'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

'Amdavad' Revisited

Note on the title: 'Amdavad' is how Gujaratis tend to call the city of Ahmedabad - some smoothen it further to 'Amdaad'. This truncation, especially the practice of *spelling* the name in Roman letters as 'Amdavad', is often attributed to a Hindu intent to de-Muslimize the name. Here, I use it only because it is reminiscent of the Malalayali articulation of words and names which led 'Trissivaperoor' to naturally become 'Trissoor' ('Tiruvanantapuram' is seldom more than 'Tirontaram' in spoken Mallu; and for locals, 'Kotamangalam' is not much more than 'Ko-lam', the hyphen there standing for an intimate mix of very brief sounds difficult to resolve into any definite sequence of letters!). And it is also widely known that Gujjus also tend to make the 'Coat-Cot merger' goof which Mallus are more 'famous' for (I wrote a long post here on this phenomenon long ago).


I had passed thru Ahmedabad by train last year and it had appeared 'a tired and run down place' then. That still is the case as far as the eastern half of the city is concerned. To the west of the Sabarmati river, things are altogether different as I found out during a brief visit last month.

Roads are generally wide and smooth - especially in the planned area of Gandhinagar (more an illogically vast campus than a proper suburb). The traffic is an improvement over Pune and the pollution scene is hugely better with the CNG autos. The city bus service is seriously bad though, at least first impression wise. And yes, there are any number of swanky malls and multiplexes (several times as many as one sees in Pune, a city of very comparable population); and at least the middle class seems to characterize these manifestations of wealth (rather mysteriously) as 'achievements' of the Modi administration.

We spent half a day at Akshardham temple. Surrounding the opulent main sanctum (a grand golden statue of Saint Swaminarayan is the focus of devotion here) is a vast permanent exhibition, on the life of Swaminarayan, his teachings and so forth. Dozens of elaborately detailed, electrically animated tableaus reenact the adventures of young seeker Neelkanth who grew up to become the Master Swaminarayan. An interesting piece of kitsch was right at the entrance - a sculpture of a human figure carving himself - only the face and hands are finished and these hands are shown chipping away the rest of the rock. Also interesting was a group of statues of musicians who 'played' various instruments in sync with a Bhajan played from speakers. Also on display were marble portrait statues of several Gurus in the Swaminarayan tradition - at least a few of then resembled Narendra Modi. The process is rather rigidly organized and people have to move in batches and spend a minimum of 3 hours working thru the exhibits - no quick run thru is allowed.

Here is an extract from one of the spiritual lessons put up:
Question: "Is there something beyond Atma (the Soul)?"
Answer: "Yes Sir! There is Paramatma (the ultimate Soul) and this Paramatma manifests in divine incarntaions such as Swaminarayan"

Another afternoon was spent in a long and tiring walk thru the old city. This partially Muslim-dominated area is allegedly communally sensitive and riot prone. But although I walked around fairly extensively, I never sensed any serious tension in the air; it was quite different from other 'mixed' areas I have been to, like say, Old Hyderabad or even Byculla in Bombay. And boards of even Muslim shops were more in Gujarati than Urdu - perhaps there is no language edge to the religious divide. Yes, residential areas seemed religiously segregated but then, that does not necessarily imply violent hatred (even many modern societies in Bombay are 'exclusive').

The Jama Masjid is a vast mosque - and has hundreds of elaborately carved pillars. A rather surreal legend says one of the stones paving the floor is actually the base of a temple idol which has been buried upside down! There were not many worshippers (it was midday) and those who were around were not bothered about self and a couple of other tourists. It was a far cry from the Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad where a heavily armed cop once shooed me off saying: "keep walking, don't stare at the mosque!".

The 'Rani Sipri' mosque is much smaller and has almost Hindu windows (I don't really like this religion-based classification of art; all I mean is that these windows 'felt' very similar to, say, the ornate windows at the Adalaj Step well). A modern looking temple shares a wall with 'Sipri'.

We also managed an excursion to the beautiful Sun temple at Modhera. A bad miss was the step-well at Patan (the book says it was built in 11th century), which, judging from photos, is full of sculpture which marks a stylistic continuation of Chalukyan art of far away Deccan (especially the Pattadakal variety, 7th century AD). Indeed, the 'Solankis' of Gujarat claimed inheritance from the 'Chalukyas' even in name. Even in the sculptural decoration of the Modhera temple, there was a Deccan Chalukyan flavor.

I also got to correct an old impression that the actual wells inside 'Vaavs' are square - they are circular like any normal well elsewhere; it is just that the water sources are virtually lost in the elaborate palaces built around them.


  • At 5:33 AM, Blogger Anamika said…

    your blog and my name. Your posts and my life's confusions.

  • At 7:37 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks anamika for visiting.

    and wish you luck with those confusions


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