From a Beggar to a Prince
The Delhi artists transported (forcibly ?) to Daulatabad by Muhammed bin-Tughlaq took the Sultanate style with them to the north-western Deccan but trade had long exposed the region to western Asia.
The tale of Zafar Khan, the first ruler of Gulbarga, is eminently recitable. According to some accounts, Zafar Khan was a poor laborer who was nominated to the Sultan’s service by his master, who was impressed by his zeal and honesty. Later distinguishing himself in battle, Zafar Khan rose through the ranks to become eventual governor of the province of Daulatabad. With the weakening of power at Delhi, he declared the province independent of central authority and assumed the name of Ala-ud-din Bahman (1347-1358).
Forts and Citadels
Main Gate in Second Outer Wall.
Fort and Town Plan
The Bahmani dynasty’s first citadel, before the capital was shifted to Gulbarga, was at Daulatabad. Here the most prominent feature is the extraordinarily imposing outer walls, in four concentric rings, similar in design and style to the Château Gaillard in France.
The tradition of strong fortifications continued with the shifting of the capital to Gulbarga in 1347. With no natural defense like a hilly site or a river nearby, the Bahmanis instead endowed Gulbarga fort with the Bala Hissar. This massive rectangular keep, citadel within a citadel, was again in the tradition of military architecture inspired by the Crusades in the holy land, and was to remain practically the only example built in India.
The capital of the Bahmani empire was shifted yet again in 1429. This was a strategic decision, as Bidar had a more central position in the kingdom and perhaps more importantly, was out of immediate striking range of the Vijayanagara kingdom, which was a constant menace. In contrast to Gulbarga, Bidar was situated on a sloping promontory, on which were built the fort and its associated town. The fort, naturally, was at the highest level, with its citadel at the northern tip. The fort could be isolated for better defence from the town by a system of gates and moats. Inside the citadel walls, ruins of palaces, mosques and secular structures bear silent witness to a once-powerful empire.
Religion and Death
The Bahmani sultans’ Shiite tendencies are clearly reflected in their mosques. These delineate also their Persian origin. For example, the earliest mosque founded in Gulbarga, the Shah Bazaar, is one of the first in India to reflect the Timurid tendency of the multi-bay prayer hall, like at Isfahan in modern Iran. Its most refined expression is then found in the Jami Masjid of Gulbarga.
On a rectangular base, this mosque has arcades two bays deep and a triple-aisled prayer hall which runs around three sides of the building. The space of the central court itself is covered over with smaller domes, with arches springing from imposts spanning the area of the court. These arches contrast with the trefoil arches of the mihrab and the squinches – these again being traces of Seljuk work at the Isfahan Jami Masjid. This Gulbarga variant of arches with imposts, though not universally emulated, was to prove very popular with the Adil Shahis of Bijapur who subjugated Gulbarga late in the 15th century.
The tombs of the first Bahmani rulers at Gulbarga are fairly simple structures of plastered stone and rubble work.
The tomb of Firoz Shah (not to be confused with the same name of the Tughlaq dynasty at Delhi – see associated article) was enlarged to two large bays to also accommodate members of the royal family.
A simple structure, it is marked by the trellis work in its windows, the kalash at the corners marking an increasing awareness of the local craftsman and his repertory, and the low-slung domes which cap the roof.
This tendency to fusion with native crafts and motifs reappears very distinctly in the Langar-ki-masjid at Gulbarga, where the outer arches are supported on serpentine columns, and the increasing profusion of decoration is marked.
However, apart from its wealth of tombs, mosques and citadels, the Bahmani dynasty can also lay claim to another masterpiece – the madrassa of Mahmud Gawan, the Persian minister of Muhammed Shah Bahmani III (1463-1482).
The most striking feature of this structure is its three stories of cells, a most unusual happening in a madrassa. The elevated domes marking the entrances and the imposing minarets combine to make this a high point of the influence of Persian Islamic art and architecture in India.
Despite its monumentality and originality, however, the type represented by this Iranian import did not subsequently find favor in India.