Bijapur, India: The Adil Shahi or the Bijapur Sultanate was a medieval South Indian kingdom that ruled a major part of Deccan, covering huge chunks of modern day Maharashtra, Northern Karnataka, whole of Goa and some parts of Telangana for close to two centuries.
Known for their cosmopolitan temperament and generous patronage of art and architecture, the land of Deccan is still replete with a wide range of Adil Shahi heritage.
When one thinks of the Adil Shahis, the first image that comes to mind would be that of the echoing chambers of the giant Gol Gumbaz - an architectural marvel - or the delicately crafted Ebrahim Rauza. But, that is not where their story begins.
Both the mausoleums might symbolise the zenith of Adil Shahi power and pomp, but they are certainly not their only claim to fame.
The Adil Shahis were an eccentric breed of kings with their founder Yusuf Adil Shah setting the tone and temperament for much of the grandeur that followed.
In their flair and penchant for the outlandish, they almost matched the Great Mughals. If there is a medieval city in India that could come close to Delhi, if not match it, in terms of its widespread ruins and range of built heritage, it should be Bijapur.
But, Bijapur is not where the foundation of Adil Shahi Kingdom was set.
Far from the opulent palaces or the world famous tombs of the later kings, the seed of this resplendent kingdom began at a small village some 110km away from Bijapur.
The village of Gogi is as obscure today as it might have been in 1489, when the ambitious Yusuf Adil Khan broke away from the ailing Bahamani Empire and founded his own kingdom.
It was in Gogi, under the radiant abode of sufi saint Syed Chanda Husseini Sahab that the young Bahamani Governor Yusuf Khan became the Shah. The sufi saint was the spiritual guide of the then Bahamani nobleman Yusuf, who through his irresistible charisma and guile rose through the ranks of Bahamani court and found himself to be the governor of the then small province of Bijapur.
Yusuf Adil Shah’s rise is as enigmatic as the story of his origins. Though, most historians trace his origins to Persia from where he was supposedly purchased as a slave boy by the Bahamani Empire’s most famous and able Prime Minister Mahmood Gawan, the Adil Shahi court historian Mohammed Qasim Ferishta in his widely quoted book ‘Nawrasnama’ traces his roots to the Ottoman Sultan Murad II.
Whether or not he was a slave boy or a prince, Yusuf Adil Shah certainly became a king, carving out a vast kingdom for himself and his descendants that rose to prominence in more ways than one for two centuries.
Though, supposedly indulgent and busy in merry making, they gave enough attention to art, craft and learning, transforming Bijapur from what was more or less a military camp, when Yusuf inherited it, to one of medieval India’s most cosmopolitan metropolises with in a few decades.
Among the key traits of the Adil Shahi monarchs was their tolerance towards and assimilation with the local cultures. They employed the Maratha warriors as their generals and learned Brahmins as their advisors, they married local women and patronised various languages other than Persian, including Marathi, Deccani and Sanskrit.
At the pinnacle of Deccani power, the Bijapur Sultanate straddled multiple influences from north, west and the south, defying northern imperialism represented by the Mughals for nearly two centuries before finally succumbing to the relentless onslaught of the last of the Great Mughals, Aurangzeb Alamgir.
Yusuf Adil Shah founded the Bijapur Sultanate in 1489 and ruled till 1511, his kingdom fell to Mughals in 1686.
Saint and disciple
Today as we approach Gogi, piercing through the endless expanses of paddies, chilli fields and other unassuming vastness, there are hardly any trappings of its much glamorous royal past. The dusty playing fields within the royal enclosure hardly points to a past when the who’s who of the power elite played their political cards here, at least in the initial days of the kingdom.
Unless one sits and reflects under the shadows of the large gate that opens into the resting places of the Saint and his Disciple, it is hard to imagine that this was once a place where the fortunes of a long line of kings and princes were made.
Such is the nature of this life, it rises from the dust and returns to it as such. As the 18th century Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir laments, “Whatever the shape and size of your crown, all of it turns to dust!”