Ahmadabad City

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A history of the city

AMRITA SHAH | Why calls to rename Ahmedabad have nothing to do with history | 11 Nov 2018 | The Times of India

The story goes that Ahmed Shah I saw a hare chasing his hunting hounds on the banks of the Sabarmati and decided to make it the site of his new capital. Like all myths this one has a symbolic meaning. Ahmed Shah was the grandson and heir of Muzaffar Shah who broke away from the powerful Delhi Sultanate in 1407 to form an independent Gujarat. In a further act of defiance, Ahmed Shah decided to replace the old regional capital of Anhilvad Patan with the new city of Ahmedabad in 1411.

Ahmed Shah’s role as the founder of Ahmedabad has never been in dispute. Historians record the elaborate measures he took over the city’s foundation and development. He had the boundaries of the new city marked by four pious men called ‘Ahmed’ and blessed by twelve fakirs. He had tanks, gates, mosques and markets built and invited merchants, weavers, and skilled craftsmen to settle in the new city. Ahmedabad’s location, between the thriving port of Cambay and land routes radiating from the interior made it an important trading centre.

All these reports indicate that the young Sultan, whose ancestors, according to M S Commissariat’s magisterial History of Gujarat, came from the Punjab, raised his imagined city on a blank slate.

Karnavati was possibly a town or a military outpost of the Hindu-Rajput Solankis who ruled Gujarat from AD 942 to 1299. It is not certain that it existed and if it did, it was likely to have been at some distance from Ahmed Shah’s city.

More clear evidence is there to substantiate the existence of a ninth or 10th-century tribal settlement called Ashaval or Ashapalli in Ahmedabad’s vicinity. Ashaval would have a stronger claim as a name. The great, flourishing city, Ahmedabad, [was] well-known in the Eastern trading world, ‘one of the fairest cities in all the Indies’ as John Jourdain, a British traveller who visited it in 1611 called it.

Changes in the 2000s

For some years, at the beginning of the 2000s, there was a board put up by the Bajrang Dal on a fenced roundabout on Satellite Road close to the Space Applications Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation which said: ‘Welcome to Hindu Rashtra’.

Entering this notional territory one would have found oneself amidst office towers, flashy advertisements, malls, Hindu motifs in plaster of paris, herds of stray cattle and temples to every deity including replicas of pilgrimage sites to Balaji, Vaishno Devi and Amarnath dham. Further up, one would find corporate owned educational institutions, a leisure-entertainment complex called Science City and a monumental temple in Gujarat’s capital, Gandhinagar, devoted to the fast-growing Hindu sect, Swaminarayan. (See Swami Narayan Sect)

The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) has been calling itself the ‘Amdavad Municipal Corporation’ since 2010.

Historians believe Ahmedabad to be India’s longest surviving city, after Delhi. [Indpaedia adds: Here Ms Shah is getting sentimental. Ahmedabad was founded in 1411, she writes. The present city of Srinagar was founded around A.D. 590. Apart from the Neolithic Burzahom, surving and still in use houses of worship include the Shankarâchârya temple (built in the seventh century AD) and Bulbul Lankar (around AD 1330). Surely, Varanasi and other towns have living traditions much older than A.D. 1411.] Unlike contemporaneous cities like Murshidabad that withered over time, Ahmedabad survived by adapting to change and evolving. Walking around the city, one encounters every phase of its long, eventful history: clustered pols that faced Maratha raids in the eighteenth century, a statue to a martyr of an agitation for an independent state, Gandhi’s ashram, abandoned textile mills, Louis Kahn’s Modernist architecture. Even Ahmed Shah still lies under a satin shroud in his tomb Badshahno Haziro, next to the old market, Manek Chowk.

Shah is author of Ahmedabad: A City in the World

Ahmadabad, as in 1908

This section has been extracted from



Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts.Many units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.

Chief city in the District of the same name, situated in 23 2' N. and 72 35' E., 310 miles by rail from Bombay, and about 50 miles north of the head of the Gulf of Cambay. Ahmadabad possesses a station on the Bombay, Baroda, and Central India Railway, and is the junction between this line and the Rajputana- Malwa Railway, the metre-gauge line to Delhi. It is also the starting- point of the recently constructed feeder-lines to Parantlj and Dholka, the former being the pioneer enterprise in railway construction with rupee capital in Western India.

In the days of its prosperity the city is said to have contained a popu- lation ol about 900,000 souls ; and so great was its wealth that some of the traders and merchants were believed to have fortunes of not less than a million sterling. During the disorders of the latter part of the eighteenth century, Ahmadabad suffered severely, and in 1818, when it came under British rule, was greatly depopulated. In 1851 it con- tained a population of 97,048, in 1872 of 119,672, in 1881 of 127,621, and in 1891 of 148,412. The city is the second largest in the Presidency, and has (1901) a population ol 185,889, including 4,115 in the canton- ments. The Hindus, numbering 129,505, or 70 per cent, of the total, form the wealthiest and most influential class. The Jains, of whom there are 15,460, come next in the order of importance, being the wealthy traders, merchants, and money-lenders of the city.

The Kunbi caste supplies a large proportion of the weavers and other artisans. Though the majority of Musalmans, who number 38,159, seek employ- ment as weavers, labourers, and peons, there are a few wealthy families who trade in silk and piece-goods. Christians number 1,264. Ahmad- abad is the head-quarters of the Gujarat Jain sect, who have upwards of 120 temples here. While in and around the city there is no place deemed Holy enough to draw worshippers from any great distance, no less than twenty-four fairs are held, and every third year the Hindu ceremony of walking round the city bare-footed is observed.

Ahmadabad ranks first among the cities of Gujarat, and is one of the most picturesque and artistic in the Bombay Presidency. The name of the present city is derived from its founder, Ahmad Shah, Sultan of Gujarat (1411-43); but before this date a city named Ashaval existed on the same site, attributed to Raja Karan, a Solanki Rajput of Anhilvada. It stands on the raised left bank of the Sabarmati river, about 173 feet above sea-level.

The walls of the city stretch east and west for rather more than a mile, enclosing an area of about 2 square miles. They are from 15 to 20 feet in height, with fourteen gates, and at almost every 50 yards a bastion and tower. The bed of the river is from 500 to 600 yards broad ; but, except during occasional freshes, the width of the stream is not more than 100 yards. To the north of the city the channel keeps close to the right bank ; and then, crossing through the broad expanse of loose sand, the stream flows close under the walls, immediately above their south-western extremity. The city is built on a plain of light alluvial soil or gorat, the surface within the circuit of the walls nowhere rising more than 30 feet above the fair- weather level of the river. From its position, therefore, the city is liable to inundation. In 1875 the floods rose above the level of a large portion, causing damage to 3,887 houses, estimated at about 5 lakhs. Beyond the city walls the country is well wooded, the fields fertile and enclosed by hedges. The surface of the ground is broken at intervals by the remains of the old Hindu suburbs, ruined mosques, and Musal- man tombs. The walls of the city, built by Ahmad Shah, were put into thorough repair in i486 by the greatest of his successors, Mahmud Shah Begara (1459-1511), and in 1832 were again restored under the British Government. In 1572 Ahmadabad was, with the rest of Gujarat, sub- jugated by Akbar.

The emperor Jahangir spent some time here. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Ahmadabad was one of the most splendid cities of Western India. There were, according to Firishta, 360 different wards, each surrounded by a wall. The decay of the Mughal empire led to disastrous changes. Early in the eighteenth century the authority of the court ol Delhi in Gujarat had become merely nominal ; and various leaders, Musalman and Maratha, con- tended for the possession of Ahmadabad.

In 1738 the city fell into the hands of two of these combatants, Damaji Gaikwar and Momin Khan, who, though of different creeds, had united their armies for the promotion of their personal interests, and now exercised an equal share of authority, dividing the revenues between them. The Maratha chief having subsequently been imprisoned by the Peshwa, the agent of his Mughal partner took advantage of his absence to usurp the whole power of the city, but permitted Damaji's coliector to realize his master's pecuniary claims. Damaji, on obtaining his liberty, joined his forces with those of Raghunath Rao, who was engaged in an expedition for establishing the Peshwa's claims in Gujarat. In the troubles that followed, the combined Maratha armies gained possession of Ahmad- abad in 1753. The city was subsequently recaptured by Momin Khan II in 1755-6, but finally acquired by the Marathas in 1757. In 1780 it was stormed by a British force under General Goddard. The place was, however, restored to the Marathas, with whom it remained till 1818, when, on the overthrow ol the Peshwa's power, it reverted to the British Government.

The architecture of Ahmadabad illustrates in a very interesting manner the result of the contact ol Saracenic with Hindu forms. The vigorous aggressiveness of Islam here found itself confronted by strongly vital Jain types, and submitted to a compromise in which the latter pre- dominate. Even the mosques are Hindu or Jain in their details, with a Saracenic arch thrown in occasionally, not from any constructive want, but as a symbol of Islam. The exquisite open tracery of some of the windows and screens supplies evidence — which no one who has seen can forget — of the wonderful plasticity of stone in Indian hands.

'The Muhammadans,' says Mr. James Fergusson, 'had here forced themselves upon the most civilized and the most essentially building race at that time in India ; and the Chalukyas conquered their con- querors, and forced them to adopt forms and ornaments which were superior to any the invaders knew or could have introduced. The result is a style which combenes all the elegance and finish of Jain or Chalukyan art, with a certain largeness of conception, which the Hindu Never quite attained, but which is characteristic of the people who at this time were subjecting all India to their sway.'

The following list gives the remains of most interest in the city and its neighbourhood : —


(1)Ahmad Shah ; (2) Haibat Khan; (3) Saiyid Alam; (4) Mallk Alam ; (5) Rani Asni (otherwise called SIpri, a corruption of Shehepari); (6) Sidi Saiyid; (7) Kutb Shah; (8) Saiyid Usmani ; (9) Mian Khan Chishti ; (10) Sidi Basir ; (11) Muhafiz Khan; (12) Achhut Bibi; (13) Dastur Khan; (14) Muhammad Ghaus and the Queen's and the Jama mosques. The Jama Masjid, finished in 1424 by Sultan Ahmad, is one of the most remarkable buildings of its class in India. It displays a skilful combenation of Hindu and Muhammadan elements of architecture, and the broad courtyard, paved with marble and flanked by five domes, presents an imposing appearance.


(1) Ahmad Shahi;(2) Ahmad Shah's queen; (3) Darya Khan ; (4) Azam Khan ; (5) Mir Abu ; and (6) Shah Wazir-ud-din.


Ancient well of Mata-Bhawani at Asarva; the Tin Darwaza or ' Triple gateway ' ; the Kankaria tank, about a mile to the south-east of the city; Harir's well; the Shahi Bagh ; Azim Khan's palace ; tombs of the Dutch, and the temples of Swand Narayan Hathising and Santidas ; the Chandola and Malik Shaban tanks.

Mausoleums in the neighbourhood

(1) Sarkhej, about 5 miles from Ahmadabad ; (2) Batwa, about 6 miles from Ahmadabad ; and (3) Shah Alam's buildings, situated half-way between Ahmadabad and Batwa.

The peculiarity of the houses ol Ahmadabad is that they are generally built in blocks or pols, varying in size from small courts of from five to ten houses to large quarters of the city containing as many as 10,000 inhabetants. The larger blocks are generally crossed by one main street with a gate at each end, and are subdivided into smaller courts and blocks, each with its separate gate branching off from either side of the chief thoroughfare.

The Ahmadabad municipality was established in 1857. It includes the two square miles of territory within the city walls and the railway suburbs outside, as well as the hamlet of Saraspur. Before the constitu tion of the municipality, a fund raised in 1830 and styled the 'town wall fund' was available for municipal purposes. In 1903-4 the total income of the municipality (including loans) was nearly 21/2 lakhs. The chief sources were octroi (Rs. 1,60,000), house and land tax (Rs. 42,000), water rate (Rs. 88,000), and conservancy (Rs. 51,000). The total expenditure was Rs. 1 1,02,000, including administration (Rs. 54,000), public safety (Rs. 18,000), water-supply (Rs. 29,000), and conservancy (Rs. 1,06,000). In 1890 an attempt was made to drain one of the more thickly-populated quarters on the gravitation system. After a comprehensive scheme had been prepared by a European expert, the operations were gradually extended to about half the urban area, at a cost of 14 lakhs.

The annual maintenance charges for the 28 miles of drains completed by 1906 exceeds Rs. 14,000, and are met by a drainage tax. A sewage farm of 353 acres is worked at a profit in connexion with the scheme. Prior to 1891 the water-supply of Ahmad- abad depended upon wells, tanks, and a pump-service from the Sabarmati river, which, constructed in 1849 and improved in 1865, was situated in a somewhat insanitary portion of the city. The present works, which were opened in 1891 and were handed over to the municipality in the following year, cost nearly 8 lakhs, of which a 9/2 lakhs was contributed by Government.

The head-works are situated at Dudheshwar on the left bank of the Sabarmati, about 2,000 yards north- west of the city, and comprise four supply-wells, a pump-well, and a high-level reservoir, the water being pumped from the wells by steam power. The total length of the service is 82 miles, and the annual expenditure, which is met by a water tax, amounts to about Rs. 53,000.

The cantonment is situated north of the city at a distance of 7/2 miles, and close by, in the Shahi Bagh, is the residence of the Commissioner. The cantonmentusually contains a battery of artillery, a few com- panies of British infantry, and a native regiment, and has an income of Rs. 14,000.

Ahmadabad was formerly celebrated for its manufactures in cloth of gold and silver, fine silk and cotton fabrics, articles of gold, silver, steel, enamel, mother-of-pearl, lacquered ware, and fine woodwork. It is now the centre of a rising cotton-mill industry.

The Dutch founded a factory in 1618, which was removed in 1744- The building is now used by the Bombay Bank. No trace remains of the English factory founded in 1614 by Aldworth. It was closed in 1780 when the city was captured by General Goddard. The prosperity of Ahmadabad, says a native proverb, hangs on three threads, silk, gold, and cotton ; and though the hand manufactures are now on a smaller scale than formerly, these industries still support a large section of the population. All the processes connected with the manufacture of silk and brocaded goods are carried on. Of both the white and yellow varieties of China silk, the consumption is large. Basra silk arrives in a raw state. The best is valued at Rs. 18 or Rs. 20 a pound.

The Bengal silk fetches almost an equal price. Ahmadabad silk goods find a market in Bombay, Kathiawar, Rajputana, Central India, Nagpur, and the Nizam's Dominions. The manufacture of gold and silver thread, which are worked into the richer varieties of silk cloth and brocade, supports a con- siderable number of people. Tin- and electro-plating are also carried on to some extent. Many families are engaged as hand-loom weavers work- ing up cotton cloth. Black-wood carving is another important industry, and the finest specimens of this class of work may here be seen.

The common pottery of Ahmadabad is far superior to most of the earthenware manufactures of Western India. The clay is collected under the walls of the city, and is fashioned into domestic utensils, tiles, bricks, and toys. To give the clay a bright colour the potters use red ochre or ramchi, white earth or khari, and mica or abrak, either singly or mixed together. No glaze is employed, but the surface of the vessels is polished by the friction either of a piece of bamboo or of a string of agate pebbles. A few of the potters are Musalmans, but the majority are Hindus. A considerable manufacture of shoes and leather- work gives employment to a large number. The manufacture of paper, which was formerly an industry of some importance, is declining ; and the little paper now made is used exclusively for native account-books.

The principal industry of Ahmadabad is the spinning and weaving of cotton yarns and piece-goods in factories. The first mill was opened 1861. By 1904 there were 34 mills, with about 569,000 spindles and 7,035 looms, employing 18,000 to 20,000 persons daily, and represent- ing a capital ol 150 lakhs. Some of the finest cloth woven in Indian mills is made at Ahmadabad, usually from imported yarn. In 1904 the mills produced 42 million pounds of yarn and 26 million pounds of woven goods, largely for local consumption, though some part of the out-turn is exported. There are also an oil-mill, a match factory, and dye-works.

Besides 89 private and public vernacular schools, the city has an Arts college with a law class attached to it. It also contains two training colleges, one for male and the other for female teachers, a medical school, and a commercial class.

In 1861 a law lectureship was founded in Ahmadabad, to which lectures in English, Sanskrit, logic, mathematics, and science were subsequently added ; but the classes were poorly attended and were closed in 1873. In 1879 the Gujarat College was reopened and affiliated to the Bombay University. Its average daily attendance is 143. In addition to the Gujarat High School, recently opened, there were in 1904 five high schools with 1,927 pupils, and six middle schools with 416 boys and 134 girls; of the middle schools three are girls' schools. The city contains five printing presses, and four vernacular newspapers are issued. There are a Victoria jubilee Dispensary for women, a leper asylum, a lunatic asylum, eight dis- pensaries, and the usual station hospital. There are five libraries in the city, ol which the Hemabhai Institute with 4,000 volumes is the best known. A club exists for the promotion of social intercourse between European and native ladies.

[Hope and Fergusson, Architecture of Ahmadabad (1866) ; Rev .G.P Taylor, 'The Coins of Ahmadabad,' vol. xx of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Bombay Branch (1900) ; Jas. Burgess, 'Muhammadan Architecture ol Bharoch, Cambay, Dholka, Champanlr, and Muhammad- abad in Gujarat,' vol. vi of the Archaeological Survey of Western India (1896).]

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