The Golconda Fort, situated in the state of Telangana, encapsulates a veritable treasure of history, art and architectural excellence. It has stood witness to centuries of political events which shaped the history of the region. The region of Golconda itself was well known as a center of a flourishing diamond trade and thereby held immense political and strategic value.
The term “Golconda'' can be broken down into two words “golla'' and “konda” which literally translate into “shepherds hill” in Telugu. Hidden in these words, lies the legend of the origin of this fort. One fine day, a shepherd boy came across an idol on this hill and informed the Kakatiya king about it. The king, considering it to be a sacred site, got a mud fort constructed here. This was the initial structure of the fort before the grand edifice came into existence.
The Golconda fort is believed to have been built by the Kakatiyas in the 13th century CE. The structure was reinforced by Pratapa Rudra (r. 1289-1323), one of the most prominent Kakatiya rulers and the last king of the dynasty.
In the 14th century CE, the fort passed into the hands of the Musunuri Nayaks, a warrior clan of South India. The Musunuri Nayaks ceded the fort to the Bahmanis, as a part of a treaty in 1364 CE. After the fall of the Bahmanis, the Qutb Shahis of Deccan assumed control of the fort in the 16th century CE. It is under them that the mud fort was converted into a massive structure of granite. The Qutb Shahis made Golconda into an important seat of power. Towards the end of the 17th century CE, the fort was captured by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who is said to have ravaged the structure considerably in the course of the invasion.
The city of Golconda resonates with a harmonious blend of Hindu, Turkish and Persian styles of architecture. It reflects the rich cultural heritage that blossomed under the Qutub Shahis. Under their aegis, massive fortifications were added to the fort and it attained its present shape. The mud structure was reinforced with granite walls, bastions, ramparts and battlements. The structure was fortified with more than 80 semicircular bastions and about 8 gateways. These bastions stand till date (some still mounted with cannons) flaunting the might of this formidable fort.
The outermost gateway, called the “Fateh Darwaza'' or the victory gate, is of unique importance. It is laced with iron spikes which prevented elephants from breaking it down. It also features an interesting acoustic effect- a hand clap below the dome of the entrance could be heard at the Bala Hissar pavillion (acropolis at the topmost point of the fort), situated almost a kilometre away! This was immensely useful in warning the residents quickly in the event of an attack. It is believed that this effect was produced by cleverly blending materials with sound reflecting properties into the construction material. This brilliant tactic of security is a source of wonder and amusement for visitors today who come from far and near to witness it.
This fort housed a bustling city within its multiple layered fortifications. The complex has three lines of powerful curtain walls, one after the other in succession. The first wall enclosed the town. The second wall snaked around the hill on which the citadel stood. The third wall connected the second wall and the natural boulders which project out of the face of the hill. This triple layered protection along with the acoustic architectural effect presents an epitome of high defense systems. This also served the purpose of effectively guarding the flourishing trade of exquisite gems and diamonds extracted from the mines close by.
One of the most prominent structures of the fort complex is the Durbar Hall, also known as the Bala Hissar Baradari. This hall can be approached after climbing a thousand steps within the fort. Once this journey is completed, the hill provides a breathtaking view of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. It is believed that a secret tunnel runs from the Durbar Hall all the way to the foot of the hill. This claim is, however, yet to be verified.
The Golconda fort also houses many palaces which are sadly in ruins today. The Rani Mahal complex still retains its erstwhile grandeur. The left part of the complex has a beautiful intact structure with lovely floral designs adorning its raised terrace. It is said that these carvings were once inlaid with priceless diamonds and precious stones.
Other notable structures inside the fort complex include a few mosques. The Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah Mosque, built by Ibrahim the son of Quli Qutb Shah, is partially ruined and has two standing minarets. The Taramati mosque (linked to a romantic fable associated with Quli Qutb Shah and a dancing girl called Taramati) is another important structure. There is also a temple located at the top of the fort complex known as the Jagdamba Mahakali temple.
The second half of the 17th century saw an 8-month long siege of the Golconda Fort by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Powerful cannons such as the Fateh Rahber and the Azhdaha Paikar were used to break into the fort. But the hilltop fort, with its fortified walls and bastions could not be breached. It was ultimately the grenades, matchlocks and composite blows used by the Mughals which exhausted its defenses. The Mughals managed to bribe a Qutb Shahi official, Sarandaz Khan into showing them a direct backdoor entry into the fort through which they could attack the heart of the fort. Thus fell the impenetrable Golconda Fort, in turn making Aurangzeb one of the richest monarchs of the time.
The diamonds from the Kollur mine made the region of Golconda a prominent center for precious gems and these came to be known as the Golconda diamonds. The mine is known to have produced some of the most exquisite diamonds known to the world. The famous Koh-i-Noor Diamond, one of the largest cut diamonds in the world and one which became a part of the Mughal Peacock throne, was mined here and housed in the Golconda Fort. The Hope Diamond, a unique blue diamond, purchased by Tavernier and sold to King Louis XIV of France in 1668, was also mined here. Other prominent diamonds that emerged out of the mines of Golconda are, the Nassak Diamond, the Daria-i-Noor, the White Regent, the Dresden Green Diamond and so on.
The Golconda fort is also associated with the enduring legend of the romance between Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah and Bhagmati, (a dancing girl) who was later called Hyder Mahal. It is believed that she eventually became the wife of Quli Qutub Shah and it was in her honour that the city of Hyderabad was founded. Historians, however, have divided opinion on whether Baghmati was a historical character. One of the palaces located on the left flank of the Rani Mahal complex has been named the Baghmati Palace by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Currently, the Golconda Fort awaits recognition by UNESCO as a world heritage site. It has been called an archaeological treasure in the official “List of Monuments” prepared by the ASI under “The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act”. The light and sound show organised here helps bring the intricacies and the uniqueness of this beautiful fort back to life.