome. Puars captured it in 1732 CE. During the Maratha struggle, Anandi Bai took shelter in this palace and gave birth to Peshwa Bajirao II. Later, Dhar Fort played a prominent role during the 1857 revolt.

Royal Chhatris 

A little known aspect of Dhar heritage is its chhatris, cenotaphs of the erstwhile Puar rulers. Located in Chhatri Bagh, a walled garden enclosure, these structures show excellent fusion of Mughal-Rajput and Maratha architectural styles. Most of the structures stand on plinths and are crowned with elaborate domes.

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Royal Chhatris of Dhar

Water Structures

Dhar is a city of waterbodies. It has 12 and half talaos (reservoirs) and 35 baolis. Among the talaos, the largest and also the oldest is the Munj Talao. Covering an area of 50 acres, it was constructed by Raja Munja in the 10th century for the storage of drinking water. Devi Sagar is the second largest lake in Dhar. It was probably built during the time of Parmars. Kal Bhairav or Nat Nagara Lake is yet another large waterbody of Dhar.

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The Munjsagar Talao of Dhar

Among the baolis, the most impressive is the recently discovered Munim Ji ki Baoli located near the fort. Based on its architectural style, it is believed to have been built in the 17th-18th centuries CE. The baoli is 3 stories deep and contains beautiful Mughal-Rajput arches.

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Munimji ki Baoli – Dhar’s Most Impressive Stepwell

Jhirnia Baoli is located near the mandi. It is square in shape. One can reach almost up to the water table by descending a series of steps. The baoli was built in the late 19th century.

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Jhirnia Baoli

Malusia Baoli is not exactly a step-well but a small tank attached to a temple. It is square in shape. Besides, these, there are a number of other small baolies scattered throughout the city.

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Lesser Known Step-wells of Dhar

Though presently Dhar remains under the shadow of Mandu, where tourists throng throughout the year owing to its scenic location and larger number of monuments, Dhar is definitely more ancient and historically more diverse. For, in Dhar, one can witness the wonderful fusion of ideas from literature, music, art and architecture spanning at least a thousand years.  

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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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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