It was 8th century AD Gujarat, a time of political turmoil, not because of Islamic invasion, which were centuries away, but due to the infamous conflicts between the ruling clans. Vallabhipura, the capital of Maitraka rulers was collapsing like a pack of cards.
At this time of turmoil, history had yet another destiny. A humble Bhil chief named Jayshikhri Chavda had declared himself as the King of North Gujarat, where the entire political drama shifted eventually.
But alas! Jayshikhri’s autocratic rule did not last long. He died in a battle even before his son Vanraj was born. After her husband’s death, Vanraj’s mother fled to the forest of Radhanpur where she gave birth to Vanraj (king of forest). Vanraj was educated by Jain priests and learnt both military skill and political education. He eventually raised an army of Bhil tribesmen and with the help of his friend Anhil, he regained his father’s lost kingdom.
Vanraj established his capital at modern day Patan and named it Anhilpur Patan, in the honour of his friend. In no time, Anhilapura Patan became a prosperous city and became a centre of Sun worship. During the reign of Vanraj’s successors, matrimonial bonds were established between the royal families of Anhilapur Patan and Kalyana of Goa-Karnataka region, and a Solanki became a king of Anhilapur Patan in the 10th century under the title Mularaj.
A new era of prosperity began. Scores of artists from south arrived at North Gujarat through these matrimonial bonds. These artisans had already been masters of art work and temple building. They brought their styles and under the patronage of Chalukya-Solanki kings built temples after temples. However, in this land along with traditional styles, several new designs were innovated, the well-known being were the torana arches and intricate jail works and a few others influenced by native Rajputna and Central Indian styles.
The Sun Temple at Modhera
The construction activity reached to its zenith during the reign of Siddharaj and Kumarpal in 11th and 12th centuries AD. In the middle of the 13th century, the Chalukya-Solanki rule was over and taken over by newly emerged Gujarat Sultanate dynasty. With this change in politics, the craftsmen shifted their focus to building mosques and tombs. But they could not give up their Hindu flavour. And this is the reason why we find the early Islamic architecture of Gujarat so Hindu in feeling, the only limitation imposed being the rigid exclusion of animal and human figures upon their walls.
One such early mosques of Gujarat which look typically Hindu in appearance is the Hilal Khan Qazi Mosque at Dholka, a town in Ahmedabad district.
Entrance Porch at Hilal Khan Mosque
I had no idea about the mosque till recently. But as I recall now, it was 2008, while I was living in Ahmeadbad’s old city area I was first exposed to the pictures of the mosque by Mr. Dilip Oza, a faculty from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.
Mr. Oza had visited the mosque along with a few NID students to study its design and architecture. While discussing he had told me I must visit the mosque at Dholka as it represents very strongly a Hindu temple. He also showed me a few jail works; one of them depicted a swastika. From then on I had decided that I would visit, but it was only last year I made it.
Dholka is predominantly a town of half Muslims and half Hindus living side by side. It was erstwhile known as Dhavalakka. It was adorned by Minal Devi, the mother of Siddharaj. Minal Devi had built a large reservoir, which still exists. Later, it came to known as Dholka, a chief trading town for cotton.
At Dholka my search was for the swastika that once Dilip Bhai had shown me. This led me to step into the mosque’s interior, but alas it was vandalised in recent years, probably due to its highlight – a Hindu symbol in an Islamic shrine. The mosque was called Hilal Khan Qazi Mosque, one of Gujarat’s earliest mosques built in 1333 AD. But it is still not known, who was Hilal Khan.
The mosque is located in a large courtyard. It consists of five bays covered by five low, plain conceal domes and has many mihrabs. The inner ceilings of domes are carved with concentric circles, a typical feature of Hindu temples in Gujarat. Each dome stands on a couple of pillars (mostly 8). These pillars are said to have been torn from Hindu temples. Whatever, the case may be, the profusion of pillars is again a feature of Hindu temples in Gujarat.
Pillars in side the Mosque
Another feature of the mosque is the entrance porch, which looks similar to a mandapa or mukhasala of Hindu temples of the region. These were just the first few glimpses of the mosque, which appeared so Hindu in feeling. But there were typical Islamic symbols too – such as the arches, the domes and the minars. Both have been brilliantly fused and given birth to what art historians refer – the Indo-Islamic Architecture of Gujarat, a fusion of Hindu, Jain and Islamic aesthetics.