By Shona Adhikari
New Delhi, Feb 11 (IANSlife) Inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2004, is this amazing heritage site the Champaner- Pavagadh Archaeological Park, built around the historical city of Champaner. Located in the Panchmahal district in Gujarat, this city was founded in the 8th century, by Vanraj Chavda, the most important ruler of the Chavda Dynasty, who named it after the name of his friend – General Champa, who came to be known later as Champaraj.
This amazing heritage site is full of forts and bastions – extending from the hills of Pavagargh and extending into the city of Champaner. The area with its hills and plateaus has steep rock exposures pointing to ancient volcanic eruptions and lava. It includes archaeological, historical and cultural heritage monuments, including the hill fortress of an early Hindu capital, and the remains of the 16th-century capital of the state of Gujarat. There are palaces, entrance gates and arches, mosques, tombs and temples, residential complexes, agricultural structures and water installations such as,stepwells and tanks, dating from the 8th to the 14th centuries.
With its history recorded from the 2nd century AD the site has many religious monuments of Turkish Sultans (settled in Gujarat), Rajputs and Jains. Among the most important of these, is the Palace of Mahmud Begada, the grandson of Ahmed Shah, who is known as the founder and builder of the city of Ahmedabad, Jama Masjid, and a number of other mosques. As in so many other areas in India, an amalgamation of Hindu and Muslim architecture in structures can be seen in those created between the late 15th to the early 16th century.
The Pavagadh Hill has a historical fort where the ancient Kalika Mata Temple is situated. The path to the summit passes through many old gates and cuts through staircase-like natural ledges of rock Rising to a height of 800 metres (2,600 ft), the Pavagadh Hill appears to be made of a reddish-yellow stone, and is considered to be one of the oldest rock formations in India. The Kalika Mata Temple located within the fort, is one of the most important temples in the region, attracting large numbers of pilgrims throughout the year.
Midway up this path there is a flat area covered with boulders and just above on a scarp, there is a with a marble temple with two lantern towers. Legends also report tale that the divinity of the hills was derived from the right toe of the goddess Kalika which had apparently fallen on the hill.
Champaner is located about 1 mile to the south of the Pavagadh Hill, was established during the rule of Vanraj Chavda somewhere between 746 to 806 AD. In the eleventh century, Ram Gaur Tuar was the ruler and Champaner remained under Anhilwad until 1297. when they were defeated by Allahudin Khilji, who made it his base. During this period, the Rajputs – Solanki Rulers and Khichi.
Chauhans had also settled in Champaner building fortresses and ruled from Pavagadh – but lost their authority on Champaner in 1484. With constant fighting and raiding, the Rajputs were defeated by Sultan Begada. The hill and fort was held in siege. For more than a year and finally captured o 17th November 1484, when Kivam Ul Mulk and Malik Ayaz Sultani penetrated the walls, broke the main gate, destroyed the army and injured the leaders of the Gurjars. Raval Jaisingh was wounded and for six months was given amnesty but was then killed since he refused to convert to Islam.
Raval’s son, decided to convert to Islam and was made a noble with the title “Nizam-ul-Mulk”. After the fort was seized, Mahmud renamed the city “Muhmudabad Champaner”. It was during this period that Mahmud laid the foundation stone for a mosque. He built a number of elaborate ornate structures, fortified both the forts, made the hill fort his stronghold and his citadel over a period of 23 years, and eventually moved his capital from Ahmedabad to Champaner.
In 1803 the British visited Champaner, at which time there were only 500 people residing there. The city was in ruins but was re-founded and became a great exporter of silk, with facilities for washing and preparing Raw Silk. Soon after, a cholera epidemic swept through the area and brought the population down to 400 families by 1812. When the British finally usurped the area on 13 July 1829, it was almost deserted; efforts were made at that time to populate the place, by inducting cultivators with an incentive of Rs 1260 to develop the lands, but it failed.
Within fortified walls, entering by the entrance gate or the city gate, the royal walkway leads into the palace, and the second enclosure consisting of unexplored royal structures. The urban planning of the city reveals paved streets leading to the city centre. The residential area consists of houses of both rich and poor; rich people’s houses are built with scenic gardens and water channels. Public parks and pavilions surround the housing complex. In addition to the sites within the Heritage Zone, there are many sites worth seeing. These include: The Kabutarkhana (the Pigeon House), various Maqbaras (memorial structures), Malik Sandal Ni Vav (a stepwell), Hathikhana (the elephant House) and many more.
One of the innovative features of the two historic monuments centres was the development of methods for harvesting rainwater, in the form of tanks or ponds in the Pavagadh hills (called the “hill of hundred pools”) and innumerable wells in the city of Champaran, which was nicknamed “city of thousand wells”.
The site received attention by archaeologists and Heritage Trusts to develop it into a World Heritage Site. A Master Plan for an archaeological park was developed for Champaner City and Pavagadh as a cultural sanctuary. In July 2004, UNESCO approved the proposal and inscribed the site on the World Heritage List with the justification of its “joint significance as a living Hindu pilgrimage center, its cluster of Jain temples, its remarkable preserved medieval urban fabric, its exquisite sandstone-carved mosques and tombs and its intangible heritage values.”
(Shona Adhikari is a lifestyle and travel columnist.)