Amidst crumbling monuments and a majestic fort, Lakshmi Sharath finds a cannon fittingly named ‘The Master of the Battlefield’

In the Palmyra of the Deccan, which was once the home of poets, artists and scholars, and where mahals and mausoleums vie for attention, it is difficult to pick that one monument you can call the showstopper.

I am in Bijapur on the trail of the Adil Shahi dynasty, and the Sultans have left behind marks of their reign in their tombs and towers, most of which are crumbling today.

My auto driver says there are hundreds of mosques lost in the streets, while some of the palaces have become government offices. The beautiful reservoirs, once used by the queens, are now bathing ghats for buffalos.

However, some monuments shine through the clutter, and while the guide books sing odes to the famous Gol Gumbaz, locals prefer the Ibrahim Rauza. I, for one, am looking for something rather different from tombs, and I enter the Bijapur Fort in search of it.

The walls of the fort run along the town and the fort itself seems like a motif. It was built by Yusuf Adil Shah, the founder of the Adil Shahi dynasty in the 15th Century. The citadel or the Arakella along with the Faroukh Mahal was also built by him, believed to have been a prince of Turkish origin.

Remnants of a past

The fortress became the centrepiece while several mahals and mosques were built around it by kings later. Built in concentric circles, the fort has five gateways, and I find myself inside one of them, between two bastions, looking for the Monarch of the Plains, also called the Burj E Sherz. I enter the ramparts of the fort where carvings of lions greet me. A flight of steps takes me inside the fort where one of the largest cannons of the medieval era lies basking in the sun.

With a diameter of about five ft and length of 15 ft, the cannon weighs about 55 tonnes. I am told it was a war trophy erected by Ibrahim Rauza after the Vijayanagar Empire was defeated in the Battle of Talikota in the 16th Century. I look closer and discover that the muzzle is shaped like a lion’s head crushing an elephant to death in its jaws. Cast in Ahmednagar, inscriptions say it was brought here with the help of oxen and elephants. Apparently, its weight deterred the British from carrying it to their country as a souvenir. More inscriptions talk about Aurangazeb and his victory over Bijapur at a later period.

A grim reminder

The cannon stands there majestic and a grim reminder of death. But, for the warlords and sultans, it was a trophy, a symbol of valour and victory — which is probably why it earned its sobriquet ‘The Monarch of the Plains’ or ‘The Master of the Battlefield’ or ‘Malik-i-Maidan’. I look out from the fort into the quiet streets of Bijapur. It is difficult to imagine this was once a war-torn country.

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