Monday, March 9, 2009

City of ‘Ahmedabad’ completes 600 years in 2011

Here is something that all the designers, artists, architects, artisans, writers and heritage conservationists concerned with Ahmedabad need to take notice of. The historic city of Ahmedabad has just completed its 598th birthday on Thursday, 26th February 2009 and now fast inching towards completing its 600 years of its existence in 2011. Not very far away if the true spirit of this city needs to be showcased. Creative and intellectual minds in the city can look into the idea and draw innovative plans for the centenary celebrations of Ahmedabad. There is much that could be inspired from and integrated in the larger concept visualisation. The idea is appropriate to this forum as some of the key concepts of city’s visual culture trace back their link to age old language of textiles and architecture. One finds a distinct interrelation between the grammar of ornamentation in saris and the old monuments. Incidentally, the National Institute of Design (NID) will also celebrate its golden jubilee in the year 2010-11.

Though the material culture of the region is profoundly linked with the ancient Indus valley civilisation, the city of Ahmedabad has derived its unique character from the confluence of diverse ideas in creative arts, architecture, crafts and culture in different periods of known history in this millennium. The city could evolve its dynamism and influence only through trans-cultural fusion of ideas and expressions. A streak of modernity common to people here has forever carried an undeterred motivation to imbibe the innovation in the expressions of everyday life and environment.

Since the early centuries of the millennium, Asavali weavers produced exquisite saris and other brocade fabrics whose technique and distinct design style were considered so very impressive that even the legendary weavers of Varanasi and others from many parts of India were compelled to get inspired from. And of course, legendary tradition of Patola from Patan is not letting its charm fade away. The exquisiteness of patola is marvelled along the fine architectural details of the famous Sun temple in Modhera. During the 11th century, Patan was under the rule of the old Hindu monarch of Asaval or Asapalli. Both these early textile traditions display immaculate capability of weavers to innovate with the design elements from local folk culture by successfully combining them with other styles, materials and techniques that were not necessarily always indigenous. Such creative pursuit continued through woven and other crafts under the regime of Solanki king Karnadev, who had re-established Asaval as Karnavati and it included the present day Maninagar area as well.

In 1411 when Sultan Ahmed Shah shifted his capital from Patan, he decided to set up a new city at the banks of river Sabarmati with the name of Ahmedabad. In 1487, Mehmood Begada, the grandson of Ahmed Shah transformed it into a fortified city with ten-kilometre long boundary wall with twelve grand gateways. Some of these gates that still exist today remind us of the city’s glorious past. Many parts of this architecture were destroyed due the war between Peshwas and Gaikwads in 1630.

In 1573, Mughal emperor Akbar took the control of city. And it was this period when the city took new leaps in the development of many new textile varieties. Since the Sultanate period, assimilation of Hindu and Islamic sensibilities is already pronounced from the city’s textile and architectural traditions. Emergent style began acquiring precision with a trans-regional appeal. Textiles that were produced here were already exported far and wide. The ornamentation style from this region inspired the architecture of famous Fatehpur Sikri. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan is said to have spent a good part of his life in Ahmedabad and contributed to the city’s growth in textiles, architecture and other crafts. During Islamic invasions many weavers and craftspersons from the region migrated to other parts of India and contributed to establishment of several new craft traditions in the country. When the Mughal rule was upturned by Maratha rulers in subsequent era, master artisans were frequently commissioned by Maratha rulers to incorporate their skills in famous nauvari sari traditions that include paithani, maheshwari and chanderi saris. With reference to its architecture, the city of Ahmedabad for over a millennium presents a great transformation through fusion of many creative ideas. One can witness the vivid fusion of Hindu craftsmanship and forms with traditional Islamic layouts in its old architectural monuments. Shaking minarets, Bhadra fort, Siddi Sayed jali, Sarkhej-Roja, Rani Sipri Masjid are some of the great examples. The pol architecture of old walled city offers interesting insights for the concept of community living.

Birth of contemporary and modernist architecture movement in India can also be attributed to Ahmedabad when the city commissioned renowned architects like Louis Kahn (Indian Institute of Management), B. V. Doshi (Tagore Memorial Hall, School of Architecture and Doshi-Hussain Gupha), Le Corbusier (Sanskar Kendra, Mill Owner’s Association, Shodhan and Sarabhai Villas), Buckminister Fuller (Calico Dome), Charles Correa (Ahmedabad Cricket Stadium and Gandhi Ashram), Christopher Charles Benninger (Alliance Francaise). Few may be aware that the project to design the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) was orchestrated from the National Institute of Design (NID) itself.

The new form of machine led industrialisation took roots in the city after the British East India Company took its control in1818. First textile mill was set up between 1859 and 1861. First rail link between Ahmedabad and Mumbai was established in 1864. And thereafter the pace of industrial development was rapid. Ahmedabad was soon to be a well known industrial centre of the world. With its large number of textile mills, the city was known as Manchester of the East. Today it is the 7th largest city of India and one of the fastest growing urban settlements. City is currently spreading over 465 sq km.

One of the biggest movements that contributed to Indian freedom struggle came from this city only – the revolution also brought in the concept of Khadi. Mahatma Gandhi began his freedom movement from Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. Famous Dandi March also began from here only. According to Lok Nayak Jayapraksh Narayan if any city has sacrificed the most during freedom struggle and in rebuilding the nation, that is the city of Ahmedabad.

Since 1960s, with the birth of Gujarat as a separate state from Maharashtra, Ahmedabad as the first capital of Gujarat and subsequently as an important economic and cultural centre in western India, the city continues to retain its creative and cultural flavours. Today it is much known for its unique contemporary culture, distinct heritage and a visionary approach to its future. Since the early days of folk artistry—to an industrial revolution—the city today continues to live with a penchant for global lifestyle and modernity that has always remained the mainstay of its ideas and artefact. As Ahmedabad is the abode of a large number of creative minds—designers, artists, architects, artisans, performing artists and heritage conservationists—some of its glorious traditions in saris, textiles, crafts and architecture shall be brought to the fore during its centenary celebrations.

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