The madrasa was built under the direction of Khwaja Mahmud Gawan, the Persian prime minister of Muhammad Shah III Lashkari (r. 1463-1482) of the Bahmanid dynasty. An erudite scholar himself, he established the madrasa with a reputation that attracted the most eminent theologians, philosophers and scientists. The library of the madrasa boasted over three thousand manuscripts.
In subsequent centuries, the madrasa suffered as Bidar witnessed a series of political struggles. In 1656, it was appropriated by Awrangzib for use as a military barrack. Rooms near the southeast minaret were used for gun-powder storage. An explosion resulted in damage to one-fourth of the edifice of the tower and the entrance.
Stripped of many of its decorative elements, the madrasa is now a shadow of its original self. The form and intricately detailed glazed tile work is clearly influenced by the architecture of Persian madrasas. It seems that Mahmud Gawan, who originally hailed from Gilan on the Caspian Sea, was able to bring engineers and craftsmen from his own country to work on the construction of this building.
The madrasa occupies a rectangular structure covering 68 by 60 meters and encloses a central quadrangle. The main entrance, which is no longer extant, was to the east and led to the quadrangle with a dodecagonal cistern at its middle. The madrasa is elevated on a high base with two stepped terraces. The front or east façade was framed by two lofty minarets about 100 feet high that were dressed in green-azure majolica decorating the shaft in zigzag motifs. The southeast corner tower, along with half of the east and south wing attached to it collapsed after being struck once by lighting and in the gun powder explosion. The façade still displays patches of vibrant Persian glazed tile work that once covered the entire wall surfaces. A golden band of Quranic inscription on a green and blue background on the frieze was likely the work of a Persian craftsman.
Large reading halls with semi-octagonal chambers attached to the exterior side, rise up at the center of the north, west and south wing to reach the full height of three storeys and have open arched façades facing the courtyard, forming a typical iwan structure. These iwans are further marked by domes. The rooms of the teachers and students are found on the three storeys flanking these grand reading halls.
The madrasa is unique in its obvious Persian architectural style, but more significant is that the building reflects the influence that the Persian Afaqis (new immigrants) had gained in the Bahmanid court, taking over the Dakhis (the old Sunnite class who settled in the Deccan in the fourteenth century).
Alfieri, Bianca Maria. Islamic Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2000. 154, 155.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guides - India. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2002. 545.
Burgess, James. Report on the Antiquities in the Bidar and Aurangabad Districts, in the territories of His Highness the Nizam of Haidarabad, being the result of the third season's operations of the archeological survey of western India, 1875-76. Delhi: Indological Book House, 1972. 43.