Sunday 2 June 2013

When an Emperor caught a bolt of lightning

The Gol Gumbaz is one of the most well-known monuments of India. Located in Bijapur in north Karnataka, the magnificent structure has the second largest dome in the world with a diameter of 44 metres or 124 feet. The whispering gallery of the Gol Gumbaz, where you can hear a whisper at a distance, is another marvel. The gallery is so designed that a faint whisper, clap, tick of a watch or even the rustle of paper can be heard across a distance of 37 metres and the sound is echoed seven times over. In earlier tines, the sound echoed eleven times over.
The Gol Gumbaz is also one of the biggest single chamber structures in the world and covers an area of 18,225 square feet or 1,693 square meters, which is substantially bigger than the Pantheon in Rome which is 14,996 square feet  or 1,393 square meters.
However, this post is not about the construction of the Gol Gumbaz or its features.  Built by Mohammad Adil Shah (1627-1656), the Gol Gumbaz was never fully completed as it was taken up during the ending years of Muhammad Adil Shah. The construction of the Gol Gumbaz was stopped in 1659, twenty years after it was taken up.  
However, the Gol Gumbaz, which is the subject of many legends and myths, has an unusual aspect which is generally ignored by both locals and millions of tourists who visit the monument.
One of the many popular legends about the Gol Gumbaz is that Muhammad Adil Shah chased and caught a bolt of  lightning which struck a place a little away from the monument.
Muhammad Adil Shah believed that the bolt of lightning or Sidilu in Kannada would bring him and the Kingdom luck and he hung the piece of rock in front of the Gol Gumbaz.
This bolt of lightning can be seen even today, hung ornamentally on the façade of the monument. It is tied in a tripod like ring and hung through a chain.
Since the bolt of lightning can be seen only if one observes the façade closely, it has been generally given a royal go by by the many tourists who mill around the monument.
Historians and archaeologists who have examined the rock have said that it is a piece of meteorite that fell within the confines of Bijapur.
When Muhammad Adil Shah was told about the falling piece from the sky, he went to the spot and had it examined. His astrologers told him that the rock would bring him and his Kingdom luck. They also told him that the rock would help him expand his Kingdom and lead to greater prosperity of Bijapur. However, they warned him that the rock would have to be carefully preserved if the good luck was to continue. Muhammad Adil Shah then decided to use it as a good luck charm and hang it from the façade of the Gol Gumbaz.
Believe it or not, after Muhammad got the rock, then called Bijli Pathar, hung on the façade atop the south door or main entrance of the Gol Gumbaz, he was officially recognized as the ruler of the Kingdom by the Mughal Emperor, Shahajahan.
Muhammad Adil Shah also managed to defeat Kempe Gowda of Bangalore and the Nayaka of Ginji from whom he seized immense booty. He also managed to sack the city of Doddaballapur. Muhammad also sealed an alliance with the Mughals to put an end to the Ahmednagar Kingdom.            
When the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, annexed the Adil Shahi Kingdom in 1686, Bijapur soon became a ghost town and the Mughals and Marathas were at war with for gaining a stranglehold over Bijapur. The meteorite also came to be almost forgotten after the eclipse of the Adil Shahi dynasty.
However, it was Henry Cousens (1854-1933), a British officer, who served as the chief archaeology officer in Western India in 1896, who re-discovered and recorded the Sidlu of Gol Gumbaz.
Cousens has described Bijapur and its monuments in his book, “Ruins of Bijapur City”.
Cousens visited Bijapur for the first time in May 1891to organise the Museum in the Yaqut Mahal. However, it is only in 1896 that Cousens talks about rediscovering a meteorite at the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur in his “Ruins of Bijapur City.”
He examined the rock and said, “This is a rare piece of rock and believed to bring good luck to those who possess it. Therefore, Mohammed Ali Adil Shah might have brought and dangled it before the Gol Gumbaz.”

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