A land of migrants since time immemorial, Gujarat has given India two of its most charismatic leaders: Gandhi and Patel. Ahmedabad was for a long time the capital (now dethroned by Gandhinagar) but the city has kept from its former splendour an architectural heritage unique in the world which earned it its classification by UNESCO in 2017.
It is to meet this city of 6 million inhabitants, on the way to becoming one of India’s main metropolises in the fields of education, engineering, design and applied sciences, that we are taking you today… It is a city far from the traditional circuits, but whose rich heritage exceeds many Indian tourist destinations.
Ahmedabad’s textile tradition
Ahmedabad also has a long tradition in the field of textile manufacturing and marketing. Shawls, stoles, tunics, dresses, all embroidered, stitched, inlaid with sequins, broken mirrors, mother-of-pearl, glass, cowries….
A land of passage where indigenous nomadic tribes, invaders, explorers and traders have been blending since ancient times, Gujarat’s towns and villages are to textiles what towns like Jaipur are to gemstone cutting and silver.
And what about the colour! If the trade secrets of Indian dyers did not reach the West until the 17th century, India has known how to apply ultraviolet resistant colours to fabrics since the 2nd millennium BC! In India, the expression of mood through clothing is a true social reality. Thus, red is the colour of love, yellow the colour of spring, honey and winds hawking the song of birds, blue the prerogative of Krishna, saffron the colour of the earth and yogis…
No wonder then that Ahmedabad, which was the crossroads of caravan roads for centuries, is also the city of colour. Its small street markets are full of embroidered fabrics, the famous cholis chanyas, traditional clothes made up of a long skirt and a blouse finely embroidered and inlaid with mirrors, which women from Gujarat wear.
In addition, Ahmedabad also has one of the most beautiful textile museums in the world: the Calico Museum, a private collection that holds preciously embroidered textiles from the 17th and 18th centuries that are absolutely sublime.
Ahmedabad’s unique modernist architecture
Slowly after India’s independence, the great families who had become rich in textiles called on renowned architects to build their factories and residences. We are in the midst of modernism. Le Corbusier answered the call. Ahmedabad owes him some public buildings, such as the House of Spinners (1954) or the Sanskar Kendra, which came out of the ground that same year, and which now houses the City Museum.
In the private sector, let us note Villa Sarabhai, whose design follows the principles of the Jaoul houses of Neuilly-sur-Seine, built according to the famous notion of modulor dear to the architect. The modulor is an adaptation of the golden number on a human scale in order to create volumes where feelings of well-being and comfort prevail.
But Le Corbusier is not the only modernist architect to have left his mark on the city. Louis Khan, the champion of brutalism, considered one of the greatest architects of the 20th century, built the Indian Institute of Management, a university complex with many prospects.
Finally, let us note the work of Charles Corra, an Indian figure in contemporary architecture, who adapted modernism to Indian culture by designing the Sabarmati ashram, the museum that commemorates Gandhi’s work, since it was from here that the Mahatma launched his program of civil disobedience that would lead India to independence.
Ahmedabad, the city of the wind
Makar Sankranti, which marks the entry of the sun into Capricorn and celebrates the harvest festival, is an event that is celebrated all over India. In Gujarat and Ahmedabad in particular, it is unique in that it lasts two days.
It is the Uttarayan (from the gujarati uttar which means “north” and ayan which means “beginning”). The Uttarayan therefore marks the arrival of the north wind, which signals the end of winter and the arrival of fine weather. It is celebrated on January 14 and, in Ahmedabad, it is followed by Vasi-Uttarayan on January 15.
Every year, it takes the form of a major festival where kites from all over the world meet. On the eve of the great battle of January 14 (since it is indeed a battle, the purpose of the game being to shear the opponent’s rope with the rope of his own kite), children and adults alike are in full effervescence.
The streets are fully used to unroll the wires so that participants can coat them with glue and crushed glass to make them more effective at shearing.
Uttarayan is also a pretext for joyful musical encounters with family and friends. On that day, the women prepare undhiyu, a dish made up of five different vegetables, while street vendors unpack their small stands of fafda-jalebi, a kind of spicy or sweet fried pasta.
Wells like cathedrals
The vavs of Gujarat (known as baori in Rajasthan) are much more than wells. They also have spiritual significance in relation to the sanctity of water, in a country that is plagued by frequent droughts that most often resulted in terrible famines.
Located in the village of Adalaj, the monumental octagonal vav, which sinks into the bowels of the Earth, was used as a stopover for caravans for many years. Built in 1499, it sees every morning the villagers marching there for a little prayer to the deities carved in stone.
A true underground temple, this remarkable monument of Indo-Islamic architecture features walls decorated with scenes from Hindu and Jain mythology (dancers, musicians, apsalas, etc.) on which floral motifs of Islamic inspiration blend.
Equally impressive with its six-level staircase cascade, the Dada Hari vav, located in the village of Aswara (now a district of Ahmedabad) is a true underground cathedral. Wells like this one have never stopped providing water to people, even during long periods of drought.