Gilded with a patina of past splendour, it's brilliance still illuminates the history of the Deccan, writes KAUSALYA SANTHANAM
Here, you could be light years from cyber times. In a world where horses once tap-tapped their way in with their martial riders, and elephants fell as beleaguered behemoths. And where sounds of music and dance reverberated through the evening air.
Driving into the Golconda Fort ruins from Hyderabad takes you to a time which seems eons away. But, it was less than 350 years ago that the last of the Qutb Shahis held sway from this massive fortress.
Once you enter its environs through the dusty lanes dotted with small tailoring shops, the past envelops you like a comforting cloak. It is a holiday too unlike any other, when my friend and I decide to take off, away from the family and the daily grind. How is it that a place so near and so often visited can take on different shades? The massive Balahissar gate is the impressive entry point. From within this grand entrance, a warning clap immediately reaches the Baradari, the assembly hall at the top — 450 ft away — in a wonderful display of architectural acoustics.
In the Qutb Shahi period, it would send the alert to get the defence in place. The colossal gate has iron spikes to ward off attacking elephants. We go around the elephants' stables and the soldiers' barracks, with their succeeding rows of arched doorways. The manicured stretch of lawn on our right was once the Nagina Bagh, the teeming market that traders thronged to buy gems and silks. After all, the mines of Golconda were famed for their diamonds!
Our young guide Syed has a soft corner for water bodies, never failing to draw attention to impressive tanks and terracotta pipes on our climb up “Golla Kunda” (Shepherd's hill). The stone nails used to put the rocks together, are interesting too. The proportions of the royal mortuary baths are grand though the meagre water is green with sludge. From where we stand, we can see the upper portions of the Qutb Shahi tombs, a kilometre away.
A few more steps and we go into the jail where Kancharla Gopanna- Bhakta Ramdas — was imprisoned on charges of diverting royal funds to build the temple to Lord Rama at Bhadrachalam. Legend has it that two resplendent youth visited the Sultan and returned the money. Jolted by the vision of Lord Rama and Lakshmana, the Sultan rushed to set Ramdas, the nephew of his ministers Madanna and Akkanna, free. But, the great devotee, during his 12-year confinement, had sculpted images of Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman. The images, though painted a gaudy red, make us pause at the power of such whole-hearted devotion.
Cresting the hill is the elegantly-constructed mosque where the Sultan worshipped. The entire complex — originating from the mud fort constructed by the Kakatiyas in 1143 AD was built in 62 years. The dynasty, founded in 1518 A.D. by Sultan Quli Qutub Shah, who came from Persia, consisted of seven rulers. The fort, in many respects, is a symbol of religious harmony. Now, we are at the top, with the poetry of grey stone stretching below us like broken stanzas, now ragged, now a clean sweep.
This is the temple to Kali built by the Kakatiyas, the guide tells us. The asbestos-roofed structure is painted in loud colours. Nearby is a hideous maroon-tiled structure equipped with a tap to provide drinking water. We descend the steps and get a bird's eye view. Down below, people are gathered in a small amphitheatre-like space waiting for the sound-and-light show to begin. We hurry down the steps past the various levels of the fort.
We enter the majestic spaces of dancer Taramati's quarters, and then the Queen's palace. The Son et lumiere is one of the best we have seen.
Amitabh Bachchan's rich baritone narrates the founding of the kingdom, the stories of love and betrayal, local dance (Kuchipudi) and music traditions, the successive attacks on the kingdom by Emperor Aurangazeb, and the final fall of the fortress.
The acceptance of the will of the Divine, of the last ruler Tana Shah who lost his crown and his freedom to the Mughals is deeply poignant; it is triumph over adversity and the temporal. As moving is the steadfast love of Mohamed Quli Qutb Shah for dancer Bhagmati, a love that inspired the founding of a city Bhagnagar. This later became Hyderabad as he named her Hyder Begum.
The stones lighting up during the show, the broken archway high above with the moon's rays pouring out, seem to say it all. A window so evocative, opening to the present while throwing light on all that had gone before. The Baradari, too, is a silver rectangle gilded with the patina of past splendour.
After all, it was here on the sands of Golconda that the famous Kohinoor diamond was mined. Its brilliance seems to still illuminate this era in the history of the Deccan.