Published on January 1, 2020
AHMEDABAD: Did you know how your past smelt or what sounds are attached to it? Do only old dilapidated intricately carved wooden havelis qualify as heritage? How do odours, sights or sounds stir collective memories and help a community engage with its own culture and history?
To find answers to these questions, a joint team of students from CEPT University and University of New South Wales, Australia, explored Zaveriwad, one of the oldest areas in Ahmedabad’s Walled City, and asked local residents to recall their memories of smells, sounds and voices from their past. Recordings were kept of the responses.
The researchers found that traffic sounds were increasingly drowning all ambient noises at Sambhavnath ni Pol, Ambli Pol, Waghan Pol and Chaumukhji ni Pol covered under the study – making them indistinguishable from other parts of the city. In earlier times one usually heard the chirping of birds from the bird feeders (chabutara) sounds of women making meals and the usual chatter at the crossroads in the pols. A few also remembered the jeweller workshops and the sounds of the ‘derasar’ (Jain temple) where locals prayed and performed rituals.
“Memory is a powerful tool that stays with people even when the tangible heritage is gone. We learned that many citizens, now settled elsewhere in Ahmedabad, still identify themselves with their respective pols. It distinguishes Ahmedabad, making it a living and breathing heritage city,” said Gauri Bharat, associate professor and head of the architectural history programme at Faculty of Architecture, Cept University.
The students were exploring processes for identification, protection and conservation of these sensory experiences.
Bharat said the area was selected for its rich history and Jain traditions. “The students talked to locals about their memory in terms of sound and sights. One of the responses recorded that a man had associated his pol with sounds of a next-door derasar and the trains at Kalupur which could be heard distinctly during quieter night hours,” she said.
A group of students also mapped the distribution of activities in the area and studied the local culture and ethos. An exhibition based on the project was organized recently at Chaumukhji ni Pol.
A pictorial representation of various pols by the Australian students mapped day-to-day activities, oft-spoken phrases and distinctive features such as subterranean derasar offering visitors a view of only the face of the Tirthankar. Participants said that Jain sadhvis explained the socio-religious nature of the area.
Prof Ramji Savaliya, the former director of the BJ Institute of Learning and Research, said that the area is distinct in the history of Walled City of Ahmedabad due to its association with prominent citizens such as Shantidas Zaveri and affluent jewellers. “Even during the Mughal era, one finds records mentioning guards outside the pols for the security of the ‘wealth of the city.’ The area has retained some of its features even today,” he said.