Champaran Pavagadh Archaeological Park in Gujarat is dotted with several mosques that depicts the unique confluence of temple architecture with Islamic design.
Nature’s fury, in the form of rains, washed away our most anticipated part of a trip to Gujarat during Navaratri. The sight of thousands of people dancing in synchronized steps with Dandiya sticks was not to be. The next best option was a visit to the Statue of Unity, the world’s tallest statue of Sardar Patel, which was recently added as the most popular destination in the state.
Though nothing can substitute the famous Garba dance, the massive statue was to be a consolation. However, our guide Bhure Lal suddenly announced we would be visiting Champaner, not Statue of Unity. His announcement bewildered us. The guide tried to justify his decision. “The Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” he informed. “You know, once Champaran was the Capital of Gujarat and a major trading point. Therefore, it is dotted with several monuments, many of them declared UNESCO heritage site. Moreover, it has a very engaging history.”
Then started a one-and-a-half-hour journey to the Champaner-Pavagadh region from the cultural town of Vadodara. Though it was still raining, it made our journey beautiful as the roads and highway looked more charming. Then the sight of the countryside, with people trying different ways to take shelter from the downpour, was another experience. As our destination was approaching, our hearty guide started briefing us about its history and relevance. That kept us engaged throughout the way.
The city of Champaner was said to be founded in the 8th century by King Vanraj Chavda of the Chavda Kingdom. But real history starts with its name. Many locals say the name Champaner came from the king, who named it after his friend and minister Champa or Champaraj. Many argue that there is a rock whose yellow colour tinged with red gives the appearance of the champaka, or Flame of the forest flower. Since the ancient city, due to its strategic location, served as the key station for trade routes, it couldn’t ward off envious eyes of another kingdom.
In 1300 AD, it was captured by Chauhan Rajputs, who later ruled it for the next 200 years. And then it was Mahmud Begda, who succeeded in 1484, and he moved his capital there from Ahmedabad. Then, it was captured by Mughal Emperor Humayun and he shifted the capital back to Ahmedabad. Then the city started falling into ruins until it came to the notice of the British, who spotted the monuments in the jungle.
We could see the blue ASI board listing the names of different sites, which was an indication that we had arrived at our destination. It looks like a jungle with hills in the distance. The roads were crowded with devotees, half of them were on bicycles and others were walking. A red chuni tied on their forehead, they were carrying items of worship. Bhure Lal explained that the devotees were headed to a temple on the hill to celebrate a festival.
From the gate, we walked at least half a kilometre to reach the beautiful Sahar ki Masjid (Mosque of the city). This is said to have been the private mosque of the Sultans and had a large dome at each of the three entrances. Inside, the carving depicts a Jain temple-a perfect example of the confluence of architecture.
The light rain was in our favour, making weather pleasant and monuments less crowded. Our next destination, Jama Masjid, had 30-metre minarets flanking the main entrance, two floors of open arcades and detailed carvings and jaali around the pillared courtyard. The main entrance is akin to any entrance of a Hindu temple.
Champaner is dotted with many more monuments, including the Nagina Masjid, Kevada Masjid and Lila Gumbai ki Masjid. Our trip ended at Ek Minar ki Masjid. Mosques usually have two minarets but one minaret makes it unique. Perhaps they must have thought god is one and not divided by architecture.