A Haveli in Ahmedabad, Old City

 

In October, the weather in Gujerat as in much of the Indian north turns from fierce heat to warm; and sometimes cool and occasionally cold at night and in the early morning.

The monsoons cease.  Brilliant sunlight. The dancing at the festival of Diwali.  The best time to be in Ahmedabad.

 

Among the things to miss about India in a lifetime of not being there are the many ways in which the materials of Indian life are embellished.

Among these the haveli: a gorgeously embellished environment, an architecture still extant in northern India and in Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

 

 

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A haveli, derived from an Arabic word, is the Hindi, Urdu and Gujerati term for a private residence built around an internal courtyard. 

Gujarat’s Vaishnava Hindu sect also use the word for some of their temples dedicated to Krishna built around a courtyard and gorgeously decorated with carvings.

 

 

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This haveli is on the east side of the Sabarmati river in the oldest part of the Gujerati city of Ahmedabad.

 

To reach the haveli, you walk into the old city past the Badhra Fort built in 1411 by the city’s founder, Ahmed Shah I in the new capital of the Moslem sultanate of Gujarat.

 

 

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At the base of the castle is the temple of the protectress of the city, Badr Kali (which cannot be photographed): a mark of the re-imposition of Hindu rule when the Mughals surrendered in 1758.

 

 

 

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An image of Kali on a wall in the old city, Ahmedabad

 

 

 

You walk through the Triple Gate, also built by Ahmed Shah I (starting in 1411), with its ornate carving. The gate formed the midpoint of his city:  on the west, the Bhadra fort and on the east the Jama Masjid (mosque).

Here the red powder stippling on one of its columns is a mark of popular devotion to Badr Kali.

 

 

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Everywhere people buying and selling, strolling. Children tugging at your kurta because they want you to take a photo of them.

 

 

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This haveli is 200 years old and was renovated in the past 15 years by the great-grandson of a textile worker who became a great merchant and whose ancestral house (The House of MG) is now a first-class hotel in the city. 

It fronts a narrow street on both sides of which havelis were built. These are in various states of (dis)repair. 

 

 

 

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On a neighbouring haveli, the woodwork remains almost intact; but the iron bars over the windows have probably been stolen.  Here they are replaced by sheets of tin.

 

 

 

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The renovated haveli has four stories of which the fourth is a flat, accessible roof. The house is rectangular.

 

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The front of the house has tall, narrow windows with shutters of decorated wood; and a chain mail grill of iron.

 

 

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In the center of this rectangular building is a courtyard which extends four stories to the flat roof, the fourth floor.

 

 

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On the ground floor, a mirror with a modified lotus design separates the narrow stairwell from the rest of the house.  Depending on the light, sometimes the lotuses are silver and sometimes gold. 

 

 

 

 

 

Also on the ground floor in a corner, a well, now closed off.

 

 

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The interior of the house has two kinds of spaces: the open courtyard rising like a funnel to the roof on the fourth floor.

 

And, on all four sides of this open courtyard, a corridor wide enough to make rooms, closed off with walls and doors.  Enough space is left to allow access from these rooms to the edge of the central courtyard.

 

 

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There is natural light from the windows on the front and back of the house onto the corridors

The corridors on each side of the house have no natural light. 

In this renovation, there is a clothing store on one side of the rectangle.  My memory is of no natural light.  Electric light and mirrors.

 

 

 

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On the second floor is a cafeteria the length of the front corridor against the front windows.

 

 

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A restaurant has been made of the corridor on the flat roof at the front of the house

 

 

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The whole facade and much of the interior is covered with worked wood.  There is also some worked stone decoration inside the house.

 

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There are mirrors everywhere, large and small; and some placed high up on the walls to reflect natural light.  

 

 

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And doors and shutters and cupboard doors with colours and surfaces so enticing: begging to be touched and opened and closed and opened…….

 

 

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The entire house is tiled.  Cool tiles.

 

 

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Softening green against white plaster

 

 

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Ganesha always present

 

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Ganesha, wood

 

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So you can imagine it: 

 

in sight of images painted in tempera and hung on either side of the main door of the house

 

 

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vintage Gujerati

 

 

 

two women on their appointed rounds, passing in a flash of colour over the tiles from one corner to another of the open courtyard

 

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jewellery glinting and tinkling on ankles and wrists…….

 

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antique Gujerati silver anklet

 

 

One refreshes the flowers in finger bowls on low tables

 

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The other appraises her children playing with their toy horses

 

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vintage wooden Gujerati toy horses

 

The first checks the level of water in the earthernware jars next to the well in the corner……..

 

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Gujerati embellished ceramic pots

 

 

and at dusk, the clatter from the street outside stills; the children are abed;

the patterns and shades of light shift all over the house until night comes.

 

 

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Glasswork in the Samode Haveli just outside Jaipur, Rajasthan

 

 

 

 

 

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