Research Paper on
â€œChabutroâ€? (A bird feeding tower)
Approaches To Culture & Communication
Jenil Malavia M.Des
Ahmedabad A Heritage City
Officially, the founding of Ahmedabad is attributed to one of the early rulers of the Gujarat
Sultanate, Ahmed Shah, when he shifted the capital from Anahilwad Patan to the banks of the river Sabarmati in 1411 A.D. It is suggested that dispersed agrarian villages were hemmed in by a wall at a later stage to define the limits of the city which was essentially established on trade and crafts by encouraging large scale immigration of diverse communities. The cityâ€™s nucleus grew along the linear axis between the political centre of Bhadra citadel at one end, and the religious and commercial centres of Jumma Masjid and Manek Chowk respectively sitting adjacent at the other end. In 600 years of history, city has been a seat to atleast four regimes of momentous power, which, however departed rather ungracefully. From its inception in early 15th century to the third quarter of the 16th century Ahmedabad was capital to independent Sultanate of Gujarat. Succumbing to the relentless Mughal onslaught in the north, the city surrendered without a fight in 1572 to Akbar. However, the city gained vital cultural value through the numerous monuments erected by the Mughals. There is an interesting legend associated with the Ahmedabad city. Towards the beginning of the fifteenth century, the state of Gujarat was ruled by the Muslim Muzaffarid dynasty. Once Sultan Ahmed Shah was standing on the banks of river Sabarmati and he noticed a tiny hare chasing a strong ferocious dog. He kept pondering over it. He approached a spiritual leader and asked for explanation. This learned man said that, it is the uniqueness of this land that cultivates such rare qualities in its people. After having heard this, the Sultan got so impressed that he decided to set up the capital and he called this land Ahmedabad. Town planning of old Ahmedabad, especially pol's are imitation of Patan, which was original capital of Ahmedshah Badshah. He had come with an infantry of 1 lakh men, 3200 camels, 800 elephants, 600 canons, 1600 cargoes, 1600 carts and 50 lakh cash to build city of Ahmedabad.
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Pole : A Tale of Real Ahmedabad
A Pol (from Sankskrit word ‘Pratoli’ – entrance to an enclosed area) forms a quiet world secluded from the rush outside. The sharing of community spaces and resources such as water and building structure, techniques and materials offered social security and self-sufficiency to the pol inhabitants. The integrated construct of a pol, with common structural walls between contiguous houses, the use of lime mortar and wood in the construction not only strengthened but also proved to offer resistance to earthquake. This idiomatically translates into the social bonding engendered by proximate living. Each pole was crowned with a directional arrow indicating a bifurcation of the tunnels forming a dotted map of the entire system. The upper floors of the ‘havelis’ had overhanging balconies and windows, casting a complete shadow on the streets below, maintaining a cool atmosphere for comfortable locomotion through the day. Each ‘haveli’ was built on a ‘tanka’ or water reservoir. The walled city was built before motor vehicles, meant for pedestrians and bicycles, so its small windy streets are best explored on foot. The ‘pol’ architecture in living spaces portrays a true blend of aesthetic design and functionality, analogizing a marriage of need and beauty. However, in the present context of rapidly changing social values the proximity of living is considered as threat to privacy, and amenities like kitchen toilet are now a necessity in every house. Rampant commercialisation, high population density and deluge of vehicular traffic are destroying the traditional built environment and the ways of life it nurtured.
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Pol And Its Paraphernalia
Pol Gate The portal under the porch affording access to the main street is the only way in and out of the pol. A steep leads to the guard's quarters located atop the portal.
Chabutro The bird-feeder is frequently present in smaller community spaces. The chabutro provides space to birds when trees are rare in this dense environment.
Mohalla Mata The shrine nearby a Hindu or Jain pol entrance is the ritual place for puja, prayers and daily offerings.
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Blackboard Located in the chowk or near the pol gate it carries announcements of dates for festivities, weddings and other information for the inhabitants of the pol.
Parab Water Pots can be most often found sitting atop a podium for thirsty passersby at the entrance of pols.
Tanka An underground storage for rainwater harvesting is integral to the traditional house.
Chabutaro : Stands Tall Over the Years
A visitor to a pol invariably finds a chabutaro - a bird feeder raised in the chowk. It is a manifestation of the Human compassion for birds by the people of Ahmedabad.
Built from stone and bricks these are elevated platforms which provide refuge to a variety of birds, ranging from the small sized sparrows, mynas and pigeons to large ones such as peacocks.
Chabutaro - a stone or wooden tower with artistic canopy over it constructed to feed birds-is a salient feature of the ambience of any pol in Ahmedabad. There are nearly 120 of them.
The common function of chabutaras is providing refuge to birds that are commonly found in human settlements; showing a heart-warming concern for nonhuman life.
Many are in a dilapidated condition and need to be restored for their heritage value. The architecture of chabutaro is different from the rest because it contains intricate carvings and unique interlocking system of construction.
Most commonly seen structures are the ek-dandia chabutara which is essentially a platform covered with a dome or a hood and mounted on a 5-6ft high pole. On the platform a dish of water and some food is put for birds.
The food is kept on a wooden plate like structure and is raised above the ground in order to save the feeding birds from stray dogs and cats. The chabutro in ancient time was also known for the wood carving done on it. Apparently it did not merely remain a place for feeding birds but was looked upon as an decorative element in public places and also as an iconic location, which people could identify.
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Conceptual Mind Map
Questions asked to frame a cultural architecture revolving around the chabutro.
The story behind the chabutro coming into existence.
For birds how important is the chabutro ?
People What role does this play in the life of people residing there?
Trees How chabutro fills the place of a tree in the congested pol ?
How does this make structure make an impact to the people?
Significance of Chabutro
The chabutro has influences of hindu, muslim & Jain Architectural designs. However the practice of putting up these bird feeding tables is undoubtedly linked to the jain faith, which preaches non-violence and humanity.
A reference has been made to the Egyptian culture, many families in Gujarat believe that after once death the soul assumes the form of birds and animals. So by caring for birds by putting food and water and providing shelter in chabutras they are also caring for the souls of their departed ancestors.
According to one view, originally chabutras were meant to be the destination of message carrying pigeons in the royal households. It is well known that long before the day when wireless and telephone existed, messages were carried by trained pigeons. In India too pigeons were widely used for carrying messages from one point to another. It is believed that, at least in Gujarat, chabutras or similar structures were the logical destination point of all birds, including the message bearing pigeons.
Even though chabutras may have been of some use for message carrying pigeons in earlier times, there is bound to be much more than this, as far as their significance and evolution is concerned. 'Chabutras' can also be interpreted to us from the perspective of town planning and architecture. In earlier times chabutras were an important element of urban design and served to enhance the utilization of space judiciously and aesthetically in pols i.e. traditional urban settlements in Gujarat. Even now, old chabutras in villages and pols are located very prominently in the centreâ€”the place where most community interactions and the celebration of festivals take place.
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Decoding the Chabutaro Signifier
The 'Chabutro' metaphorically stands in place of a tree in the confined locality of a pole. When the city was being constructed they chopped off all the trees in the area. In such an area where there are plenty of houses gelled tightly the existence of trees was scanty. Apparently people residing therein came up with a thought to have a structure in place of trees which would revive the feeling of a tree and serve all their purpose. There were seating arrangements also made adjacent to the chabutro so residents can gather and sit, just as they do under a tree ! So when the pol's were being designed it was also made sure they had crevices protruding into the walls so that the safety of birds was endured. However, the 'Chabutro' - bird feeder, was planted into the center of the pole so it would become a point of gathering for all the residents. Just as people gather up in the villages under a huge banyan tree, similar purpose was served by the Chabutro. Being in the center of the pol all the important public gatherings & ceremonies took place around itself. This made chabutro a very important part of the pol. This provided shelter to the birds and the residents also made sure they get water and grain timely. Planting of a Chabutro right in the center of the pol, showed the generosity of the people towards non-human creature, whom they considered an integral part of their life !
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Chabutaro : A Central Hub
In fond memory of the person whom the Chabutar o is dedicated .
A noticeboard on the walls near the chabutaro makes sure the important message is conveyed to the entire pol.
Donation box where residents of the pol contribute their part towards the feeding of the birds.
Chabutro has always been in the periphery of a Jain Temple.
Grains for feeding the birds are accumulated in the storage room, few chabutaras have these kinds of room at the bottom. People often sit along the sitting area/benches that has been facilated around the chabutro. In every pol it is different, but it is a general meeting point for people.
Water vessels for the birds and animals to quench their thirst.
Potrait of God's beneath the chabutaro where prayer's are performed daily. Devotees ignite candle and incense stick. The major festivals like navratri take place in the center of the pol i.e. encircling the chabutaro
Public meetings take place at the centre of the pol, undoubtedly it is the place where the chabutaro is !
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Around 137 years back a saint was travelling from Dakor to Dwaraka. Once he was thirsty. To quench his thirst he stopped at Karanj, before the mighty gate of Bhadra. Upon seeing that there were very few trees in the area, he expressed his wish to have a chabutaro where birds could come, feed and rest. There lived a grocery seller called Bapalal Modi. He heard the saint's wish and decided to build the chabutaro by the time the saint returned from his pilgrim. Modi had a deep devotion for the cause. He even threatened to go on indefinite fast when his wife refused to sell her gold ornaments to help Modi raise money for the structure. Modi was on the verge of selling his shop and his wife's ornaments when the town had come to his rescue and urged the community to share the financial burden. Later on, the structure was named after Bapalal Modi to honour his efforts. Today the restored chabutaro of Karanj (one of the oldest in the city) stands as a rich testimony of Gujarati folk art heritage.
Years back incident occurred where the corporation wanted to remove its parts for repairs while the locals wanted it to be repaired on the spotâ€?. After taking to some locals we discovered that the area was rife with rumours that the corporation had planned to remove that chabutras and transfer it to an upcoming museum on the crafts and history of Gujarat, in Ahmedabad. But what had angered the locals was that all this was in the guise of taking the chabutras away for repairs. The attempt had been strongly resisted by the local residents who could not bear to see their beloved chabutras being taken away.
The above incident clearly indicates that people can offer resistance when it comes to removing such nondescript objects as the chabutras from their localities
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Karanj Chabutaro : Movement
Market during morning hours
Market in the night
The Chabutaro of Karanj bares a great historical significance. Being one of the oldest chabutaro it has already held credits for the architectural design that has been set on display. Having located in the crowded market it has become very significant about its presence. During the day time the vendors set up the clothing market with ready made apparels on display. These vendors are the local people living in the pole; in the backdrop. They are a blende of hindu people and a majority of muslim's. After having interrogated with people therein I came to know that people of both the community were responsible for taking care of the Chabutaro and feeding the birds on a regular basis. The people there had a union who collectively donate for the grains for the bird. They have made sure the legacy is followed and has been a part of their daily life !
Also came to know about the incident as mentioned earlier that when the government was going to shift the Chabutaro for renovation at that particular time all the people stood togather and they revolted with the government people. There had even been bricks thrown ! This shows the attachment and the bonding of the people residing there with the Chabutaro. They all stood together without any communal hindrances. The important fact is about the movement that occurs around the Chabutaro during morning/night hours. At night the space is no longer occupied by the vendors, things are quite cleared out and then there are people of all age groups residing in the pole behind who gather around the Chabutaro and gossip, chit-chat and end their day with a joyous note. The space around chabutaro has various interpretations had can be embodied as a physical destination for all activities. When asked to a resident if he could tell me something about the chabutaro he had to say " He was too young to comment, the chabutaro had been standing tall over the years when he wasn't even born " . What has been the outcome is a strong relationship between the people of different community who stay together harmoniously.
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Urbanization And its Impact
With rapid urbanization people have started moving from pol's to the other parts of the city. However leaving back their actual lifestyle instantly was not at all possible. All the families that have migrated to luxurious apartments on the other part of the city they made sure they incorporated all the elements which they interacted on a daily basis when they were in a pol.
In the new part of the city there is no chabutaro, Apparently people have made sure they donâ€™t end their routine ritual of feeding birds which they had been doing over the years. This gave rise to small vessels hanging out from their balconies, filled with water and grains for the birds to feed.
What is visible is a huge transformation that has taken place, however the good thing that has been populated out of this is that people have not forgotten their duties. Still feeding of birds for them remains an important activity that has to be followed. This shows their dedication and their care for the non human creature. According to them they feel happy that a good deed of work is being done by them. Importantly the grains that have been given are of good quality and water is regularly changed because in Jainism it's bad if you give them overnight water !
CHABUTARO A Transformation taking place from 'Chabutaro' to 'Hanging vessels'
As people have migrated a cultural shift takes place, however what the cultural values incorporated into people are not destroyed but carried along and transformations can be seen due to constraints.
Chabutaro a traditional trademark for birdfeeder in the pol.
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People living in the new parts of the city where they have huge storeyed buildings these hanging vessels are an ideal form.
Unseen Facets of Chabutaro
Images : Anand Chowk
Chabutaro that had been an integral part of the people living in the pole, unfortunately things changed.The reasons behind them could be varied. However the much talked about Chabutaro seems losing its significance.
Once it was the heart of the pole apparently the beautiful looking chabutaro has all possible crap lying inside it; which is really harsh ! It's the same place, same people, same religion then why the tilt ? Interrogating with the people and adding my personal observations, it seemed majority of the houses within the locality where ghost houses. Apparently most of the houses in the pol being very old were in severe need of renovation. Jotting down the points it was evident people had moved to the new part of the city to lead an luxurious life, however these houses were kept so that they could come back to the pol during the festivals specially during navratri, uttarayan. For some they were too busy in their life to spend minutes after feeding the birds. What my take on this is, probably there would have been some generation gap because of which this is not being taken forward in some parts of the walled city, more importantly over time the people who feed the birds are mostly the senior citizens itself.
One of the major reasons that I could sense, people had found different ways to spend time which was not the scenario years back. Digital modes of entertainment has made a huge impact ! People have found many options to have a leisure time, back to the old days take for example when there were no television sets in all houses, they used to gather in the pol(Chabutaro was the center) but these days ironically they have been into their pigeon holes.
When asked to a person in the pol about the infrequent use of notice board around the Chabutaro he replied: Who wastes chalk, we just do group sms !
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Architecture of Chabutro
Having a close glimpse at the chabutro one could see numerous images of gods and goddesses in different postures. The idea behind having them carved on the chabutro was birds that come are the form of their descendants & their souls attain divinity, rest in peace.
Indeed, the hood of the chabutro is believed to have been influenced by the ‘chatri’, so commonly seen in Rajasthani architectural design. According to Lalit Kumar, there has been a significant amount of fusion between the design forms of Rajasthan and Gujarat over the centuries and the chabutro is a manifestation of this rich ‘Maru Gujarat’ cultural tradition. Karanj Chabutro, one could see angels playing different forms of musical instruments to please the divine god.
Feeding the birds first
At Dhaal Ni Pol, there is an very old tea/snacks stall where u get traditional gujarati breakfast. This is just adjacent to the chabutro there; apparently a trend had been set there to feed the birds before you pour/eat anything into your mouth. It had very likely been a meeting point for all the elderly men at the same time a good deed of work was also done.
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Preserving the Chabutaro
Over the years the Chabutro stands tall amidst the hustle of the congested city life.The growth of population and the resulting congestion in the city is obliterating all traditional artefacts. During my visits it was discovered that many beautiful chabutra's are dying due to negligence towards it.
Ahmedabad Heritage Cell has been working aggressively over the period of tenure to save the rich heritage that the city embarks.
The chabutra's were once symbolic of manâ€™s concern for weak and helpless life forms but, in today context, many of the traditional chabutra's in the city are victims of urban decadence.
A puppet show was organized that depicted the story about the creation of karanj chabutro.
Restoration work of Karanj Chabutro
Active care has been taken to renew the old structures so their significance remains intact. Voluntary work has been done by many organizations for preserving chabutro and have come out with various ideas to promote the drive. Distribution of calendars, bookmarks , postcards, organizing heritage walks & puppet show and many more; making sure the people remain aware about them.
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Conservation is vital to heritage as memory to intelligence. We need to remember our mistakes and build on our strengths, we need to remember that all human endeavors are owed to the generations to come, and we also need to remember conservation as sensitive adaption and not inert exhibition alone. Conservation is effective and legitimate only if old structures are adaptively reintegrated into the contemporary contexts.
Form that A Chabutro Should take: Considering the fact how the picture of chabutro stands in the pol, the utter importance that it had years ago is shrinking. Apart from that people should not forget that cultural values that it embodied years ago. In order to keep the feeling revived the miniature form of chabutro as talked about should be an ideal choice.
Hanging vessel to feed birds Looking at the structures in the pol, the plight is pitiable. No one cares, whether these birds are feed. People these days have become very lazy to even stand up and walk down to the chabutro. There are many other factors that have led to the downfall; keeping that into account and keeping alive the cultural values that have been imparted over generations A Hanging Vessel could an ideal design.
So, the ritual for feeding birds and doing a good deed to the humanity can be easily followed. These structures can be easily hanged in the balcony of residents. As a result the entire family is aware about the daily activity done by elders and can be incorporated into the younger generation. Apparently people do not have an excuse this time !
Conclusion Chabutro has been of utter importance for the people over the years. The entire life of the people living in the pol revolved around the chabutro. The jain people believed in the phenomenon of life after death, looked their descendants in the form of birds so feeding of birds was an integral part of their daily life. However chabutro stood iconical(tree) in the center of the pol and had varied interpretations. With the passage of time, once such an important part of people's life seemed losing its significance due to varied reason. Transformations have taken place and the tall tree like structure has been replaced by the people shifting to varied parts of the city. Moreover many chabutra's in the walled city are no longer in a pleasant state. Apparently the true essence of chabutro seems to be vanishing.
References: 1. http://www.vaarso.com/pols-of-ahmedabad.html 2. http://ahmedabadheritagefestival.blogspot.com/2010/10/conservationof-heritage-is-not-only.html 3. http://indiahistoryspeaks.blogspot.com/2008/05/chabutra-ofahmedabad.html 4. http://www.indiaprofile.com/religion-culture/gujarat-culture.htm
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