Ahmedabad's Heritage is one of its kind. There were no surprises that this walled city was chosen to be India's first UNESCO World Heritage city in 2017. So then how could we not indulge in some history when here? We signed up for the famous Heritage Walk which begins in the Kalupur area of the old city. We were in for a treat, walking in those narrow alleys, through secret passageways, taking in the vibes of the old community homes, beautiful petite temples, and grand Havelis. Here is a detailed walkthrough of the places we saw in the 'Heritage Walk' in Ahmedabad.
This is the starting point of the Heritage walk. This ornate Swaminarayan Temple is special as it is the first temple of the Swaminarayan Sampraday (community). The architecture and grandeur of the temple are so enticing, we remember just standing near the entrance and gazing up towards the towering doors, they were magnificent! You will find intricate wooden teak woodwork and opulent colors all around the temple. The walk usually commences here after a short briefing session.
Kavi Dalpatram Chowk
Kavi Dalpatram was a famous Gujarati and Sanskrit Mahakavi (Great Poet) Even in that age and time, he preached about the importance of education and supported social reforms like support for widow remarriage and opposition to child marriage. He had a great sense of humor and often spread important messages through his work. This statue and memorial are built in his honor. We can see the background which depicts his home from the 18th century.
Bird feeding tower (Chabutro)
In Hindus, providing food & water to the needy is considered a holy thing, and hence these bird feeding towers or chabutro, as they call it in the local language, were built. They usually have a tree-like structure to invite birds and also keep other strays aloof. Every Pol (living community area) had at least one bird feeding tower. They were an (unofficial) icon of the old city of Ahmedabad. It is said that the children of the community collect grains from every household and then store it in the designated chamber. A person then goes up using the stairs, puts grains and water for the birds. Thanks to these, the old city has many birds, and they show their presence especially in the evenings or early mornings.
Pols - Living community area
The walk takes you through these wonderful Pols, living community areas, which were a gated community back in the day. There were Pols as per religions or professions. So there would be a Jain Pol, or a Hindu Pol, or a Pol for just merchants. For anyone hearing this for the first time, this may come across as discrimination, but for them, this was a system. There was a strong reason behind segregating Pols in this way, for eg. If everyone lived together, a Brahmin waking up at 4 am and ringing bells during his early morning prayers may disturb and wake up a merchant who came late from work and vice versa. So they lived harmoniously within these Pols and often had secret passages in between Pols to facilitate communication or meetings in case they needed help from a member from the other community.
Kala Ramji Mandir
Every Pol quintessentially would have a temple. If it was a Hindu Pol, it had a temple dedicated to a Hindu lord. This is one such temple inside a Pol dedicated to Lord Ram. But this one is quite unique. Lord Ram is always depicted as a warrior prince. Most temples show him in a standing posture with a bow & arrow. In this temple, however, he is sitting in a meditating posture made from rare black marble stone. Also, unlike most statues of the Lord where he is accompanied by Lord Hanuman, this one is without one. So the reason for this is that this depiction of Lord Ram is from the Panchavati era when he was in exile in central India. At that time, he hadn't met Lord Hanuman yet, which he later did in Kishkinda (south India). There are only two such temples in India, this one and another one in Panchavati, Nashik which is the main temple of 'KalaRam'.
Cultural Influences in homes
Before World War II took place, many Gujarati folks had made Burma (now Myanmar), their home. When Japan invaded Burma, most of these people returned home and brought with them this unique architectural technique of using the best quality teak wood between the wall panels, this was a nice shock-absorbing technique. They also built full doors from teak wood. We can see many other signs of cultural exchange in the houses here. Some houses have large doors & windows with stained glass panels, and little or no carvings. These were colonial British influenced. Then there were pillars and barricades with intricate carvings showing the Mughal influence. A Maratha influence was evident in homes with little carvings and the door frames depicting a person with an orange, Peshwai turban. Some homes had brackets with elephant trunks carved and sometimes a bunch of grapes depicting the Turkish influence. It is enriching and overwhelming to see these still preserved so wonderfully!
A marble wonder with delicate wood accents, this simple temple is a treat to the eyes. The temple is dedicated to the 24 Jain Tirthankars, known to be highly knowledgeable and attained salvation. The temple has made a provision for rainwater harvesting inside the temple, which is beneficial to the residents of the Pol. Photography isn't allowed inside and one has to really go in and see the beauty of this place. Leaving you with a small glimpse of the entrance and those beautiful wooden doors :)
Sometimes, in addition to the Chabutras (Bird feeding towers), people made holes in the exterior walls of their houses. These were made with the intention of providing birds with shelters as there were no trees around in the Pols. Parrots made use of these often and hence the name Parrot holes. But essentially any and all birds made use of these makeshift shelters which are hollow areas on the walls posing as artificial nests for them.