History of Gujarat

Situated on the western coast of India, the name of the state is derived from "Gujjarātta" (Gurjar Rāshtra), which means the land of the Gujjars . It is believed that a tribe of Gujjars migrated to India around the 5th century. The history of Gujarat, however, began much earlier. Settlements of the Indus Valley Civilisation, also known as the Harappan Civilisation, have been found in the area now known as Gujarat. Gujarat's coastal cities, chiefly Bharuch, served as ports and trading centres in the Maurya and Gupta empires. After the fall of the Gupta empire in the 6th century, Gujarat flourished as an independent Hindu kingdom. The Maitraka dynasty, descended from a Gupta general, ruled from the 6th to the 8th centuries from their capital at Vallabhi, although they were ruled briefly by Harsha during the 7th century. The Arab rulers of Sind sacked Vallabhi in 770, bringing the Maitraka dynasty to an end. A branch of the Pratihara clan ruled Gujarat after the eighth century. In 775 the first Parsi (Zoroastrian) refugees arrived in Gujarat from Iran.

Early History: Mauryas to Maitrakas

The early history of Gujuarat is full of imperial grandeur of Chandragupta Maurya who conquered a number of earlier States of Gujarat. Pushyamitra, a Vaishya, was appointed Governor of Saurashtra by the Mauryan regime. He ruled (322 BC to 294 BC) Giringer (present Junagadh) and built a dam on the Sudarshan lake. Emperor Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, not only ordered engraving of his famous edicts on the rock at Junagadh, but asked his Governor Tusherpha to take out canals from the lake where an earlier Mauryan Governor had built a dam.

Between the decline of the Mauryan power and Saurashtra coming under the sway of Samprati Mauryas of Ujjain, there was a Greek incursion into Gujarat led by Demetrius.

For nearly 400 years from the start of the first century, Saka rulers played prominent part in Gujarat's history. Weather beaten rock at Junagadh gives a glimpse of the Ruler Rudradaman I (100 AD) of the Saka satraps known as Western Satraps, or Kshatraps. Mahakshatrap Rudradaman I founded the Kardamaka dynasty which ruled from Anupa on the banks of the Narmada up to Aparanta region which bordered Punjab.

The Kshatrapa dynasty was replaced by the Gupta reign with the conquest of Gujarat by Chandragupta Vikramaditya. Vikramaditya's successor Skandagupta has left an inscription (450 AD) on a rock at Junagadh which gives details of the repairs of the embankment, damaged by floods, of Sudarshan lake by his Governor. Anarta and Saurashtra regions were both part of the Guipta empire. Towards the middle of the 5th Century AD the Gupta empire started to decline. Senapati Bhatarka, the Maitrak general of the Guptas, took advantage of the situation and in 470 AD he set up what came to be known as the Maitrak kingdom. he shifted his capital from Giringer to Valabhipur, near Bhavnagar, on Saurashtra's east coast. Maitrakas of Valabhi became very powerful and their writ prevailed over large parts of Gujarat and even over adjoining Malwa. Maitrakas set up a university which came to be known far and wide for its scholastic pursuits and was compared with the famous Nalanda university. it was during the rule of Dhruvasena Maitrak theat Chinese philosopher-traveller Huan Tang visited in 640 AD.

Gurjar Clans

The Solanki clan of Gurjars ruled Gujarat from c. 960 to 1243. Gujarat was a major center of Indian Ocean trade, and their capital at Anhilwara (Patan) was one of the largest cities in India, with population estimated at 100,000 in the year 1000. In 1026, the famous Somnath temple in Gujarat was destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni. After 1243, the Solkanis lost control of Gujarat to their feudatories, of whom the Vaghela chiefs of Dholka came to dominate Gujarat. In 1292 the Vaghelas became tributaries of the Yadava dynasty of Devagiri in the Deccan.

Dadda, the founder of Pratihara dynasty, established the Gurjar rule at Nandipur (Nandol). Dadda III wrested Broach from the Maitraks whose citadel had started shaking. In fact, there were three powerful dynasties which were ruling different parts of Gujarat: the Gurjars had their sway over the north, the Chalukyas ruled the south and the Maitraks were saddled in Saurashtra. The vacuum created by the fall of the Maitrak dynasty was filled up by the Pratiharas from the north and Rashtrakutas from the south.

As vassals of the Valabhis, Chavadas held their sway over parts of north Gujarat. They assumed independent control after the fall of Valabhi. Vanraj,. the most prominent of the eight Chavada kings, founded a new capital at ASnhilpur Patan. he reconquered his father's lost territories and founded the Chavada dynasty which lasted a shade under a century.

Samantsinh, the last Chavada ruler, did not have an issue and he adopted Mulraj who overthrew him in 942 AD and set up what came to be known as the Solanki dynasty. Ambitious as he was, he started expanding his frontiers and established his complete and total hold over Saurashtra and Kachchh by defeating Grahripu of Junagadh (Saurashtra) and Lakho Fulani of Kachchh. Mulraj Solanki's reign marked the start of the most glorious period in the history of Gujarat during which Gujarati culture flowered as manifested in art, architecture, language and script. It is described as the golden period in Gujarat chequered history. Mulraj himself adopted the title of Gurharesh ( King of Gurjardesh). The territoporieds under the sway of the Solanki dynasty same to be known by different variations of the word Gurjar like Gurjardesh, Gurjararastra, Gurjaratta and finally Gujarat.

Two names stand out in the Solanki dynasty. The first is that of Sidhraj Jayasinh who ruled for 47 years from 1094 A.D. and the second prominent Solanki king Kumarpala's reign lasted for 31 years from 1143 to 1174 AD. Apart from Saurashtra and Kachchh, Sidhraj Jaysinh also conquered Malwa. One of the favourite legends with the Gujarat bards is woven around the siege of Junagadh by Sidhraj Jaysinh. The fort was ultimately captured by him along with Ranakdevi, the Queen of the ruler Rakhengar. However, in the true tradition of the Rajputs, Ranakdevi preferred to become a 'sati' rather than marry Sidharaj Jaysinh. Sidharaj was persuaded to allow Ranakdevi to commit 'Sati' by burning herself on a pyre at Wadhavan. A temple was built on the hallowed place where she became 'Sati'. The temple still stands in Wadhavan, Saurashtra, as a mute testimony to the woman who preferred death to marriage with the person who had humbled her husband. The temple is called Ranakdevi's temple.

The guardian family deity of the Solanki's was Somnath at Prabhas. Ironically, it was during the Solanki's rule that the scared shrine was sacked by Mahmud Ghazni who defiled and despoiled the fabulously rich shrine and put 50,000 Hindus to sword. The temple was destroyed with its Linga during the regime of Bhimdev I Bhimdev's successor Karandev defeated a Bhil chieftain and founded Karnavati. Karandev married Minaldevi by whom he begot Sidhraj who ushered in Gujarat's golden period. Sidhraj's successor Kumarpala encouraged Jainism. Bal Mulraj successfully repelled the incursions of Mahmud of Ghor who had the ambition of repeating the act performed by Mahmud Ghazni.

After the fall of Solanki rule, Vaghelas who were in the service of the Solanki's established a rather shortlived (76 years) but powerful dynasty. The two rulers of this dynasty, Virdhaval and Vishaldev, were responsible for consolidating the stabilising the prosperity of Gujarat after the fall of the Solankis. While Vishaldev built the famous temples of Dabhoi and founded Vishalnagar, the credit for building magnificent temples at Abu, Girnar and Shetrunjay goes to two distinguished Dewans (chief ministers) - Vastupal and Tejpar - of Virdhaval. After the sack of the Somnath by Mahmud Ghazni, Kinlock Forbes, a British historian, had this to say "Mahmood of Ghuznee had hardly accomplished his disastrous homeward retreat, leaving behind him Unhilwara despoiled and Somnath a heap of ruins, when the sound of the hammer and the chisel was heard upon Arasoor and Aboo, and the stately fanes began to arise at Koobharea and Delwara, in which an elaboration almost incredible and a finish worthy of the hand of a Cellini, seemed to express the founder's steadfast refusal to believe in mlechh invaders, or iconoclastic destroyers, as other than the horrid phantom of a disturbing dream."

Karandev of the Vaghela dynasty was the last Hindu ruler of Gujarat. He was defeated and overthrown by the superior forces of Allauddin Khilji from Delhi in 1297. With his defeat Gujarat not only became part of the Muslim empire but the Rajput hold over Gujarat lost for ever.

Muslim Period

Before they finally entrenched themselves in 1298, the Muslims had only an occasional contact with this part of India. This was either as sea-farers or traders. They were allowed to establish two small settlements in Cambay (current Khambhat) and Broach (current Bharuch). Abdulla, a missionary from Egypt, who came during Sidhraj Jaysinh's regime and was allowed to preach, is credited with the formation of Bohra community among the Muslims. However, after the defeat of Karandev Vaghela at the hands of Allauddin Khilji, Muslim rule continued for nearly 400 years either under Delhi's viceroyalty or under Muslim Sultanates till the Mughal viceroy, Monimnkhan was defeated by the Marathas who captured Ahmedabad in 1758.

Zafar Shah, a vicerory of Delhi for Gujarat, was responsible for starting the Sultanete in Gujarat. He fully exploited then prevailing conditions in Delhi to his advantage. He shook off his loyalty to the emperor, declared independence and became the first Sultan. He assumed the title of Muzaffar Shah. His successor Ahmed Shah founded a new city, following a dream, on the banks of the River Sabarmati and named it Ahmedabad after his own name. Since then, this new city became the capital of successive regimes in Gujarat until the state of Gujarat was formed in 1960 and the capital was moved to new city of Gandhinagar later. Ahmedabad grew into a flourishing city and became next only to Delhi in importance.

Mahmud Shah succeeded Ahmed Shah, Mahmud became a powerful ruler and was successful in over powering and subduing most of the Rajput chieftains. As a conqueror Mahmud was ruthless, as an administrator efficient and as a builder a great one. Apart from subduing the RAjpuit chieftains, Mahmud also successfully checked the Portuguese menance with the help of a naval fleet raised by his slave named Malik Ayyaz. He set up his Naval base at Diu off the Sautrashtra coast.

Under Mahmud Shah Gujarat once again became prosperous and there was a great deal of progress and building activity. Patan, the ancient seat of Hindu learning, once again became a seat of learning in Islamic disciplines. The available infrastructure at Patan was exploited by Mahmud Shah. The decline of the Sultanate started with the assassination of Sikandar Shah. Because of this decline Gujarat became an easy prey to the great Mughal Emperor Akbar's armies. Bahadur Shah, the last Sultan, was defeated which marked the beginning of the Mughal rule which lasted some 185 years.

Notwithstanding the fact that Gujarat became a part of the Mughal Empire its importance did not diminish as is apparent from the selection of the ablest princes as Gujarat's viceroys. Murad, Shah Jahan, Dara Shekov were all made the Viceroys of this West coast region. The formal MUslim rule in Guijarat ended in 1758 when Momin Khan surrendered to the Marathas.

The Marathas and the British

When the cracks had started developed in the edifice of the Mughal empire in the mid 17th century, the Marathas were consolidating their power in the west, Chatrapati Shivaji, the great Maratha ruler, attacked Surat twice first in 1664 and again in 1672. These attacks marked the entry of the Marathas into Gujarat. However, before the Maratha inroads into Gujarat, the Europeans had made their presence felt, with the Portuguese leading them, followed by the Dutch and the English.

The Peshwas had established their sovereignty over Gujarat including Saurashtra, and collected taxes and tributes through their representatives. Damaji Gaekwad and Kadam Bande divided the Peshwa's territory between them, with Damaji establishing the sway of Gaekwad over Gujarat and made Barodara his Capital. The ensuing internecine war among the Marathas were fully exploited by the British, who interferedin the affairs of both Gaekwads and the Peshwas.

The British also embarked upon their policy of Subsidiary Alliance. With this policy they established their paramountcy over one princely state after another. Anandrao Gaekwad joined the Alliance in 1802 and surrendered Surat and adjoining territories to the English. In the garb of helping the Marathas, the British helped themselves, and gradually the Marathas' power came to an end, in 1819 in Gujarat. Gaekwad and other big and small rulers accepted the British Paramountcy.

Foreign Period: 1614 to 1947

Portugal was the first European power to arrive in Gujarat, acquiring several enclaves along the Gujarati coast, including Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The British East India Company established a factory in Surat in 1614, which formed their first base in India, but it was eclipsed by Bombay(now Mumbai) after the British acquired it from Portugal in 1668. The Company wrested control of much of Gujarat from the Marathas during the Second Anglo-Maratha War. Many local rulers, notably the Maratha Gaekwads of Baroda (Vadodara), made a separate peace with the British, and acknowledged British sovereignty in return for retaining local self-rule. Gujarat was placed under the political authority of Bombay Presidency, with the exception of Baroda state, which had a direct relationship with the Governor-General of India. From 1818 to 1947, most of present-day Gujarat, including Kathiawar, Kutch, and northern and eastern Gujarat were divided into dozens of princely states, but several districts in central and southern Gujarat, namely Ahmedabad, Broach (Bharuch), Kaira, Panch Mahals, and Surat, were ruled directly by British officials.

Indian Independence Movement

The people of Gujarat were the most enthusiastic participants in India's struggle for freedom. Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Morarji Desai, K.M. Munshi, Narhari Parikh, Mahadev Desai, Mohanlal Pandya and Ravi Shankar Vyas all hailed from Gujarat. It was also the site of the most popular revolts, including the "Satyagrahas" in Kheda, Bardoli, Borsad and the Salt Satyagraha.

"See Also": Freedom fighters from Gujarat

Post Independence

After Indian independence and the Partition of India in 1947, the new Indian government grouped the former princely states of Gujarat into three larger units; Saurashtra, which included the former princely states on the Kathiawar peninsula, Kutch, and Bombay state, which included the former British districts of Bombay Presidency together with most of Baroda state and the other former princely states of eastern Gujarat. In 1956, Bombay state was enlarged to include Kutch, Saurashtra, and parts of Hyderabad state and Madhya Pradesh in central India. The new state had a mostly Gujarati-speaking north and a Marathi-speaking south. Agitation by Marathi nationalists for their own state led to the split of Bombay state on linguistic lines; on 1 May 1960, it became the new states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. The first capital of Gujarat was Ahmedabad; the capital was moved to Gandhinagar in 1970.

In Gujarat a few new towns have been established since Indian Independence in 1947. Most of these are more like settlements established near existing urban centres. Gandhidham, Sardarnagar and Kubernagar are three rehabilitation towns more like refugee settlements than self-sufficient towns. The last two now form part of the city of Ahmedabad. They were established for the resettlement of Sindhi Hindu refugees arriving from Pakistan. Ankleshwar and Mithapur were two of the earlier industrial towns established in Gujarat. A complex of three small townships for the oil refinery, the Fertilizer Factory and Petro-chemicals plant also came up near Vadodara. Kandla is the only new port town established in the state. The capital city of Gujarat, Gandhinagar is one of the three planned cities in India and has excellent infrastructure.

2001 Gujarat Earthquake

Gujarat was hit with a devastating earthquake on January 26, 2001 at 8:55am, which claimed a staggering 20,000 lives, injured another 200,000 people and severely affected the lives of 40 million of the population. The economic and financial loss to Gujarat and India is being felt even after more than half a decade.


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