235 • A Magnificent Safavid Qur’an

235 • A Magnificent Safavid Qur’an

Iran, mid–16th century
Size: 39.5 × 26 cm

The manuscript has 317 folios, and 6 fly-leaves. The text is written in outstanding black Thuluth calligraphy, 12 lines to the page, on gold-sprinkled buff-coloured paper, framed by borders of narrow lines in gold, orange, blue, green and black, set within wide margins.


The manuscript opens (ff.1v, 2r) with a magnificent double Shamsa in predominant blue and gold against a background of scrolling floral tendrils in pale gold.

The frontispiece (ff.2v, 3r) is richly illuminated, enclosing the Fatihah written in white within facing gold medallions.

The beginning of the Sura al-Baqara is written on a gold background, with a richly decorated title and gold floral borders.

The margins of each page thereafter are decorated with octagonal stars in gold, and palmettes in blue. Gold rosettes mark the verse divisions, and the Sura headings are illuminated throughout.

The final verses (ff.314v,315r) are written on gold backgrounds and illuminated, within gold floral borders.

The text is followed by four sumptuously decorated pages of prayers (ff.315v-317r) written in white on gold backgrounds.

The original binding is stamped and gilded on the outside, with filigree patterns and colours on the inside.

The seal impressions on f.1r and 317v, indicating that this Qur’an belonged to Ibrahim Adil Shah, suggest also that it was a royal present to him from Iran to celebrate his accession in 1579.

Provenance: Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1579–1626), Bijapur


Bijapur is worth a visit. Not many people go there – it is a long slog from Hyderabad or Bombay, between which it sits mid-way on the northern edge of Karnataka, along thin roads rumbling with furiously driven trucks. The few hotels are designed for itinerant traders. Once there, however, it all seems worth it, not only, but mainly for the astonishing Gol Gumbaz, a great behemoth built of basalt, with the second largest dome in the world, 40 metres in diameter, larger that Santa Sophia, and only a little smaller than St Peter’s in Rome. The great dome is supported by a cube 47.5 metres on each side, and beneath it is a raised platform the size of a tennis court. Opposite the entrance is the only feature that breaks the cube: a deep, demi-octagonal, high-vaulted recess that occupies a good part of its wall. The acoustical properties of the space are extraordinary. Outside, each corner of the building has a seven-storey tower. At first sight, it appears like a dark and squat prototype for the Taj Mahal, built a decade later.

Construction of the Gol Gumbaz began in 1626, in the last year of the life of Ibrahim Adil-Shah II, and continued under his son Muhammad until 1656, the very year the latter died. He was buried in the Gol Gumbaz, along with various members of his family when their time came, the graves marked by modest raised batons of marble arranged incongruously along one edge of the platform. And since then it has been a mausoleum.

But there is another version of the purpose of this mighty building. It was the music room of the Adil-Shahs. The deep recess was where the sultan and his court reclined; the platform was large enough to accommodate a great number of musicians, of whom there were 3,000–4,000 at any one time at court; the ‘whispering gallery’ around the base of the dome was for the women; the walls are tunnelled with staircases leading to the windows, where wide sills provide seats for an audience. Ibrahim II was a renowned composer, as well as a poet and warrior – he mainly wrote poems to his wife, to his favourite musical instrument, and to his elephant,

Atish Khan – and it seems probable that the conception for the grandest music room ever constructed was his. He announced publicly that his aim was to establish a kingdom based on learning, music, and guruseva (serving the teacher) – in his case Hazrat Banda Nawaj, the Sufi saint of Gulbarga. His son, Muhammad, was mindful of his refined inheritance, and strove to keep it alive.