Dabhoi or Darbhavati as it was known once upon a time belongs to that golden period of ancient India. When the architecture was probably at its best with temples of Khajuraho in North, Chola temples in South and even the Sun temple of nearby Modhera. This was a time when no walls were plain, they were either painted or sculpted.
Carved Gates of Dabhoi
At Dabhoi, all that remains from 11-12th CE fortifications is the four gateways of the old fort, called Vamavart fort. Built by the Solanki King Siddhraj Jaisingh I. Standing in four cardinal directions, these Carved Gates of Dabhoi not only tell us the extent of the ancient city but also give us the glimpse of the life from how and what is sculpted on the walls and the arches. Today, you have to either go around the city or through the crowded lanes to reach these gateways. We were there in Dabhoi on the day of Dussehra. And were able to see a very different festival celebration here.
Since we came from Vadodara, the first gate we met in the West was Vadodari Gate. A tall narrow gate with ornate brackets and sculpted figures on walls. Around the gate stands a wall with corridors and Kanguras or parapets that look from a later period. Most carvings are from Hindu mythology. You can recognize some of the sculptures. But most are in dilapidated state. People of the city were sitting in the lawns and were curious to see us clicking pictures.
We tried asking questions to them but they simply did not understand the relevance of an old gate for outsiders. Dabhoi does not seem to be a place frequented by tourists so you see the gates, as they are a part of today’s life. Sometimes it is a gateway to pass through, sometimes a shelter from rain and sun. Sometimes a meeting place and sometimes just an inheritance that is part of your life oblivious to any other meaning that it might carry.
Nandodi Gate or South Gate
From here we moved to the South gate that as per the Hindu Mythology belongs to the Yama or the God of Death. And hence is depicted by ferocious figures or Ugr Murtis. We see this in South Gate popularly known as Nandodi gate. There are stone structures on the outer periphery of this gate that seem to be re-built with the rubble of the existing structure as you suddenly see a sculpted stone on a plain wall. This was the filthiest gate almost like a garbage dump behind it. And unfortunately, a community meal was being cooked right next to it.
Muhedi Gate or Northern Gate
Muhedi or the Northern gate is the simplest of the gates standing as part of a market. And frequently used as a passage by humans and animals alike.
Hira Gate or Eastern Gate
Hira Gate or the Eastern gate, a direction considered auspicious is the most beautiful and ornate of the gates. It is here that you can see a bit of fortification still left. The wall still has a temple dedicated to Bhavani or Kali within the old wall. Legend is that some 800 years ago, roughly the time when this fort would have come up, King used to visit the temple of Goddess in Champaner every day. One day Goddess decided to follow the king back to Dabhoi. And the place where her payal or trinket stopped making a sound, a temple was built by the King. Assuming that Goddess wants to live here. This is still a practicing temple. We spent some time trying to decipher the carvings. But what we admired most was the living traditions here.
Behind this gate is a pond, where we saw the Dussehra being celebrated in a very tribal way. A woman in a possessed state played with a sword, while the pots with paddy plants were left into the pond. Earlier we saw village women carrying these pots on their heads as the men played music and danced. There were rows of colorful Gujarati food all over the town – Fafadas, Khakhra, and multi-colored Jalebis.
Gaikwad Vidyalaya Ashram
There was an abandoned handsome old building called Gaikwad Vidyalaya Ashram. I assume from the name that it was once a boys hostel run by the Gaikwads of Baroda. Dabhoi Railway station is another attraction that we saw only from outside. But we later learned that it is supposed to be the oldest and biggest narrow gauge junction in the world. There is supposed to be a rail museum here. But then no sign through the city ever pointed to that and even Internet search does not give any answers. However, read this nostalgic article by Bill Aitkens on Dabhoi narrow gauge.
Like I always say, India never ceases to amaze me….
Recommend you to read following travel blog on Places to Visit in Gujarat.