Ahmedabad: World Heritage City

  • by IAS Score

Context:
Ahmedabad has became the first Indian city to earn the World Heritage City tag from UNESCO, beating New Delhi and Mumbai for the title in the process.

About Ahmedabad:

The city was founded in 1411 to serve as the capital of the Sultanate of Gujarat, by its namesake, Sultan Ahmed Shah. Under British rule, a military Cantonment was established and the city infrastructure was modernized and expanded. It was part of the Bombay Presidency during the British rules in India. Kankaria Lake, in the neighbourhood of Maninagar, is an artificial lake developed by Qutb-ud-din Aibak, the Sultan of Delhi, in 1451 A.D. The city is also called Karnavati, a name for an older town that existed in the walled area.

However, the city’s distinctive quality lay in the fact that it was a region that was built and maintained exclusively by the local trading population, resisting every attempt by the foreign rulers to intrude into its sociological framework.

From being one of the oldest trading points in India to becoming the centre of the Indian freedom struggle under Mahatma Gandhi and then later becoming a model for sustainable development in modern India, here are a few reasons why Ahmedabad deservedly won the tag for world heritage city.

Why Ahmedabad has become India’s only World Heritage City

  • Barely noticed by the modern day traveller and very often ignored by historians, Ahmedabad is one of those industrialised cities of India where the past and present have fused together beautifully and produced a landscape that unlike most other statured cities of India, owes very little to European domination.
  • The reasons are:
  1. A thriving centre for trade:
  • When Sultan Ahmad Shah established the city, he invited merchants, weavers and skilled craftsmen to come to Ahmedabad and help build it into a flouring centre for trade and commerce.
  • While the city exchanged hands from one ruling dynasty to another, it remained a major attraction to enterprisers from across the globe.
  • Ahmedabad lay at the crossroads of the caravan routes to Rajasthan and Delhi in the north, Malwa in the east, Sind in the west and the ports of Cambay, Surat and Broach in the south.
  • Its location ensured it gained a status of a thriving industrial centre where Dutch and English East India company ships would come for trading in indigo, saltpetre and textiles.
  • By the time the Mughals took over in the late 16th century, it had already become a splendid city, rich in culture and architecture.
  • The reputation for trade acquired by the city in the 15th century has been maintained ever since and Ahmedabad, till date, holds a name for being a thriving commercial centre and its inhabitants are famed to be few of the sharpest business minds in the world. 
  1. An architectural blend of Hindu-Muslim culture:
  • The Juma Masjid in Ahmedabad.
  • The richness of architecture present in Ahmedabad is enhanced by the cultural fusion of Hindu and Muslim elements.
  • For a long time while the city was ruled by Muslim monarchs, the wealth in the region was in the hands of the Hindu and Jain merchants.
  • While most of the public buildings were of Muslim ownership, the tone of the architecture evidently loaned much from Hindu artistic traditions.
  • Pillars were brought in from the nearby Hindu kingdoms and Hindu and Jain craftsmen were employed to build them.
  • The Sidi Saiyyed Mosque built in the 16th century is one of the finest examples of this Indo-Saracenic style of architecture and is a major touristic attraction in the city today.
  • Ahmad Shah’s mosque, Teen darwaza, the Jama masjid and Qutub Shah’s mosque are some of the finest examples of a rich historicity in the city. 
  • The centre for Gandhi’s freedom struggle:
  • Ahmedabad’s place in modern history writing owes a great deal to Mahatma Gandhi choosing it to be his starting point for carrying out his struggle in India.
  • While much is said about Gandhi’s personality and skills to motivate the indigenous population to rise against the British, what is often forgotten is how the intrinsic qualities of a certain urban centre might have aided Gandhi in the process.
  • The indigenous nature of Ahmedabad provided Gandhi with the best platform for promoting nationalistic themes such as a belief in swadeshi products and the firmness to destroy colonial rule by hitting out at its economic roots.
  • In Ahmedabad, unlike in Bombay or Calcutta, the elite who became a part of the freedom struggle, did not in any way identify with the Europeans.
  • The trading class who made up Ahmedabad was rooted in local traditions and were fiercely opposed to European impact much before Gandhi set up his base there.
  • The indigenous nature of Ahmedabad provided Gandhi with the best platform for promoting nationalistic themes such as a belief in swadeshi products and the firmness to destroy colonial rule by hitting out at its economic roots.
  1. Opposition to European interference in shaping cityscape:
  • In his work, ‘Colonialism, Indigenous Elites and the Transformation of Cities in the Non-Western World: Ahmedabad (Western India)’, author Siddharth Raychaudhuri says that in the case of Ahmedabad a section of the indigenous elite opposed the restructuring of the city by the colonial government and instead carried out their own reorganisation of the urban centre. Further, they also maintained an indigenous political and social hegemony in the city.

In a changing, dynamic society where people have changed, attitudes have changed, preservation of heritage sites are needed. Heritage does not necessarily mean that an object is dead, heritage means living organisms.

For preservation of heritage sites, we need to inquire into whether we are making our cities as sustainable and, perhaps, more efficient than what they were before and if not then participatory mechanism need to be developed to conserve the rich culture and heritage of the nation.