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Friday , October 18 2019

Bahmani – DESIGN

Bidar Fort

“The dialogue that was established between the different groups, techniques and building typologies contributed to new standards of excellence. The messages that they communicated were ambiguous, combines different ideas, concepts and devotional practices, presented in templates that could be deciphered and interpreted according to each community’s traditions, perceptions and beliefs. The resulting continuities in conjunction are responsible for artistic creations that contributed to new aesthetics, with new meanings and allegories and it is these that you find in the most important Muslim dynasty of India during the 15th Century.”

Dr Helen Philon presented a fascinating lecture on ‘Courtly Architecture of the Bahmanis’ at the Yarmouk Cultural Centre on Monday evening, presenting an overview of the kingdom and discussing a few of its iconic buildings and their architectural and emblematic vocabulary, while also shedding light on the cross cultural dialogue that the Bahmanis initiated with their Muslim peers and their Hindu subjects and neighbours. The lecture was held as part of the Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyyah’s 24th cultural season.

Dr Philon is an archaeologist and scholar, with a special interest in Deccan India. The author of many publications, she established herself as a leading expert in the field, with a desire to preserve its monuments and ancient architecture for posterity. With her colleague at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, she helped found the Deccan Heritage Foundation and now sits on the Board of Trustees of both the English and the US foundations.

She began her lecture by giving the audience a brief overview of the Bahmani kingdom; following the conquest of Hindustan by Timur in 1397-8 and the eclipse of the Tughluq empire, the Bahmani kingdom (from 1347-1538), on the edge of the Islamic world, became the most important kingdom of the subcontinent. This was a Muslim kingdom, of both local and immigrant communities, that ruled a Hindu majority.

She then delved into the details of a few of its iconic monuments, looking closely at the architectural and emblematic vocabulary of forms where Indic, Tughluq, south Iranian and Central Asian forms contributed to the creation of an innovative architecture, architectural landscapes and motifs with lasting effects on successor Muslim dynasties.

Dr Philon shared that the cross cultural dialogue of the Bahmanis is represented in the iconographic motifs and the architectonic forms originating in the Muslim world in Asia, such as Central Asia, Iran and Anatolia in present day Turkey, maybe even the Mamluks in Egypt; as well as local traditions of the Hindu majority of the subcontinent during the 14-15th Centuries. She stressed that this dialogue is important as it reveals the social and religious environment of the time in the Deccan in relation to the available historical sources that consider this period and which were neither contemporaneous nor equitable.

She revealed that the two 17th Century history narratives of this period were composed long after the demise of the Bahmanis, and both had an agenda. They tried to highlight the political and military competence of the Muslim immigrants from Central Asia, Iran and Anatolia, forgetting that these elites ruled a Hindu majority and the local Deccan Islamic minority with which they had to interact in order to retain control of this region. She noted that the local communities and their cultural achievements were rarely mentioned by the two historians, nor their role in the social, political, commercial, and religious environment of the time.

Instead, Dr Philon pointed out, they stressed the destruction of local cultures which were replaced by architectonic emblems of Islamic power, a situation that she asserts, is neither implied nor indicated in the architecture and artistic examples of the Bahmanis, nor those of their successors. Moreover, even the existing architectural examples belonging to the Hindu dynasties that preceded the arrival of the Muslims who were coeval to their rule, indicate a hostile perspective described by our histories. But in most, the footprint of the other can be discerned and still admired.

She stated that sources in the local languages indicate that Brahmins and members of other local communities were active in the Bahmani administration and army, such as the Maratha mercenaries. The Bahmanis ruled the Deccan from 1347-1490 and nominally from 1490-1538. Their origins are uncertain as they could be local converts to Islam or of Afghan or some other origin, in the service of the Tughluq rulers of Hindustan, or Northern India with their capital in Delhi.

The Tughluq dynasty came to power in 1320, following the invasion of Timur in 1398, their political hold over North India declined. The Timur invasion which shook the subcontinent provided an opportunity for greater independence to the rulers of the Deccan. Mohammad Tughluq, the second ruler, had established in 1328 an important presence in the Deccan. In order to achieve this, he forcibly moved large groups of the Delhi inhabitants to the Deccan and was protected by a mighty fort of Daulatabad, also known as Devgiri, and was the gate to India, protected by the fort and its impregnable escarpment that impresses visitors to this day.

Dr Philon revealed that this became the first capital of the Bahmanis for three years from 1347. By 1335, Muhammad bin Tughluq returned to North India and offered to the forcibly moved populations of Delhi, amongst which were important religious figures – chistis, sufis, merchants, intellectuals, craftsmen and others, the option to return to Delhi, a choice that did not appeal to the new settlers.

Daulatabad and the Deccan was far away from marauding Mongols and Turkish nomads, it was also rich in agricultural and mineral sources, and strategically located at important commercial crossroads with access to both the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, thus offering unlimited possibilities for betterment to the newcomers. Amongst the newcomers was Alaudin Hassan, in the service of the Tughluqs but also the Sangama brothers, were of local origin and who in 1336 founded the kingdom of Vijayanagar. Nine years later, in 1345, Alaudin Hassan reintroduced the Bahmani kingdom with his capital first in Daulatabad and then from 1450 in Gulbarga.

Dr Philon shared that the name he chose for his dynasty expressed his wish to link his rule and that of his successors to Bahman, one of the mythical heroes of the Shahnameh, the celebrated Persian epic of Iran. The kingdom of Vijayanagar was located South of the Tungabhadra river.

She explained that these two kingdoms were coeval first with the Ottoman Empire that rose at about the same time as the Bahmanis in Anatolia and the Empire of Timur. The Bahmani rulers were Muslims, the ruling elites were the Dakhinis, Muslims from Hindustan, local coverts and Abyssinian slaves from Africa and Afaqis who were foreigners or immigrants from the wider Islamic world, but especially Anatolia, Southern Iran and Central Asia. The majority of the population in the Bahmani Kingdom were Hindu, belonging to different local linguistic and devotional sects such as the Lingayats and the Dattatreyas. Ulama, official Islam as upholders of the Sharia; was not as popular as Sufi sects with fluid Sunni and Shia beliefs. The prevalent Sufi sects were the Chishtis who established a strong presence in the Deccan along with Nimatullahi and Qadiri.

In Vijayanagar, a series of successive local dynasties, many of which were Telugu. The elites belonged to the same linguistic groups as the majority in the Bahmani Kingdom. The Hindu majority was not too different from the linguistic and devotional sects in the Bahmani Kingdom.

Interestingly, The Bahmanis encouraged Muslims to move to Vijayanagar and help the rulers with their military expertise, as they were considered much better equipped in military affairs. We know that even Deva Raya established next to his throne, a place for the Quran, so that the Muslim visitors would bow to him but first to the Quran. These were subtleties that could not be lost because there was no religious enmity at the time, just political and economic.

The Bahmani rulers tried to make the most out of their communities and aimed at attracting the best of the Islamic world to the Deccan. This was possible at the time because of the Timurid invasions that left many people dislodged and on the lookout for greener pastures and new patronage, the Deccan was one of these.

Dr Philon described Firuz Shah, one of the great rulers of the Bahmani kingdom, as a polymath and one of the most eccentric, educated and visionary Bahmani ruler in whose reign the first golden age of the Bahmani was experienced. She informed that he sent ships to different ports along the Persian Gulf to collect the best poets, respected Sufis, craftsmen, merchants and others to settle in Gulbarga, the second capital of the Bahmani kingdom and turn his capital into the most important metropolis of the time.

“This open immigration policy was continued by his successors, the admixture of different ethnic and linguistic communities, both local and immigrant, contributed to the flourishing of the arts and prompted innovations that could answer the needs of its multi-racial and multi-cultural subjects”, she stated.

By the middle of the 15th Century a de facto apartheid system was practiced in the Bahmani system between the Dakhinis and Afaqis, and Bidar, the new capital founded by Ahmad Shah in 1430, might as well have been built in order to separate the two communities to become the Afaqi capital of the Bahmanis. Gulbarga remained the capital for the dominant Dakhini and the most important spiritual center of the kingdom thanks to its revered Junaidi and Chishti dargahs.

The various Chishti sites and dargahs established in the Deccan interacted and impacted the local populations. The monastic establishments became centers of incubation of local vernacular beliefs with Islamic traditions. The ideas and beliefs that grew out of these interactions contributed to the birth of Deccan traditions, empowering innovations and the birth of new architectural forms, designs, language and literature, paintings and finally, the diffusion of religious beliefs.

Dr Philon then proceeded to describe a few monuments of the Bahmanis, chosen for their uniqueness and the intercultural dialogue they display in the metaphors of their decorative repertoires as well as architectonic forms.

The great mosque of Gulbarga is found inside the fort of Gulbarga, the only fortified part of the city. Dr Philon rejects the assumption that this was a congregational mosque pointing to its location within a fortified enclosure that would not allow it to be easily accessible to the population of believers. Furthermore, she adds, the building has none of the features of a congregational mosque such as a courtyard, dome, or pavilion for its gate, a prayer hall that is different from the courtyard and most importantly, the main mihrab doesn’t project on the facade of its qibla wall.

On the left side, another section of the citadel, funerary monuments of the Bahmani rulers are located and on the south side lies an enormous water reservoir that predates the arrival of the Muslims. The first audience hall of the Bahmanis, framed by stone fortifications dating from the 16th Century is located here and inside the iwan hall of the early Bahmanis is found.

Dr Philon stated that it consists of a series of domed units that frame the largest dome. There is no projection of the main mihrab. There is only one mihrab below the dome which covers a raised area and is unusual for a mosque.

Two inscriptions found in the debris of the fort mention the existence of a mosque, and it is on their basis that have no relation to the building that many have considered this to be the congregational mosque of Gulbarga, she pointed out. In a recent article, she put forth her argument that this was not the case. She believes that the multi-columned structures were built as court ceremonial audience halls for Sultan Firuz Shah.

While the mihrab has a number of elements that could suggest Bahmani traditions, but the way they are put together suggest otherwise. She opined that this building was turned into a mosque sometime during the 15th Century, because from its very origin, its direction was the correct one and the only feature that could make the building bear an association with a mosque.

Firuz Shah chose this building because of his own spiritual aspirations. In Persian lore, the multi-columned hall that is associated with Apadana of Persepolis was also the Palace of Solomon and Jamshid. Solomon was held to be the most just of rulers and endowed with spiritual knowledge. Firuz Shah, by establishing this as an audience hall, Dr Philon suggests, is trying to bring together his spiritual aspirations with the emblem of being a perfect ruler.

It is an amazing and unique building with no parallels anywhere else in the Islamic world, she attests. She pointed out that no multi-columned hall repeats itself, all are different because they are all interpretations of literary texts and trying to invoke the impression the text would produce.

She pointed out that the dome of the Great Mosque is decorated with architectural motifs of arches and columns, and the same architectural motifs are found in the same Elephant Stables of Hampi in Vijayanagar. In the dome of Gulbarga, different elements were added in the 17th Century amongst which were pineapples with their stems.

The elephant stables of Vijayanagar follow an Islamic vocabulary of forms with domes and arches which all come from Bahmani traditions and the architectural motifs decorate these two domes and frame a two-storey multi columned hall. Dr Philon suggested that this was the building that Deva Raya, the ruler of Vijayanagar, built to receive his new bridegroom, Firuz Shah Bahmani, who came to Vijayanagar to claim the tribute he was owed and marry the daughter of the Raja.

The next building she discussed was the tomb of Firuz Shah, located on the eastern outskirts of Gulbarga. She presented a drawing of Colin Mackenzie dating from 1795 and found in the British Library, depicts the tomb of Firuz Shah and other Bahmani rulers of Gulbarga, built on the shores of a water reservoir. “It is the first time that we have burial site next to water. However in India it is not uncommon to find burial sites near water owing to the belief that water will bring back life”, she informed.

The tomb of Firuz Shah is a two chambered tomb, one room housed the grave of Firuz Shah and the other room, located on the east side, was an oratory. The tomb was decorated in stucco and is the first example of a tomb with arched recesses on two levels. All the arches rest on basalt columns following an Indic style thus combining local and Islamic traditions.

She described the tomb of Ahmed Shah, the brother of Firuz Shah, who moved the capital of the Bahmanis to Bidar in 1430. He was claimed to be a saint by his subjects because he was a believed to be a ‘rainmaker’, greatly valued in the Deccan which was subject to terrible droughts. His sanctity was further condoned and approved by Shah Nimatullah, the divine that Ahmed Shah chose after the death of Gesudaraz, and who he invited to live in Bidar.

Though the building outside is typical Bahmani with its arched facade, its interiors are vibrant in colour with motifs originating in Timurid traditions such as floral and vegetal motifs, calligraphy and geometry. It is also the first example of radiating mirror calligraphies. Other interesting designs found are the star shaped patterns which point to how the popular designs were transmitted through craftsmen.

While the walls depict borrowings from Timurid origins, the dome of Ahmad Shah’s tomb has a concentric decorative bands that have the genealogies of Shah Nimatullah, and it was framed by lotus petals with the letter ‘alef’, knotted eight times, in the center. The idea of these concentric bands recall talismanic boats but is also found on Jain yantras. Here, both local and Islamic traditions come together and the former are given a new life by introducing them in a context that was completely different from their original.

Dr Philon also described other Bahmani monuments in the city of Bidar, their tombs and forts and concluded her lecture by stating, “The evidence seems to suggest that the Bahmanis either used symbols of power or local origin which they adapted to an Islamic nature or adopted Timurid ones with local resonances. Not much interest was expressed on monuments without local roots though they were very keen to adopt important decorative schemes, technical engineering and building techniques.”

“The dialogue that was established between the different groups, techniques and building typologies contributed to new standards of excellence. The messages that they communicated were ambiguous, combines different ideas, concepts and devotional practices, presented in templates that could be deciphered and interpreted according to each community’s traditions, perceptions and beliefs. The resulting continuities in conjunction are responsible for artistic creations that contributed to new aesthetics, with new meanings and allegories and it is these that you find in the most important Muslim dynasty of India during the 15th Century.”

By Cinatra Alvares

Arab Times Staff

Photos of monuments by Antonio Martinelli, Claire Arni and Surendra Kumar

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