Rare photos of 18th Century Palanpur Royal Family. The original dwellers of the area that Palanpur is situated in are said to have been the Nagas. Historians believe they had an evolved civilisation that engaged in trade, and that they were expert seafarers. The geology of the region shows that at the time the sea was closer inland, and the Nagas even had a port on the banks of the lost river of Saraswati. Archaeological evidence reveals that the Nagas had a settled society with a rich variety of cultural artefacts.
The rich and fertile land attracted the attention of neighbouring kings. The Nagas were over run by the Mauryas in the 4th or 5th Century BC, and Arbudachal came under Mauryan rule. The Mauryas ruled over Arbudachal for many years, and after them the region came under a succession of rulers like the Malars, and the mighty Kshatraps.
The Solankis built Patan in the 8th century, and the Parmars of Abu built the great city of Chandravati in the early tenth century on the banks of the Banas river. Chandravati lay on the route of Allaudin Khilji’s armies, and is said to have been attacked twice. Perhaps this prompted Prahladan, brother of Chandravati’s ruler Dharavarsh, to set out to build a new city on the plains to the south west. It is said many residents of Chandravati left with him, joining in the dream of a new life of peace and prosperity.
Establishment of Palanpur
Following the tradition of the times Prahladan named the new city Prahladanpur, after himself, which in contemporary times, became Palanpur.
There is a popular story about Prahladan. It begins when Prahladan contracts leprosy and distraught, searches his kingdom for a cure. He encounters a Jain muni who tells him his leprosy is a punishment for melting down a Panchbutti Jain statue. The only way Prahladan can atone for his sin, and thus be cured, is to build a temple in honour of Lord Parshwanath.
A living testimony to Prahladan’s faith in the Jain muni’s advice stands today as the Mota Derasar of Palanpur. Though Prahladan himself never converted to Jainism, Prahladanpur came to be known as a haven for Jains. And in a corner of the Derasar stands a statue of Prahladan, the only surviving image of the founder of the city.
Wave after wave of invaders swept down attracted by the wealth and propserity of the region. In 1572 the Moghul emperor Akbar himself conquered Gujarat, and Palanpur became a part of the Moghul empire. Akbar gave a foster sister in marriage to a Nawab of the Kingdom of Jhalore in Rajasthan, and as a wedding gift gave the Jhalore Nawab the territory of Palanpur. This was the beginning of a remarkable period in the history of Palanpur.
In 1616, 31 years after Akbar gifted them Palanpur, the Nawabs of Jhalore moved in. Hundreds of people moved with the nawabs: nobles, officials, craftsmen, farmers, traders, and administrators. The Jhalore Nawabs established themselves quickly, and ruled Palanpur for the next 330 years, stepping down after becoming one of the first princely states to voluntarily merge with the Indian Union in 1948.The benevolent rule of the nawabs is remembered with fondness even today. The liberal atmosphere was ideal for a flowering of craft and poetry. Palanpuri attars were famous for their delicate fragrance, and the state became well known for Gujarati ghazals, and poetry.
Local historians credit much of Palanpur’s good fortunes to an astute group of Jain administrators who oversaw the day-to-day running of the state. When the Jhalore Nawabs moved to Palanpur they were accompanied by a group of Jain families. Originally Kshatriya Rajputs from Rajasthan, these families had come under the influence of Jain munis and become ardent followers of Jainism. The Jains found patronage under the Nawabs and their relationship evolved into one of mutual interest, and respect. In Palanpur, the Jains became key advisors to the Nawabs.
To Bombay and Beyond
Palanpur’s administration was much too small to employ the growing number of Jains who came to live here. Nawab Sher Mohammed Khan was concerned about the well being of this gifted community. He encouraged a few leading Jain families to enter the jewellery business, and was generous with introductions and recommendations to royalty in India and Nepal. So began the second migration of the Jains, to Bombay, and the world.
A stream of young Palanpuris began migrating to Bombay, confident that the pioneers of the community who had come to the city earlier would help them learn the ropes and then to set up their own businesses. But back in Palanpur, the Jain population began to dwindle quickly.
The home town has also changed. Over the years Palanpur has spread beyond the walled city to embrace the prevailing notion of modernity. New migrants from villages and towns around are re-shaping Palanpur but they share none of its history with its older population.
When the Nawab merged Palanpur with the Indian union it was the end of an important era in its history. But the descendants of the Palanpuris of that earlier era, and particularly the Jains, still feel a connection and strong attachment to their home town.