As I have written in these blogs before, I am personally besotted with murals and have been visiting various locales in India to see and document them.
On a visit to Bijapur (nee Vijayapura!), I was keen to find out whether there were places where I could have a glimpse of the famed Deccani school of painting. After much enquiry, I found out that a water pavilion built during the reign of the Adil Shahi rulers might have some old murals. I was also cautioned that they were not in good shape.
Undeterred, myself and Ahalya made our way to the quaint village of Kumatagi on the outskirts of the city. The place was deserted with just a few cattle grazing in the lawn. Though small in size the main structures had a distinct charm. We crossed the imposing watch tower which also served as a storage tank for water to reach the royal bath house. There were pipelines running through the entire complex to distribute water from an adjoining sprawling lake. A complex system of storage tanks, cisterns and fountains seemed to be in place to keep the buildings cool at all times. I was reminded of the Deeg palace in Rajasthan which had a similar elaborate and intricate water distribution system. It is interesting to note that across geographic locales and time periods, structures were built near water bodies which enabled the rulers, elites and their families to escape the heat and relax in their salubrious environs. This summer resort built by Mohammad Adil Shah between 1627 and 1656 stands as a testament to the sophisticated water system that existed during the reign of the Adil Shahi Empire.
The searing heat of Bijapur seemed to dissipate away once we entered the water pavilion. It was cool and airy inside. At the center was a small pit on the floor with a decorated rim. Exactly above it, in the ceiling was an outlet for water. Even thought the plaster was peeling off from the walls, I could spot a few paintings near the ceiling. Many of them were in various stages of decay due travails of time and senseless acts of vandals who had inscribed their names with sheer abandon on these priceless treasures. The beauty and splendor of the paintings shone through despite the criminal neglect and vagaries of time.
One could discern elegantly conceived panels featuring nobles depicted against foliate backgrounds replete with blossoms, creepers and birds which enhanced the visual appeal. The palettes were subtle, subdued with deep earth tones. There was a vibrant depiction of a polo match. The energetic portrayal of the horse was particularly stunning. There was also another one of probably the emperor riding a horse with all its finery. Among the rest, two paintings were relatively well preserved. One beneath an arch portrayed the sultan seeking blessings from a sufi saint. The other one portrayed a couple, the man languorously reclining on the shoulder of the woman. The elegant, bejeweled coiffure of the woman was quite stunning. There was also a picture of a hand holding a bowl of fruits which looked like pomegranates. These paintings had an ephemeral quality though in various stages of decay.
These fading murals are among the few remaining ones of the Deccani style which were largely influenced by Persian and Turk art. It reached its zenith during the rule of Ibrahim Adil Shah II. He was a great patron of art and passionately fond of painting, music and poetry. He is often compared to Akbar. Like Akbar, he was fascinated by Hinduism and many of his portraits show him wearing Rudraksha beads. Ibrahim’s syncretic views and love of poetry are reflected in the Kitāb-i Nauras, the book of songs attributed to him which begins with an invocation to the Hindu goddess of learning, Sarasvati.
As I was leaving its precincts, I was visualizing the emperor composing verses in its cool ambiance replete with paintings which though faded and dilapidated now, would have been lusciously gorgeous at one time.
Visiting Kumatagi was like time travel through the pages of history. It was a truly fascinating experience offering insight into the rich architecture and the glorious tradition of mural paintings of the era. It was also an eye opener to the efficient water system that existed in the past and they hold lessons for modern architects to build structures in harmony with nature!
These dulcet murals
Of a dreamy past . . .
Glimpses of these murals at: photos.app.goo.gl/z8FvLnj1ABt5oCr48
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