Gol Gumbaz: The Taj Mahal of South India

Jul 8, 2022 0 comments

In the city of Bijapur, in the south Indian state of Karnataka, stands one of the grandest royal tombs to be ever constructed in India. Aptly called the Taj Mahal of South India, this majestic structure houses the remains of Mohammad Adil Shah, who was the Sultan of Bijapur between 1627 and 1656 AD. Its name Gol Gumbaz (literally, “Round Dome”) comes from the mausoleum’s gigantic dome, which is one of biggest free-standing domes in the world.

Gol Gumbaz

Photo: Mukul Banerjee/Wikimedia

Mohammed Adil Shah was the seventh ruler of Bijapur, of the Adil Shahi dynasty. He ascended the throne in 1627 on his father's death, at the age of fifteen. At an age when the young sultan should have been busy with girls and games, Mohammed Adil Shah developed an obsession with death. Fearing that upon his death, his mortal remains would be buried in an insignificant tomb, Mohammed Adil Shah began construction of a magnificent tomb for himself right away. Mohammed Adil shah intended to build for himself a mausoleum comparable and possibly grander in scale than the Ibrahim Rauza, the tomb of his father, Ibrahim Adil Shah II.

Gol Gumbaz was planned as a mammoth single chamber structure and remains one of the biggest in the world till date. The construction of the tomb continued throughout Mohammed Adil Shah’s regime but could not be completed due to the sudden demise of the Sultan in 1656. Nevertheless, the Sultan was buried in the Gol Gumbaz, as was his wish. Later, his two wives, Taj Jahan Begum and Aroos Bibi, his mistress Rambha, his daughter and his grandson also joined him in the mausoleum.

Gol Gumbaz

Photo: Mukul Banerjee/Wikimedia

The tomb consist of a giant cube topped with a hemispherical dome. The cube is 47 meters on each side, while the dome has an external diameter of 44 meters. At the four corners of the cube are four octagonal towers, each divided into seven floors and topped by a bulbous dome. The levels of the towers are marked by arcades and contain staircases within.

The interior is a huge single chamber that is approximately 41 meters across and 60 meters high. In the centre of the chamber floor is a raised platform bearing the cenotaphs of Mohammad Adil Shah, and the graves of his other family members. The cenotaphs mark the location of the actual tombs, which are found in a crypt underneath and accessed by a staircase under the western entrance of the mausoleum. Mohammad Adil Shah's cenotaph is covered by a wooden canopy, although this might be a later addition.

Gol Gumbaz

The whispering gallery. Photo: Ashwin Kumar/Flickr

The mausoleum is built of dark grey basalt stone and the facade is decorated with plaster. The dome, however, is built of brick and cemented with layers of lime. At the time of its construction, the Gol Gumbaz boasted the largest dome in the Islamic world.

Another interesting feature of the mausoleum is the gallery around the base of the dome that can be accessed through the winding staircase in the four towers. It is known as the ‘whispering gallery’ because the faintest sound from here is heard across the dome, due to sound reflecting off the dome.

Aside from Gol Gumbaz, the city of Bijapur (literally, “the city of victory”) has a host of historical monuments of architectural importance, mostly those built during the rule of the Adil Shahi dynasty. This include the Bijapur Fort, Bara Kaman, Jama Masjid, and of course, Gol Gumbaz. In addition, there are innumerable tombs, mosques, which have resisted the havoc of time, and afford abundant evidence of the ancient splendor of the place.

Gol Gumbaz

Photo: Ashwin Kumar/Flickr

Gol Gumbaz

Photo: Nicolas Mirguet/Flickr

Gol Gumbaz

Photo: Omkar A Kamale/Wikimedia


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