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Chapter 10 – The Italian Traveller Pietro della Valle’s Description of Ahmadabad

1623 A.D.

Among the best-known names of all the European travellers who have left accounts of their journeys in the East is that of Pietro della Valle the Italian, who spent more than ten years, from 1614 to 1628, visiting various lands of the Orient – Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, Persia, and India. The account of his wanderings, written in the form of letters to a friend, was published in 1650 - 1663, long after his return, and was translated from Italian into English in 1664, more than a decade after his death. Almost every page of his journal contains matters of interest and value, as is manifest from his mites on “Ahmedabad” (Ahmadabad).

About noon, having travell’d twelve, or, as others said, fourteen Cos, we arriv’d at .Ahmedabad, and our journey from Cambaia hither was always with our Faces toward the northeast. Being entred into the City, which is competently large, with great suburbs, we went directly to alight at the house of the English Merchants, till other lodgings were prepared for us,

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where also we din’d with them. After which we retir’d to one of the houses which stand in the street, which they call Terzi (Darzi) Carvanserai, that is the Tayler’s Inn. For you must know that the Carvanserai, or Inns, in Ahmedabad, and other Great Cities of India, are not, as in Persia and Turkey, one single habitation, made in form of a great Cloyster, with abundance of Lodgings round about, separate one from another, for quartering of strangers; but they are whole great streets of the City destinated for strangers to dwell in, and whosoever is minded to hire a house; and because these streets are lockt up in the night time for security of the persons and goods which are there, therefore they call them Carvanserai. Notwithstanding the wearisomness of our journey, because we were to stay but a little while at Ahmedabad, therefore after a little rest we went the same evening to view the market-place, buying sundry things. It displeas’d me sufficiently that the streets not being well pav’d, although they are large, fair and strait, yet through the great dryness of the earth they are so dusty that there’s almost no going afoot, because the foot sinks very deep in the ground with great defilement; and the going on horseback, or in a coach, is likewise very troublesome in regard of the dust, a thing indeed of great disparagement to so goodly and great a city as this is. I saw in Ahmedabad roses, flowers of jasmin and other sorts, and divers such fruits as we have in our countries in the summer; whence I imagin’d, that probably, we had repass’d the Tropick of Cancer, and re-enter’d a little

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into the Temperate Zone; which doubt I could not clear for want of my astrolabe, which I had left with my other goods at Surat.

On Tuesday following, which to us was the day of Carnoval, or Shrove Tuesday, walking in the morning about the town, I saw a handsome street, straight, long and very broad, full of shops of various trades; they call it Bezari Kelan (Bazar-i Kelan), that is, the Great Merkat (Market), in distinction from others than which this is bigger. In the middle is a structure of stone athwart the street, like a bridge with three arches, almost resembling the triumphal arches of Rome. A good way beyond this bridge, in the middle of the same is a great well, round about which is built a square piazetta, a little higher than the ground. The water of the well is of great service to all the city, and there is always a great concourse of people who come to fetch it.

Going forwards to the end of the market, we came to the great gate which stands confronting the street, and beautifi’d with many ornaments between two goodly towers; ‘tis the Gate of a small castle, which they call by the Persian word Cut (Khat). Nor let it seem

Pietro Della Valle

After an old woodcut

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strange that in India, in the countries of the Moghol, the Persian tongue is us’d more perhaps than the Indian itself, since the Mogholian princes being originally Tartars, and of Samarkand, where the Persian is the natural tongue of the country, have therefore been willing to retain their native speech in India; in brief, the Persian is the language of the Moghol’s court, most spoken and us’d in all publick writings.

Near this castle gate, in a void place of the street are two pulpits handsomely built of stone, somewhat rais’d from the ground, wherein ‘tis the Custome to read the king’s commandments publickly, when they are to be proclaim’d. Thence turning to the right hand, and passing another great gate, and through a fair street we came to the royal palace; for Ahmedabad is one of the four cities30, amongst all the others of his dominions, where the Grand Moghol by particular privilege hath a palace and a court; and accordingly he comes sometimes to reside there. This palace hath a great square court, surrounded with white and well polish’d walls. In the midst stands a high post to shoot at with arrows, as is also usual in the piazzas of Persia. On the left side of the court as you go in are the king’s lodgings, a small and low building. What ‘tis within side I know not, for I enter’d not into it; but without ‘tis as follows. Under the king’s windows is a square place inclos’d with a rail of colour’d wood, and the pavement somewhat rais’d; within which, if the king is there, are wont to stand certain officers of the militia,

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A corner of Rani Sipri’s Mosque at Ahmedabad (1431 A.D.)

whom they call Mansubdar31, and they are almost the same with our Colonels; their Command extends not to above a thousand horse; nor are they all equal, but from a thousand downwards some have more, some , less, under them. Within this inclosure of the Mansubdary,

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under the king’s balconies, stand two carv’d elephants of emboss’d work, but not large, painted with their natural colours; and in the front of the royal lodgings are other such ornaments, after their mode, of little consideration. Some said that a while ago in one of the Balconies stood expos’d to publick view an image of the Virgin Mary, plac’d there by Sciah Selim, who, they say, was devoted to her, and to whom perhaps it was given by one of our priests, who frequent this court out of a desire to draw him to the Christian faith; but the image was not there now, and possibly was taken away by Sultan Chorrom his Son (reported an enemy of the Christians and their affairs) since his coming to the government of those parts of Guzarat. The station of the greater captains, and of higher dignity than the Mansubdary, as the Chans and others of that *rank, is in the king’s balconies, or near hand above there within the rooms. The inferior souldiers, that is such as have onely two or three horses, stand upon the ground in the court without the above mention’d inclosure. In the front of the court is another- building, with an inclosure also before it, but less adorn’d; ‘tis the place where the king’s guard stands with all its captains; . and the same order, I believe, is always observed in the Moghol’s court, in whatsoever place or city he happens to be. Within this court is another on the left hand, surrounded with other buildings for necessary offices, but not so well built nor polish’d.

Having seen what we could of the royal palace, we

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The river Sabarmati at Ahmadabad

Near its bank is an old temple of Mahadeva, or Siva.

return’d by the same way we came to the street of the great market. From whence we went to see a famous temple of Mahedeu, to which there is hourly a great concourse of people, and the street which leads to it is always full, not onely of goers and corners to the temple, but also of beggars who stand here and there asking alms of those that pass by. The building of this temple is small, the entrance narrow and very low, almost under ground; for you descend by many steps, and you would think you were rather going into a grotto than into a temple, and hence there is always a great crowd there. On high hung a great number of bells, which are rung every moment with great noise by those who come to worship. Within the temple continually stand many naked Gioghi, having onely their

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privities (not very well) cover’d with a cloth; they wear long hair dishevel’d, dying their fore-heads with spots of sanders, saffron, and other colours suitable to their superstitious ceremonies. The rest of their bodies is clean and smooth, without any tincture or impurity; which I mention as a difference from some other Gioghi, whose bodies are all smear’d with colours and ashes, as I shall relate hereafter. There is no doubt but these are the ancient Gymnosophists so famous in the world, and, in short, those very Sophists who then went naked and exercis’d great patience in sufferings, to whom Alexander the Great sent Onesicritus to consult with them, as Strabo reports from the testimony of the same Onesicritus32. Many of them stood in the temple near the idols, which were plac’d in the innermost penetral, or chancel of it, with many candles and lamps burning before them. The idols were two stones, somewhat long, like two small termini, or land-marks, painted with their wonted colours; on the right side whereof was a stone cut into a figure, and on the left another of that ordinary form of a small ,pillar, according to which as I said before that they use to shape Mahedeu. And before all these another like figure of Mahedeu, made of crystal, upon which the offerings were lay’d, as milk, oyle, rice and divers such things. The assistant Gioghi give every one that comes to worship some of the flowers, which are strew’d upon and round about the idols, receiving in lieu thereof good summs of alms.

Coming out of this temple, and ascending up the

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wall of the city which is hard by, we beheld from that height the little river call’d Sabermeti (Sabarmati), which runs on that side under the walls without the city. Upon the bank thereof, stood expos’d to the sun many Gioghi of more austere lives, namely such as are not onely naked like those above describ’d, but go all sprinkled with ashes, and paint their bodies and faces with a whitish colour upon black, which they do with a certain stone that is reduced into powder like lime33. Their beards and hair they wear long, untrim’d, rudely involv’d, and sometimes erected like horns. Painted they are often, or rather daub’d with sundry colours and hideous figures; so that they seem so many devils, like those represented in our comedies. The ashes wherewith they sprinkle their bodies are the ashes of burnt carkasses; and this to the end they may be continually mindful of death. A great crew of these, with their chief, or leader (who conducts them with an extravagant banner in his hand, made of many shreds of several colours, and whom they all religiously obey) sat by the river’s side in a round form, as their custom is; and in the field there were many people, who came some to walk, and others to wash themselves; the pagan Indians holding their rivers in great veneration, and being not a little superstitious in bathing themselves therein. From the same place I beheld a little chappel built upon two small figures of Mahadeu, not upright, but lying along upon the ground, and carv’d in basse relief, where also were lamps burning, and people making

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Rani Sipri’s Tomb at Abmadabad

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Blank page

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their offerings. One of the Gioghi, laying aside all other care, remain’d continually in this chappel with great retiredness and abstraction of mind, scarce ever coming forth, although it was very troublesome abiding there, in regard to the heat of the lights, and inconvenient too, by reason the chappel was so little that it could scarce contain him alone as he sat upon the pavement (which was somewhat rais’d from the Earth) with his leggs doubled under him and almost crooked. Returning home by the same way of the great Bazar, or Market, I saw carvanserai, or inns, made with cloysters like those of Persia; one greater and square of the ordinary form, and another less, narrow and long. Of divers other streets, in which I saw nothing observable, I forbear to speak.’


30. The other three cities being Agra, Mandu, and Lahore.

31. Properly Mansabdar; on these officers see vol. iv, p. 32.

32. See pages 54–57 of this volume.

33. This powder is made from burned shells.

This collection transcribed by Chris Gage
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