By Anees Maniyar
Dont get closer to the wall, or it might fall on you. This was something I heard, when I walked along the bastion of a fortress, which was hanging capriciously over footstones. The fortress that survived for at least four centuries stands at the verge of biting the dust. A ghetto meanders like a centipede and curls up all around the wall. The moat appears non-existent, as it is filled-up, leveled and shanties have been erected by the people of the ghetto. The canals that purveyed water to the moat appeared buried under the debris of the fallen wall, from above. Not to mention, the spiky bushes provide refuge to the people who come to defecate, idling on their haunches under the historic, scenic view. Twin sarcophaguses, with intricate floral motifs, lie adjacent to a makeshift culvert, where urchins sit astride and loaf around. Its a haven for pigs, mice and mosquito, as though it was all built to serve their purpose.
We dont go out during the dark hours, as there are evil spirits roaming all around the fort-wall, an elderly lady in her eighties put out her aspersions on otherworldly creatures. I went ahead to ask her on a lighter note, why didnt she quit that place and relocate to the better localities in the city? I was taken aback by her sudden change in demeanor. Her hoary face, suffused with anger, had turned red hot. I was born and brought up in this ghetto and my grandchildren live here. Why on earth should I think of shunning this place? It was as though, she was asking, if I was out of my mind.
Ark Qila or inner citadel was built to provide an extra fortification to the kings private palaces. A gamut of beautiful Monuments like Asar Mahal, Jahaz Mahal, Kalyani Mahal, Anand Mahal, Farraq Mahal, Cheeni Mahal, Gagan Mahal, among others are few of the lavish mansions built by the various kings of Adilshahi Sultanate between 1489 A.D to 1686 A.D. Re-imagining what Kalyani Mahal looked like in its heydays, makes me nostalgic. There was an arched walk-way that connected Ark Qila to Kalyani Mahal, and the wooden bridge connected it further to Asar Mahal. There were orchards of exotic fruits at various stories of the palace. The water was purveyed via pipelines of varying dimensions, entirely through gravity, as there wasnt a sophisticated water pumping mechanism, those times. The mechanism of water supply to such heights is an intriguing mystery that remains unraveled till date. The fountains, bath tubs, and the water gliding across the steps is a mindboggling spectacle, especially when the lamps were lit in the night.
The aforementioned Monuments are centrally protected; in the sense Archeological Survey of India is their sole custodian. The chicken innards, carcasses, household waste and anything unwanted by the city dwellers is thrown into the premises. The colonnaded walls, with beautiful niches, girders, pavilions and fountains bereave like widows, as though they have lost their masters, who once pampered and kept them close to their hearts.
Overgrown vegetation is eating away the integrity of structures. During the rains, water trickles from above the roofs of many Monuments, which further debilitates the concreteness. There are no cultural Information boards, even in the premises of Prime Monuments of the city, except one or two. A visitor would go astray and run wild in madness, as there are no signage boards to assist them. The Tourist guides are slowly shifting their ancestral occupation, as they find the future in bleak. The footfall of the tourists is declining, especially International tourists. Petty shop owners who sold trinkets, leaflets and miniscule Gol Gumbaz are nowhere to be found. The Tonga business has plummeted, and even the beggars who made their living under the mercy of visitors have vacated the premises of Monuments.
Such is the story of Bijapur city in the state of Karnataka, the cradle of Adilshahi Sultanate. We, as Heritage enthusiast are like those dervishes, who walk from one door to another, begging for the mercy of Government authorities. Budget deficit, lack of manpower, inaccessibility, and countless such excuses deter them from taking any concrete action in preserving such precious heritage from drowning into oblivion. God forbid! Those domes, minarets, pavilions, walls and roofs should succumb to the cruel game of time.