Volume 63 Number 2, December 2011

Ahmedabad 600: Portraits of a City

Edited by: Suchitra Balasubrahmanyan, Sharmila Sagara
Binding: Hardcover
Specifications: 156 pages, 162 illustrations
ISBN: 978-81-921106-0-8
Dimensions: 305 x 241 mm

A wealthy city from its inception, Ahmedabad is one of India’s megacities that still preserves its medieval core.  The city’s art, architecture and culture have responded to the many social, political, and economic challenges over six centuries of its history. Ahmedabad was a front-runner of the independence movement, the home of a booming textile industry, and the crucible of modern architecture and design.

This volume commemorates 600 years of the founding of Ahmedabad with essays on modernism, art, crafts, food, and heritage by writers who have made this city their home. Each essay presents a different portrait of the city, as no singular view of Ahmedabad can do justice to its multi-faceted complexity.

Suchitra Balasubrahmanyan studied visual communication at the National Institute of Design and teaches at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at CEPT University. Her research and teaching interests include design history, orality and visual literacy, and the sociology of design. She is co-author of The Shaping of Modern Gujarat: Plurality, Hindutva and Beyond (2005) and Ahmedabad: From Royal City to Megacity (2011).
Sharmila Sagara studied sculpture at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda, and has participated in group shows, curated exhibitions, and written in newspapers and art journals as an art critic. She headed the Kanoria Centre for Arts (2001–05) and is presently Associate Professor at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, CEPT University.



Architectural Traditions of the Evolving City
R.J. Vasavada

Ahmedabad as a Centre of Painting
Shridhar Andhare

Arabic-Persian Scholarship: Medieval Manuscripts at the Hazrat Pir Muhammad Shah Dargah Sharif Library
Mohaiuddin Bombaywala

Incubating Indian Modernism
Himanshu Burte

An Awakening of Modern Art
Sharmila Sagara

Food is Serious Business
Sheela Bhatt

The Legend of Sabarmati’s Hand-Blockprinted Textiles
Aditi Ranjan

Paper, Chopdas, Kites: Crafting Hindu-Muslim Symbiosis
Suchitra Balasubrahmanyan

Ahmedabad 600: Readings from the Palimpsest
Yatin Pandya


Balasubrahmanyan, Suchitra and Sagara, Sharmila
Vol. 63 No. 2, December 2011; ISBN: 978-81-92110-60-8, pp. 9-19

This book presents multidimensional portraits of Ahmedabad, one of India's most prosperous cities, on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of its foundation. In nine essays, this volume covers a gamut of themes that define Ahmedabad, from architecture to art, manuscripts to textiles, and crafts to even food.

Architectural Traditions of the Evolving City
Vasavada, Rabindra
Vol. 63 No. 2, December 2011; ISBN: 978-81-92110-60-8, pp. 20-33

Under the Gujarat Sultanate and the powers that came later, Ahmedabad rose to eminence and was considered to be one of the finest in the subcontinent with its beautiful built environment and the affluence of its people. The richness and artistry of its settlements, monuments, and religious buildings impressed and were appreciated by travellers from across the country and abroad, several of whom wrote accounts. The emergence of bungalows and suburbs beyond the old walled city in the early 20th century became the starting point of a complete makeover from the historic city's traditional fabric, replacing all the earlier evolving strands in a British-engineered breakthrough for the "Western" city. The city thereafter has grown in successive decades into its present stage with more and more influences coming from Europe and America, along with the pressures placed upon it by an increasing population and "development". Today Ahmedabad's architecture of temples, monuments, and domestic buildings remains a unique treasure representing the variety of its traditional and modern cultures.

Ahmedabad as a Centre of Painting
Andhare, Shridhar
Vol. 63 No. 2, December 2011; ISBN: 978-81-92110-60-8, pp. 34-49

Though Ahmedabad was established as capital of the Gujarat Sultanate whose sultans were Muslim, a situation of tolerance and pluralism existed in which Jain painting flourished. This essay traces the development of Jain painting from its earliest 12th century example to the proliferation of illustrated manuscripts and painted patas or cloth paintings in the 13th and the 14th centuries respectively. Drawing from this tradition, Ahmedabad contributed in the 15th century to the amalgamation of Persian and Jain elements in the Devasano Pado Kalpasutra and Kalakacharya Katha. The 16th-century Sultanate manuscripts included new themes such as Islamic or Sufi poetic works, Indian epics, Ragamalas, and Hindu romances. Soon Vaishnava and secular subjects too were explored in the Jain style and by the 16th-17th century a distinct Mughal influence infused Jain painting. The essay concludes with a discussion about Jain tirtha patas on cloth illustrating pilgrimage centres in symbolic and cartographic manner produced in Ahmedabad in the mid-17th century.

Arabic-Persian Scholarship: Medieval Manuscripts at the Hazrat Pir Muhammad Shah Dargah Sharif Library
Bombaywala, Mohaiuddin
Vol. 63 No. 2, December 2011; ISBN: 978-81-92110-60-8, pp. 50-63

Within a century of the foundation of Ahmedabad as the new capital of the Gujarat Sultanate, the city became a seat of Arabic and Persian learning and education as the city's prosperity drew Sufis, saints, and scholars from the larger Islamic world. This intellectual tradition centred round madrasas and libraries continued till the Mughal period in the 18th century. The essay throws light on this little-known side of the city through an exploration of the extensive collection of medieval manuscripts, books, and inscriptions at the HPMS Dargah Sharif Library. The collection is important from different points of view, furnishing as it does sufficient and unutilized material for understanding the contribution of India in general, and Gujarat and Ahmedabad in particular, to Persian, Arabic, and Urdu literature in the fields of traditional as well as intellectual sciences. It also throws light on the calligraphy and craft skills which facilitated this scholarship and offers a glimpse of the nature of patronage which sustained it.

Incubating Indian Modernism
Burte, Himanshu
Vol. 63 No. 2, December 2011; ISBN: 978-81-92110-60-8, pp. 64-79

This essay offers a brief and selective reading of the way the modernist attitude to architecture has developed in Ahmedabad. It dwells on the significant role the city's progressive business community played in establishing Modernism as the privileged mode of expressing modern aspirations in post Independence Indian architecture. It examines the way Ahmedabadi architects like Balkrishna Doshi, Anant Raje, and Leo Pereira modified European modernism from the 1960s. The Indian modernism that emerged quietly subverted the universalist value system of European modernism and sought to create a sense of local place. The essay ends with a look at the way architects appear to have critiqued this Indian modernism through built work since the 1990s. One critique today appears to reject the particularization of the Indian modernists, preferring to tap back into the European modernism that came to Ahmedabad with Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn in the 1950s and 1960s. Another critique believes that the particularization did not go far enough. A third takes up the challenge of sustainability and modifies the values of Indian modernism from this perspective.

An Awakening of Modern Art
Sagara, Sharmila
Vol. 63 No. 2, December 2011; ISBN: 978-81-92110-60-8 pp. 80-93

This essay traces the awakening of modernism in painting and sculpture in the early decades of the 20th century. Young artists from Gujarat's cities trained at Sir J. J. School of Arts came to Ahmedabad where rich millowners offered patronage and support. One such was Ravishankar Raval who established art classes and an art magazine in the city which introduced many aspiring artists to classical visual art practice. Kanu Desai joined him to share his Santiniketan approach. Their student Chhaganlal Jadav introduced the modernist visual language and explored abstraction by breaking away from the semi-classical style and nationalistic approach. He was followed by many young artists like Piraji Sagara, Balkrishna Patel, and Jeram Patel who also joined the Progressive Artists Group. The essay also covers the paradoxical development of the art scene in this city which was visited by great European and American masters in the 1960s and '70s but whose influence hardly found its way into the public realm or into the city's many great institutions.

Food is Serious Business
Bhatt, Sheela
Vol. 63 No. 2, December 2011; ISBN: 978-81-92110-60-8, pp. 94-105

Ahmedabadis have a zest for good food and the city's social moorings, value system, and rapidly changing lifestyle are mirrored in the city's food scene. This essay traces the traditional fare still served in the city, the gradual shift to non-Gujarati Indian food, and the emergence of fusion food fads of international cuisine adapted to Ahmedabadi taste. It also explores the city's vegetarian ethic and reputation while presenting the wide prevalence of meat eating and ritual food distributed in the city's temples and mosques. Not surprisingly, food is a multi-million business in this city reputed for its entrepreneurship and financial acumen. The love for food has also led to the emergence of an unhealthy, overweight Ahmedabadi who turns to traditional and modern medicine to continue enjoying life.

The Legend of Sabarmati's Hand-Blockprinted Textiles
Ranjan, Aditi
Vol. 63 No. 2, December 2011; ISBN: 978-81-92110-60-8, pp. 106-123

This essay offers a detailed look at painted and printed textile traditions and blockmaking crafts which flowered in Ahmedabad since the medieval period, thanks to its fortuitous location on the banks of the Sabarmati. The flowing waters of the river were useful for washing the excess dye from freshly dyed textiles and blockprinted fabrics. The sun and the dry sandbed with its moist lower layers were ideal for drying and bleaching kora or undyed cloth in preparation for blockprinting. Within the city's pols resided silk and cotton weavers, dyers, and chhipas or blockprinters. The essay takes a detailed look at Saudagiri blockprinting, handpainted Mata ni Pachedi, and Roghan and Patri printing and blockmaking at nearby Pethapur. This is presented through detailed descriptions of the craft process and portraits of master craftsmen and their journeys and an insight into the social and religious practices which sustain the production of blockprinted fabrics. The challenges come not only from modern technology but also from shrinking access to the river water due to contemporary urban development initiatives in the region.

Paper, Bahi Khatas, Kites: Crafting Hindu-Muslim Symbiosis
Balasubrahmanyan, Suchitra
Vol. 63 No. 2, December 2011; ISBN: 978-81-92110-60-8, pp. 124-139

While Ahmedabad is sometimes viewed as a city where Hindus and Muslims are often in discord and disharmony, it is equally true that the two communities coexist and cooperate. Nowhere is the harmony more apparent than in the traditional crafts still practised in the city. This essay looks at two such crafts - the manufacture of chopdas or traditional books of accounts, and the fabrication of kites. Both these are handcrafted products made from paper, a material manufactured in Ahmedabad since the early 17th century. Chopdas are made by the Muslim Kagdi community and used by Hindus, Muslims, and Jains, while kites are made by Muslim craftsmen and flown by all, regardless of religious affiliation. Thus in both crafts, Hindus and Muslims are knit together in a symbiotic relationship bringing together skill, beauty, ritual, and sheer enjoyment.

Ahmedabad 600: Readings from the Palimpsest
Pandya, Yatin
Vol. 63 No. 2, December 2011; ISBN: 978-81-92110-60-8, pp. 140-153
This article sees Ahmedabad as a palimpsest and attempts to probe through the patina of the past six centuries. The hieroglyphics, as encrypted through the oracles of folklore to photos, are unveiled and put in perspective to understand co-relationary aspects of events and anecdotes with their lasting impacts on place as well as people. The essay tries to read between the lines to understand the ethos of times then and learn lessons for times now. Whether it be about the city's enterprising spirit, selfless sacrifices, avant-garde outlook, spirit of the collective, demonstration of local self governance, continuum of tradition, creative regionalism of architecture, they have all been deduced through indicative clues. Photographs of the living legend Shri Pranlal Patel, himself a centurion, serve as authentic proof as well as accurate reference for the comprehensive visualization and comparative depiction of the context over time.