Ahmedabad, the six hundred-year-old city of Gujarat, has been honored with the heritage city tag in the year 2017. The ancient city of Ahmedabad or the walled city of Ahmedabad is settled in the periphery of approximately six kilometers on the bank of Sabarmati river. The massive wall of the city around this area was erected, connecting a total of eighteen gates, most of which are still in good shape.
The story of Ahmedabad’s birth at the beginning of the fifteenth century is very amusing. Ahmedshah, a Mughal lieutenant-turned-ruler, was looking for a capital city for its spin-off state. On the banks of the Sabarmati, he found a rabbit from local fauna fiercely chasing a dog from his army. Amused by this scene, he asked the meaning of this intriguing chase to his spiritual teacher. “It is the place that makes even a lame rabbit turn into a brave warrior to fight against the mighty”, the guru said, directing Ahmedshah to build the capital at the same place. “Jab kutte pe sasa aaya, Ahmedshah ne shahar basaya” (Ahmedshah built his city where the rabbit chased a dog) is the saying that narrates this episode.
A local saint called Baba Maneknath helped Ahmedshah to build this city. The foundation stone of the city laid by Maneknath can still be located on the Maneknath Buruj near a bridge on the river. The descendants of Baba Maneknath (currently the thirteenth generation after him) celebrate the city’s birthday every year by conducting a Puja, a ritual, at the foundation stone.
Ahmedabad of the twenty-first century has grown manifold when compared to the original walled city. Barrister Vallabhbhai Patel (who later became Sardar) was the president of the Ahmedabad Municipality in 1924. He ordered the demolition of the wall of the town, keeping the gates intact. This move has pushed the growth of the city.
Though the new Ahmedabad has many attractions, tall buildings, and gardens, the heart of the Ahmedabad ( or Amdavad, as locals fondly call it) throbs in the old city. A characteristic feature of the ancient city is the pol, which means a lane with a single opening and a blind end—the pol comprises hundreds of houses inside a secured area. This is a perfect example of the cooperative societies of earlier times. At one time, there were six hundred different pols in Ahmedabad. Even today, the towners dwell happily in hundreds of pols in this city. Initially, every pol was made for a particular caste or religion. Because of this, every pol has a typical architecture and culture based on a specific community’s lifestyle. Even today, one can study the intricacies of the lifestyle and architecture of Jains, Muslims, Bohras, Suthars, Sonis, or Nagar Brahmins in these pols. One can visit ancient Haveli (Vaishnav temple), Derasar (Jain temple), Dargah (tombstone of Muslim saint/courtesan/ruler) maintained in conserved for centuries in these pols.
The reigns of Ahmedabad were in different hands like Mughals, Marathas, and British for these six hundred years. Owing to the evolving times, the pols became cosmopolitan, which has created impressive architectural marvels. In a pol of the walled city, four houses with four different architectural styles, namely, Persian, Mughal, Maratha, and British, stand beside each other. The Ahmedabad Municipality has helped the current residents of these homes restore and maintain them in original shape.
These pols contain small but tall towers called Chabutaras that were erected to feed the birds. According to the original societal status, the pols have beautiful places of worship, like Havelis, Mandirs, or Derasars. There are secret passages for a private thoroughfare across the pols that could be used in difficult times. Every pol has a discrete open space used for playing Garba during the Navratri festival or during any marriage in the pol. Some big Havelis of these pols have underground tanks that can store up to 2 lakh liters of the rainwater. These pols have an underground drainage system that is intact and functional for a hundred years. The pols are built north-south, to protect from the scorching heat of the sun, which is very helpful in the hot climate here.
Ahmedabad is very lucky because her subjects, the Amdavadis, love their city. Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation conducts a heritage walk in the walled town every day. The guide to this walk can speak four-five languages, making it convenient for tourists from other states of India and foreigners. This walk starts from the Swaminarayan Mandir. This is the original seat of the Swaminarayan sect, famous for Akshardham in Delhi or Gandhinagar. This temple has intricately carved and vividly colored wooden canopies and a massive gate with beautiful doors, covered with graceful statues. The balconies on the gate and on the building have wooden pillars which depict tales from the bygone era. The whole premises of the temple is carefully maintained to protect its original architecture and sanctity.
Here the guide explains to you about the birth and growth of the Ahmedabad city. At the start of the walk, one can see the youngsters coating the threads with glue and glass to make the manja for the kites. Next, you enter a courtyard of a house where a lifestyle bronze statue of the poet Dalpatram is installed on the platform of the verandah. It reminds you of a grandfather telling stories to his grandson. The children of this pol play on the shoulder and sit in the lap of this statue every day. This is an excellent example of the fusion of a memorial and a society.
Further ahead, the guide demonstrates the use and architecture of chabutara, where the birds can be free of any danger from dogs or cats, and may eat and drink at leisure. Then we enter the beautiful Kala ram temple, which has the idol of Ram sitting in a yogamudra (a meditating posture), unlike the warrior position. A minutely carved wooden roof of a sixteenth-century Derasar tells you the stories from Jain mythology. The guide then explains how the roads were built in Ahmedabad; the stories of the Relief Road and the Fernades Bridge really amuse the listener.
Then we enter the ols, which are different from pols, because they have a shop on the ground floor and the owner lives in the upper story. This arrangement helps him to attend the customer even when the shop is closed. The guide explains the development of entrepreneurship in Ahmedabad by these practical examples. We also view the famous Calico dome, which hosted the first fashion show of Ahmedabad, and then we move towards the beautiful tombs of the Badshah (founder Ahmedshah) and his wife, called Badshahno Hajiro and Ranino Hajiro. The exciting smell of the Fafda, Khaman, Gota, and Jalebi in the adjoining shops across the walk keep inviting our hungry tastebuds. This walk ends at the Jama Masjid. This mosque is located in the crowded market area, but you can feel a serene tranquil once you enter the place. The architecture of this place is typical Gujarati, similar to a Derasar or a Temple, the only difference being the absence of idols or statues.
Beyond this heritage walk-way, there is a city of Ahmedabad, which has continued the legacy of the walled city. The famous Calico museum that houses the jardori works that were knitted thousand years ago; Vishala or Vechar museum, which has a massive collection of brass, iron, or silver utensils that are also centuries-old; and Dastan vintage car museum that houses hundred plus vintage cars in running condition, are the few examples of the heritage of this city. Interestingly, these three examples quoted here are privately owned museums. There are at least ten more museums in Ahmedabad which are worth visiting, which house manuscripts as well as kites. Hutheesingh Derasar is a famous Jain temple in Ahmedabad, which is the replica of the famous Abu Jain Temples was built in the infamous famine in the nineteenth century to give work to the laborers. Another impressive architectural marvel is the seven-century- old Adalaj Vav, or stepwell, nothing but a three-story deep carved palace in sandstone.
The present-day Ahmedabad, grown out of this rich heritage, is equally exciting for a tourist. The eight-mile stretch of the wide riverfront on the banks of the Sabarmati has blossomed with gardens, and concrete roads keep inviting the walkers, joggers, bikers, and drivers alike. The cherry on the top is the beautiful and huge Kankaria lake with its lakefront. Life is beautiful, be it old or new, when you sit in a bus rapidly moving throught the BRTS route, and watch the city. Hence, when a fellow sitting across asks you, “Kem chho?” (How are you today?), you are bound to reply-“Majama!” (I am enjoying!).