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The little known Bidar, Karnataka

Sometime back, I received an email from one of my old colleagues informing me that he was posted in Bidar district in Karnataka and inviting me to visit him. I checked up the logistics of travel and quite soon I was in Bidar. I hardly knew anything about Bidar and thought it to be just another forgotten corner of the country.   How wrong I was. It turned out to be really steeped in history and full of amazing monuments from its glorious past.

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One of the gates of Bidar fort

Starting with the geography first, the present day Bidar lies at a central position in Deccan, a plateau at an elevation of 2300 ft from the sea level.  It has common boundries with Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, with the districts of Nizamabad and Medak in Andhra Pradesh on the East and the districts of Nanded and Osmanabad in Maharashtra on the west. On the south lies the district of Gulbarga of Karnataka. The State capital Bangalore lies almost 700 kilometers from Bidar.

It is said that this area at one time had dense bamboo clusters and used to be called Bidarooru, bidaroo meaning bamboo and uru meaning town and thus a “town of bamboos”. With the passage of time the place acquired its present day name- Bidar.  A board put up by the Archeological Survey of India in Bidar helpfully explains the history of Bidar. It recalls the legendary association of Bidar with the ancient Vidharbha. It was initially under the Kalyani Chaulakyas (977-1190 A.D.) followed by a few other dynasties and finally went into the hands of the Bahamanis whose  ninth ruler shifted his capital from Gulbarga to Bidar and built the present fort.  Gulbarga was their capital. Finally it was annexed to the Moghul Empire by Aurangzeb.

Moving in from geography and history to mythology and anecdotal tales, the happenings in the Mahabharata story of King Nala and Damayanti are said to have taken place in Bidar. It is said that more recently, impressed by the fabulous monuments and structures of Bidar, Kamal Amarohi wished to film his famous film Pakeezah in Bidar and he went and stayed there with his entourage. However ultimately the film was not shot there.

Yes, the structures at Bidar are truly amazing. The most impressive being its mammoth fort which is said to date back to the 8th century though major renovation and expansion was got done in 1426 by Sultan Ahmad Bahamani. The Fort, located at the brink of a plateau, was considered in history as a well protected stronghold. It was constructed with large blocks of stone and mortar, which stand out in striking contrast to the terrain of the area. It is irregularly shaped and surrounded by 5.5 kms of defensive walls with triple layers of trenches cut out of solid rock, 37 bastions and 7 gates. Inside the fort lie the remains of a variety of  buildings and structures viz., royal baths, pleasure pavilions and royal palaces such as Rangin Mahal, Takht Mahal, Diwan-i-Aam, Gagan Mahal, Zanana Mahal and the Solah Khambah Mosque. There are gardens, fountains, tanks and waterways too giving it all a luxurious look.

These palaces were tastefully decorated with coloured tiles and mural paintings. The style of architecture was borrowed from Persia, with modifications it was modified and adapted to suit the taste and needs of the Indian court.

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From Rangeen Mahal

One of the towering structures of Bidar are the ruins of the building of   Madrasa Mahmud Gawan, a merchant who arrived in Bidar kingdom ruled by the Bahamani Kings in 1453 A.D. He was knowledgeable in Islamic theology, Persian language and mathematics. He was also a poet and a good prose writer. A minister of Muhammad Shah-III (1463-1482), he was also a writer of both prose and poetry.

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Madrasa Mahmud Gawan

The Madrasa or college had an imposing three-story building with 100 feet tall minarets in four corners. It consists of a large rectangular courtyard giving access to halls and rooms on the sides with an entrance on the east flanked at the corners by four storied Persian style minars. Mahmud Gawan was familiar with renowned colleges at Samarkhand and Khorasan and his own college or Madrassah was modeled on the West Asian architecture.

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Madrasa Mahmud Gawan

The decorations consist of floral designs and decorative inscriptions. Within this spacious building were accommodated – a mosque, lecture halls, living quarters and the famous library of Mahmud Gawan.

It fell into bad days after the beheading of Gawan on charges of treason. After the capture of Bidar by Aurangzeb in the late 17th century, the buildings were used for powder magazine and as barracks for cavalry. Unfortunately lightening struck the powder magazine and there was a huge explosion, impacting the greater part of the building .Most of the rooms and three minarets were destroyed leaving only one minaret and few cubicles.

In a separate walled garden called the Lalbagh, stands the Solah Khambah Masjid with 16 pillars. Its facade consists of a long row of arched openings and is said to be one of the largest mosques in India.  It was originally built in the early 14th century during the Tughlak occupation of Bidar but was extended later. It served as the principal place of worship within the Fort.

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Solah Khambah Mosque

The Rangeen Mahal or the coloured palace was got built by Ali Barid Bider (1542-1580) who succeeded Qusim Barid – the founder of the Barid Shahi Dynasty. It is famous for its beautiful wood carvings, fascinating glazed tile mosaic and mother of pearl decorations. The ceiling of the hall is supported by exquisitely carved wooden columns which have both Muslim and Hindu designs.

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Rangeen Mahal from Inside

In the middle of the city stands the Chaubara, a huge 71-feet tower at the junction of the road. It was constructed as an observation post to give unhindered visibility of the entire city from the top. A flight of 80 steps through a winding staircase leads to the top of the tower.

Bidar is a big Sikh piligrimage centre. Legend has it that Guru Nanak visited Bidar when the area was facing a drought and there was shortage of drinking water. The local people sought his help. He made water flow from a laterite rock. A gurudwara called the Nanak Jhira Gurudwara was built at the site. The water that still flows from this place is known to cure several ailments. Like other visitors, I too tasted the water and found it to be sweet and  tasty.

And Bidar is famous for Bidriware. It is said that this craft was introduced in Bidar by a group of skilled workers brought from Iran by Sultan Ahmed Shah Wali Bahamani in the early 5th century. It became a part of training in the Madrasa Mahmud Gawan. An alloy of zinc and copper is used as the base metal for making various articles like flower pots, small boxes, trays etc. Then the artisans sketch intricate floral and geometric designs on the black surface using a sharp metal sketcher. Fine wire or flattened strips of silver are then hammered into these grooves. The uniqueness of the articles made in Bidar is reputed to the soil used for polishing the finished product. This soil is collected from areas in the fort. As the story goes, the areas which were used as gunpowder stores in the past are the favorite spots from where the soil is collected. True or not, it does add a romance to the whole art.

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Bidri Hookah (Photo Source: Wikipedia)

Bidar was known in the Central Asia and there were exchanges and trade relations. The importance of Bidar of those days can be gauged by the fact that a Russian traveler came all the way from his country to Bidar and spent over three  years there. Fortunately his brief account of his visit has survived over six centuries. It was in 1471 that Afanasy Nikitin journeyed from Tver, 150 km north of Moscow, along the Volga and further south along the Black Sea and the Caspian into Iran and Oman and finally reached India’s western shores near Mangalore in what were then the Bahmini and Vijaynagar kingdoms. Nikitin lived in India for three years from 1471 to 1474. It is important to note that his voyage took place almost 27 years before the famous and more talked about voyage of Vasco da Gama to India in May 1498. Nikitin has left an interesting account of life during those times.

 

At a little distance and at lesser elevation is Ashtoor where there is a cluster of tombs. While there are tombs over the graves of important people, no tomb/grave of  Mahmud Gawan has been located. The reason perhaps is that he was not in Royal favour towards the end of his life and was beheaded on the orders of the ruler Sultan Muhammad-III.

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Delapidated tomb of Sultan Humayum

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View of another tomb

The Government Guest House where I stayed, is located on a small hillock overlooking the town in a place called Habshi Kot. The Abyssinian slaves brought to India by the Muslim rulers were called Habshi and now the VIPs and government servants camp here while on tour to Bidar!

Senior citizens would find the weather very pleasant during the winters. Various places, though located at some distance from one another, can be done by an auto or some even by cycle rickshaw without toiring oneself.

  (Text and all  photographs, except  the one of  bidriware hookah, are by K.J.S.Chatrath)   

 FACT  FILE:

Bidar is 120 kms by road from Hyderabad while the distance to Bangalore is 700 kms. A number of buses ply from Hyderabad to Bidar. There are also train connections to   Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Considerable information and photos are available on the government website of the district: http://bidar.nic.in/

The Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation Ltd; Khanija Bhavan, Race Course Road, Bangalore – 560001. Phone: 22352901.

(A shorter version of this article was published in the Tribune, Chandigarh dated May 4, 2008.) 

7 Responses to “The little known Bidar, Karnataka”

  1. Dinkar says:

    Good one for more information and pictures u can log in to http://www.bidartourism.com

  2. Dr PARIMAL TALCHERKAR says:

    Hi frnd , thnx 4 both. Several FB frnds ‘ve motivated me abt visit 2 Bidar. U’ve boosted it further. Hope 2 visit in future, preferably 4 Bidar fest, if informed abt d dates.
    Be Happy !!!

    • chat says:

      Thanks Dr. Talcherkar…Last years Bidar Utsav was on Feb. 18-2, 20111…You may like to check up the website of bidar district for 2012 dates.

  3. Madhukar says:

    Bidri metalware is now a registered Geographical Indication under the GI Act of India. It does not seem to have particularly benefitted the artisans as yet. Perhaps the Karnataka Govt. needs to adopt this art form as its State Art.
    The Baridshahis remained smaller players in the aftermath of the collapse of the Bahmani Kingdom, yet were able to live in relative peace till Aurangzeb annexed their kingdom to the Mughal Empire. Auranzeb’s Deccan expedition is often cited by historians as the main cause for the decline of the Mughals, emptied as it did the state coffers.
    What is most interesting is that a set of Persian adventurers could come and establish an empire in Central India without too much of resistance from the locals.

  4. Rajendra shirse says:

    Bidar is a historical place and it is must to know about it,because one of the place Jarani Narashimha swamy temple is very unique in it and it’s flowing water is having lot of good quality minerals,which are very useful to our helth and our skin.It is necessary to know all over indian people,to get benifit of it.

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