City in western India, until 1970 the state capital of Gujarat.
Remains of bones and tools indicate occupation in the area around Ahmadabad during the second millennium bc. The earliest permanent settlement, called Ashaval after its founder Asha Bhil, was established on the eastern bank of the Sabarmati River in the 8th century ad and prospered in subsequent centuries. In 1391 Zafar Khan was appointed Governor of Gujarat by the Sultanate rulers in Delhi. In 1403 his rebellious son, Tatar Khan, proclaimed himself Sultan of Gujarat at Ashaval but died a few months later, possibly from poisoning. His father regained power and, assuming the title Muzaffar Shah I, proclaimed himself Sultan of Gujarat. On his death he was succeeded by his grandson, Ahmad Shah I (reg 1411–42), who built a capital at Ashaval, naming it Ahmadabad. Ahmad’s reign chiefly involved the expansion of his realm and the propagation of Islam.
From Ahmad’s death until 1572, when Gujarat came under Timurid rule, Ahmadabad prospered. While intermittent wars with surrounding Rajput clans occurred, the court at Ahmadabad was a centre for artistic and literary patronage. The reign of Sultan Mahmud Bigara (reg 1458–1511) was particularly noteworthy in this respect, and his military campaigns increased Gujarat’s status and power. From 1526 the Gujarat sultanate was marked by a series of very short reigns, revolts and the growing aggression of the Mughals. In 1572 the Mughal emperor Akbar (reg 1556–1605) peacefully entered Ahmadabad and subsequently conquered the surrounding area. Gujarat’s commercial prosperity increased, with Ahmadabad becoming an important centre for textile production, particularly silks and velvets.
A period of decline began around the 1630s, a decade marked by severe famine followed by heavy flooding. The decline was aggravated by the military campaigns of the emperor Aurangzeb (reg 1658–1707). During the late Mughal period in Gujarat there were conflicts between the Mughals and the Marathas. Various negotiations between the two powers resulted in joint rule (1739–44). In 1758, after a decade of the Marathas struggle, the Mughals surrendered to them at Ahmadabad. In 1817 the city came under British protection, ending a period of disorder and insecurity under the Marathas. There was a revival of industry and trade, particularly with Europe. The first textile mills were established in 1861, leading to Ahmadabad’s reputation by the end of the 19th century as the ‘Manchester of India’.
Since India gained independence in 1947 Ahmadabad has become a leading industrial centre and a major producer of textiles. The state capital of Gujarat was moved in 1970 to the newly constructed city of Gandhinagar, but loss of its role as a political centre has hardly diminished Ahmadabad’s importance. Material prosperity has led to the establishment of several cultural and educational institutions. The major museums are the Calico Museum of Textiles, the Museum of Tribal Research and Training Institute and the History Museum at Gujarat Vidyapith, the Museum of Gujarat Vidya Sabha at the B. J. Institute of Learning and Research, the Sanskar Kendra Museum and the Shreyas Folk Art Museum. The city is also a centre for the folk arts of the surrounding area, including embroideries and tie-dyed cloth (bandhinis).
Although none of the urban fabric of Ashaval survives, sculptural remains from the 10th–12th centuries indicate the existence of temples at this time. Local traditions supported by 14th-century writings refer to a town called Karnavati, built by the Solanki ruler Karnadeva in the 11th century. Its exact location is not clear, but inscriptions and architectural fragments suggest an area to the south of the present city, near the eastern bank of the Sabarmati River.
Ahmadabad proper, founded by Ahmad Shah I in 1411, was built on an elevated plain called the Bhadra on the eastern bank of the Sabarmati. It comprised an open area to the east, with a palace and royal mosque to the west; parts of the fortification wall along the river survive. To the east of the fort are a triple gateway, the Tin Darvaza, and the Jami‛ Masjid (see §3). The area around the mosque, known as Manek Chowk, was a major nucleus of mercantile activity. Ahmadabad burgeoned over the next 400 years. During the 15th and 16th centuries, noblemen developed ‘suburban’ settlements called by the Sanskrit word puras, which were more or less independent units organized around the urban centre. By c. 1525 the area within the fortifications was a fully developed urban network. An early city wall (now destr.) built around the Bhadra, probably begun by Ahmad Shah, was followed by a second wall enclosing the city, developed after 1582. These walls precluded further outward expansion, forming a semicircular boundary about 10 km in circumference and punctuated by numerous gates leading to the roads that criss-crossed the city.
Ahmadabad’s prosperity under the Mughals is indicated by the various repairs and renovations to the Bhadra, the fortifications and the city gates; numerous mosques, tombs, palaces, gardens and baths (hammāms) were also built. However, in the 18th century, the conflicts between the Mughals and Marathas led to somewhat of a decline: levels of general maintenance of the city diminished, and many of the puras were abandoned. This period also marked the burgeoning of tightly knit residential areas or pols (Gujarati from Skt. pratolī: ‘gate’, ‘road’, ‘street’), compact housing clusters that had begun to form in the 16th century and that answered the perceived need for greater security after communal riots in 1714. A typical example has an entry gate with houses grouped around a single street.
With the advent of the British in the early 19th century, Ahmadabad experienced phenomenal regeneration. In 1830 a cantonment was built to the north-east. In the 1860s railway lines were established, and areas of the city wall were torn down to make way for new roads leading towards the railway station. The area around the station, to the city’s east, became an industrial zone, supporting textile mills and other factories. Growth—primarily in residential buildings with various educational institutions—also occurred on the western side of the Sabarmati. After 1922 most of the city walls were demolished, eventually leading to uncontrolled urban sprawl. After Independence, industry and population greatly increased. High-rise buildings have modernized the skyline, but impoverished labourers dwell in slums. Since 2000, the city has been transformed through the construction of skyscrapers, shopping malls and multiplexes.
No structure from the early period survives, despite the fact that local belief ascribes the intact Stepwell known as Mata Bhavani Vav, even if much altered, to the 11th century. The earliest mosques, from the period of Ahmad Shah I (reg 1410–42), are trabeate constructions built of masonry from demolished temples. Local artisans incorporated indigenous decorative forms from the earlier temple tradition. The Ahmad Shahi Masjid (1414) is a long hall with a series of Gujarati-style domes supported on pillars (see Indian subcontinent, fig.). Its arched central entry is flanked by massive piers, a feature that continued in later mosques. The Jami‛ Masjid, a vast, pillared prayer-hall set in a huge courtyard, was completed in 1424. Subtle architectural rhythms pervade the building, from the elevation of the façade to the precise detailing of the pillars, domes and pierced stone screens (jālīs) carved with geometric and floral motifs. The massive piers flanking the central entrance were originally tall minarets; the upper portions fell in an earthquake in 1819. A seraglio complex in the Bhadra, built during the 17th century, is much altered and in the late 20th century houses administrative offices. Opening from the palace on to a vast processional way is the Tin Darvaza (Triple Gate), while to the east of the Jami‛ Masjid are the tombs of Ahmad Shah and his queens.
During the second half of the 15th century, architecture acquired a greater maturity and more comprehensive synthesis of Gujarati and Islamic elements. This can be seen in such buildings as the Sayyid Usman mosque (1460) in Usmanpur, north-west of Ahmadabad, and the mosque of Miyan Khan Chishti (1465) 2 km north of the city, where flamboyantly rendered Gujarati motifs are integral with, rather than simply attached to, the architectural elements. This robustness gave way in the early 16th century to the exquisite delicacy seen in the mosque and tomb of Rani Sipari (c. 1515) and the mosque of Sidi Said (1572). Rani Sipari’s domed pavilion–tomb is wrapped in a mesh of pierced square stone window screens. The semicircular windows of Sidi Said’s mosque have similar designs, as well as more open, flowing renditions of trees and foliage. In the Mughal period, the architects of mosques and tombs largely rejected indigenous Gujarati forms in favour of a strongly imperial style. The Shahi Bagh, a palace complex built by Prince Khurram (later Shah Jahan) in 1621–2, was typically Mughal in design and layout, although it has since been greatly altered (until 1970 it was the residence of the governor of Gujarat). More ‘alien’ in style are the 17th-century classicizing tombs built by Dutch and Armenian merchants near the Kankaria Tank on the eastern outskirts of the city. From the late 16th century Jaina temples were built resembling wooden residential dwellings (an example is the Ajitnath), and the wada house form introduced by the Marathas (see also Indian subcontinent, §III, 7, (ii), (c)) became established in the area of the Bhadra. The Jaina temple of Sheth Hathsingh (1848) revived the style of medieval Gujarati architecture. The 20th-century Hindu Swaminarayan Temple combines concrete and brightly painted wood with temple superstructures derived from central Indian styles.
In the 20th century Ahmadabad became one of the centres of modernist building in India. Works by celebrated contemporary Western architects include the Millowners’ Association Headquarters (1951–4), the Sanskar Kendra Museum and Cultural Centre (1951–8), Sarabhai House (1955) and Shodham House (1956), all by Le Corbusier, and the Indian Institute of Management (1962–74) by Louis Kahn. Balkrishna V(ithaldas) Doshi, the student who supervised Le Corbusier’s work in India, set up his own practice there in 1956. His Centre for Environmental Planning & Technology (1960) houses several art institutions, including the Centre for Environmental Education (1990), an exhibition hall for national handicrafts constructed of bamboo, mud and thatch, and an underground art gallery houses paintings and sculptures by the artist M. F. Hussain.
See also Indian subcontinent, §III, 6, (ii), (c) and India, fig..
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indian sub., §iii, 5(i)(d): 6th–11th-cent. indigenous trad. arch.: Maharashtra
Indian sub., §iii, 5(i)(e): 6th–11th-cent. indigenous trad. arch.: East
Indian sub., §iii, 5(i)(d): 6th–11th-cent. indigenous trad. arch.: Maharashtra
indian sub., §iii, 5(i)(e): 6th–11th-cent. indigenous trad. arch.: east
indian subcontinent, §vi, 4(iii): painting, 16th century–1947: styles of rajasthan and contiguous regions
islamic art, §i, 2: geography and trade