When Ahmed Shah I laid the foundations of his capital way back on 26 February, 1411, little did he know his legacy would earn the status of a World Heritage City six hundred years on. Nineteen years old at the time, Ahmed Shah I was the third Sultan of the Gujarat Sultanate (1407 – 1573). In July 2017, his city Ahmedabad beat Delhi, Mumbai, and Varanasi in the bid to become India’s first, and as of now only, UNESCO designated city. Continue reading →
Especially stories of those who live larger-than-life lives in spirit and feat.
This post is the tale of one such story—of a king called Bhimadeva I and his lovely, loving queen Udayamati, who lived a thousand years ago. And no, it is no myth. There are colossal monuments they left behind as testimony of their love and piety, as I discovered one sunny wintry day I travelled 75 kilometres north-west of Ahmedabad in Western India, in the state of Gujarat.
Come, let me tell you more.
Son of Agni, the fire-god’s, Sun Temple of Modhera
Yin and yang. Negative and positive. Feminine and masculine. Dark and light. Two sides which together make a whole.
Sidi Saeed, an Ethiopian who found his way to the Gujarat Sultanate’s army via Yemen, way back in 1572, seemed to have some inkling of this. Armed with 45 sculptors, “the nobleman who helped the poor and had a large collection of books,” created a series of jalis or stone screens as part of the Sidi Saeed Mosque in the heart of Ahmedabad. The most exquisite was the “tree of life” with its swirling, leaf-lined, abloom branches, topped with a palm motif; its beauty heightened when seen from both the outside and inside. It was hard put to decide which side was a lovelier sight. Continue reading →
Friend: “You’re going to Vadodara. Wonderful idea! There is a lot to see in the city. After all, it is the cultural capital of Gujarat.”
Me: “Nice. So what do you suggest I visit and explore?”
Friend: “The Lukshmi Villas Palace is an absolute must!”
Me: “Ok, will do. What else?” [As I jotted it frantically in my notebook in anticipation of being hit by a barrage of to-do-things]
Friend: “The museum attached to the palace is another must do.”
Me: “Ok, got that down too. And?”
Friend: “Hmmm. Oh well. I don’t know. But there is a lot. Hey, it is the cultural capital. But I don’t know…”
Yes, that is it with Vadodara, earlier known as Baroda. Though it is publicly acknowledged as the cultural capital of Gujarat, its attractions are neither documented nor publicised. At least not enough and one cannot be blamed for wondering if they even exist. Continue reading →
Fairy tales often start like this, don’t they: Once upon a time there was a fearless, virtuous king who had dreams of conquering an invincible fortress perched on a hill. His father and grandfather had time and again attempted to defeat it too, but to no avail.
The tale I am writing about continues like this: The brave king was Sultan Abu’l Fath Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah I, ruler of the Gujarat Sultanate and great-grandson of Ahmed Shah I, founder of Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 1411. The invincible fortress belonged to the Kichchi Chauhan Rajputs on Pavagadh.
Calling himself “Sultan al-Barr, Sultan al-Bahr” meaning “Sultan of the Land, Sultan of the Sea,” history knows him as Mahmud Begada. The name “Begada” was derived from his winning two gadhs in his lifetime, namely Pavagadh and Junagadh. Continue reading →
I have a book titled Speaking Stones World Cultural Heritage Sites in India which I must confess is my most prized possession. Coming to terms these past few months with some harsh realities on death and the transience of life, I reached out to the hard bound volume on my bookshelf to see what I could add to a wish-list to make come true.
The pages opened, almost as if urged by some mysterious calling, on Champaner-Pavagadh. Truth be told, I had never heard of the place before. But it was nearby and seemed doable over a few days. A friend pointed out the weather was all wrong for the rendezvous: “No one travels for pleasure to Gujarat in May when temperatures are soaring at 43 degrees.” The little voice in me said, “Who cares about the heat. Remember life truths!” 🙂
And, thus, one fine early morning, I found myself boarding a train to Vadodara, my base for my explorations. What I learnt and saw and experienced in the ensuing days far outweighed my expectations. But I run ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. Continue reading →
In the heart of Baroda, now called Vadodara, within the royal Gaekwad family’s once sprawling grounds is the Kirti Mandir or Temple of Fame. The gigantic stone cenotaph was built in 1936 to ensure their ancestors’ posterity. A sun, moon, and a map of undivided India etched on a bronze globe are perched on top of its shikhara—a sovereign declaration of the spread and timelessness of Gaekwad rule.
But the cenotaph is weathered now and forgotten. It is visited on the rare occasion when a royal family member passes away and is brought to the adjacent cremation grounds to be burnt and then transposed into a plaster-of-paris bust placed in one of the rooms lining the passageways.
A lone 70-year-old guard, who has spent the last 60 years serving the royal family, with his one-year-old grandson’s arms wrapped around his neck unlocks the large doors should perchance a traveller land up at the temple’s doorstep. But this post is not about the royal family. I will write about them on another date. This one is about the art and artist whose mythological masterpieces decorate the walls inside Kirti Mandir. Continue reading →
“Look up, at the ceiling.” I am broken from my reverie, as I drift through a forest of 172 stone pillars, by my guide Manoj’s voice prodding me to halt in my tracks and raise my eyes, heavenwards.
High up, inside a dome above the main mihrab is the most exquisitely carved sculpture I have seen to date. And I find myself gasping in awe. Is this for real? I am not too sure what stuns me more. Its immense size, the fineness of the swirling leaves, or its incongruous placement—I am in a 500-year-old mosque in Champaner in Gujarat, 50-odd kilometres outside Vadodara, and the sculpture is Hindu-Jain in style and content. Continue reading →
“Sometimes it’s not about the destination, but about the journey itself.” ~ Anonymous
This is my last and final post on my 5-day road trip to Kutch taken in December 2014; a road trip full of personal 1sts that I would be happy to turn into 2nds. Uncut, here are some images which did not make it to my eight blog posts on the region but summarize my journey just as eloquently. Continue reading →
Think palaces and royalty in Kutch. Think Bhuj and Mandvi. They are (sorry, were) almost synonymous with each other till the 2001 Gujarat Earthquake which brought much of the region to dust. Yet a few structures still stand, recounting an era that whispers to the traveller.
Kutch was a princely state till India’s independence; the walled city of Bhuj dating back to 1510 the state’s commercial and administrative nerve centre. In 1548 Rao Shri Khengarji started work on the Darbargadh or palace complex. Over the next 300 years, subsequent rulers further added to it, reflecting prevailing cultural and artistic trends. Continue reading →
Deep in the rolling hills outlying the Great Rann of Kutch, some 65 odd kilometres from Bhuj, is a centuries old Hindu monastery, the Than monastery, steeped in medieval traditions and customs, its actual age disputable. There is not another soul for miles; the only sound heard being that of the peacocks singing in the surrounding forests. Within the monastery’s thick limestone whitewashed walls a sole yogi, with a handful of companions, keeps an exclusive tantric monastic order alive—the Kanphata (slit ears) sect founded by the sage Dhoramnath. Continue reading →
“At the height of our civilization, our technological development, our social and material complexity, all signs point to progress, we often think. And yet, all is not as it seems and once in a while it occurs to us to look into the past to discover our future.”
The above lines, read in the adjoining museum, accompany me as I walk into the majestic and isolated ruins of the 4,500 year old Harappan city of Dholavira. There is a hushed stillness all around. The only sounds I can hear are the birds chirping in some distance, and my guide’s quiet voice pointing to some detail or the other. The sun beats down on both me and the dusty stones strewn over the site, the latter telling me stories long forgotten and now valiantly being attempted to be reread and understood. I am in the north-east corner of Kutch, on the island of Khadir surrounded by the Great Rann. Continue reading →