Kush Mahal inside the old Kakatiya fort is a repository of tales and idols

The sun disappears into a thick blanket of clouds as we reach the portals of the old Warangal Fort. There is an unmistakable nip in the air. A lone push cart ahead of us enters the arches of the old Kakatiya capital. Driving around the old settlement, I am lost in an era that goes back to several centuries.

I take a deep breath as I look at the remnants of the old Kakatiya Fort. Surrounded by a green fabric, the ruins are spread on a vast expanse of land that looks like a massive ground. The four Kirti toranas or pillars of victory encircle the strewn sculptures. However, our story is not about the Kakatiya monuments, but about a simple mahal that stands almost diagonally opposite the fort.

Pages from the past

Built in the 16th Century, the Kush Mahal stands out amidst ornate pillars and tall toranas that fill the old settlement. The small monument, now a museum, was apparently built by the local governor, Shitab Khan, who captured the Warangal Fort from the Bahmani rulers. It was believed to have been built over a Kakatiya palace, and was probably used as an audience hall. It is today a repository of idols excavated from the area.

I was, however, taken in by the story of Shitab Khan, born a Hindu — Sitapati Raju, in modern day Andhra Pradesh. He joined the army of the Bahmani Sultans who invaded Warangal in the 14th Century, and eventually, rebelled against them when the Sultanate split into smaller kingdoms. He took over the reigns of Warangal from the Bahmani kings, but was eventually defeated by the founder of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, Quli Qutub Shah who established a separate kingdom in Golconda. While Shitab Khan was believed to have escaped to Orissa, he left behind inscriptions in and around Warangal that speak of him.

I climb atop the mahal, and take in the entire view. Kush Mahal may be the only surviving royal monument of this period here, built this style. Although an inscription speaks of Shitab Khan's rule at the entrance, the sloping walls of the mahal suggest that it might have been built around the 14th Century, during Mohammed Bin Tughlaq's reign. The huge hall is filled with broken idols from Hindu and Jain temples. However, the most beautiful part of the mahal is the wall panels.

Tranquil setting

The silence in the old town comes as no surprise as you walk around. Historians say the Kush Mahal was probably built on the site of a Kakatiya palace as well, as it is right amidst the ancient fort. But then, irrespective of the facts and figures, the sheer beauty of the old settlement is breath-taking. Like several other monuments tucked away in lost towns and hamlets, this too has seen the ravages of time...