Time has bestowed beauty to the pol architecture of Gujarat, making it an ornament of world architecture. The 21st century, the century of urbanisation, aims to achieve the goal of harmonious cities by focusing on developing harmonious relations between the spatial, the social and the environmental aspects of the cities.
Having read so much about the pols, we wanted to imbibe the essence of the old city in all its means, we stayed in a place in one of the pols, and we spent time loving the old city. I loved the close knit environment, the colourful doors and the loving people behind them. Ahmedabad to me is just a melting pot of cultures, religion and traditions. In this, the rapidly developing new Ahmedabad has a lot to learn from the heritage of the walled town. Without proper knowledge of the pols, our knowledge of Ahmedabad is incomplete. These pols are the real identity of Ahmedabad. The word ‘Pol’ conjures up an image of an old world charm and a series of innovations in sustainable architecture dovetailed into the built form. ‘Pol’ architecture is an interesting evolution in urban living space.
The pols of old Ahmedabad are old residential areas dating back to 1714. The word 'Pol' is derived from a Sanskrit word 'Pratoli' . The 'Pols' were known as 'Pada' in the Solanki period. It is said that when Sultan Ahmed Shah found the city, he stayed in the pol in the beginning. This pol was known as 'Mahurat Pol', which is now in Manekchowk. The construction of new pols continued and even increased during - Maratha Rule. Many pols were constructed during the years 1760 to 1818.
The city has many big and small pols ranging from six house pol (Ghar-ni-Pol) to pols having about 3,000 houses (a big settlement). The biggest pol of Ahmedabad is known as Mandavi-ni-pol. At present, there are about 60,000 houses in 600 pols of Ahmedabad. Reflecting the rich cultural ethos of Gujarat, pols have their geographical origins in the north of Gujarat. Known as "padas" in the north Gujarat towns like Patan, pols are a key to the understanding of what is called the settlement pattern of Gujarat. Originally, people of the same caste or social group would live together in a "khadki" and a group of "khadkis" would make a pol. During the Muslim period, the residential areas meant for the high officials of Ahmedabad were called "puras". Each pura would have many pols lived in by people who were attracted by the opportunities that the city had to offer.
They are honeycomb like community dwellings enclosed by a wall and protected by huge gates. There are about 360 pols in the old city of Ahmedabad alone. Many of these pols have colourful names, reflecting the richness of Gujarati language. These densely packed clusters of rows upon rows of houses, joined by labyrinthine streets are where thousands of years old Indian architectural traditions continue to live. These pols are an exuberant riot of beautiful wooden facades, lovely wooden brackets, lovingly carved fenestrated windows, magical balconies,otlas, carved wooden chabutaras (bird feeders) for feeding pigeons, khadkis and chowks, a main street with crooked lanes branching on either side, secret entrances, walls and gates which were barred at night, temple, playing areas, sculptured wooden doors, windows, beams, pillars and balconies. The central open space is known as the chowk and the rest of the zones are built around it.
More about the peeling paint, open windows, closed doors, coloured facades in the next few posts..
All images Lakshmi Arvind. Text courtesy here, here, here and here.