Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, A UNESCO Heritage Site

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The Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is a huge cluster of architectural marvels, a few even dating back to the 8th century. Once a glorious capital, it lost its King and was left deserted for centuries; until one day, it was discovered out of the dust, and soon gained popularity. Now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004, read on to know the story of history’s forgotten land here.   

An ancient city lined with temples, mosques, bridges, roads, markets, wells, guest houses, citadels, palaces and fortresses? A full-fledged developed city excavated out of the medieval period? Yes, that’s Champaner Pavagadh Archaeological Park for you. Champaner-Pavagadh marks a time in history when an empire exhibited ingenious military and architectural ideas, weapons, tools & techniques way ahead of time.

 Stone carvings on outer wall of Jami Masjid (Mosque), UNESCO protected Champaner - Pavagadh Archaeological Park, Gujarat, India. Dates to 1513, construction over 125 years, the building is double storied, with both Islamic and Hindu styles of decoration.

A forgotten kingdom that was once the most prosperous kingdom of all; and also one that destined to face the wrath of war and destruction. Picture: Carvings on the walls of Jami Masjid.

The discovery of the Champaner’s Archaeological Park has led to many important findings. Located 50 km north of Vadodara, the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is spread across an area of 6 square kilometres on the Pavagadh Hill, housing 114 monuments; 38 of which are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It was one of the 100 Most Endangered Sites of the World, declared by the World Monument Watch, 2000.

History Of Chamanper

Pre- Historic Finds At Champaner

The chalcolithic finds along with further discoveries of stone tools, silver-coated copper coins, and copper plates and other remnants point towards human inhabitancy in Champaner, since the prehistoric era.

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The small rivulets flowing from the Pavagadh hill, especially the river Jhorvan, has been the haunt of Stone- Age Man. A skeleton discovered on site reveals highly developed burial practices and notions of life and death. Animal remains; both wild and domestic were also found. These settlers were culturally more advanced than simple food gatherers and may have been Chalcolithic inhabitants similar to those who inhabited the rest of Gujarat also lived here. The reason for their disappearance is still not known. After this, Champaner remained unoccupied till circa 400 AD.

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Rajputs Of Champaner

In the 13th century, the area was conquered by the Khichi Chauhans who began to rule from Champaner. They ruled Pavagadh and the surrounding areas for eight generations prior to 1484 AD.

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It was on the hill that the main settlement of the Chauhans was located. Just below the Machi Plateau lie the main Rajput fortifications. The natural protection offered by the Mauliya Plateau was also fully utilised by the Rajput Chauhans. They built fortification walls along the plateau. Canon balls and other artefacts indicate the possibility of an outer defence. The oldest existing monuments of Champaner date from this layer and are located on the Mauliya Plateau. They are the temples of Lakulisha, Kalika, and Jain Digambar.

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Islamic City Of Champaner

The Khichi Chauhans ruled Champaner Pavagadh until Mahmud Begada, the Sultan of Gujarat (Musafarids of Gujarat), defeated them in 1484. It was during his reign that Champaner witnessed its most prosperous period.

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Islamic rule spread from Delhi and it also reached Gujarat. Since Khilji rule (1290- 1320), the spread of Muslim influence, which reached Mandu in the Malwa, brought havoc to many great Rajput citadels. In Gujarat, the Turkish Musafarids displaced the Hindu rulers who ruled from Anilvada and whose influence extended to the area corresponding to Gujarat State.

The close connection between Malwa and Gujarat significantly favoured the city’s prosperity and growth. Mahmud Begharha realised the strategic importance of Champaner and moved the capital from Ahmedabad to Champaner. The Champaner of Mahmud Begharha was located not on the hill as the previous settlements were but at the foot of the hill. There seems to be three major purposes in this venture. First of all it was intended to be a capital city. Secondly, it was to provide protection to the inhabitants and the royal household. Thirdly, it had to serve as an escape for the king. In short it had to be a fitting setting for the medieval king and be efficient in defence. These needs were all both fulfilled in an eloquent manner by the architectural expression of its buildings. The strong fortifications, which still stand, suggest that Champaner was designed to hold out against a prolonged siege. 

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Mahmud Begharha developed Champaner-Pavagadh into a well-established city. Soon Champaner turned into a kingdom with fresh roads, gardens, bridges, fortifications and water harvesting installations. He also developed military, religious and royal residential structures that can be seen even today. Archaeologists have also found stone inscriptions describing the new capital city in a stepwell at Mandvi, dated Vikram Samvat 1554 (1498 CE. The empire flourished and its people experienced prosperity under Begada’s rule, if only for a short while. Champaner remained the political capital of Gujarat till the death of Bahadur Shah in 1536.

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The Forgotten City Of Champaner

In 1534, a Mughal ruler, Humayun, attacked Champaner after having lost the Battle of Kanauj (1540) in his quest for power and wealth.  The attack uprooted the city of all its grace. Humayun ransacked it in 1537 and moved the capital to Ahmedabad. Champaner was never the same again. By 1535, the city was deserted. There were no more periods of great building and monumental architecture.

when taken over by the British in 1803, it is reported that there were only 500 inhabitants in Champaner.

When taken over by the British in 1803, it is reported that there were only 500 inhabitants in Champaner. 

The kingdom was invaded and conquered by a succession of rulers, until it relinquished control to the British in 1853. The fall of Champaner is documented in the Persian literary chronicle Mirat-i-Sikandari, written during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir.  It describes how everything lay in ruins apart from the royal citadel or Hissar-i-Khas in Champaner and Machi area on Pavagadh Hill. Ever since, Champaner has remained a lost city, only known to be a pilgrimage site owing to the Kalika Mata Temple of Goddess Mahakali, perched on the Pavagadh hill. The Kalika Mata Temple is one of the 52 Shaktipeeths that found in the world and experience a rush of devotees throughout the year.

Excavation At Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park

Excavations of this lost and forgotten kingdom began long after Indian independence in 1969, as a part of a national project funded by the University Grants Commission; and continued until 1977. The excavations were carried on at 3 major national sites. The Champaner Pavagadh Archaeological Park being the first instance in independent India to study a medieval site from an archaeological perspective; the other two being Fatehpur Sikri and Hampi.

Although, a majority of the site still remains unexcavated with most of its monuments submerged beneath the forest cover. Apart from the excavations carried out by Dr. R. N. Mehta in the 1960’s, the buried city is absolutely unexplored. Archaeologists say that any evidence of the medieval city can be found here in its most complete and untouched form. This site is a milestone in reconstructing history of the regional medieval times.

Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park: Present Day

There are basically three areas of settlement in Champaner: within the enclosure at the foot of the Pavagadh, on the Machi plateau and on the Mauliya plateau. Contrary to belief that Islamic architecture begun during the Mughal period, excavations at Champaner have revealed pre-Mughal Islamic architecture, reshaping our knowledge of history. With architectural evidences seen in the establishments of Muslim, Jain and Hindu religions, Champaner-Pavagadh is the only standing pre-Mughal Islamic city in the world. A marvellous fusion of religious monuments, royal quarters, and military, agricultural and water-harvesting installations, represent a blend of a plethora of cultures and a unique mind-set of the people, which is way ahead of its time.

The Oldest Of Them All & The First Of Its Kind

The oldest structure at the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is the Lakulisa Temple, built in the 10th – 11th Century. While on the other side, is the 15th century, Jami Masjid – an exceptional representation of Hindu-Moslem architecture. It laid foundation to all of the following indo-Islamic architectural style of mosques in India.

Jami Masjid, a major tourist attraction at Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park - Gujarat state of India

With its 30 meter high minarets, grand entrance, elegant interiors, majestic dome structures, oriel windows and walls engraved with verses of the Koran and gemstones, the Jami Masjid is a grand display of artistry, pride, faith and wealth of India’s glorious past.

Mosques Of The Champaner 

The mosques are the significant markings of architectural heritage of the Sultanate period. There are up to 18 mosques at the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park. Each having a distinct hierarchy which is perceptible from the number of Mihrabs in the mosque. The city mosque is the Jama Masjid having seven Mihrabs. The ones for the royalty and their guests have five Mihrabs viz. Sarai and Shaher ki Masjid, and those for common people have three Mihrabs.

Note: Mihrab is a Mecca-facing prayer room.

Sahar Ki Masjid at Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park. A UNESCO world heritage site in Gujarat, India

The Shahar ki Masjid served as a private mosque for the royal family. It has five Mihrabs, and a striking entrance adorned with two impressive minarets.

Jama Masjid (Jama Mosque) represents the best of regional architectural expression. Its entrance, the Gatehouse is a forerunner to the Jahangir style of buildings belonging to the Mughal times constructed in marble. The confluence of Islamic ideals and Hindu craftsmanship reached its peak in Champaner in the later part of the 15th century AD.

Jama Masjid signifies use of Hindu building traditions while incorporating a new Islamic style.

Jama Masjid boasts the usage of Hindu building traditions while incorporating a new Islamic style.

Outer view of Nagina Masjid (Mosque), built with pure white stone. UNESCO protected Champaner - Pavagadh Archaeological Park, Gujarat, India

The Nagina Masjid was built with white stone and boasts of two intricately carved minarets at the entrance. It has 3 domes, 80 pillars, 10 cupolas, Jharokha windows and a cenotaph.

Note: Jharokha as an interface between the royalty and the subjects from here Begharha met his populace.

Champaner - Pavagadh Archaeological Park is a historical city in the state of Gujarat. Kevda Masjid mosque. (UNESCO).Inside the Sahar ki Masjid

The interiors of the Nagina Masjid is just as impressive as the exteriors. The walls are adorned with beautiful floral carvings. The mosque also has a prayer hall that rises two storeys with a balcony.

The Kevada Masjid is another important structure with intricately carved pillars, minarets, niches and windows.

Outer view of Kevada Masjid (Mosque), has minarets, globe like domes and narrow stairs, Built during the time of Mahmud Begada. UNESCO protected Champaner - Pavagadh Archaeological Park, Gujarat, India

The central dome of the mosque has collapsed, while it still houses its two-storeyed prayer hall.

Temples Of Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park

The times temples of Champaner – Pavagadh form the oldest survivors of historic times. Mainly located on the Pavagadh hill, the temples belong to both Hindu deities and Jain Tirthankars. Lakulisha Temple is the oldest temple and is in ruins.

Lakulish Temple and Chhashiyu Lake at Pavagadh Hill - Gujarat state of India

Located in the Mauliya Plateau of the Pavagadh Hill, the Lakulisa Temple is one of the oldest, and most-visited temples in India.

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The temple is dedicated to Lakulisa, who is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva in the form of a yogi. He was also the creator of the Pasupata cult of Shiva. Sadly, only the superstructure of the temple has sustained the ravages of time. Although, there are beautiful stone carvings of yogi Lakulisa and Hindu Gods on the granite walls of this temple. The temple top also had a spire on its main structure that isn’t seen today. The tomb of Sadan Shah Pir was built adjacent to the temple and boasts the splendid Islamic architecture with a spherical dome on top.

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The other temples are mostly maintained by the private religious trusts. Except the Bavanderi group of Jain Temples near the Naulakha Kothar, all the temples at Champaner are “living settlements”. The temples are built in local stone and have beautiful carvings of Hindu Gods and Goddesses.

The beautiful Dudhiyu Talav Lake and Kalika Mata Temple at the summit of Pavagadh Hill continues to be a place of worship and religious pilgrimage for Hindus, attracting huge numbers of devotees each year.

By the river banks of the beautiful Dudhiyu Talav Lake, stands the  Kalika Mata Temple at the summit of Pavagadh Hill.

The Kalika Mata Temple is one of India’s most renowned temples, devoted to Goddess Kalika who was the Kuldevi (Clan Goddess) of the then ruling Khichi Chauhan dynasty. Perched on the Pavagadh hilltop, this shrined is believed to be placed exactly where Her toe had fallen. Out of the legendary pieces of Shakti, the toe is supposed to have landed here in the form of the hill. Incidentally, Pavagadh Hill is also shaped like a toe. It continues to be a place of religious pilgrimage for Hindus, attracting huge numbers of devotees each year.

The Adinath Digamber Jain Mandir, one of the Jain temples at the Champaner-Pavagadh Archeological Park.

The Adinath Digamber Jain Mandir, one of the Jain temples at the Champaner-Pavagadh Archeological Park.

There are also many Jain temples dedicated to Suparshwanath, Chandraprabha and Parshwanath, that dot the Pavagadh Hill. These temples date back to the 13th century, and belong to the Digamber sect of Jainism, which was the prominent practice of Gujarat. Most of the Hindu and Jain temples are constructed in Nagara style of architecture.

Traditional Water Networks Of Champaner

Champaner was also known as the ‘city of thousand wells’. There are several structures found at the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, which was once used for water-harvesting and storage purposes. These structures exhibit striking techniques built to cater to the needs of the pre-historic village. Water was being stored at a considerable height and supplied to the city very efficiently. In plains and plateaus, a natural storage system was developed. Various techniques were used to sustain water collected in large catchments by diverting it from small rivulets and stored at a higher plane to keep the ground water recharged.

The helical stepwell of the the 16th century is an architectural marvel of the medieval empire.

The helical stepwell of the the 16th century is an architectural marvel of the medieval empire.

The city is also dotted with thousands of wells taking many forms: Baoli or stepped well, ordinary well, and well over cisterns. The royal palaces had water channels running through the inner rooms to maintain cool during summers. Apart from wells and channels, large tanks and underground cisterns were used too. The water system of this medieval period deserves a study in its own right; for it many generates ideas for green water management and help overcome water crisis across the globe.

Impressive Military Architecture At Champaner

Since the Pavagadh Hill itself acted as a defence barrier on the western side, the eastern side (which was also the gateway to Gujarat), remained vulnerable to attacks.  Hathiakod (cantonment) was built in the east of Wada Talao where a very large enclosure was constructed. The Budhiya Gate at the Champaner-Pavagarh Archaeological Park marks a semi- rock cut gate that strategically extends into a labyrinth, built to allure enemy forces into a trap.

An ancient fort wall in this massive Archaeological Park containing ancient temples and shrines.

Fortification walls (Killa) were reinforced with bastions or burj, and housed canyons, catapults and other medieval war equipment. Several stone balls of varying sizes have been extracted in the vicinity.

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Barracks and other military structures in Champaner Pavagadh were placed at strategic locations. Other military structures consist of Prison Cells, found within the Royal Enclosure precinct; and also on the almost unapproachable plateau behind the Naulakha Kothar. Built in crude rubble masonry they are testimony to strict punishments that were levied on the captives.

The Hissar- i- khas has four gates out of which two are architecturally of utmost importance and known as the Bhadra Darwazas. The Amir ki Manzil signifies Rajput architecture in its palace remnants of a pleasure pavilions by Vada Talav Lake. It is also the fortified royal enclosure where 3,000 inhabitants of Champaner village currently live, and remains of Rajput palaces.

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Palaces of Champaner – Pavagadh

Most of the palace structures now lay in ruins. When the kingdom is attacked, the new ruler destroyed the ruling sovereign’s royal residence to symbolise his victory. Champaner has had a series of invasions, leading to ruins all over the place. Begharha destroyed Patai Raval No Mahal, while his own royal residence is now indiscernible because of Humayun’s destruction of it.

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Significance Of Champaner – Pavagadh Archaeological Park

The Pavagadh Hill is known to an outcome of volcanic eruptions. Rising up to 800 meters, it was the perfect barrier for a kingdom. The Pavagadh hill is surrounded by 5 plateaus: Kalikamata Plateau, Mauliya Plateau, Bhadrakali Plateau, Machi Plateau and the Atak Plateau.

Most of the Champaner’s historic brilliance lies buried underneath the forest area. With only 36 monuments conserved, the state of the rest of the unprotected heritage demands major attention. The overgrown forest makes accessibility to most structures very difficult, causing them to deteriorate.

Landscape of Champaner-Pavagadh heritage site from Pavagadh Hill. Gujarat State of India

Being one of its kind, the pavagadh Hill commands a breathtaking view from as far as Baroda on one side and Godhra on the other.

The Champaner – Pavagadh Archaeological Park is not only just an important tourist site, but is a reminder of India’s rich history, heritage and diverse cultures. The glory of the Kalikamata temple is also also sung during Garba (an important dance form of Gujarat) at Navaratri.  Even today, the stories of the rise and fall of the Rajput Kings and the magnificence of the city of Champaner resonate in the houses of the locals.

The medieval city of Champaner was indeed ahead of its time. The Champaner – Pavagadh Archaeological Park sets a striking example of sustainable living in an ancient civilization. It narrates stories of the people and their varied ways of life; intelligent techniques that can challenge even the modern mind. Chamapner is history written on reddish – yellow rocks, a national heritage brought to life from a timeless era.

Words By: Jovita Elveera Mendonca

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