Ahmedabad is a “Living Heritage City”. It is where history rubs shoulders with modernity, and it has always been a hub of human creativity.
Ahmedabad is the economic, cultural and historical nerve centre of Gujarat and it’s a city of immense variety including busy, bustling business centres in the city. This photo album highlights the different shades of the walled heritage city.
Extinct Art: Reviving Lost Tradition
In 2019, I set out to explore Ahmedabad’s streets, to walk and look and find wherever my gaze might feel drawn. As I began my initial wandering in Manek Chowk, Old City, I was struck to see a “Kalai Wala” artist. I sat on a corner to observe. Faces became familiar. A few words were exchanged. On one occasion, an elderly gentleman explained the meaning of Kalai and their art, and then I narrated the story of Kalai art.
The artisan who performs kalai on vessels is known as kalaiwala. India is famous for its culture and traditions. One such art is the art of Kalai. I captured the process of Kalai with the idea of bringing the lost art form to contemporary times.
Kalai is the art of coating copper and brass vessels. These vessels are quite rare nowadays. Years ago, copper and brass utensils were commonly used in the kitchen but with the rapid intrusion of stainless steel and aluminium vessels, these vessels have become practically extinct in modern day kitchens.
It’s time to bring back the lost art forms of India!
Culture Heritage and History: An Epitome of Religion and Architecture
Recently, I traveled to a Hindu Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Kalupur, Ahmedabad, which is historically the most important and religiously the most prominent because the main shrine of Nar – Narayan Dev – the first and foremost in the world, was ceremoniously installed by Shri Sahjanand Swami himself. It was his great resolve “to build magnificent temple on earth and install Divine icons there”.
The then British officer at Ahmedabad, Mr. Dunlop, was mightily impressed by the divine quality and genius of Shri Hari. He, along with another British officer, Mr. Edward, sought special permission all the way from England and gifted him a vast piece of land right in the heart of the city of Ahmedabad. The plot of land of Pathakvadi near Navapura in Kalupur in the city was presented with an order inscribing “as long as the sun and the moon shine” on a cooper plate.
“Shri Nar – Narayan Dev (Narayan –Lord Krishna, Nar – Arjuna) is in fact our own form. We have incarnated ourselves on earth in the human form of Moksha or salvation of innumerable Jivas, living beings. Let no one see any difference between Shri Nar – Narayan Dev and Us.” – Lord Swami Narayan
Facing north, sturdy and steadfast, octagonal with a huge dome with three pinnacles, the beautiful temple is a noble and excellent example of the finest art of both temples and the wood carved Haveli architecture of Gujarat.
On this auspicious event when the idols were installed the British gave a 101 gun salute as a homage on February 24, 1822. The temple is located in Kalupur area of Ahmedabad.
Carved Wooden Pillars: A Testimony to the First War of Indian Independence
Gujarat played a significant role in the first war of independence in 1857. At first glance, all the carved pillars appear to simply be beautiful motifs but it is believed that the history of 1857 revolt in India depicting the Rani of Jhansi and other heroes is narrated in the carvings of these pillars.
The symbolism on these wood carvings gives the impressions of the events of the First War of Indian Independence of 1857.
The columns and domes of this first temple of the Sampradaya, or sect, have been embellished with very artistic madal-shilp, sculptures of dancers in a wide range and variety of postures. The damsels with musical instruments radiate and exude emotions.
These dancers are endowed with a symmetrical and proportionate physique. Their artistic postures with beautiful limbs, costumes and ornaments represent local and regional cultural tradition. They have been painted in most wonderful colours, revealing a modern technique.
The central Gateway of the temple is magnificent, manifesting the triple confluence of local, regional and British style of architecture and sculpture at their best.
The variety of sculptures on the Gateway reveal the adjoining Marathi and Rajasthani folk cultures and costumes. The engravings on the columns with vertical lining are in Corinthian style whereas the coverings the projected pavilions remind us of Mughal architecture.
The statues of the women wearing frilled blouses and patticoats and carrying kids on their waists depict the Gujarati woman.
A pair of courageous Kathi youths facing a tiger with swords, wearing turbans, half jackets, dhotis, waist-girdles and costumes are engraved on the arch of the gate. The relief works presenting the doorkeepers in Kathiawari costumes are also excellent examples of the contemporary sculptures of the time. Equally attractive are the two pairs of wrestlers and hunters with guns in relief work.
The Main Haveli in the North: A Three Story Mansion
This Haveli was constructed by H.H. Acharya Shri Keshavprasadji Maharaj in 1871. The structure of this haveli with three stories rests on the octagonal and square wooden pillars. The Ardh-murt relief sculptures of flowers and creepers engraved on them are quite fascinating.
Prayers and Blessings
Golden light kisses devotees’ heads, faces and clothes. The holy morning light of the sun blesses every worshipper and it gets brighter as you get closer to the God, Garbh Griha, inside the temple, enlightening the spiritual nature of the worshippers. One feels cleansed and pious from inside in the special atmosphere of this 200 year old Hindu Swami Narayan Temple.
This is how I cherish wandering: slowly, quietly, hoping to merge with the surroundings, even while I am so aware of my conspicuous presence. My intent is to look. My gaze is often turned to faces and to spaces. It is here that there are glimpses of the story of a place. These are themes that revealed themselves as I walked and found my pictures.