Know Your City: The many names of Ahmedabad

While several cities in India changed their names like Gurgaon became Gurugram, Allahabad is now Prayagraj, Hoshangabad is Narmadapuram, and more recently Aurangabad was renamed Sambhajinagar, Osmanabad to Dharashiv and Daulatabad to Devgiri, the struggle for Ahmedabad in Gujarat to be renamed Karnavati continues even after more than three decades since the political parties started debating over it. The first serious attempts to rename the city started after Bombay was renamed Mumbai when the Shiv Sena came to power in Maharashtra in 1995.

It was after the BJP came to power in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation in 1995, that the movement for renaming the city to Karnavati, a name used till date by the RSS, its affiliated arms and the BJP, for the city, gained momentum.

ahmedabad kyc 1 Street view from Swami Vivekananda road ( Astodia Rd ) in Old city. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)

While efforts by the ruling BJP that started the demand and campaign for the name change of Ahmedabad to Karnavati might have weakened, it is the RSS-backed student body Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) that continues to press for this name change.

During the annual congregation of the ABVP on February 27 in Ahmedabad, a day after the city’s official foundation day, three resolutions were passed – one being the name change of Ahmedabad to Karnavati.

ABVP city secretary Umang Mojitra told The NCR Ink, “Since the foundation of ABVP in 1960 in Gujarat we have been using Karnavati and continue to do this till Ahmedabad is officially changed to Karnavati. As soon as the exams get over, we have planned to take this demand forward to the city authorities and district collector.”

The resolution reads, “On Rishi Dadhichi’s land of penance which is beside river Shvabhravati it was King Karnadev who established this city that has today shaped into a mega city… which is a proud moment for all of us.”

Ahmedabad KYC 2 Shops and establishments at Ahmedabad’s busiest shopping area of Bhadra Market near Teen Darwaza, Old city remained shut on Wednesday. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)

“The city set up in the 11th century has witnessed a lot of ups and downs but in the medieval time the Mughal invaders tried a lot to wipe out city’s presence and our culture. One of the attempts of which was the legend made popular – jab kutte par sassa aya Badshah ne shahar basaya (Impressed by a hare chasing a dog, Sultan Ahmed Shah who was in search of a place to build his new capital, decided to locate his capital on the bank of River Sabarmati and called it Ahmedabad).

“The proof of existence of Karnavati can be clearly seen in the scriptures of Jain saint Prabodh Chintamani in the 12th century. Karnavati was established in the 11th century which is proved by several evidence…” the ABVP said, justifying its demand.

In the book, ‘Architecture at Ahmedabad, The Capital of Goozerat’, Theodore C Hope, an officer of the Bombay Civil Service, and British architect James Fergusson wrote in 1866: “Modern investigation has not yet proceeded sufficiently far to enable it to be stated with certainty how far Kurunawutee (Karnavati) was contiguous to or identical with Ashawul (Ashaval) and Shreenuggur (the way Jains referred to Ahmedabad), both of which names occur in early records as those of a great city hereabouts, but there can be no doubt that the new town of Ahmed Shah to which he gave his name Ahmedabad and its suburbs, embraced them all.”

The writers note that when Ahmed Shah wanted to shift his seat of power from Anhilvad Patan to the banks of the Sabarmati, it was to “Kurunawuttee (Karnavati)” founded by the Solanki rulers three hundred years before 1411.

‘Ahmedabad: The Millennial Heritage City’ by GM Hiragar, a former Gujarat information officer and former in-charge director at the Sanskar Kendra City museum, compiles the various names of Ahmedabad as various travellers recorded it.

Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese explorer, had called the city Andavat. Sir Thomas Roe, a British diplomat who visited India between 1614 and 1644, had called it Amdavaz. William Hawkins, a representative of the East India Company, had called it Amdawar; William Finch, a merchant with the East India Company who travelled with Hawkins to India during Emperor Jahangir’s reign, had called it Amdaver.
The epic Heersaubhagyakavya, written during Jahangir’s time, calls Ahmedabad, Ahammadavad and describes it as the “beautiful face of Gurjar Laxmi” and Patan and Khambhat as her earrings. Locals then simplified it to Amdavad. Maganlal Vakhatchand Sheth who wrote the first history of the city in Gujarati in 1850 AD titled it “Amdavad no itihas”, a name that locals continue to call the city by.
Ratnamanirao Bhimrao Jhote in his work “Gujarat nun Patnagar Amadavad” explains the meaning of ‘Amad’ as ‘without arrogance or vain’. The Mirat e Ahmadi notes the foundation day of Ahmedabad as February 27 while the Ahmedabad Gazetteer notes it as March 4, 1411. Hiragar’s book cites eminent historian Hariprasad Shastri determining the date of the foundation of Ahmedabad as February 26, 1411, based on vastu shastra.

“ABVP demands from the administration that the city should reflect its true identity for which it should be named Karnavati and attempts should be made to restore the presence of several ancient places in the city too,” the student body completing its 75 years stated in its resolution.

Political parties, mainly the Congress and the BJP, have been fighting over this name change for more than three decades now and the renaming movement even witnessed BJP leaders like the late Ashok Bhatt stage a dharna outside AMC demanding the same when he was the law minister during Keshubhai Patel’s tenure as the CM. The BJP passed a resolution in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation for renaming the city on May 11, 1990, but now even it seems to have given it up.

Amit Shah, who was the BJP leader in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), had at that time said they will take up the issue of renaming Ahmedabad after returning to power in the state.

On the reason for ‘giving up’ the demand, Amit Shah told The NCR Ink, “The heritage city dossier prepared and submitted to UNESCO has no mention of Karnavati. The city can lose its heritage city status with the name change. This is what I believe is the practical issue in it now.”

It was around the time the AMC began to prepare the dossier for pitching Ahmedabad’s case as a heritage city that the movement to rename it began to die down. Ahmedabad was inscribed the status of a heritage city by UNESCO in 2017. The closest the city came to be renamed was when AMC around 2010-11 changed its name to Amdavad Municipal Corporation on all public platforms, a move largely seen as an attempt to use the more colloquial version.

The 1990 resolution was even forwarded to the state government which then sent it to the Centre. The resolution was cancelled by the Congress that returned to power in AMC in 2000, though this could not be verified.

The proposal to rename got stuck at the Centre. Nothing moved even when LK Advani and Harin Pathak were in the Union cabinet (Advani was the deputy prime minister and Union home minister, and Pathak was MoS Defence), said senior Congress leader Himmatsinh Patel who was Ahmedabad mayor when the resolution was cancelled.

“The history behind the name change is that it could not be done due to the Central government’s policy. It is associated with history and as per the Central guidelines… it was rejected. There is no such issue right now, it was merely a political issue that got cancelled,” Himmatsinh Patel told this paper.

When asked about the ABVP’s attempt to continue pressing the demand, Himmatsinh Patel said: “The BJP had always believed in polarisation and always played with people’s feelings and emotions. They try to divert people’s attention from the main issues. If they wanted to do it, they could have done it since they are in power right from AMC, state to even Centre. Earlier, too, under Vajpayee’s government, they could not do it. If they had good intentions, they could have done it. We believe naming or changing a name can neither diminish poverty, unemployment nor end problems. This is not related to any public facility but to history and there was no fact in the demand. The BJP government passed the resolution and the same, too, rejected it.”

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