As Indians when we think of forts, immediately our minds transport us back to the splendour of the Mughal India or the massive Rajput forts of Rajasthan. No doubt, these forts are large, splendid and well built. They speak about an India that was royal, rich and far-sighted. Everyday thousands of tourists visit them to appreciate their wonders. But there are forts, which may not have been that well-known, however, they carry legacies of much earlier time, when India’s Hindu Kings and Emperors were constructing temples after temples, and through their patronage, regional art, languages, and music had blossomed across the length and breadth of the country.
One of these forts now lost in time is Dabhoi, a taluka town near Vadodara city in Gujarat.
Dabhoi was known as Darbhavati. It was a frontier town of the Solanki rule, who ruled Gujarat prior to the emergence of the rule of the Gujarat Sultanate. King Siddharaj Jaysinh (1094 – 1143), the most prominent Solanki King was its builder.
Dabhoi has a much earlier history. It was located in the Latha Country and had existed as far as 4th century AD. It was a centre of Jaina scholarship. However, the fort built by Siddharaj was a representation of Gujarat style. It is one of the three primary surviving examples of non- ritual architecture. The other two are the 11th century Queen’s step well at Patan and the 13th century city gate of Jhinjuwada in Saurashtra. Some historians however deny to Dabhoi’s non ritual character as adjacent Kalika Mata temple to Hira Gate along with extensive brahmanical sculptures on all four gates speak the ritual association.
The gates display layers of mouldings, such as kapotali, ratnapatta, a series of ardhapadma and a few kirtimukha elements, often found in their contemporary Hindu and Jain temples. However, the sharp contrast of Dabhoi gates from the Mughal and Rajput forts are the torana passages (the later have arched passages).
I visited Dabhoi in a quiet afternoon Sunday with Rahul Pal, a young man working as the ASI attendant. As I stepped into its historic corridor, I was mesmerized by its sculptural and archaeological wealth. Among its 4 massive gates, the Hira Gate which stands as a mute testimony to the legend of Hira Bhagol, the chief sculpture, has attached haveli like structures. Miniature balconies adorn the fort walls displaying a diversity of sculpture panels, from everyday life to war scenes.
As I flipped through the references on Dabhoi for writing this, I came across Coomaraswami’s words on Dabhoi – ‘The gates of Dabhoi are more elaborate, like all Hindu gates, the arch is formed of overlapping (corbelled) horizontal brackets, covered by massive lintels. These gates, and those of Gwalior are the finest now standing in India.’
The visit to Dabhoi was no doubt memorable, but I was also annoyed of its negligence. There are potholed roads all around, filthy and stinking surrounding and sheer apathy towards its preservation. The local people are also quite ignorant about its history. However, Dabhoi combined with Chanod on Narmada and Kayavarahon, the centre for Lakulisha cult, both located at a distance of 20/25 km from Dabhoi, the area offers good prospects for tourism. With effective plan and through sensitizing locals about its cultural wealth, I am sure its tourism potential can be tapped many folds.