WITH THE QUICK change of events, fortunes and figureheads guiding the Bahmani Sultanate, we may have overlooked the shift of capital. While Gulbarga was the preferred capital at the start, by the close Bidar enjoys that favour. Bidar is not very far from Gulbarga, and lies just over 100 km to its north.
At the height of its imperial prestige, Bidar was described as ‘the most splendid cities of India’. The 15th Century Russian visitor Athanasius Nikitin describes it being a well-tilled land with many fields; a refined city that that enjoyed pleasant weather. Much later in the 17th Century, the French traveller Thevenot describes the Persian governor of Bidar being carried in an oxen-drawn palanquin draped in silk serge onbamboo poles plated with chamfered silver. The edifice of a university set up by the admired Prime Minister Mahmud Gawan (whose unfortunate fate concludes the previous post), is described by a later visitor as ‘the finest of its kind surviving in India’.
This is a city that in later years will come to be known for its signature style of metalware known as bidri. The city’s has pedigree too, one that is the stuff of epics. Legend holds that Bidar is the site of Vidarbha – the furthest southern kingdom mentioned in the Mahabharatha. Incidentally, Damayanti, the princess of the Vidarbha kingdom was married to Nala, who it is said excelled in the art of cooking. He is believed to have authored a booked on the subject which survives to this day; his book, Pakadparna, details the preparation of a spectrum of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, as well as drinks. While the preferred oil base in these recipes is sesame oil, a preferred cooking oil of the South today; most recipes in this treatise call for the use of kasturi, a type of turmeric native to the Himalayas and not the South.
As the seat of a more than a few Bahmani rulers, Bidri no doubt witnessed the invention of many original imperial dishes. These creations would have trickled their way to streets and homes in some form. A later example of Bidri culinary heritage that travelled to Hyderabad, is the famous Kalyani biryani. This distinctive buffalo meat-based dish is the inheritance of the Kalyani Nawabs of Bidar, who, back in the 18th Century, began a tradition of serving this biryani to anyone coming over from Bidri who happened to drop into their haveli. The haveli itself has not survived, but the recipe has, by virtue of the haveli’s cooks who branched out to run their own catering establishments.
The romance of the passing glory of the Bahmanis is best captured by this inscription on the mausoleum of the Sultan who shifted the Bahmani capital to Bidar:
”Should my heart ache, my remedy is this. A cup of wine and then I sup of bliss.”
- A Social History of the Deccan 1300-1761, by Richard M Eaton
- History of Kr̥ṣiśāstra: A History of Indian Literature by Gyula Wojtilla