FILM ON THE HERITAGE POL'S OF AHMEDABAD :
Mysteries of Pols of Ahmedabad
The word ‘Pol’ conjures up an image of an old world charm and a series of innovation in sustainable architecture dovetailed into the built form. ‘Pol’ architecture is an interesting evolution in urban living space. The earliest ‘Pol’ to be incorporated was aptly christened ‘Mahurat Pol’ and was built adjacent to Manek Chowk.
These enclosures housed individual, interconnected living spaces, each growing according to the dictums imposed upon it by the twin appendages of need and space. The use of lime mortar and wood in the construction not only strengthened but also proved to be earthquake resistant due to the judicious combination of materials used. Exquisite facades inter-twining reliefed in wood illustrated the grandeur and opulence of the inhabitant. The entrance porch was of height allowing it to be parallel to carriages and carts to make for easy cartage of goods and people. Iron rings were attached to the stone base to hitch the dray animals connecting alleys and lanes, paved over by well worn flat stones, were deliberately slowed to enable a planned drainage system. In fact, the old city had a concealed drainage system which in parts is still in use. Key points had wrought iron poles serving as escapes as vents for the subterranean tunnels. Each pole was crowned with a directional arrow indicating a nether bifurcation of the tunnels, this 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 ho days. Each ‘haveli’ was built on a ‘tanka’ or water reservoir. Rainwater harvested from the multi-leveled, jig sawed rooftops, brought down in a series of copper pipes, filtered through a layer of charcoal, lime and pebbles found its way to the storage tank. The tank kept the structure cool and supplied nourishing liquidity to the residents. Thick walls kept the structure cool and resilient. Secret passages and tunnels formed a maze of clandestine connectivity between living spaces. These fascinating edifices in a poetic interplay of stones and woods gave rise to a sustained employment for a variety of skilled artisans, each fulfilling a niche within the grid of urban Ahmedabad. The intricate ’jharokas’ and balconies were first exported to the adorn palatial abodes in France and England, enamored by all things colonially Indian by Sheth Huthereing in the early part of the 19th century generating a unique colonial influence in European architecture.
Due considerations and allowances were made in the urban concrete to accommodate acclimatized birds and animals within the cityscape. Deliberate holes and apertures carved into the outer facade created nesting possibilities for squirrels and birds such as sparrows and parrots. Peacocks and civets scurried and pattered on awnings and crannies nooking sloped rooftops in acrobatic manifestations of adaptivity. Central courtyards of ‘pol’ had aesthetically ornamental bird feeders in carved wood and stone with communal granaries attached offering seuraed possibilities in strewn grains. Sinewey trellises engraved in metal ‘jalis’ fronting widow openings afforded an operatic play in light and shadow. Thus ‘pol’ architecture in living spaces was a blend of functionality and aesthetic design, analogizing a marriage of need and beauty. The ‘pol’ gradually transmogrified into virtual fortresses of calm and safety as the hold of the Imperial court in Delhi weakened and skirmishes and fiefdoms arose waving banners of defiant revolt and independence in various parts of a fractured kingdom, assailed internally by ambitious and disgruntled warlords and externally by flexing colonial European powers in an elusively notorious search for spices and a controlled amalgamated assimilation of territories. The Marathas had also begun to muscle their way in through Malwa and the central provinces. Most of Gujarat was thrown into a state of anarchic disarray where connecting links were maintained through diligent commerce and trade. A situation much in vogue until the advent of the British and the restoration of semblance of colonially exploited law and order which through a subjugated colonization offered a serene platform for the regrowth of trade and commerce.
Repeated egress by Maratha marauders and other 'visigothic' elements had pretty much depleted the fortified rampant of the Ahmedabad city wall. Paucity of funds and the grind of a beurocratic British machinery did the rest. The fortified gates adorning ‘pol’ entrances were maimed and disabled by the English after the uprising of 1857. The death knell of the city wells was finally sounded in the early part of the 20th century, when the Ahmedabad Municipality under Sardar Patel authorized expansion and suburban assimilation to foster growth and create a great cityscape.
Published: Ahmedabad Mirror