GUJARAT A state in western India, Gujarat in 2001 had a population of 50.6 million and an area of 75,700 square miles (196,000 sq. km). Gujarat is shaped like an amphitheater, encircled by rugged hills, with its plains opening to the sea and the Kathiawar penisula at its center. The semicircle has a radius of about 186 miles (300 km). This setting provided in some periods of history a base for regional powers. Mighty Indian emperors tried to control this rich region and its maritime trade throughout Indian history. Nevertheless, Gujurat has acquired an impressive historical personality of its own.
Ancient History: From the Indus Civilization to the Guptan Empire
Gujarat was an important outpost of the ancient Indus Valley (Harappa) Civilization. Two ports of this civilization are located at the eastern and western side of the Kathiawar penisula: Lothal, which has been excavated long ago, and the much larger Dholavira, where excavations are still in progress. Harappan sites like Oriyo Timbo and Rojdi in the interior of Kathiawar have shed light on the material culture of this time. The grazing of cattle and the growing of millets seem to have been the most important agricultural activities in this area. There is a theory that some of the millets came from Africa and helped to sustain people in the arid parts of Gujarat, where wheat and barley did not grow.
Gujarat participated in the maritime trade of the Indus Civilization. It also attracted European seafarers at the time of the greatest expansion of the Roman empire. The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, written by an anonymous author around a.d. 50, testifies to the importance of Bharuch (Barygaza) as an leading emporium of his time. He mentions that goods from Ujjain were available at Barygaza. He also reports that the Saka rulers of the time insisted that maritime traders would visit Barygaza and not other ports farther down the coast. Cotton textiles were among the major items of trade, and they were taken by Indian traders as far as the ports in the Red Sea. The Gujaratis must have been prominent among those maritime traders, and they must have continued in this trade throughout many centuries. Tome Pires, the Portuguese traveler who met Gujaratis in the ports of Southeast Asia around 1515 was deeply impressed with their business acumen. He even recommended that his countrymen should learn from them. Khambat (Cambay), which he visited, was in his time the most important emporium of Gujarat; it reached out to Aden in the west and to Malacca in the east and depended on these farflung connections.
While Gujarat, with its long coastline and its many ports, was deeply attached to the Indian Ocean, it was also connected to North India by caravan routes to Agra and Delhi, one passing through Palanpur via Mount Abu to the north, the other following the Narmada valley and turning north at Burhanpur. But from the north came invaders as well. The legendary Krishna who came down from Mathura to settle at Dwarka is worshiped in Gujarat to this day. Ashoka had his famous edicts inscribed on the Girnar rock near Junagadh, and in a.d. 150 the Saka ruler Rudradaman I adorned the same rock with a Sanskrit inscription. Skandagupta of the great Gupta dynasty added another Girnnar inscription in 456. When the Huns invaded India around 500, they wiped out the last empire of ancient India, but there is no evidence of their rule in Gujarat. However, the Rajputs and Gurjars, who are supposed to have come with the Huns from Central Asia, then imposed their rule on Gujarat, which became known as Gurjaradesha. The rule of these people was at first rather decentralized. Many little kings established local strongholds. But in due course some larger political units emerged.
Medieval History: Rajputs, Gurjars, and the Sultanate of Gujarat
The local dynasties that ruled medieval Gujarat were the Valabhis (c. 490–770), with their capital near the present city of Bhavnagar, and the Chalukyas or Solankis (c. 942–1242). The Chalukyas established their capital at Patan Anhilvada in the plains at the foot of the hills about 62 miles (100 km) northeast of Ahmedabad. Their king Bhim Dev I (r. 1022–1054) was a powerful ruler, but even he could not prevent the destruction of the great Shiva temple at Somnath by the Afghan invader Mahmud of Ghazni in 1026. This attack remained an episode, and the reign of the greatest king of the Solankis, Siddhraj (1094–1143), was a period of glory for medieval Gujarat.
Gujarat also provided a safe haven for the Parsis who fled their Iranian home about 716 to protect their religious identity from the Muslims. But in due course, Muslim conquerors also reached Gujarat. Under Alaʾ-ud-Din Muhummad Khalji, the Delhi Sultanate extended its sway to Gujarat, and a Muslim governor was installed at Patan in 1298. But the control of Delhi over Gujarat was always tenuous, and in 1407 the last governor of the Delhi Sultanate, which had fallen prey to the invader Timur, turned into a sultan of Gujarat. His grandson Ahmad I (r. 1411–1442) then founded Ahmedabad in 1411 near the old town of Asawal. The famous architecture of the new capital reflected a beautiful synthesis of Hindu and Muslim art. The greatest sultan of Gujarat was Mahmud I Begada (r. 1458–1511). He consolidated his realm and extended its sway from Jungadh in the west to Champaner in the east. He subdued the Rajput rulers of these two fortified strongholds and made Champaner, approximately 75 miles (120 km) southeast of Ahmedabad, his new capital, from where he could launch further expeditions toward Malwa. The sultans of Gujarat derived most of their wealth from the taxing of maritime trade and were envied by the rulers of North India for that. But until the Mughals established their empire, Gujarat could very well defend itself against covetous invaders.
Gujarat under the Mughals and under the British
Humayun attacked Gujrat and sacked Champaner in 1535. But he soon had to leave Gujarat as his power was threatened in the north. Gujarat was then ruled by a series of weak sultans and ambitious courtiers. It was also threatened from the sea by the rising power of the Portuguese, who managed to entrench themselves at Div. When Akbar turned his attention to Gujarat, his conquest of this rich region was nearly effortless. The nobles of Gujarat surrendered to him. He did not even have to defeat them in a major battle. The only dangerous enemies he had to confront in Gujarat were his own rebellious cousins, the Mirzas, who had established a stronghold in South Gujarat. After he had vanquished them, Gujarat became one of his most precious possesssions. Contemporary Europeans actually called Akbar the King of Cambay, because Cambay (Khambat) was the greatest port of his empire before it silted up and was then replaced by Surat.
When the Mughal empire declined, the Marathas established strongholds in Gujarat. Their great king Shivaji sacked Surat in 1664, but he did not establish any permanent territorial rule over Gujarat. This was left to a Maratha general of the eighteenth century who became the Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda (Vadodara). When the British established their colonial rule in India, they entered into an alliance with the maharaja of Baroda, and his heirs continued to rule a large part of Gujarat until 1947. Under British rule, Gujarat consisted of a patchwork of princely states interspersed with districts under direct British control. In one of these princely states, Porbandar on the coast of Kathiawar, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869, later emerging as the Mahatma, the greatest son of Gujarat, to lead the Indian freedom movement.
Gujarat in Independent India
After 1947 Gujarat remained part of the giant Bombay presidency, which had been composed by the British out of various incompatible elements. The Maharashtrians were most vocal in claiming their own linguistic state within India, but this also included Bombay (Mumbai), in which Gujarati businessmen controlled almost all economic activities. The government of India was reluctant to permit a reorganization of the Bombay presidency, as they felt that this would endanger national unity. But due to persistent agitation, Gujarat and Maharashtra were finally separated in 1960, and Mumbai and Ahmedabad became the capitals of Maharashtra and Gujarat, respectively. Later, Gujarat established a new capital, Gandhinagar, about 19 miles (30 km) north of Ahmedabad. Initially, the Congress Party, which had been in power in the Bombay presidency, also remained in control of the two new states. But in recent years the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has emerged as a new force, particularly in Gujarat. The new state is in the forefront of Indian economic development, but this has also increased social tensions. Gujarat has a very assertive new middle class, which tends to support the BJP.
The Muslim Massacre of 2002
The most striking event of Gujarat's recent history was the massacre that cost the lives of thousands of Muslims in the city of Ahmedabad. The Muslim minority amounts to only about 9 percent of the population. However, while in most parts of India the Muslims are poor artisans, workers, and peasants, there have been many rich traders among the Muslims of Gujarat. They participated in maritme trade, and many of them settled overseas. In general, they got along well with the Hindu middle class, but obviously some competition and rivalry have developed in recent times. The event that triggered the massacre in Gujarat was an attack of a Muslim mob on a train carrying Hindu activists who had visited Ayodhya, the site of the mosque destroyed in 1992. The train was stopped at a Muslim settlement near Godhra and several of its cars were burned, causing the death of several dozen women and children.
The revenge that was inflicted on the Muslims of distant Ahmedabad, who had not been involved in this crime, was terrible. There is evidence that it was not spontaneous but was pursued in a systematic manner. The police did not interfere, and the state government remained suspiciously inactive. Even middle-class Hindus participated in the looting of Muslim property. Voices were raised demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, but he defied all criticism. In the subsequent elections he projected the pride (gaurav) of Gujarat and won with a large margin. The national leadership of his party, the BJP, did not censure him. Only after the loss of the national elections in 2004 did the former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, admit that the massacre in Gujarat may have contributed to a setback of his party at the national level. It was an irony of fate that this extraordinary outbreak of communal violence happened in Gujarat, whose most famous son, Mahatma Gandhi, had advocated nonviolent conflict resolution. Gandhi also had very good relations with Muslims. He had been sent to South Africa by a Muslim businessman from Gujarat, and he had involved the Muslim traders from Gujarat in his campaign against racial discrimination in South Africa. He had quelled Hindu-Muslim riots in Kolkata (Calcutta) and in Delhi in 1947, and he would have been shocked by the terrible massacre of Muslims in his home state.
Commissariat, M. S. A History of Gujarat Including a Survey of Its Chief Architectural Monuments and Inscriptions, vol. I: FromA.D. 1297 toA.D. 1573. Mumbai: Longmans, Green, 1938.
Kulke, Hermann, and Dietmar Rothermund. A History of India. 4th rev. ed. London: Routledge, 2004.