I visited the Indian city of Hyderabad with my family one month ago. It was my first trip to a city I had heard so much about. A city steeped in history, drenched in heritage and oozing culture at every turn. Golkonda Fort, once famous for its powerful Muslim Sultanate, flourishing Diamond trade and excellent Engineering skills of ancient time. This is one of the largest mud forts of India, built on a granite hill.
We just took a ride to find it out for ourselves & get lost in the era of royalty, espionage and romance. Hyderabad is the best place where modernity has blended beautifully with ancient times. We were out to see the Golkonda Fort, which was the icon of the flourishing the Golkonda Kingdom between 14th to the 16th century, situated 11 kilometers from Hyderabad.
History of Golkonda :
The name Golkonda represents the Telugu Word Golla Konda meaning the Shepherd’s Hill (Golla: Shephed; Konda: Hill). It is believed that in 1143, a shepherd boy came across an idol on the top of this local hill Mangalvaram and informed it to the Kakatiya King, who was the ruler that time. The fort was originally built by Kakatiya rulers, but in 16th century Qutub Shahi Sultans expanded it to its glory. At the height of its glory, this mud fort was extending around 5 km in circumference with 7 km outer wall enclosing this city and served as the capital of Qutub Shahi Dynasty until 1590 when the capital was moved to Hyderabad.
Golkonda Fort remains open from 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM throughout the year except on Monday. Ticket counter is just outside the main gate and it costs RS 10 for Indians and RS 100 for Foreign Nationals. No charge for the digital still cameras.
The royal palace complex consists of buildings constructed by the Qutub Shahi Kings during different periods. Known for their architectural excellence, their construction style and décor can be seen in Golkonda’s four forts, huge halls, vaulted cellars, mosque and audience hall.
The fort eventually contained eight huge gates which were studded with sharp iron knobs intended to prevent elephants from battering them in. The fort finally fell into ruins after a siege lasting nine months and its eventual fall to Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb in 1687.
Structures within Golkonda Fort:
After familiarizing ourselves with the history of this great fort we moved on to the tour of the fort. It consisted of various structures, stables, mosques within the outer wall which has 87 semi-circular bastions.
At the outermost part of the fort was the Fateh Darwaza, which means the victory gate through which Aurangzeb’s army entered Golkonda Fort. The sound acoustic magic begins here when you clap at a particular spot the sound travels to the Bala Hisar pavilion. This signal was used as a warning to the soldiers at standing guard near the Palace.
We reached in front of the Bala Hissar Darwaza made of wood with iron spikes and protected by a barbican that was the main entry to the citadel. Lions and mythical animals can be seen on the stucco panels of the spandrels which enhance the look of the door.
The fort is an example of architecture excellence. Its old days acoustic system was an excellent setting for conveying the messages from one point to another. This was so perfect that if you clap at the base near main entrance, one can hear that sound at the Baradari (Balaissar) nearly one kilometer away on the top. This sound system was used like the Morse code to convey any message from the main gate to citadel.
There is a huge pavilion at the gatehouse which is open from all the three sides and the gate is on the fourth side with a high vaulted ceiling. The sound acoustics are very ingeniously embedded in the architecture of this portico. One could hear the sound of the clap from the Fateh Darwaza and the guards would be alerted well in advance.
Going further we saw the administrative room where the clerks maintained the records for the fort and guest rooms for the guests where they could stay for a while.
Then as we walked further, we reached the Nagina Bagh. There were lawns, pathways lined with hedges. Our guide mentioned to us that diamond trade was conducted here by the merchants who came here for the diamonds. Golkonda was known as the land of diamonds and abundant wealth. The Bagh also has a mosque that was used by the merchants.
There is water canals, fountains and water reservoirs used to transfer water to the palace on top.
As we proceeded further we passed the Ibrahim Masjid a small mosque which has been destroyed thanks to the modern advent of tourists and no longer accessible to the public. We also saw the granary used by royals to store grains called Ambaar Khaana.
Another interesting feature we noticed was the weight which was half buried in the ground it is believed only those soldiers who could lift this weight which was a daunting task were recruited in the King’s army.
We finally reached the Durbar Hall on top of the hill also known as Baradaari the twelve arched pavilion where the royal audience was given. It divided in two parts the lower storey was Diwa-e-Aam to give audience to the public and the Diwan e –Khass on the upper storey to give private audience. When we stood on the terrace here, we could take in the view of the entire fort below us. It was here we could also hear the resounding clapping sounds which were made at the Bala Hissar Darwaza.
Finally, we were climbing down and our guide took us through a shorter route that was also known as Shahi Raasta or road. We were told the Royals traveled in their palanquins, and the bearers were seven feet tall to prevent the palanquin from sloping. From the Shahi Raasta, we reached the Zenana area also knows as Rani Mahal which housed the women bodyguards and Zenana mosque. Apparently this area used to also house the makeup rooms of Taramati and Premamati the royal dancers who performed for the Sultan at Amphitheatre where the Sultan would sit and enjoy their performance. They later converted to Islam and married the Sultan.
Golkonda for sure is a manifest of acoustic engineering which we witnessed at the Hall of Whispers which is near the amphitheatre. The ladies used to entertain the guests in this room and the Sultan would listen to conversations which took place in the room clearly as the walls were designed to amplify the sound.
Another example of sound travel engineering was the Court and Execution Hall where the Sultan would be seated on a balcony above the execution hall. Once the accused was punished at a particular spot the Sultan could hear the last sigh of the executed prisoner in the balcony.
Behind Bala Hissar Darwaza is the mortuary bath where the royal corpses and women from the harem were given a ceremonial bath before their burial at the Banjara Gate. Near the gate you can also check the excavated artifacts from Golkonda.
This fort was also famous for its excellent water engineering. They had a very elaborate and efficient water supply system to ensure the continuous water supply in the fort.
Further, I again reached back to the main entrance of the fort, Balaissar Gate and thus completed the visit to this fort.
This way, a person requires at least 3 hours looking around the whole area of the fort. This exploration starts from the main entrance and goes towards the Nagin Bagh, then up on the hill to Kali Temple and Baradari (Balaissar) and then descend back to the venue of sound-light show and finally ends at the main entrance.
At the time of its glory, this fort was also the home for world’s most famous diamonds like Kohinoor and Hope Diamond. The area around the fort was developed in many local bazaars selling diamonds and pearls, attracting its customers from all around the world.
We thanked our guide, Shaikh Afsar who did make our journey to Golkonda fort a very enjoyable experience that day.
So, where are you off to today?
Good to know: I’d recommend taking a Guide from the main gate, there’s a lack of any proper signage or printed material, so it’s really the only way to learn all these tidbits and nuances of historical significance. They charge a nominal fee, different for Indian Nationals and Foreigners, and really make the visit quite convenient.
Eliza Binte Elahi : Faculty of Arts, University of South Asia, Dhaka , Bangladesh