Ashaval to Ahmedabad: What’s in a name?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013 - 12:29pm IST Updated: Tuesday, 1 January 2013 - 12:42pm IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA
In philosophical parlance, names may be a superficial dimension of existence; in pseudo-secular society it may be a taboo to reveal the identity; in practical terms names may be a need; but in research term they have more uses.

In philosophical parlance, names may be a superficial dimension of existence; in pseudo-secular society it may be a taboo to reveal the identity; in practical terms names may be a need; but in research term they have more uses.

Loaded with meanings and messages they can help decode hidden dimensions. The names of our city, from Ashaval to Ahmedabad, hold important information of its time and circumstances; of its places and people.

One of the earliest names for Ahmedabad is recorded as Ashaval – corrupted form of Asha Palli — denoting settlement of Asha, a headman of Bhil tribe around turn of the first millennium.

‘Karnavati’ refers to King Karnadev of Solanki dynasty from Anhilpur Patan in the late 11th century. Rajnagar, the name ascribed to capital city of the state, is also found in Jain manuscripts. Ahmedabad, corrupted to Amdavad, of course, is associated with Sultan Ahmedshah, the third king of the Independent Sultanate in Gujarat, in the year 1411.

Subsequently, Jahangir in his short stint at Ahmedabad as a governor of the Mughal empire, called it Gardabad- city of dust. With high proportion of suspended dust particles in the air, the name holds true even now. This name also hints at the desert-like geography and geology of the place then, thus authenticating Philip Baldeau’s painting of Ahmedabad showing date trees in the local landscape and camels moving amid these trees.

Names even hint at the terrain. As much as we wish to think that Ahmedabad sits on a flat plain, Jodhpur tekra, Thaltej tekra, Gulbai tekra and over two dozen other tekras indicate the undulating terrain of the city. Thaltej tekra in itself mean ‘mound of dust’. Corresponding to the tekra, obviously there are depressions.

These remain the natural catchment for rain water runoff, transformed as ponds (Bodu). Malav talao evolves due to Shreyas tekra, Memnagar due to Thaltej tekra and so on. Alas, when these associations get forgotten and ponds are filled up for development, we face water logging in Vastrapur and drying of Sarkhej Roza pond, as water understands only gravity.

No point complaining of water ingress in Lakhudi settlement as it is primarily Lakhudi talavadi which has been invaded for habitation. Ahmedabad is located at 46.96 metres above mean sea level at Nava Wadaj, 57.3 m at Ranip and 73.76 m at Sola.

This is considerably undulating for road network design and storm drainage strategies. Even geology echoes in the names. Kankaria Lake derives its name from Kankar or pebbles. Sandy strata around kagdi ol or north Manek Chowk refers to waterways through these regions. If only we can reinvestigate, understand and reapply these historic ‘micro-macro’ links, our infrastructure planning would be more suited to the local geology, geography and geometry.

Like the region, even names of city elements speak volumes of the milieu. Of the 306 pols (residential precincts), nearly a third are named after individuals, while 15 percent names denote the occupation of the inhabitants. Seventeen are derived from vegetation while about 10 are from animals, reflecting people’s association with natural elements.

Contrary to Pols; Khadkis, Wadas and Vas are largely named after the clan and occupations. Change in trend can be seen in societies built later, where more than half of the societies are named after value adjectives and Gods rather than individuals, occupations or clans. Importantly earlier there never were names based on economic strata like Nicha nagar or “D” colony or Officers’ quarters. Earlier, names also related to place or people, unlike current breed of Himalaya mall or Alpha One. 

Ahmedabad’s city structure is not geometrically derived and therefore location reference or address, like Chandigarh or Gandhinagar, is not based on numbers but landmarks and often natural features. For example, Gol Limda, Panch Pipli, Bhut ni Ambli etc. have reference to trees as landmarks. In fact, thanks to the names ‘Shahibaug’ and ‘Ambawadi’, one is inclined to glance back and conjure the existence of a royal garden and a fruit orchard that may have existed in these areas. While there may be no physical trace of the vegetation left in recent times, the historical documents prove their presence and force us to consider what we have lost over time in the name of development and modernisation.

While GPS has nightmares locating spots in the labyrinthine geometry of the city, the traditional system of references by mentioning what is opposite, near or between may prove more effective in locating the place. Such addresses fail to fit in government forms where address spaces are miserly designed for addresses like ‘1034 Park Avenue, New York’ or ‘Gh road 113, Gandhinagar’.

Vibrant cities have more complex references and we can infer quite a lot from etymological traces. Perhaps, there is lot in the name. Let us infer sense in names and not fight nonsensically over them.

The writer is an Ahmedabad-based architect.
pandyatin@gmail.com


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