Cashing on the curiosity generated among the people on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s humble beginning and his phenomenal rise to power, Gujarat Tourism has launched a first of a kind tour itinerary, where visitors will be taken in and around Vadnagar, a small town at a distance of about 110 km from Ahmedabad, where Narendra Modi was born.
On the way from Ahmedabad to Vadnagar in Mehsana district, the travelers will visit the primary school, ‘Vadnagar Prathmik Kumar Shala’, where 64-year-old Modi’s academic journey had begun. Vadnagar Railway station, which according to tourism officials is “the most unforgettable place” where Modi used to sell tea in his father’s tea stall, Hatkeshwar Temple, where Narendra Modi used to spend the evenings and “used to play drums during evening Aartis”. The streets where he used to play with his friends and the Sharmishtha Lake where, one of the most favourite places of his early childhood.
Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd (TCGL), through its official partner Ahmedabad based Akshar Travels Pvt Ltd, is offering this day-long tour, costing Rs 600 per head.
The package, ‘A Rise From Modi’s Village’, has reportedly become a huge hit among tourists since its launch. TCGL is simultaneously promoting the tour on its website. According to the tour operator, the unique package has been getting “very good response” since it was first presented during Vibrant Gujarat Summit in January this year.
Akshar Travel’s Pankaj Chaudhari has said: “We had engaged a 56-seater bus for this tour. We initially planned once a week, but often we have to keep two such buses ready. People are showing huge interest in the itinerary. Not just Gujaratis, but people from other States are also showing interests in the tour”.
According to TCGL officials, this special package has now added importance of Vadanagar as a tourist place in Gujarat, though the city has much historical importance.
“Vadnagar was always known as a historical place, mainly due to its ancient Buddhist caves and monuments built by Solanki rulers in the 10th Century. Now, Vadnagar is gaining popularity as the birthplace of our PM. This idea of a special tour package has given a new lease of life to the town,” said PRO of TCGL, Khyati Nayak.
The Ancient Connection
In May last year, when the Chinese Premiere Li Keqiang called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi to congratulate him on his victory, Modi had mentioned about the relation of his birthplace with the legendary seventh century Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang.
Narendra Modi had reportedly told Li about how Hiuen Tsang had visited his hometown Vadnagar during his 15-year stay in India. And it’s a fact that, much ahead of the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi was planned on the banks of River Sabarmati in Ahmedabad, diplomats from China had visited Vadnagar to see, if the meeting could be held at Vadnagar itself!
Ahmedabad was chosen for the crucial meeting due to security reasons and wider connectivity. But Modi’s birthplace Vadnagar, along with other Buddhist settlements in Gujarat, still hold some importance in intrinsic diplomatic relations.
It is also said that a special dossier on Vadnagar was made by three different departments of Gujarat Government and presented to the Chinese diplomatic teams. There is a near possibility of a tie-up between the two Governments, based on the ancient relation, for a future project in Vadnagar and other related Buddhist sites.
In January this year, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has begun excavations in Vadnagar to corroborate the nearly 1,400-year-old account of Hiuen Tsang.
As per Ms. Madhulika Samanta, the Superintending Archaeologist, Excavation Branch (Baroda): “Vadnagar has been inhabited for over 2,300 years”.
“Both Hiuen Tsang and Abul Fazal (who lived in the court of Emperor Akbar in the 16th century), have mentioned that Vadnagar was a huge town and a trade centre. The city was built around the Sharmishtha lake. Our purpose is to find out what happened to the lost city. Also, we are trying to find out what happened to the other nine Buddhist monasteries and elements,” she said.
Samanta has also mentioned that Vadnagar was fortified in the 12th century by Kumarpal of the Solanki dynasty of Patan. The ongoing ASI excavation has reached up to the level of Kumarpal, and is now going deeper, according to her.
“Till now, we have found housing complexes, covered drains, and evidence of a huge kiln of unusual shape which might have been put to some kind of industrial use. It is possible that we might unearth the other monasteries that Hiuen Tsang mentioned,” she said.
A Buddhist Centre
The renowned Chinese traveller and chronicler had mentioned in the seventh century that there were 10 Buddhist monasteries in that area of Gujarat at that time.
Already, the earlier excavations by Gujarat State Archaeology Department between 2006 and 2010 had unearthed monumental remains that were supposed as one of the monasteries.
ASI Additional Director General Dr B R Mani has said: “As of now, we have found shards of pottery, lead, coins and many other objects. The excavation is in progress.”
As per Ms. Madhulika Samanta, the Superintending Archaeologist, Excavation Branch (Baroda), too said that ASI’s excavation was to find the “lost city” of Vadnagar mentioned in historical accounts.
Excavations have also revealed that a Buddhist Monastery dated back to the 2nd-7th century AD. In Vadnagar was mentioned in the records of Hiuen Tsang as Onan-to-pu-lo (Anandpur) during his visit in 641 AD. He had mentioned that the town had around 1,000 Buddhist monks at the monasteries, at that time.
“There are some ten sangharama with less than 1,000 priests. They study the Little Vehicle [Hinayana sect of Buddhism] of Sammatiya school. There are several big temples, and sect members of different kinds frequent them,” Hiuen Tsang wrote.
There were many Buddhist centres in ancient Gujarat. Various references indicate that in the 7th century, Vallabhi was one of the significant Hinayana Buddhist Universities and was comparable to Nalanda’s Mahayana Buddhist tradition. One of the best instances of the Buddhist edicts is found at Ashokan Rock Edicts in Junagarh. Then there are the Caves at Khambhalia, Talaja, Sana, Siyot and Kadia Dunger, which have relics of ancient Buddhist settlements.
MS University in Vadodara is one of the five places worldwide which is in possession of the relic casket containing mortal remains of Lord Buddha. Archaeologists from MSU had recovered the casket from Devni Mori, a village in north Gujarat that was going to be submerged in 1957, due to the construction of a dam.
The City On A Mound
According to the archaeologists, the present Vadnagar city, which appears to be situated on a hill of a height varying from 7 to 30 meters, is actually sitting on a very large artificial mound.
This mound is created by a number of layers of buildings built and destroyed in earlier periods. Diggings done for archaeological excavations or construction of houses in recent times show no end to these layers till one reaches to the level of farmland surrounding the city. These layers speak of a very interesting history of several thousand years.
According to legends, in ancient times, a King who was cured of leprosy by bathing in the magical waters of the city’s Shakti pith had built the city anew in gratitude, full of temples and palaces. This place was the home of the famous saint and philosopher Yagyavalkya, an authority of interpreting the Vedas. The place attracted many scholars in that ancient times and earned fame as a centre of learning.
Sharmishth Lake is the landmark of Vadnagar. It is believed that this was the place where Yagyavalkya’s Ashram once stood. His son, Katyayan, was also a great sage had established two important shrines called Vastupad and Mahaganapati in Vadnagar.
Later it became the capital of Anarta Kingdom. The city of Aanartapur seems to have risen to considerable glory during the Mahabharata era. There are several mentions about Anarta in the Mahabharata. The Anarta warriors fought on both the sides of the Great War.
Satyaki, Chief of Anartas, was a warrior General in the Pandava Army. Kritavarma, the other great Anarta warrior, was also a General in the Kaurava Army. Anarta Kingdom lost many of its warriors in the great Mahabharata war.
Alexander the Great conquered a major part of western India, including Kutch, in 325 B.C. While returning from India he left many Greek citizens here in India. Many of his soldiers, minor officers, helpers and auxiliary elements of the Army and the artisans, chose to stay back in India.
Some of these Greeks are believed to have traveled from Kutch to Aanartapur as it was the most attractive city in the region. The legend of Greek connection has persisted over the long span of time. One such belief is that the Nagars Brahmins are their descendants. Anthropologists have found Alpine traits in them!
The Solanki Rulers
After the decline of the Anarta Kingdom, Patan became the new capital of Gujarat. It was founded in 745 AD. It flourished and reached its zenith under the Solanki rulers between 942-1244 AD. The Solankis drove out the Malva rulers (Whom Hiuen Tsang had mentioned in his journals) from the Vadnagar region. The great Solanki ruler Kumarpal rebuilt the fort around it in 1152 A.D. Till the end of the 13th century the city remained well protected under the Solankis and its trade, culture and industry flourished under their rule.
For nearly four centuries the Solanki rulers built many palaces, temples, market places, and public amenities like roads, vavs (stepwells), kunds (public baths), wells, and inns for the travelers, in and around the city.
Torans or ‘Victory Arches’ are the most significant historical monuments of Vadnagar. These magnificent arches, standing on the western side of Lake Sharmishtha, are believed to have been erected by the Solanki rulers in the 10th century. And probably they symbolise their numerous victories. Many of these are still intact.
The old city of Vadnagar had the majestic Fort with six gates built by the Solanki king Kumarpal in 1152 A.D. The Arjunbari Darwajo (Gate), is situated right on the bank of Lake Sharmishtha a facing east. Today most part of the Fort’s wall is gone, but five of the six gates still exist somehow undamaged. Each of the existing five gates bears a different design. The outstanding example of higher craftsmanship.
After establishment of Delhi Sultanate in North India, the Army of Allauddin Khilji marched towards Gujarat. On its way to Patan, the capital of the Solankis, the Army first reached Vadnagar. Vadnagar was then vandalised, burnt and massacred. After the end of Solanki rule, the city had no army to defend itself. In 1304 Gujarat was completely captured by the Delhi Sultanate.
In 1411, the local Sultan Ahmed Shah moved his capital to Ahmedabad.
Not just the Delhi Sultanate or the Mughals, Vadnagar attracted many more invaders. On the end of Mughal empire, the Marathas became more powerful and invaded Vadnagar in the year 1726. The city was ransacked and was burnt down by the invading army.
In a series of invasions, in 1735 Kandaji Holker attacked the city and his Army looted it completely. And In 1737 Prataprao Gaekwad’s Army attacked the city and destroyed it. Massive attacks, one after another had ultimately depleted Vadnagar of its past glory. It was left without its business might, cultural and educational supremacy and its erudite, elite population. The city could never recover fully from the ruins.
Later when Vadnagar came under the rule of the Marathas, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda took steps to revive the city. Education is one area where Vadnagar has excelled in the following years.
Rail arrived at Vadnagar in 1907, connecting the city with the rest of India and opening up major business opportunities. Soon, trade and commerce flourished and the city became an important regional market for many agricultural and small scale industrial products.
This is the city where Narendra Modi was born in the year 1950, and grown up.
And that’s another long and fascinating story, relating Vadnagar.
By: Deep Basu