A visit to Bijapur doesn’t get complete without a visit to the Gol Gumbaz. More often, that is the purpose of visit to Bijapur for many. It was as young boy of probably 12 or 13 that I had visited Bijapur the last time, and I did visit the Gol Gumbaz. Thus, the recent visit rekindled the vague and faded memories of my boyhood when my uncle took us to this wonderful place, which was more than 40 years back. So it was eagerness that occupied my mind as we set out to visit Gol Gumbaz. The narrow flights and the dark corridor of the dome was all that remained in my memory, something like what we see in old black-and-white films.
Gol Gumbaz means round dome. Round dome it is, but what the name doesn’t reveal is that it is a unique monument of its kind and the awe it strikes on the visitor, every time one visits the place. Built in 1659 by Mohammad Adil Shah II, this dome is raised on a square base, featuring an uncommon structure of interlocking pendentives that, through the eight intersecting arches, connect the square base of the building to the circular platform on which the dome is built. This is a unique architectural design. Adding to this feature is the astonishing size of the dome – with a diameter of close to 38 metres, this is easily one of the largest unsupported domes anywhere in the world. Again, the floor area of over 1,700 square metres is the largest floor area covered under a single dome anywhere in the world. I wondered how many people are aware of such a magnificent architectural marvel sitting quietly in the small town of Bijapur.
It was cold and windy early in the January morning that we went there. We were almost the first to arrive. The entry fee is a pittance. Once you enter the complex, the dome is what strikes you first with its enormous size. Only as you near the structure you realise that the building you saw under the dome is actually a different building in front of the dome! This first building houses the museum. As you cross the museum and another small half-built building behind it, you get the first real view of the impressive building and the unbelievable dome. The square building is cut on the corners to make it octagonal, and a narrow stairway is built on the cross sides on all for corners. A beautiful minaret is built projecting out on all the four corners, its floors serving as balcony for the landings of the seven floors. The final flight of stairs leads to the open terrace from which you get to see and feel the dome up close.
The bottom rim of the dome outer is decorated with lotus petal like pattern, eight of which have a small opening that lead you into the dome, where a huge circular platform is built. The view from here is amazing. The tombstones of the Adil Shah and his relatives look so small down on the ground floor (the actual graves are in the basement cellar). The platform has a brick parapet with vertical openings. On the outer walls of the platform, eight benches have been constructed for visitors to sit and marvel at the wonder. As you step on to the platform, you realise that there are more eerily amazing features to the dome.
The platform is called the whispering gallery and has excellent acoustic properties. Even the most minute, feeble sound can be distinctly heard at the opposite end. Thus if you sit on the bench and whisper at the wall, even in your faintest voice, it can be clearly heard on the other side of the platform. It is said that on a quiet day, even the tick of the wrist-watch can be distinctly heard on the other side some 100 feet away! Not only that, any loud are sharp sound you create echoes 10 to 12 times and reverberates around the dome several seconds. The longest recorded here is 26 seconds, again a setting a record for the longest reverberation in a building anywhere in the world. Though we were the first to arrive, there were people already in – sitting on the bench and reciting Quran in a loud harmonic voice and the recital reverberated so much that it kept ringing in your ears even after they had stopped reciting.
Once you feel, enjoy, take in and absorb the marvel and get out of the building, the fresh, cool and strong morning breeze sweeps you, making the visit all the more pleasant. From here, one gets a good view of the garden below and of the old town of Bijapur. On the way down and out, I realized that the memories of childhood were painted more with the brush of adventure, as against the brush of informed appreciation of the architectural marvel that our mature brains have become used to as one gets older.
Now, when you visit Bijapur, you still realise that a visit is not complete without a visit to the Gol Gumbaz, but there are more places in and around Bijapur. Read about the places and make your plan accordingly, but don’t miss Gol Gumbaz, for that is a place one must see and experience. Few more photos I took there can be seen at www.flickr.com/photos/raghu_ambattur/sets/72157629099093345/