Bidar city, the headquarter of the district with the same name is a not-so-popular place in the tourist map of Karnataka, yet it has a rich history which is alive today as the heritage monuments preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India. These huge number of surviving monuments all around the city and outskirts has earned it the name of “The City of Whispering Monuments”. Today the ruins not only adorn the city but lives to tell its tale to the few visitors like us.
Bidar never intrigued me a lot till I had the chance of a visit to outskirts of the city while on my Diwali escape plan this year. It came bundled with my stay in Blackbuck Resort of JLR in Bidar. (Read my previous post on Blackbucks of Bidar to get an introduction to this story.)
Bidar city sightseeing was part of the itinerary of JLR and we were thankful that it was. I knew about the place but never had proper knowledge about this place. By now you know that I was impressed by the outskirts and the village area around and so it was the time to explore the city.
It is a small city with a rustic charm, some broad to medium-sized roads interconnected to each other through the network of a few narrow roads, where on every turn the remains of ancient monuments say peek-a-boo.
It was on the auspicious day of Diwali and the markets were buzzing with activity. Sugarcane stalks, pumpkins, heaps of marigolds were seen all around and were the items of high demand. Every part of India has its own way of celebrating the same festival which varies according to the regional boundaries. Bidar being the border district neighbouring Maharashtra and Telengana, has their influence in its ritualistic behaviour. The above-mentioned items are an integral part of Diwali rituals in these regions.
Every city comes alive on such festive days and gives you the opportunity to feel the vibe. Now it was the turn to explore a few places within the city and it all started in a religious way. We were taken to the Bidar Catholic Mission Church. It was a simple yet beautiful contemporary structure. A Church, full of devotees attending the ongoing Sunday Mass.
Our next destination was Nanak Jhira also known as Guru Nanak Jhira Sahib. Here the Gurudwara was getting decked up for the upcoming 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. (I am late is compiling the post and by this time this auspicious day has already been celebrated.) It is a famous Sikh pilgrimage built in the year 1948 and dedicated to Guru Nanak. This beautiful structure is built beside the holy spring on a valley surrounded by hills. There is a legend associated with this place.
It is said that Guru Nanak, during his visit to South India stayed here for a brief period. Here he met with the dismayed people of Bidar who were suffering from water shortage, as there was no source of flowing water and the little underground water that was available was not suitable for use. On hearing the sorrow of the locals, chanting the holy Sat Kartar Guru Nanak removed some stones near his foot with his wooden sandal to discover the holy spring providing pure water.
The locals believed that the spring was God’s answer to Guru Nanak’s prayer. This spring solved the water crisis of the region. The crystal clear water of the spring flows here till date. This water enters the Amrit Kund within the Gurudwara and it is believed that a dip in this holy pool cleanses every soul from their earthly sins. The place came to be known as Nanak Jhira after the holy Spring (meaning Jhira) was unearthed by Guru Nanak.
The Bidar fort was the next destination set along the edge of the plateau of laterite soil. This was the site of the old fort too, which was captured by Muhammad bin Tughlaq in the year 1321-1322 AD and later it came under the Sultan Alauddin Bahman Shah of the Bahamani Dynasty. He moved his capital from Gulbarga to Bidar. Later during the rule of Ahmed Shah I (1422-1486), the new fort was built over the old fort.
During his reign, Bidar saw the construction of many monuments starting from the reconstruction of the old fort, building new mosques, madrasas, palaces, gateways, pavilions and gardens. Bidar Fort and the city came under the rule of various empires. From the Bahamani Empire, it went under Bijapur Sultanate then it was captured by the Mughals under Aurangzeb. Later Asaf Jahi expanded the kingdom of the Nizams and included Bidar in it. During the reign of the Nizams, it came to be known as Muhammadabad after the name of Asaf Jahi’s son Mir Sa’id Muhammad Khan.
What stands today is the remnants of the new Bidar fort built by Ahmad Shah Bahman around the old fort. The fort walls were made of stones and mortar. The fort was strategically built to get the natural cover of the cliff on one side of the deep wide triple-layered moat supported by glacis that runs around the fort. The fortification has 37 bastions with cannons attached to them. There are various structures within the fortification with the names of Takt Mahal, Rangin Mahal, Shola Khamba Masjid, the prison and others.
The most notable feature of ancient Bidar was the underground water channels known as ‘Karez’ or ‘Qanat’. This is an ancient Persian technology of transporting underground water through long-distance for public benefit in the dry and arid region. This system was introduced here by the Bahamani rulers. The rocky soil of Bidar made it difficult to get access to the underground water so the Karez system came to great benefit for carrying underground spring water to long-distance while making it available to the public throughout its path of transport.
The Karez system here is spread across 2 to 3 km around the fort to provide water to the civilians and the soldiers stationed within the fort. In a recent discovery, the Karez system of Bidar came to attention with 21 vertical shafts. The Karez system or the Qanat is the combination of a series of well-like shafts connected by gradually sloping tunnels. The tunnel begins from an aquifer somewhere deep and far, ending into a surface pool or canal. Presently only 17 vertical shafts remain while the others have been filled and closed by builders.
It was fascinating to see these ancient structures and know about this interesting and unknown technology. The beautiful structure of the Mehmud Gawan Madrasa stood in the state of ruins narrating the testament of the past. It was built by the Persian trader Mahmud Gawan as a residential university. The opulent structure was built by him individually with his own money within a large compound.
The Madrasa was a prime seat of education during that time with proper library and the faculty members comprising of selected Islamic scholars. With this magnificent structure and other buildings around the place came to be known as Gawan-ki-Chowk by the locals. Very close to the Madrasa stood the Chowbara on the cross-section of two busy city roads. Chowbara was originally a watchtower built during the reign of Ahmed Shah I Bahamani. The top of the 71 feet high cylindrical tower gave a commanding view of the city and the surrounding areas thus making it the perfect place for an observation post.
Coming from the ancient monuments we stumble upon the ancient art form known as Bidri art and the artefacts as Bidriware. It was during the reign of Ahmed Shah and his son Allauddin Bahamani II this form of art originated as a result of the combination of local, Turkish, Persian and Arabic style and techniques. Bidri work is a long eight-step manual process which starts with moulding the alloy of copper and zinc in the perfect ratio of 1:16 to give the ware the required colour.
The later steps of the process involve smoothening, engraving and designing, fixing the silver inlays, the second step of smoothening, polishing and the final stage of oxidising with the help of the ‘magic ingredient’ – the soils form the Bidar fort mixed with ammonium chloride. Artisans at work were seen busy in fixing the thin and flattened silver wires within the engraved designs with the help of a chisel and hammer. The artisans vouch by the soil from the fort which they believe is the ultimate ingredient that gives the artwork the required lustre. The soil is obtained only from a certain dark area of the fort which is supposed to be rich in some mineral constituent that reacts with the aluminium chloride to do the magic.
With all these historical monuments and ancient workshops around, our sense of Bidar broadened. Now we came to the final stops of the Narshima Jharna Temple and then the Sunday cattle fair. Every Sunday the fair is organised for selling and buying cattle. There is a separate venue for goat and sheep while other for cows and buffaloes. Smiling faces were seen proudly carrying the new members back home.
Bidar gave us a different experience altogether. Who knew that so much history lies within the small not so famous place called Bidar? It was an important seat of the Bahamani kingdom and the many ruins scattered around the city is the testimonial for the same – burdened by age, weatherly phenomenon, military attacks and other incidents they stand today narrating their stories of glorious past. Not only we were historically enriched, but Bidar also gave us a lesson in religious harmony where we visited places of worship of almost all major religions in India.