22° 29’N; 73° 32’E

If a building makes us light up, it is not because we see order; any row of file cabinets is ordered. What we recognize and love is the same kind of pattern we see in every face, the pattern of our life form. The same principles apply to buildings that apply to mollusks, birds or trees. Architecture is the play of patterns derived from nature and ourselves. – Jonathan Hale, ‘The Old Way of Seeing’

Tranquil and silent in time – more or less protected by its sudden abandonment nearly 500 years ago – Champaner is the name of the settlement adjoining the volcanic hill of Pavagadh that rises an odd and abrupt 800 m amidst the sweeping  plains of Gujarat. It is a hill range that has yielded pre-historic tools, cave paintings and probably still conceals further layers of history – from the Puranic to a Rajput; an Islamic to a Maratha; and, finally a British.

The complete hill is one amongst the oldest stone formations in India. Due to its igneous rocks that contain high amount of Rhyolite, the entire hill gives an appearance of light yellow with tinges of red.

Champaner-Pavagadh also owns its importance as a centre of pilgrimage in Gujarat. In Sanskrit and Gujarati literature, the drama ‘Gangadas Pratap Vilas Natak’ and the garba of Kalika mention this town.

History has it that Baiju Bawra, the renowned 16th Century music maestro and Tansen’s contemporary rival, belonged to Champaner and Goddess Kali had lent him his voice after he was born mute.

Champaner was founded by a Chavda king in the 8th Century and later ruled by Khichi Chauhan Rajputs and young Sultan of Gujarat, Mahmud Begada, who even renamed it as Muhammadabad, after he moved the capital from the present day Ahmedabad. A powerful buffer state between Ahmedabad and Mandu, the town finally succumbed to attacks of Mughal Emperor Humayun in 1535  bringing to an end the rule of the Gujarat Sultanate.

Persio-Arabic literature such as the ‘Ain-e-Akbari’ and ‘Zafar ul Waleb’ has described the area. Destruction of the place after 1535 A.D. finds expression of grief in the 17th century ‘Mirat-i-Sikandari’.  The writings of Durate Barbosa, a Portuguese visitor also mention this habitation.

There is even a British account of tiger hunting by Louis Rousselet in ‘India and its Native Princes Travels in Central India and the Presidencies of Bombay and Bengal 1875.’

“About the beginning of October, the fine weather having pretty well set in for good, I availed myself of an opportunity that offered itself to explore the ruins of an ancient city of Champaneer, about 50 miles east of Baroda…. At Champaneer we found our tents pitched, and a great number of attendants and several elephants sent by the king. We were encamped at a short distance from the lofty walls of the ancient city, whose circumference is about 12 miles. Within, there is merely a thick forest, with ruins scattered here and there; a few beautiful Mohomedan minarets rearing their high towers above the jungle, and broken walls in various places marking the site of the ancient places. Immediately in rear of the city rises the superb mountain of Pawangarh, crowned by a famous fortress. It now belongs to the English, and is only used by them as an occasional refuge from the heat of the plains…. At four o’clock, Lynch, Schaumbay, Tatia and I were perched on our tree, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the tiger, our eyes fixed on the carcase of the ill-fated ox that had served as bait…. and I perceived the long wished for tiger, who was coming slowly and cautiously, as though scenting an ambuscade. He had scarcely entered the glade that surrounded our tree when all four of us fired, almost simultaneously…. the tiger stopped short, bewildered; one ball had shattered his hind foot, and another, which had entered his side, must have wounded him severely. After an instant’s hesitation, he plunged at a bound into the forest…. He was a superb animal, seven or eight years old, and no less than nine feet in length from the muzzle to the tip of the tail.”

A World Heritage site, Champaner’s exquisite mosques and monuments are a unique blend of Islamic and Hindu traditions. The entire landscape for miles around is scattered with remains of fort walls, ruined tombs, gardens, arches, pillars and wells and the finest examples of Sultanate architecture. Champaner represents culture and art which have disappeared. The great mosque or the Jami Masjid is believed to have served as a model for the mosques built later in India and is representative of regional sultanates that existed before Mughals came into power.

“The study of Champaner is complex precisely because of its relationship to Pavagadh, and neither site can be studied in isolation as reflecting a single culture or occupying a discrete space. While Champaner’s history begins in the late fifteenth century, the Hindu significance of Pavagadh is much older because the site was revered as the abode of the goddess Kali since the second century CE. Yet, on the hilltop, next to the goddess’s temple, there is the startling presence of a Muslim tomb. In this sense, the site is emblematic of South Asia’s rich cultural hybridity, which is both India’s strength and the source of current sectarian tensions.” – Amita Sinha, ‘Champaner: Architecture, Urbanism and Landscape’

1 Response to “22° 29’N; 73° 32’E”

  1. March 23, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    “Pavagadh’ to me almost looks to have been sculpted .. and has since eroded over time. Thanks for the history and the pictures !! What great structures !

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