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Surat's monuments cry for attention

Written by: Staff

Surat, Mar 22: A melting pot of different cultures, the historical city of Surat presents a symbiotic relationship between the past and present where both reside in perfect harmony.

Dotting Surat's landscape are several heritage monuments but, unfortunately, many of them are gasping for want of proper maintenance.

Surat was a busy trading port in the past, points out Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel Museum curator Bhamini Mahitha. Many products from India were exported to other places and many others were imported from abroad.

''There was a lot of trading activity, especially in products like ivory, textiles, and wood which were traded from here.

Naturally, traders from different cultures were attracted to this place,'' says Ms Mahitha.

Surat finds mention in the travelogues of Portuguese traveler Barbosa who had described the city as a ''storehouse of the most precious production of Hindustani''. The importance of the Surat port led to an intense power struggle between various dynasties and foreign powers from 15th to the 18th centuries. The monuments tell the tale of those heady days.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is, however, choosy when it comes to conferring heritage status on the monuments. The English, Dutch and Armenian cemeteries and the ancient Khudavand Khan Rojo ''dargah'' have passed the ASI test.

''We select heritage monuments according to their historical and archaeological importance,'' says Baroda division ASI deputy superintendent V R Mangiraj.

He, however, rued that pollution from nearby looms, was causing damage to these heritage sites.

Preservation of the Khudavand Khan Rojo ''dargah'' presents another problem. This ancient ''dargah'' is still used for religious activities and the ASI is afraid that if devotees do not exercise proper caution, the building could get damaged.

The attractive features of the English and Dutch cemeteries are their huge and imposing tombs. They tell the story of power and glory. Tombs of Christopher Oxenden and George Oxenden, two English traders who controlled the English Factory in Surat, are the biggest ones in the English cemetery.

The tomb of Baron Adrian Van Reede, who was director of the Dutch Company in India, stands out imposingly in the Dutch cemetery. The Armenian cemetery, too, is a distinguished one and an architectural marvel.

One of the attractive features of Surat is that it accommodates different religious features under its fold. The Chintamani Jain Temple, constructed during the regime of Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb in 1699 AD, is an unique example of the rich wooden craftsmanship of Gujarat. It is rich, intricate and colourful. Some of the motifs in the temple show the influence of Persian painting style.

Another neglected monument which is rich in historical importance is the centrally located and strategic Surat Castle. It was built in 1540 by Sultan Mahmood Shaw and tells the story of the resistance that was put against the advancing Portuguese power. The castle, now, houses many government offices and is in a pathetic condition.

Then, there is the Andrews Library, which was constructed in Indo-Saracenic style but whose splendour now remains hidden behind huge commercial hoardings. The library has a rare collection of books but most of them are in a bad condition.

Condition of the Dutch Factory is more pathetic. Located at Nanpura, it housed the General Post Office for a long time. Even after the post office was shifted to a new building, the old building continues to remain under the control of the Postal Department.

The Surat Municipal Corporation itself is functioning from a massive heritage building named ''Mugal Sarai'' which was once the administrative headquarters under the Mughal Empire and served as a prison during the British rule.

The CNI Church, located near the Central Chowk, is a structure which has been carefully preserved. Built in the 17th century, the church is a picture of serenity. The Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel Museum, too, is a major attraction where the visitors can savour the stone works, unique wooden carvings and rare textile designs.


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