Gujarat is India's westernmost state. Covering 196,024 square kilometers (75,685 square miles), it is home to about 61 million people and has a population density of 308 people per square kilometer. About 42.6 percent of the population live in urban areas. Ahmedabad is the largest city, with about 5.6 million people. Gandhinagar (23 kilometers north of Ahmedabad) is the capital, with about 300,000 people. Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot are other large cities. Websites: www.gujaratonline.com; State Tourism Website www.gujarattourism.com
Gujarat embraces seacoast, irrigated farmland and large expanse of a desert known as the Kutch. It is divided into four major regions; 1) north Gujarat, between Mount Abu and the Mahi River: 2) south Gujarat, between the Mahi and Damanganga Rivers; 3) the Saurashtrian Peninsula and the Kutch; and 4) the hilly eastern region.
Gujarat for the most part is very dry, The monsoon season lasts from mid June to mid October. Rainfall amounts vary greatly across the state. The southernmost area receives 200 centimeters a year; the central area 70 to 90 centimeters; and the Kutch and the western part of the Saurashtra, less than 40 centimeters. May is the hottest month. Temperatures often exceed 40 degrees C. January is the coolest month. temperatures rarely exceed 30 degrees C.
The highest concentrations of people live in the central part of the state and the lowest in the Kutch. Brahmans make up 4 percent of the population; other upper casts, 8 percent; middle castes, 12 percent; farm laboring castes, 24 percent; lower castes, 7 percent; Dalits (Untouchables), 7 percent; and Scheduled Tribes 14 percent. Gujarat is named after the Gujar, a historical caste believed to have descended from the White Huns, who invaded India in the 5th and 6th centuries.
Gujarat produced Mahatma Gandhi but is also regarded as the heartland of the Hindu nationalist movement. The Hindu nationalist political party, the BJP, is very strong and some of the worst anti-Muslim riots and Hindu-Muslim confrontations have occurred here. It is the only place where the BJP has dominated the state government. Hindus make up 89.5 percent of the population; Muslims, 8.5 percent; and Jains, 1 percent. Gujarati-speaking people make up 91 percent of the population. The majority of tribals live in the hilly eastern part of the state.
Gujarat is one of India's most developed and wealthiest states, accounting for 17 percent of India's exports and 11 percent of its GNP. Many wealthy people from the state live overseas and send their money home. These include members of the Patel caste, who own many motels in the United States and have erected million-dollar temples in Gujarat. Most people make their living in agriculture. The main commercial crops are cotton, peanuts, tobacco and sugar cane. Bajri, jowar, rice and wheat are the main food crops.
On January 27, 2001, Gujarat was hit by a devastating earthquake that measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and killed 25,000, injured 65,000 and left 600,000 homeless. It was the worst earthquake in India in half a century. The epicenter was 15 miles north of north of the town of Bhuj, where more than 6,000 people died.
Gujarat has relatively good infrastructure with strong logistic connectivity, excellent communication facilities, adequate health infrastructure, and round the clock power supply even in the remotest areas. The state’s varied landscape includes the White Desert of Kutch; a long and beautiful coastline; and archaeological monuments from different eras go as far back as Harappan time in Dhola Veera and Lothal. Gujarat has ancient caves, stupas, monasteries, temples and monuments that exhibit the Indo-Sarcenic architectural style which blends elements of Islamic and Hindu architecture. The capital of Gujarat, Ahmedabad is India’s first UNESCO accredited World Heritage City. Gujarat is also a delightful destination for the eco traveler. It is the abode of endangered wild life like the Asiatic Lion and Indian Wild Ass, not seen anywhere else in India.
Gujarat Crafts and Food
Paintings called sathia and rangoli are made using powdered chalk by women at the threshold of their houses for festivals and ceremonies. Calico textile printing is associated with Gujarat. Temples, palaces and other buildings are decorated with wood and stone sculpture. Tattooing is common among some castes. Ras and Garba are important Gujarati folk dances performed by both males and females. Bhavai is a popular form of folk drama, generally performed in open spaces in towns and villages. Melas feature dancing, singing, bullfights and cockfights.
In Gujarat, the state’s living cultural and handicraft heritage has thrived side by side with industrialisation. Embroidery, tie and dye, block printing, appliqué, beadwork, metalwork and many other tribal handicrafts are famous for their intricate design, colors and fine craftsmanship. Visit Gujarat during its myriad fairs and festivals and watch people in bright attires, artistic jewelry dancing the night away to the beats of traditional music. The Makar Sankranti Kite Festival in January is a global event where the tourists joyfully participate with the locals. Gujarati cuisine, largely vegetarian, needs a special mention as it has long been acclaimed all over the world.
Handicrafts are an important part of the lives of people of Gujarat. Jamnagar and Kutch region are known for bandhej or bandhani or tie-dye products. Another intriguing craft is that of beadwork, which is made by joining two or three beads together. Souvenirs such as hanging chaklas, Mangal kalash, decorated coconuts, artefacts, necklaces, bangles, earrings, ornaments and torans are made with this craft. Tourists are particularly entranced by the finely-woven Patola or double ikat saris. A distinct tie-and-dye technique is used to create identical patterns on both sides of the saris that is a characterstic feature of Patola.
Gujarat is well-known for small handicrafts of wood and furniture as well. One can buy wooden furniture from Surat, Kutch, Saurashtra and minakari furniture from Rajkot. One of the oldest handicrafts of Gujarat is zari. According to historians, this craft was started during the Mughal era and used motifs and patterns exhibiting Mughal glory. The state is also revered as the oldest block printing center in the world. While visiting Gujarat, buying figures and toys made of clay and terracotta is a must. Some other important crafts include leather, applique and patchwork.
A traditional Gujarati thali is an all-vegetarian feast (it doesnt contain eggs either). It usually comprises dal (lentils), kadhi (yoghurt-based gravy), shaak (a variety of vegetable preparations), bhaat (rice), roti (Indian bread), farzan (savoury bite-sized snacks like samosa and sev), chutneys (sweet, spicy and tangy), buttermilk, sweet treats, and other condiments. The individual dishes vary depending on each restaurants menu. The state has a long coastline and offers a variety of seafood but due to Jain culture and philosophy, the cuisine is predominately vegetarian. Different styles of cooking and a unique combination of spices are used in the preparation. Also, people of the state prefer one or more types of curries along with rice and roti in every meal. Most of the dishes of the thali are sweet and jaggery is commonly used an an alternative to sugar
The Gujaratis are inhabitants of Gujarat. They are more of a regional and linguistic group than an ethnic group. Around 91 percent of the inhabitants of Gujarat speak Gujarati, an Indo-Aryan language that was derived from Prakrit and Sanskrit and has incorporated a number of Arabic, Urdu, Portuguese and English words There are a number of Gujarati dialects, some of them spoken only by certain castes and communities. Gujarat borders Pakistan and is not far from Karachi.
The Gujaratis are considered enterprising, businesslike and serious. They have a reputation for being traders and businessmen. Hindu and Jain Banias are the main trading castes. Patidars are regarded as entrepreneurs. Parsia and Bohras are also major players in Gujarat economic life. In the 6th century Gujaratis were trading with Indonesia and Cambodia. In the 7th century they were involved in trade with China, Japan, Sri Lanka and Thailand. In the 20th century, large numbers of Gujaratis emigrated to Africa, Europe and the United States to seek their fortune and some have done quite well.
Gujaratis have traditionally lived in three-generation extended families that had up to 30 members and cultivated the same land. Many now live in nuclear families or small extended families. The Gujaratis are not very enlightened when it comes to women’s rights. Most women still work at home.
Gujarati Hindus have traditionally placed a great emphasis on ritual bathing and fast every week or every 11th day in a fortnight. They believe in Heaven, Hell and transmigration of the soul. Though small in number Gujarati Jains are influential in Gujarat society and the economy.
Gujars and Patels
The Gujar are a historical caste whose name was the basis for the Gujarat state. The are believed to have descended from the White Huns, who invaded India in the 5th and 6th centuries. In the old days they were regarded as looters and squatters. Now they are regarded as law-abiding farmers and cattle herders. The term ‘Gurjara Bhoomi” (“Home of the Gujar People”) was used between the A.D. 5th and 9th centuries. The term “Gujarat” has been used since the 10th century. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: South Asia, edited by Paul Hockings, C.K. Hall & Company, 1992]
The Gujars are known for their skill at farming and raising animals. There are Hindu Gujars and Muslim Gujars. The former are mostly farmers. There latter are mostly pastorals. Many Muslim Gujars have adopted Hindu customs and are thus viewed as compromised by other Muslims. Among the Hindu practices observed by Muslim Gujars are the worship of family gods, celebrating Hindu festivals, consulting Brahman priests to determine the best time to hold certain rights, and the making of fire offerings and upturning a pitcher at the graves of the recently deceased.
The Patels are a caste associated with entrepreneurship from the Kheda district of Gujarat. Also known as the Patidar and Kanbi, they are part of the Vaisya, or trader caste and have a reputation for being shrewd businessmen and naturally hospitable, and are fairly well off . Members of the Patel caste own many motels in the United States and have erected million-dollar temples in Gujarat. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: South Asia, edited by Paul Hockings, C.K. Hall & Company, 1992]
The Patels are the wealthier members of the Kanbi caste. They rose to positions of influence in the waning years of the Mogul empire in the 19th century when their predecessors were appointed revenue collectors by the Moguls and Marathas and they used their positions to accumulate wealth, land and power. In India today, most Kanbi are farmers. The Patels and wealthy Kanbi are involved in a variety of professions and trade-related activities and are involved in investment and other commercial activities.
In the Kheda District of Gujarat the Patels and Kanbi are regarded as the second highest caste after the Brahmans. Within the Patels and Kanbi castes, position is based mostly on wealth. In matters of marriage, the burden is on the family of the bride that often has to pay an exorbitant fee to secure a son-in-law of high social standing,
More than half of the motel in the United States are owned by Indians. Of these 70 percent are owned by Patels. Many Ramada Inns, Holiday Inns and Comforts Inns are owned by Patels. On some stretches of American highway you can one motel with a Patel owner and then travel 50 kilometers down the road and find one owned by his cousin. A hundred kilometers further is another owned by another cousin.
The Patels have been attracted by the freedom and opportunities of the United States. They were reportedly have been attracted to the motel business because there is steady cash flow and it comes with a place to live. The whole Patel-motel thing started in the 1940s when an Indian named Kanjihai Desai managed t buy a hotel in downtown San Francisco area. In the early 1950s a Patel decided to copy Desai's model and bought a hotel and over the years bought more and he was copied by other Patels.
Gujarat and Water
Water has traditionally been a problem in Gujarat state. The dry season is very dry and lasts for nine months. Sometimes the monsoons are unreliable. Gujarat periodically faces massive water crises. Mahesh Langa wrote in The Hindu in May 2019, before the monsoon season: “Except the Narmada, all other waterbodies and dams have negligible water...With rising mercury levels and severe heatwave, Gujarat is facing a massive water crisis. The scarcity is particularly acute in the Saurashtra region, Kutch, North Gujarat and parts of tribal pockets in central and South Gujarat. More than 20 districts are severely affected as towns and villages hardly get water twice a week. In more than 500 villages in 14 districts, drinking water is being supplied through tankers; the number will only rise in days to come. [Source: Mahesh Langa, The Hindu, May 10, 2019]
Recently, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani admitted that the State is in the midst of a major water shortage but assured that drinking water will be provided to every village. “The available water in all the dams of these regions is negligible. However, thanks to the Sardar Sarovar dam and the Narmada canal network, people will not face any difficulty till July-end. Water is available in the dam. The only challenge is to supply it to far-flung areas, some 500 km away from the dam,” Mr. Rupani said after reviewing the situation.
“Subsequently, the State government asked the district administrations to start plying tankers in villages where water was not available. “After a review and reports from local authorities, we have decided to provide drinking water to villages located in different districts by tankers so that people don’t face any shortage,” said Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel. According to officials, the number of villages needing water tankers will only rise due to high temperatures that push the demand.
“In Rajkot, water is supplied only for 20 minutes a day and in many localities and societies located on the outskirts, supply is on alternate days or through tankers. Even in Jasdan, the Assembly constituency of Kuvarji Bavalia, the Water Supply Minister, shortage of drinking water forced villagers to hold protests demanding its regular supply. Local legislators have made representations demanding adequate water supply in areas where the Narmada water is the only source now. “In my area, more than two dozen villages are facing acute shortage. I have written to the Minister and demanded that all villages are provided water through tankers and tanker trips be doubled,” said Congress legislator Virji Thummar from Amreli district.”
Narmada River Project
The Narmada River Project is regarded by some as the largest construction project of all time. Over a period of 50 or 60 years, two superdams, 30 large dams, 150 medium-size dams and 3,000 smaller dams will be constructed along the Narmada River and its tributaries in western India. As of 2000, six of the large dams were complete, displacing 100,000 people, and eight were under construction.
The project was approved in 1970, construction began in the late 1980s and the entire project is supposed to be finished around 2050. The project will generate enough electricity for thousands of villages and towns and supply enough water to irrigate millions of acres of cropland. When completed dams will submerge one million acres of land and displace a million people and submerge important temples an sacred sights. . By comparison the Tennessee Valley Authority flooded 650,000 acres and displaced some 70,000 people. [Source: Mark Fineman, Smithsonian magazine ]
The Narmada River is 1,300 kilometers (800 mile) long. It flows primarily through the southern part of Madhya Pradesh state, near the border of Maharashtra. The last few dozen miles flow though the state o Gujarat before emptying into the Arabian Sea. According to legend the Narmada River sprang from the body of Shiva and many Indians believe it is just as sacred as the Ganges. Lepers have claimed to be cured after taking a dip in it. Every year thousand of Hindu pilgrims perform a pradakshina of the Narmanda and walk every inch of both banks. Hindus believe you can cleanse yourself of sin by bathing three years in the river Sarasvati, or seven days in the Yamuna, a single day in the Ganges or by merely looking at the Narmada.
Gujarat stands to benefit the most from the Narmada River Project. Gujarat is already one of the India's wealthiest states and the projects will make it richer. The Sardar Sarovar Dam alone generate 1,450 megawatts of electrify and bring 15 billion gallons of water a day to 75 percent of the state’s population and irrigate 17,920 square kilometers (6,920 square miles) of land. Water will be delivered to Gujarat state with the help of a 460-kilometers (290-mile) -long canal—one of the world's longest man-made waterways.
Sardar Sarovar Dam
Sardar Sarovar dam in western India is the largest of 3,000 planned dams on Narmada river in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. India's largest concrete dam, it is 138.7 meters (455) feet tall and is made with 23 million cubic feet of concrete. Water is guided through a 853-meter (2,800-foot) -long tunnel to a room, 207 meters (680 feet) in length and 60 meters (197 feet) in height, that houses six fint hydroelectric turbines. To create the tunnel and room, tunnelers spent nearly two years removing material.
The construction for dam begun in 1987, but the project was halted by the Supreme Court of India in 1995 over concerns of displacement of people. In 2000–01 the project was revived but with a lower height of 110.64 meters under directions from SC, which was later increased in 2006 to 121.92 meters and 138.98 meters in 2017. The water level in the Sardar Sarovar Dam at Kevadia in Narmada district reached its highest capacity at 138.68 meters in September 2019.
The Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gurjaret is the largest and first dam to be completed in the Narmada River Project. Located a few dozen miles form the mouth of the river, it consists of 64 concrete sections and cost around $1.6 billion to build. Sand and gravel used for the concrete was dredged from the river bed
The Sardar Sarovar Dam create a large reservoir that is 214 kilometers long and displaced tens of thousands of people. Many of those displaced were tribal laborers who earned about $1.40 working as laborers on the project.
Gujarat is also famous for its step wells, beautiful temple-like structures that penetrate into the earth to harvest water from artificial aquifers. The earliest ones were built in the late A.D. 6th and early 7th centuries. They were built upwards with huge stone blocks, laid without mortar, in the trenches, and stone stairs leading up from the water to the surface. Over time the idea spread to Rajasthan and thousands of them, then thousands of them were built. Some of the elaborate ones had pillars and arches and looked like inverted Roman temples. Not only were they beautiful and practical they also served as gathering place for local communities. Bathing in one was considered the next the best thing to taking a bath in the Ganges.
The golden period of stepwell building was from the 11th century to the 16th century. The most ostentatious ones were the Queen Rudabai’s Stepwell at Adalaj and Rani ki Vav, or Queen’s Stepwell, in Patan. The grandest of them all was Ambapur Stepwell at Budthal. When the British introduced pipes and taps for drawing water, stepwells fell into disuse. The deepest ones descend more than nine stories into the earth. Building them was not an easy task. Low caste laborers toiled to chisel and move huge stones.
Stepwells are built into depressions or behind earthen dams that collected monsoon rains. When the water percolates through the soil and silt, particles in the water were removed. The water was stopped by a layer of impermeable clay. The alluvial soils in the Gujarat area are particularly good for filtering. The water rises and falls reaching high levels after the heavy monsoon season and lows during droughts. When the water levels are high large parts of the step well are submerged and the steeps disappear in the clear water.
According to UNESCO: Rani-ki-Vav, on the banks of the Saraswati River, was initially built as a memorial to a king in the 11th century. Stepwells are a distinctive form of subterranean water resource and storage systems on the Indian subcontinent, and have been constructed since the 3rd millennium BC. They evolved over time from what was basically a pit in sandy soil towards elaborate multi-storey works of art and architecture. Rani-ki-Vav was built at the height of craftsmens’ ability in stepwell construction and the Maru-Gurjara architectural style, reflecting mastery of this complex technique and great beauty of detail and proportions. Designed as an inverted temple highlighting the sanctity of water, it is divided into seven levels of stairs with sculptural panels of high artistic quality; more than 500 principle sculptures and over a thousand minor ones combine religious, mythological and secular imagery, often referencing literary works. The fourth level is the deepest and leads into a rectangular tank 9.5 m by 9.4 m, at a depth of 23 m. The well is located at the westernmost end of the property and consists of a shaft 10 m in diameter and 30 m deep. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]
“Rani-ki-Vav is an exceptional example of a distinctive form of subterranean water architecture of the Indian subcontinent, the stepwell, which is located on the banks of the Saraswati River in Patan. Initially built as a memorial in the 11th century, the stepwell was constructed as a religious as well as functional structure and designed as an inverted temple highlighting the sanctity of water. Rani-ki-Vav is a single-component, water management system divided into seven levels of stairs and sculptural panels of high artistic and aesthetic quality. It is oriented in an east-west direction and combines all of the principle components of a stepwell, including a stepped corridor beginning at ground level, a series of four pavilions with an increasing amount of storeys towards the west, the tank, and the well in tunnel shaft form. More than five hundred principle sculptures and over a thousand minor ones combine religious, mythological and secular imagery, often referencing literary works.
“Rani-ki-Vav impresses not only with its architectural structure and technological achievements in water sourcing and structural stability, but also in particular with its sculptural decoration, of true artistic mastery. The figurative motifs and sculptures, and the proportion of filled and empty spaces, provide the stepwell’s interior with its unique aesthetic character. The setting enhances these attributes in the way in which the well descends suddenly from a plain plateau, which strengthens the perception of this space.:
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020