History of Ahmedabad

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Map of Ahmedabad, depicted in a miniature style painting on a cloth, circa 19th century

Ahmedabad is the largest city in the state of Gujarat. It is located in western India on the banks of the River Sabarmati. The city has been under different rulers since its creation and thus had a rich history. The city has been a former capital of Gujarat and has been the home to most important leaders of India like Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel during the Indian independence movement. Ahmedabad is also the cultural and economical centre of Gujarat and the seventh largest city of India.

Origin of name[edit]

There is a legend associated with Ahmedabad. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, an independent sultanate ruled by the Muslim Muzaffarid dynasty was established in Gujarat. Sultan Ahmed Shah, while camping on the banks of the Sabarmati river, saw a hare chasing a dog. The sultan was intrigued by this and asked his spiritual adviser for explanation. The sage pointed out unique characteristics in the land which nurtured such rare qualities which turned a timid hare to chase a ferocious dog. Impressed by this, the sultan, who had been looking for a place to build his new capital, decided to found the capital here and called it Ahmedabad.[1]

Early economy[edit]

On founding the city in 1411, Ahmed Shah invited merchants and traders to the new city, which became a prosperous commercial, trading and industrial city, with textiles as its most important products. Wealthy Hindu and Jain merchants made up the commercial class dominating the community, eventually as the oldest and most established families, while Muslims were the skilled weavers working for them and (until Maratha rule) the government officials ultimately ruling them. For centuries, the city existed without depending on feudal lords or patronage from a single court. An efficient system of lending, banking, credit and accounting developed, and Ahmedabad financiers developed a sophisticated banking network across the country. They were influential in the Mughal Court and loaned money to the ruling classes through the 16th and 17th centuries.[2]

Social institutions to safeguard various economic interests included the mahajans, guilds of merchants, and panches, guilds for artisans. The leader of the community, who came from the Jain business elites, was known as the nagarsheth, who would resolve disputes between mahajans and individuals and who interceded with royal officials. Under the nagarsheth, the city remained free from interference from the state or other powers.[2]

Sultanate rule[edit]

Gujarat was then conquered by the Sultanate of Delhi at the end of the thirteenth century. In 1487 Mahmud Begada, the grandson of Ahmed Shah, fortified the city with an outer city wall six miles in circumference and consisting of 12 gates, 189 bastions and over 6,000 battlements to protect it from outside invaders. The last Sultan of Ahmedabad was Muzaffar II.

Mughal rule[edit]

Gujarat was conquered by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1573. During the Mughal reign, Ahmedabad became one of the empire's thriving centres of trade, especially in textiles, which were exported as far as Europe. Jehangir, son of Akbar, visited Ahmedabad in 1617 but did not like it and called it Gardabad, the city of dust. Shahjahan spent the prime of his life in the city, and also built the Moti Shahi Mahal in Shahibaug.

During Mughal rule, with the rise of Surat as a rival commercial centre, Ahmedabad lost some of its lustre, but it remained the chief city of Gujarat.[2]

Maratha rule[edit]

In 1753, the armies of the Maratha generals Raghunath Rao and Damaji Gaekwad captured the city and ended Mughal rule in Ahmedabad. A famine in 1630 and the constant power struggle between the Peshwa and the Gaekwad virtually destroyed the city. Many suburbs of the city were deserted and many mansions lay in ruins.[3]

British rule[edit]

The British East India Company took over the city in 1818. A military cantonment was established in 1824, a municipal government in 1858, and a railway link between Ahmedabad and Bombay (Mumbai) in 1864. Ahmedabad grew rapidly, becoming an important center of trade and textile manufacturing.

The old mercantile and industrial elite, with their relative sophistication in matters of industry, trade and financing, were well poised to expand under British rule, using their own financing for new technology, represented by British machinery. Instead of just a few merchants introducing new industrial machinery, as elsewhere in India, in Ahmedabad the mercantile class as a whole supported the new techniques, even though hand spinners and handloom weavers, as well as female spinners in the outlying communities had their traditional operations upset as a result. They and others were recruited into the new manufacturing plants. The merchant class tended to support the British, thinking the rule provided more security than under the Marathas, lower taxes (including lower octroi), and more property rights.

Unlike most other areas of India, British rule meant no major upsetting of the community's traditional social system, although the traditional peasant landowning class, the Banias and Patadars, were absorbed into the Jain business community. The British did not have a financing vacuum to fill in the city, so their presence was limited to administrative and military spheres. Unlike other Indian cities, Amehdabad lacked a comprador class or dominant, Western-educated middle class. Western education was slower to be introduced into the city than in most other Indian cities. There was very little English higher education available in the city and no English-language newspapers there in the 19th century.[2]

Instead of education in English language and culture, technology education was promoted in the late 19th century. Ranchhodlal Chhotalal, the nagar Brahmin who founded a spinning and weaving company in the city in 1859, ordered the city to withdraw its support for a high school in 1886 and instead finance technical education. Starting in 1889, the city financed scholarships for technical students. With no Western-oriented academic center in the city, there was no opposing political reaction to Western influences, and the city. "The entire discourse of tradition versus modernity, thrown up by exposure to Western literature and culture, was almost non-existent in Ahmedabad," according to literary scholar Svati Joshi.[2]

Schools for girls, primarily for those in the upper classes, were founded in the mid-19th century. Maganbhai Karamchand, a Jain businessman, and Harkor Shethani, a Jain widow. One visitor, Mary Carpenter, wrote in 1856 after visiting the city, "I found how very far behind Ahmedabad these other places [like Calcutta] were in effort to promote female education among the leading hindoos, in emancipation of the ladies from the thraldom imposed by custom; and in self-effort for improvement on their own part."[2]

The struggle for independence from the British soon took roots in the city. In 1915, Mahatma Gandhi came from South Africa and established two ashrams in the city, the Kochrab Ashram near Paldi in 1915 and the Satyagrah Ashram on the banks of Sabarmati in 1917. The latter was later called Harijan Ashram or Sabarmati Ashram. He started the salt satyagraha in 1930. He and many followers marched from his ashram to the coastal village of Dandi, Gujarat, to protest against the British imposing a tax on salt. Before he left the ashram, he vowed not to return to the ashram until India became independent.

Post independence[edit]

After independence, Ahmedabad became a provincial town of Bombay. On May 1, 1960, Ahmedabad became a state capital as a result of the bifurcation of the state of Bombay into two states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. A large number of educational and research institutions were founded in the city in the 1960s. In February 1974, Ahmedabad occupied the centre-stage of national politics with launch of the Nav Nirman agitation. It started off as an argument over a 20% hike in hostel food bill in the L.D. College of Engineering, but ignited an agitation which later snowballed into the Nav Nirman movement. This movement caused the then chief minister of Gujarat, Chimanbhai Patel, to resign and also gave Indira Gandhi one of the excuses for imposing the Emergency on June 25, 1975.[4] There were two major anti-reservation protests in 1981 and 1985.[5] On 26 January 2001, a devastating earthquake centred near Bhuj, measuring 6.9 on the richter scale, struck the city. As many as 50 multistoried buildings collapsed killing 752 people[6]


  1. ^ "Lonely planet". Lonely Planet. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Blackburn, Stuart H., and Vasudha Dalmia, editors, India's Literary History, "Chapter 11: Dalpatram and the Nature of Literary Shifts in Nineteenth-Century Ahmedabad" by Svati Joshi, pp 338–357, published by Orient Blackswan, 2004 ISBN 9788178240565, retrieved Google Books (partial) version, December 16, 2008
  3. ^ "Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation - History of Ahmedabad". Retrieved 2006-05-10. 
  4. ^ "When LD Engineering structured the revolt". Retrieved 2006-05-10. 
  5. ^ "The pathology of Gujarat". Retrieved 2006-05-10. 
  6. ^ "Lessons learned from the Gujarat earthquake - WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia". Retrieved 2006-05-13.