Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Echoes of the history

At the heart of a city full of dust, turmoil and smoke stands an edifice which speaks majesty and magnificence. The moment I alighted from the auto-rickshaw, I was stupefied at the very first sight of the the magnificent Gol Gumbaz, which I had read about decades ago in my history books. The only facts I knew about it were that it was built by a some Muslim ruler and it the sound echoes seven times inside the dome. But when I saw it I realized that there is much more to it than these facts.

The ticket counter is right at the entrance gate, tickets cost Rs. 5 for Indians, Rs. 100 for foreigners and Rs. 25 if you wanna shoot with a digital camera. The lawn is beautifully maintained all over the premises and the median is well gardened. There is an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) museum in front of Gol Gumbaz which is open from 10AM to 5PM and closed on Fridays. Unfortunately we went on a Friday and we just had to photograph the building from outside. As you proceed towards Gol Gumbaz and cross the arch behind the museum, you'll get the first full view of this gigantic mausoleum built by Mohammed Adil Shah in 1659AD.

The front facade of the monument has two domed octagonal tower at two corners which probably forms the squinches along with other two towers at the back to support the massive dome. The facade has three carved arches, the middle one being wider than the other two and containing the door for entering the monument. The arches have ornate carvings at the top and above that is the beautiful cornice of carved parallel stone slabs. To describe the monument more technically I've shamelessly copied the text by Henry Hinton from wikipedia:

"...built on a terrace 200 yards square. Height of tomb externally 198 ft, internally 175. Diameter of dome 124 feet, 4 minarets of 8 storeys, 12 ft broad entered by winding staircases terminating in cupolas'. The Gol Gumbaz, a grand mausoleum of Muhammad Adil Shah, though a structural triumph of Deccan architecture, is impressively simple in design, with a hemispherical dome, nearly 44 mts in external diameter, resting on a cubical volume measuring 47.5 mts on each side. The dome is supported internally by eight intersecting arches created by two rotated squares that create interlocking pendentives. A centotaph slab in the floor marks the true grave in the basement, the only instance of this practice in Adil Shahi architecture"

Once we enter through the door in the central arch, we find the tombs of Mohammed Adil Shah, his wives and daughter on an elevated platform. The four corners have exits to octagonal spires which houses the staircase to the "Whispering Gallery". The octagonal towers reminded me of the pagodas that I had seen in Yangzhou in China. Seven storeys are to be climbed to reach the whispering gallery, the stone steps are abnormally steep. Once you reach the top, you enter the dome to find yourself on a circular balcony.

The most amazing thing happens here, you whisper and you hear it multiple times. I was unable to count how many times for there were too many people whispering and shouting in the hall, but I was told that in earlier days it used to echo 7 times and now, probably due to deterioration, it echoes 4 times. We tried this trick, I asked my friend to go diametrically opposite side I whispered most feebly in the wall and he heard it as though I was speaking next to him. I kept wondering how such an acoustic effect could have been achieved centuries earlier, maybe some ancestor of Bose had planned it then. The fact remains that this dome is the second largest dome in the world, next only to St. Peter's basilica in Rome.

Around the great dome is a square balcony with a panoramic view of Bijapur city. The outer wall of the dome is embellished with patterns that resemble petals. Apart from the grand dome, there are 4 domes of the 4 minarets at the 4 corners, each of which are decorated. We were lucky that we were there at sunset time, the light was just perfect for photography and the blood red sun made a good subject himself. We then descended seven floors, infact descending was tougher than ascending the steep stone steps.

Hats off to ASI for maintaing the monument and its surroundings extremely clean, but still I could see many great lovers etching their names on the walls with the most precise heart symbols. If america had such a monument I'm sure it would have made a fancy website, charged $30 and listed it as one of the modern seven wonders of the world. But here it was appaling to see such a monument in the city which has no roads, no water and doesn't have the word "Development" in its dictionary. I just hope someday the echoes of the history won't stop altogether.

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