1000 years back, a Hindu King from Gujarat silently created an artistic revolution. The King had a stable government. He was a great warrior too. He brought in the whole of Gujarat and neighbouring Malwa under his political control. Patan was his capital.
The King was no other than Siddharaj Jayasinh (1094 – 1143). He was credited for gifting some of Gujarat’s finest architectural gems. For last 2/3 months I have been both knowingly and accidentally stepping into the priceless legacies of Siddharaj one after another. First it was Dabhoi, then the Rudra Mahla complex at Sidhapur and more recently the step wells of Kapadvanj.
The purpose for visiting Kapadvanj, a medium sized town in Gujarat’s Kheda District was not to appreciate Siddharaj’s creation, but to stroll in the more famed Vorhawad, for which the town has become a destination for off-beat travellers. However, the legacy of Siddharaj defied my purpose. He had built two exquisite vavs (step wells) at the centre of the old town and a torana. Both are now encroached upon, dilapidated and used as dump yards. It seemed the cloth is torn, but the fragrance has remained.
The main structure called kundvav is a rectangular structure, similar to plan of Modhera step well. However, it is smaller and simpler than Modhera’s.
Kapadvanj (Karpat – Vanjiya or the land of textiles) was a major trading centre on the route inland from the port of Cambay and trade brought it wealth and importance in the time Siddharaj Jayasinh. It was located close to Mohar River, a perfect place for constructing step wells for water supply. A fortified settlement was established at Kapadvanj. According to local historians and elderly folks the town had five gates. We saw just one.
The gate we saw and the remnants of fortification attached to it carry the legacy of Solanki architecture. But we found a surprising feature. The Hindu gate is hidden from two parallel Islamic arched gates.
The Kundvav is built adjacent to its market and it was later surrounded by wooden havelis. Originally part of a temple complex it has many worn deities in its shrines, but they are not unified around one theme as they are at Patan. The pilgrims at Kapadvanj stepped down from the pool’s rim onto moon steps set between two large shells. Moon steps, their form borrowed from temple shrines, are both ornamental and symbolic endings for the stairs. Above the pool is free standing torana arch, a striking feature of Solanki art and architecture. The torana at Kapadvanj is one among the 13 kirtistambhas in Gujarat; however it is amongst the best preserved, only after the Vadnagar torana. It has two pillars and a transverse architrave. The entire torana is covered with elaborate sculptures.
Our next hop was at much talked Vohrawad (a Bohra neighbourhood marked by the special character of the elegantly hybrid architecture). But on our way a few wooden havelis drew our attention. They wore even sculptures of musicians, a usual feature of pol wooden houses in Ahmedabad and other historical towns of the region.
The Bohras are an old Shia Muslim trading community, with distinctive social, economic and cultural traits. Kapdavanj along with Sidhpur is one of their main centres developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, as business demanded many of them moved out of these towns and settled in far-flung cities like Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata and even abroad.
Vohrawad of Kapadvanj in contrast to its neighbouring Vania pols, is modern, yet has retained the earlier character of gated enclaves. Houses share common walls and have a narrow street side. Decorative wooden exteriors of the upper storey often project out from the building line. Even in the mid of the day, the streets were cool and shaded.
There are two Vorhawads in the town, and entered through an arched twin gate, the left leading to the nani or smaller Vohrawad and the right to the moti or bigger Vohrawad. In-between the two lays the elegant Borha Moti Masjid and the attached clock tower.
I left Kapadvanj both with a rich experience and disappointed heart (the pathetic condition of vavs, the priceless jewels of Siddharaj Jaysinh). Hopefully, one day there will be a realization about their importance and hence will be preserved for posterity.