Vadnagar – A multi-layered Historic town, Gujarat
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
Gujarat State, District Mehsana
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Vadnagar is a town and municipality under Mehsana district of North Gujarat region of Gujarat state. Vadnagar is well connected by road transport, lies 90 km South of Gandhinagar and 110 km from Ahmedabad Airport. As an historical city it was known by various names such as Vridhanagar, Anandapur, Anartapur and Nagar.
The study of historical geography of the ancient India reveals that Vadnagar was situated at a strategic location where two major ancient trade routes crossed each other. One of them joined central India with the Sindh and further northwest regions while another connected the port towns on the Gujarat coast to northern India.
The ancient town of Vadnagar is an L-shaped town with Sharmishtha Lake located on its northeastern edge. Currently, it is a typical late mediaeval period Western Indian introvert town, built successively over the footprint of an ancient settlement whose ancientness stretches to more than 2700 years of constant occupation. The town along with the lake that defines the area of the property has an approximate area of 85.57 ha with its buffer area of approximately 597 ha.
As is evidenced through a series of explorations and excavations, Vadnagar town is a multi-layered and multi-cultural mercantile settlement with its history stretching back to nearly 8thCentury BCE. Current historic town of Vadnagar is surrounded by the remains of a fortification wall, punctured by a series of gates that mark the entry / exit points of the town. Primary entry / exit points to the Vadnagar town are from all cardinal directions and are marked by gateways that are elaborate single storey stone structures with arched entrances through which the roads pass. While most gates are mediaeval, the Ghanskol and Pithori gates are of the time period of 11th- 12thCentury CE as can be seen from their trabeated openings. Other prominent gates are: Nadiol Gate, Amtol Gate, Amarthol Gate and Arjunbari Gate (protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, ASI).
The town is a rich tapestry of a dense urban fabric that has organically evolved over centuries. Main roads, as one enters the town through these gates, emanate from these entry points that also act as the commercial cum residential hubs. There is no formal planning or spatial hierarchy that can be seen in the current layout of the town. Primary network of roads, as one enters the town, are widest in cross-section that eventually branch out into secondary and tertiary networks of streets and lanes eventually ending up into cul-de-sacs. Residential areas are primarily housed along these networks of streets and lanes. The whole town of Vadnagar, as can be seen from its urban fabric, is an extra-ordinary density of labyrinthine web of roads and thoroughfares, is self-contained and well sustained for centuries.
Though the pattern of land use is totally urban, it was still essentially a pedestrian city retaining a human scale. The residential areas are introvert spaces and independent social and environmental entities, while commercial activities are located along the spines, closer to the areas of administrative or cultural importance. A typical street in Vadnagar is commercial-residential in nature, with shops on the ground level and residence on the upper level. The whole set up is informal and bursting with activity wherein the edges of the shops open directly into the streets, and there are spaces for informal transient road-side shopping as well.
Vadnagar town is divided into several blocks, also called Mohallas or Madhs. These mohallas are named after a temple, a community or an occupation. The informal organically evolved layout of the mohallas is manifested through a dense layout of residential buildings, often interconnected with each other. The whole ancient town of Vadnagar is built over an ancient mound. The topography of the mound is gently rising with its highest point in the middle of the settlement, also called Darbar Ghat.
Vadanagar still retains a large number of historic buildings that are primarily religious and residential in nature. The oldest temple, Ambaji Mata Temple dates back to 10th-11thCentury CE, while other important Hindu and Jain temples within the town are from 17thCentury onwards. The current residential layer of the town is late Gaekwad period (late 18thCentury CE). Some of the old havelis and houses in the town belong to mid-19thto early 20thCentury. CE. At important nodes within the Vadnagar town are landmarks such as Hatakeshwara Temple that act as main cultural hub of the town. Within the town are historic residential buildings or the mansions (havelis) with profuse ornamentation on its front façade. Most residential buildings are single bay constructions, have a narrow street-front width, are deeper in plan and are generally two storeys high. However, the larger havelis are two to three bays wide and are up to 3 floors high. There are no setbacks and these residences, built on both sides, open directly into the street. The edge of the street with houses on either side, therefore, becomes an active social hub for the entire community that resides within that street.
Vadnagar town is surrounded by fortiﬁcation made of bricks and partly stone covering an area of 1km east-west and 700 m north-south. The fortiﬁcation wall of the northern segment is built in a semicircular fashion aligning with Sharmishtha lake. The city of Vadnagar is protected by Arjunbari gate on the north, Nadiol and Amtol gates on the west, Ghaskol and Pithori gates on the south and Amarthol gate in the east. The perimeter of the fortified area measures about 3.40 km. Outside the fortification there are many mounded areas which contain archaeological remains and can be dated from 1stcentury CE to 8thcentury CE. The highest area of the present settlement appears to be near the ruins of the ancient citadel known as Darbargadh. This area is about 25 m high from the surrounding ground level.
The built heritage resource of the Vadnagar includes historical structures, temples, fortification remains, water bodies, kothis, residential structures and excavated sites. Of them few are described as below.
Hatkeshwar Temple: Hatkeshwar temple at Vadnagar is located outside Nadiola gate. The basic plan of the temple includes a square sanctum (Garbhagriha), a brief portico (Antarala) and an octagonal hall(Mandapa). The hall opens into three lateral transepts or porches in the cardinal directions. The use of architectural embellishments in the form of scalloped arches in between the pillars within the octagonal mandapa and beautiful apsaras in place of pillar brackets are reminiscent of the Solanki ornate style.However, some of the feature exhibits of post-date the Solanki period probably to the period following in the 15thcentury CE.
Gates: There are six gates to the town, on the north side Arjun Bari, Nadiol and Amtol gates on the west, Ghaskol and Pathori gates on the south and Amarthol gate on the east. All these gates have niches with sculptures of various deities such as Mahishasurmardini, Bhairav and Ganesha.
Kirti Torans: Vadnagar has two magnificent glory gates (Kirti-stambhas) standing outside the fortification wall to the north of the town. These gates are identical in size and style. Yellow sandstone without mortar or any other cementing material is used for building these toranas. The base of the pillars is broader to give stability to the structure, which support richly carved architrave, over which is a pediment in shape of a semi-circular arch which springs from makara mouth. These richly carved toranas are the best specimens of Indian art.
Gauri Kund: The Gauri Kund is a deep stepped, square tank or reservoir built in stone, which is located on the south-east of Amarthol Gate. The walls of the tank are adorned with 54 beautiful sculptures.
Paschim MehtaniVav: It is located on the eastern side of Amarthol gate, measures 67m in length and 5.5 m in width. There are 11 divisions leading down to the well, each division has a row of four pillars. The placement of pillars in rows makes perfect alignment, giving the impression of a passage with perfect symmetry.
Zunzunia Well: The circular well is located towards the north-east from Arjun Bari gate. The diameter of the well is 3.3m and is built with stone. There are panels depicting birds (swans), floral motifs and honeycomb on its inner walls. The exterior wall has a niche with shikhara having image of deity (Ganesha).
Sharmishtha Lake: This lake covers the north-eastern corner of the fortified town of Vadnagar, forced to have curvature in the northern segment of fortification wall. The other three sides of the fortified town maintain a rectangular shape. There are many ghats around the lake. A main feeder of the canal of this lake is the Kapila river which originates in the Banganga.
Archaeological evidence from excavation at Vadnagar: To find out the cultural sequence of the site, excavation was carried out by the Directorate of Archaeology, Government of Gujarat at the different locations within and outside of the fortified town from 2006 to 2012. Thereafter, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) excavated at Ghaskol, Darbarghad and Badi Garbano Sheri of the town from 2016-17 to till present.
Various excavations in Vadnagar have brought to light an unbroken sequence of seven successive cultures commencing from the pre-rampart period to till present. Around the beginning of the Common Era, the town saw a major change in the town planning and replacement of the earthen rampart by a strong fortification built with extensive use of kiln burnt brick. This period had ushered in a new era of development and growth in the life of the town and its inhabitants as is evident by the excavated remains of well-laid streets, lanes and profuse use of burnt bricks in construction of houses as well as the fort wall. This planning of town seems to have lasted for many centuries without any major change, possibly till 12thcenturyCE. The present township is perched on the thick cultural deposit of about 24 m. Such an accumulation of thick cultural deposit at Vadnagar is attributed to the continuous habitation for around 2700 years. The ﬁrst and foremost defense system was introduced in the form of an earthen rampart which seems to have covered the same area of the brick fortiﬁcation. Later on, the defense system of this town was further strengthened by constructing a strong brick fortiﬁcation on the hard bed of earthen rampart with subsequent additions and restorations spanning to ﬁve cultural periods.
Findings from Vadnagar excavation confirmed seven cultural periods with the scientific dates. On the basis of which the antiquity of Vadnagar can be stretched back up to 750 BCE (2750 BP) divided into the following cultural periods:
- Pre 2nd century BCE
- II – 2nd century BCE – 1stcentury CE
- III – 1st-4th century CE
- IV – 5th -9th/10thcentury CE
- V – 10th-13thcentury CE
- VI– 14th-17thcentury CE
- VII– 17th/18th-19thcentury CE
The structural remains obtained from the excavation including rampart and fortiﬁcation, Buddhist monastery and votive stupas, elliptical structure and stupa, antiquities, sealings, house-complexes, lanes/streets and industrial hearth from pre 2ndcentury BCE to the Gaekwad period (18th– 19thcentury CE).
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Living historical towns and villages are rapidly disappearing typology of built heritage. They exhibit the continuity as well as adaptation to changing times without compromising the heritage/historical components. Vadnagar is one such historic town which has had continuous habitation for more than 2700 years. It has evolved with time and taken up many roles like early historic fortified settlement, hinterland port, center for industries of shells and beads, late medieval town, religious center/temple town, a significant junction on trade routes, and mercantile town. Rampart datable to 2nd century BCE, fortification along the lake from 3rd – 4thcentury CE onwards, findings of Indo-Pacific glass beads and marine shells, palaeo-seismic evidence evidently point towards historical authenticity of the town. At the same time, the present urban fabric of the town effectively showcases the continuity of the historic planning and architectural design elements. Mixed land use, hierarchy of streets, traditional neighborhoods, open spaces, water bodies, streets elevations and buildings designed for human scale, vernacular architectural designs, local building materials and traditional construction techniques make the town historic and sustainable. Attributes like fortifications, gateways, toranas, temples, wells, kothis, Buddhist monastery and votive stupas (add more) etc. splendidly showcase the architectural influence of various cultural periods as mentioned above. Extensive water management system in and around the town also plays a role in the continuity of the town.The town thus represents a continuously evolving historic urban landscape/area which played a major role in hinterland trade network of Western India. The continuity of the historic town proves its resilience/ outstanding universal value unlike the site like Harappa and Kalibangan, which were abandoned eventually.
Criterion (ii): Vadnagar was strategically situated at the crossroads of two major ancient trade routes – one which led from central India to Sindh and to further northwest, and the other from the port towns on the Gujarat coast to Rajasthan and north India. The routes then further connected Vadngar with sites in western Indian Ocean, and traditionally Vadnagar was also known as one of the important land ports (Sthal Pattan) of Gujarat. The unearthing of numerous artifacts of non-Indigenous origin from excavations at the site substantiates the strategic location of Vadnagar and its multiple networks and connectivity across the ocean.
The Roman connection of the site is proven by the find of an imitation intaglio in clay depicting a woman with flower in the hand, a coin mould of Greco-Indian king Apollodotus II (80-65 BC) and a sealing with impression of a Roman coin belonging to Valentinian-I (364-367 CE). Careful analysis and study of non-indigenous pottery such as torpedo jars and Glazed ware establish the site’s contacts with Sasanid region and West Asia. The ‘torpedo jar, was a Mesopotamian vessel and its manufacture has been dated to the 3rd -7th century CE and was used primarily for transporting wine or oil. Typologically, texturally and in terms of surface treatment there was a total agreement between the Glazed Jar from Vadnagar and those from Mleiha (UAE). The site has evidence pertaining to large scale shell manufacturing with 11,000 shell bangles being recovered from the site and amongst these 29 varieties of design on the bangles, and this along with find of numerous cowry shells implies its indirect involvement in overseas trade. These are marine resources found in such huge numbers in an interior site, and the source for the cowry shells was historically the Maldives. A gold coin, believed to be of Mameluke dynasty of Egypt dating back to 15th century, has also been found and these artefacts amply highlight town's trade connection overseas over longue durée, extending from the early historical well into the medieval period.
Criterion (v): The historic town of Vadnagar primarily follows the historic footprint of built fabric and at the same time, demonstrates the sustainability of land use planning. It makes the best use of its natural setting and also takes local climate into consideration while planning. This is reflected in the layout, hierarchy and width of the streets, land use, planning of neighborhoods, heights of buildings, orientation of houses, public and private open spaces, water bodies, etc. Houses have been designed to provide shade, light as well as coolness. The construction technique and building materials respond to climatic requirements. Historic structures like gates, fortifications, temples, etc., belonging to seven cultural periods of the region, also effortlessly become part of the present-day town. Along with carefully designed water management system, self-sufficient planning, sustainable land use and building designs, the town exhibits an outstanding exhibition of continuing human settlement.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The identification of Anandpur mentioned in the copper plate grants (Maitraka of Vallabhi), travel records of Xuan Zhang, inscriptions with reference to Vadnagar and subsequent excavation have reaffirmed this identification. The Structural remains, Buddhist remains, monastery, votive stupas, elliptical structure and stupa, antiquities, sealings, fortification walls, epigraphical records and other evidence found from the excavation of Vadnagar clearly reveals its cultural continuation from 8thcentury BCE to modern historical period (18th-19th CE). The current layer of town and its intricate urban matrix surrounded by fortification wall retain all elements that define its urban character. Thus, all attributed that have been identified in Vadnagar are all present that contribute to its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). The town is managed by the local municipal body that is responsible for its maintenance.
Despite the adverse environmental conditions in the past, Vadnagar could sustain itself and has been continuously inhabited for the last 2700 years. The local inhabitants of Vadnagar understood the importance to harvest rainwater, develop various water-conservation methods to overcome adverse climatic conditions and also to raise the water table for future sustainability. This observation is validated by identifying 36 interlinked artificial water bodies that are still active within a 3km perimeter of Vadnagar. All the surviving ancient structures and excavated remains are an integral part of the present town. The town still retains its late mediaeval urban character and has large number of historic buildings of different typologies that survive till date.
Comparison with other similar properties
Historic town of Vadnagar can be compared to historic living cities of Mathura, Ujjain, Patna and Varanasi in India. These cities were inhabited since early historic period and in modern days also these are important religious or trade centers.
Mathura was the capital of the Shunga-Kushana period. Explorations and excavations at site show continuous habitation at the site. The site has yielded numerous sculptures remains and brought to light the presence of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu remains and the existence of the Mathura School of Art. Like Vadnagar, modern city of Mathura is situated on the ancient mound. Ujjain was the capital of avanti Mahajanpada in ancient times. The ruins of the ancient city of Ujjain known as Garh is situated on the bank of Shipra River. Excavations at site has revealed remains of Mauryan period comprising coins, sealings, ring wells, etc., and remains of huge stupa probably built by the Maurya Emperor Ashoka. Based on the antiquities found the mound mound was dated to First century BC. The city of Ujjain is continuously occupied from 3rd century BC to till present.
Pataliputra (Modern Patna) was most important city in ancient India, and it remained the capital of India from 6thCentury BC to 6thCentury AD.The excavations at the sitehave yielded archaeological remains of Greek influence pointing out to city’s connection to ancient Greece. Present day areas of Bulandibagh and Kumhrar are on the ancient capital of Pataliputra.Kashi was one of the sixteen Maha-Janapadas with Varanasi as its capital. By about 650 BCE it was included in the kingdom of Kosala and later on in Magadha empire.The Nandas, the Mauryas, the Sungas, Kushana, Guptas ruled over Varanasi. Xuan Zhang also gives a detailed account of the city in the 7thcentury. Like Vadnagar, Varanasi was also ruled by multiple rulers andhas been part of multiple cultural periods.
Like, Vadnagar, all the above-mentioned cities are inhabited from early historical period and show continuity of habitation to present day. All these cities were trade centers and were situated on important trade routes from North to south and East to West. The unique feature of Vadngar is that it is located within the fortification wall of medieval period and on the remains of ancient city. Man-made water bodies around the Vadnagar town are still active part of community life.
Internationally, Historic town of Vadnagar can be compared to the Historical City of Masouleh in Iran, Quanzhou in China, and Historic Town of Beypazarı in Turkiye.
The historic city of Masouleh in Iran has an age of eight hundred to a thousand years. The city has been planned in response to its natural setting of mountainous slope. The design of the buildings has incorporated terraced land and are interconnected internally, forming a unique architectural fabric. The facades also exhibit the best works of the local artists and artisans. Similar to Vadnagar, city is historic and has been planned according to its natural setting. However, Vadnagar being at the junction of trade routes also demonstrates cultural exchange through archaeological remains and antiquities, making it culturally diverse. In addition, influence from seven cultural periods can be seen in monuments and architecture of the town clearly.
Like Vadnagar, Site of Quanzhou in China illustrates the city’s vibrancy as a maritime emporium during the Song and Yuan periods (10th - 14th centuries AD) and its interconnection with the Chinese hinterland. The site encompasses religious buildings, including the 11th century AD Qingjing Mosque, one of the earliest Islamic edifices in China, Islamic tombs, and a wide range of archaeological remains: administrative buildings, stone docks that were important for commerce and defence, sites of ceramic and iron production, elements of the city’s transportation network, ancient bridges, pagodas, and inscriptions. Known as Zayton in Arabic and western texts of the 10th to 14th centuries AD. Vadnagar on the hand, encompasses archaeological remains and architectural edifices from 2nd century BCE till colonial period. These include Buddhist monasteries, votive stupas, temples, fortifications, gates, toranas, lakes, wells, traditional houses, etc. Antiquities like shells, cowries, glass beads, sherds, etc. found during excavations like establishes Vadnagar’s importance as a maritime hinterland trade center.
Alexandria has played a pivotal role in Mediterranean trade ever since the city was founded in c.332 BC by Alexander. The city was constructed on the site of an ancient settlement, dating back to 1,500 BCE. Fed by the waters of the Lake Maryut and the Nile, the port of Alexandria made an attractive and practical point of transit for merchants traveling between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Vadnagar also has been the hinterland trade center in Western India. The town is located on an ancient mound and follows the historic footprint of built fabric. The town is also supported by a robust traditional water management system. However, unlike Alexandria, Vadnagar town has grown organically around a water body. It was neither a capital nor a designed settlement like Alexandria. Irrespective of that, its continuity as a living historic town points out its exceptional value.