The Adil Shahis made Bijapur a city ahead of its times in terms of infrastructure and security. This well-planned city had two fortifications, one around the principal Adil Shahi administrative and residential buildings and a larger one around the rest of the city. Both were roughly circular and had moats and several gateways. To further strengthen the defence of the city walls, the Adil Shahis built many bastions and about 96 gigantic cannons were placed on them of which only a dozen exist today. Most of them are placed in the ASI museum housed in the Nagaad Khana in front of the Gol Gumbaz and some of them still sit atop the surviving bastions.
The fortifications have crumbled due to neglect and the moats are overgrown with thorny shrubs and in some places filled with sewage and garbage. The only gateway left to the citadel is that on the south, the exit facing east. This was the principal gateway into the citadel but now wears an abandoned look. Just inside this once splendid gateway are the remains of guardrooms constructed entirely of pillars from Hindu temples mostly belonging to the Vijayanagar Period.
One of the surviving bastions is the Sharza Burj or Lion Bastion which is also the largest bastion. It is famous for housing the cannon Malik-i-Maidan or Lord of the Plains which was a war trophy won after the defeat of the Vijayanagara Empire at the Battle of Talikota. The cannon is made from a special alloy and can fire not only cannon balls but also metal slugs and copper coins (with which the soldiers of the invading army could be bribed!). Nearby is Haidar Burj which is the highest gun platform in Bijapur and is a very conspicuous solitary structure. It is also called the Upri or Upli Burj by the locals. It was built in 1583 by Haidar Khan, a general during the reigns of Ali Adil Shah and Ibrahim Adil Shah II. A spiral stairway leads to the top which houses two long cannons. The tower was most probably customised for the guns which needed to be fired from a height so that they can have a long range.
The Adil Shahis wanted to transform their capital city to rival the Mughal cities in the North by building imposing courtly structures, gardens, wells, waterways and granaries. Most of the structures have fallen to ruin, some have been converted to government offices and only a handful are open to tourists. The Gagan Mahal was built by Ali I Adil Shah as a palace and an audience hall. Only its skeleton remains today. A short walk from the Gagan Mahal is Sath Manzil (Seven Pavillions) or Haft Manzil built by Ibrahim II as a pleasure pavilion. Only three or four storeys survive now and there is no way to approach the inside. Just opposite this is the Jal Mahal or Water Pavilion decorated exquisitely and crowned by a dome. It is set in the middle of a square pool which is now dry and filled with garbage. Again there is no way to go inside.
Water was and is a precious resource for Bijapur and the Adil Shahis built a complicated hydraulic system to bring water from distant sources into the city and supplemented this with reservoirs and stepped wells.Only a few stepped wells and reservoirs survive today and the system of aqueducts and horizontal wells are lost. The Taj Baoli is the biggest step well in Bijapur and was built by Malik Sandal in honour of Taj Sultana, the wife of Ibrahim Adil Shah II. Sadly the well, its gateway and the gallery around it are all in a very bad state. It won’t survive for long if no action is taken immediately.
Chand Baoli is another step well built by Ali Adil Shah I in honour of his wife Chand Bibi and it served as the model for the Taj Baoli. Chand Bibi is best known for courageously defending Ahmednagar and Bijapur against the attacks of Akbar, the great Mughal Emperor. She was the regent of both Ahmednagar and Bijapur and was known to be a good warrior, musician, linguist and a fine artist. It is completely cordoned off from the public in order to protect it from anti-social elements. One can only see it though the grill gate.
Present day Bijapur would have benefited if the administration had preserved the hydraulic system of the Adil Shahis and used the many step-wells and reservoirs instead of letting them turn into garbage dumps. It’s a pity that the once well-planned cultural centre and politically important capital is now a poor shadow of itself grappling with infrastructure woes.
An expanded form of this article was published in Spectrum, Deccan Herald on 4th July, 2017. DH Article