Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park

Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park

Located in the state of Gujarat, the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is a concentration of mostly unexcavated archaeological, historic, and living cultural properties that include prehistoric sites, the remains of the 15th-century Gujarati capital, and a hilltop fortress of an early Hindu capital. In addition, the site includes religious buildings, palaces and fortifications, water installations, and residential precincts, all dating from between the 8th and 14th centuries. The mountaintop Kalikamata Temple is an important Hindu pilgrimage center. The site is important culturally and historically because it is the only complete and unchanged pre-Mogul Islamic city.

There are several reasons for the addition of the Archaeological Park on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Firstly, with its ancient Hindu architecture, temples, special water retaining installations, and military and agricultural structures, which date back to the regional 16th-century capital, the Park represents cultures that have since disappeared.

Secondly, the Park is an excellent example of a Capital that made the best use of its topography, setting, and natural features. It is vulnerable today due to modern life, forest takeover, and abandonment.

Thirdly, a perfect blend of Hindu-Muslim architecture can be seen in its buildings, particularly the Great Mosque (Jami Masjid), which was a model for later mosque architecture in India. This Mosque is one of the prettiest in Gujarat.

Lastly, the Park is still a place of continuous pilgrimage and worship for Hindus. The Kalikamata Temple on top of Pavagadh Hill, an important shrine, attracts large numbers of Hindu pilgrims throughout the year.

The Kalikamata Temple:
We visited the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park in December 2004. The site had just recently been classified (in 2004), and when we visited, we weren’t aware of it. We visited the Kalikamata Temple on top of the Pavagadh Hill – and only the Temple. We had been told that the fort and the mosque were worth visiting, and had thought about visiting them while we were in the area. However, in a single day (most particularly on a Full Moon Day), we didn’t have time to visit the mosque, palaces, fortifications, or other interesting sites. Visiting the Temple was an all-day experience in and of itself – quite fatiguing but quite rewarding.

We visited the Temple on December 26, the day that the tsunami struck Southeast Asia and India. Though the tidal waves hit the opposite coast of India, we felt as though we were being struck by a tidal wave of people at the pilgrimage site. Approximately 200,000 people visited the temple at the top of the mountain that day.

We made the pilgrimage with Soni and Sunil, the sister and brother of our Gujarati family in Godhra. We took a jeep partway up the mountain (the highest in Gujarat), where we were deposited behind a long line of jeeps and thousands of pilgrims making their way upward. The jeep ride bears some explanation. Up to 40 people can crowd into one jeep that would normally hold nine! Everyone squishes together, men hang out the sides, standing on a railing, and the driver is left with a miniscule section of windshield through which to see. Another man walks around the sides of the moving vehicle, collecting money as the jeep all the while.

We climbed over 1500 stairs, several hours up and about 1 ½ hrs. down. All along the paved path were shops and wooden stalls that sold offerings for the gods: coconuts, flowers, sweets, sugar. You could also find lemon juice, wine (though illegal in Gujarat!), toys, music cassettes, and posters and images of the gods. It was like a huge commercial center snaking its way up the mountain.

Because we went on a Full Moon Day (which have special religious significance), there was an especially large crowd. At certain points, guards controlled the pedestrian traffic, which can only be described as “bumper-to-bumper traffic.” They blew their whistles and moved the crowds along. The crowds were suffocating – you couldn’t move a single step one way or another or escape, even if you wanted to.

Small temples lined the route upwards, including Buddhist temples, where Hindus also made offerings. People broke coconuts open by dashing them against the stone of the temples. The juice was intended for the gods; the whole pieces were eaten. The statues of the gods were covered with flowers, coconut juice, and paint, which ran in streams down the statues. As we neared the top, we saw that there were tens upon tens of thousands of people waiting on stairs for the final ascent. It was a 4 or 5 hour wait at this point just the reach the temple at the top, only a couple of hundred stairs up. No one was moving; we had come to a stand-still. It was crowded as it can only be at an Indian pilgrimage site! We finally reached the top, and the Temple wasn’t very large, in fact. Offerings were plentiful, though. A pile of coconuts behind the temple reached at least 15 ft. high. A dot of paint on the forehead signified that you had completed the pilgrimage.

When someone prays ardently for something that is very important, they do a special “puja” (offering). We saw one such man, who made his way up the mountain in the following fashion: he prostrated himself on a cloth laid out on the ground, while family members spread orange paint on him and collected donations. He then got up, moved two paces forwards to a second cloth, and started the process again. He never touched the ground (off the cloth); it was a continuous progression upwards. It took us 2 ½ hours, walking at a brisk pace, to reach the bottom of the 4-hour line at the top. I don’t know how long it took him, but by the time we saw him on our way down the mountain hours later, he needed the support of two strong men to pick him up and place him in his next position. I imagine he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day, and the process didn’t allow one moment of rest under the hot sun.

Perhaps the most impressive thing was the sheer number of people – and their obvious religious fervor. Religion is alive and well in India!