The city of Champaner in Gujarat at an hour’s distance from Baroda was once a flourishing capital of the Sultans of Gujarat in the 15th century CE. Go there today and you will still find a city in ruins and frozen in time. This is interesting because the Sultans of Gujarat ruled for less than 200 years. They were overrun by the army of the Mughal Emperor Humayun in 1535 CE, and yet their city was left untouched - making Champaner, one of the finest examples of pre-Mughal Islamic architecture in this part of India.
But Champaner and the area around it hold many other secrets too!
- The original city at Champaner, on the foot of the Pavagadh hills was built by Vanraj Chavda in 746 CE. The succeeding Rajput Chauhan rulers built a fortress on Pavagadh hill in the 13th century to protect themselves from invading armies. They also built a large complex of temples in Pavagadh, which are among the oldest surviving temples of the early rulers (8th CE– 14th CE) in the region.
Interestingly, the Pavagadh hill, has temples belonging to both Hindu deities and the Jain Tirthankaras. The oldest structure in the heritage complex is the Lakulisha temple dating back to 8th century CE. Equally splendid are the Jain temples, which are made of pure white stone and are elaborately carved with images from the Jain pantheon.
The most revered Hindu shrine is the Kalika Mata temple built between 10th and 11th century. The temple is believed to be one of the Shakti Peethas . It is believed that the toe of the goddess Sati fell on the Pavagadh hill, where the temple was built, when a distraught Shiva was carrying his dead wife’s body across the world. This temple is a popular pilgrimage site visited by thousands of devotees even today.
The Sultans Take Charge
In 1484 CE, Champaner- Pavagadh was captured by Sultan Mahmud Begada, the ruler of the Sultanate of Gujarat. Mahmud Begada (1458 CE – 1511 CE) expanded the boundaries of the sultanate to its greatest extent. His armies conquered the islands that make todays Mumbai, from the local rulers and sacked the Parsi settlement of Sanjan.
The Sultanate of Gujarat, had arisen from the embers of the collapsing Tughlaq Empire in the 14th century. The Gujarat Sultans ruled a large part of the state between 1391 CE and 1583 CE. They were also great builders and are credited with building the biggest urban centres of their time (and today) including Khambat, Bharuch, Junagadh and Ahmedabad along with the city of Champaner.
After capturing Champaner, Sultan Mahmud Begada, decided to shift his capital city here from Ahmedabad. The fortification built by the Rajputs in their old capital was ideal for protecting the Sultan’s new capital. Begada added many palaces, mosques and tombs within the fortifications here. The structures at Champaner built by Mahmud Begada, represent a perfect blend of Hindu-Muslim architecture. The existing Hindu and Jain temples added new dimensions to the architecture here and the result was a spectacular coming together.
A must-see among the buildings here are the remains of seven mosques at Champaner, of which the Jama Masjid built in 1523 CE is the most elaborate one. The mosque has a perfectly proportioned dome and a richly ornamented exterior with 172 pillars and 30 mts high minarets making it one of the finest Islamic monuments in western India.
The palace structures that were built are now in ruins. But you will still see the engineering prowess of the builders here. For instance, the Champaner complex had an elaborate water management system that was based on concepts like rain water harvesting, that we still talk about. Man made lakes, reservoirs, wells, channels and underground cisterns ensured steady supply water despite the aridity of the land. The Hauz or water tank at the Jami Masjid is ornate, with eight sides and triangular steps leading down.
Champaner remained the capital of Gujarat until 1535, when it was looted and conquered by the army of the Mughal emperor Humayun. After this, the city was abandoned. People living in Champaner fled, never to return again.
While the city of Champaner formed part of the dominion’s of different dynasties and empires over the centuries, the structures built by Mahmud Begada remained untouched.
Even though the site got international recognition in 2004, and was declared one of the 27 World Heritage sites in India, few people venture to this city that hides so many wonders.
Much of Champaner lies in ruins and it is a treasure trove, still waiting to be discovered!
Cover Image: Phso2 via Wikimedia Commons
LHI TRAVEL GUIDE
The Champaner Archaeological park is located in the Panchmahal district of Gujarat. The nearest railway station to the site is Champaner railway station, 22 kms away and the nearest airport at Vadodara at the distance of 42 kms from Champaner.