There are many legends associated with the foundation of the city of Ahmedabad. One of them tells us that the founder Sultan Ahmed Shah while out hunting on the banks of the Sabarmati saw his hounds being pursued by a hare across the open land. This amazing sight is said to have inspired him to transform this flat landscape by the river into his new capital city. Anyway, while no one will know for certain, who or what inspired the Sultan, what we do know is that the walled city of Ahmedabad was founded in 1411 by Sultan Ahmed Shah, along with his spiritual mentors Hazrat Shaikh Ahmed Khattu Gunj Baksh and Qazi Ahmad and counsellor Malik Ahmad. The original design had the Jumma Masjid in the centre with the commercial areas in a big open circle around it and the Badhra Fort protecting it. The residential areas were set around the circle.
The city grew organically in a radial pattern and was walled in the 1480s by Sultan Muhammad Bhegada who also built the citadel of Champaner, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, with monuments in the provincial Indo-Saracenic style. The prosperous years continued across the 15th and 16th centuries when the Sultans encouraged merchants and craftspeople to enrich the city. Majestic mosques were built during the reign of Ahmed Shah, and his successors also added mosques, mausoleum complexes and the Kankaria Lake with its carved embankments. The Sultanate reached its zenith when Mahmud Shah Bhegada conquered the much-sought after citadels of Pavagadh and Junagadh.
Ahmedabad is synonymous with its historic old pols. Walk through these charming old streets with Heritage India. The ‘pols’ are micro-neighbourhoods with houses, public areas and bird-feeding structures called chabutras. Many of the `pols’ have mansions called havelis, with courtyards and ventilation outlets to allow a good airflow through the residential areas, clustered together to keep their interiors free of extreme heat and direct sunlight. Some of these havelis have wooden facades with intricate woodcarvings on their balconies, brackets and pillars. In the `pols’ and within the havelis, you can still see interesting examples of water harvesting systems like wells and sealed tanks.
The Lakha Patel ni Pol has a number of exquisite havelis with ornately carved wooden facades, balconies, brackets, latticework and doors. The Dwivetia Havelis were especially attractive. The Jains, the Vaishnav merchants and the Naggar Brahmins built most of the impressive havelis. Khadia, the residential district of Ahmedabad, has a large number of havelis.
To explore the historic centre of Ahmedabad, from the Teen Darwaja one can head across the historic market square called Manek Chowk to Badshah no Haziro, the tomb of the sultan, and the less impressive Rani no Haziro (mausoleum of the queens) which now houses a market. South-west from there is Dastur Khan’s mosque built in 1496 by one of the ministers in the court of Sultan Muhammad Bhegada. Nearby is Asha Bhil’s mound, said to be the site of the 10th century founder of Ashaval which later became Karnavati under the Solanki Rajputs and finally part of Ahmedabad’s walled city. South-eastwards towards Astodia Gate, is the superbly proportioned 16th century Rani Sipri’s Mosque, which is relatively small but exquisite. North-east from here is Sidi Bashir’s mosque which holds the Shaking Minarets, a pair of tall towers built on a flexible stone base in a manner that enables them to shake when one is aggravated. This may have been an earthquake-protection mechanism. Southeast from here, Bibi-ki-Masjid too has one shaking minaret. Northwards is Rani Rupmati Mosque, which has three domes and attractively carved galleries. The domes allow light in around their base. East of this mosque, Muhafiz Kham Masjid is perfectly proportioned and beautifully carved. Towards the western gate of Ahmedabad is the 16th century Sidi Syed Mosque which is noteworthy for its intricate windows of fine tracery or ‘jalis’.
Thus, beyond its fame as a business centre, historical Ahmedabad awaits its explorers.
Author: Anil Mulchandani
Photographs © Vijay Soneji
Source: Heritage India Magazine: Vol 5, Issue 4 (2012)