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Patan - an ancient Venice of India

Patan - an ancient Venice of India

Venice became artistically famous due to its international trade and commerce and merchants who lavishly patronised the arts. While the world knows a lot about Venice, it hardly knows anything about Patan, the former capital of Gujarat between the tenth and fourteenth centuries. Europe’s is a white story which is taught and studied repeatedly in a white dominated world. We are left to ‘defend’ our heritage against this canvas, when in reality we were equally imaginative and inclusive of ALL living beings.

Within a two-mile radius of the centre of Patan, there are 125 Jain temples alone. Raja Kumarpal became a royal patron of the Jains, thanks to his friendship with the genius monk Hemchandraachraya. The artistry and imagination behind the structures and murtis is spell-binding, not to mention the different materials and creative forms applied. The combination of peace, trade and visionary leadership helped Patan transform the history of India.

In stark contrast, the Patan Museum is so poor and chaotic that it proves how urgently India needs to recover its ‘sense of history’ and showcase it to itself, let alone the world. The arts play a timeless role in protecting culture and heritage, and while the town of Patan has withered, its legacy is a fact of life for all Indians to take pride in.

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The unique role of Jains in the economic history of Gujarat is also hardly researched or understood. When the capital later moved to Ahmedabad, 140 Jain temples were built in the Pols or old Ahmedabad, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. This too is barely two square miles in area. Jains have always been at the heart of the economic and cultural life of India. Travelling through the spine of India in a State Transport Bus, I could not believe how kind and gentle the rural people are, and even the Bus conductor was very patient in spite of the crowds.

The extreme non-violence practiced by the Jains has had an influence on all Gujaratis today. Vegetarianism is the main diet, and Chabutaros in compounds and villages show how birds are welcomed and fed. Animals have always been treated as family. Not only has the spirit of enterprise spread far and wide, Gujaratis are a gentle and caring people who are introspective and understand the limits of money. Today for Indians, Gujarat is a favourite migration destination- millions from within India come in every year without any reprisal. Its rural population needs to be supported and celebrated.

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Professor Atul K. Shah [@atulkshah] teaches and writes about Indian wisdom on business, culture and community at various UK universities and is a renowned international author, speaker and broadcaster.

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