It was on a November day in 1484 AD that Champaner, a prestigious
kingdom 160 km from Vadodara, popularly known as Baroda in Gujarat, fell to Muhammad Shah
the Sultan of Ahmedabad. He had planned and tried to capture Champaner several times
before, but had found the fortress called Pavagadh to be invincible. Moreover, he had as a
courtier one Sadanshah Faqir, alias Sahadev Joshi, a Brahmin turned Muslim. The Faqir kept
the rajah of Champaner, Pavapati Jaisinh Dev informed of the sultan's moves. He had
changed his faith merely to be acceptable Into Muhammad Shah. This legend was confirmed by
the book called Rai Benirai by Ramesh Joshi, Gujarat Pustakalaya, Vadodara, 1995.
That November day, however, the sultan's army was able to storm the
fort of Champaner. The decisive factor was the treachery of Jaisinh Dev's
brother-in-law SaiyanVankalio who showed the way to break in. The rajahs of Sirohi and
Idar are believed to have helped Muhammad Shah according to Ramesh Joshi.
Although they were allies of the Muslim sultan, they did not abandon
their loyalty to goddess Mahakali whose temple had, for centuries, crowned the Pavagadh
hill that overlooked the city of Champaner. Even on the evening of their victory, they did
not forgett to go up to the temple to get a darshan of the Mahakali. Sadanshah Faqir was
waiting for them. He had feared that in the aftermath of victory, the sultan would come up
the hill to see the legendary temple and its deity. The Faqir therefore implored the
rajahs of Sirohi and Idar totake away the idol of Mahakali with them to one of their
kingdoms and save it from the iconoclasm of Muhammad Shah.
Knowing the sultan's temper, they were apprehensive of his vengeance in the event he
found that they had smuggled out the deity on the morrow of his victory. Especially
because, after apprehending Jaisinh Dev, Muhammad Shah had offered the throne of Champaner
back to him, on the condition that he embrace Islam immediately. Although badly wounded
and bleeding, the defeated rajah was defiant. Pulling out the sword of one of the guards
around him, he swung it at the sulfan who fortuitously stepped back and saved himself,
although another guard near him got beheaded. So furious was the defiance of Jaisinh. He
was killed thereafter by the sultan's soldiers within minutes.
Nevertheless, being faithfuls of the goddess Mahakali, the rajahs of
Sirohi and Idar heard the reassurances of Sadanshah. If they took away the idol, the Faqir
would report to the sultan that he had tried his best to hold back the deity for his royal
visit to the Pavagadh temple. But before the rajahs could take away the idol, the goddess
disappeared into the ground below. Her plaited hair however remained clutched in the hand
of Sadanshah. Muhammad Shah could not get to the goddess, although local legend has it
that he used artillery to knock down the ancient temple. One of the guns believed to have
been used in the operation still lies atop Pavagadh hill.
What the old temple looked like, no one knows today. The present mandir
is of comparatively recent origin; probably built by a Maratha chieftain in the
decades preceding the third battle of Panipat in 1761. As a tribute to Sadanshah Faqir
alias Sahadev Joshi, for saving the idol of Mahakali from the sultan's iconoclastic fury,
he is called Pir Sadanshah. A dargah in his memory was built on the roof of themandir. The
author does not know of any other single construction which at once houses a Hindu temple
and a Muslim dargah. On the day of his visit, a Muslim devotee was selling taveez or
metal trinkets at five rupees a piece.
Hundreds of devotees go up to the dargah after having darshan
of Mahakalion the floor below. Nearly all of them appear to be Hindus. The ascent to
the mandir is hard work for it means climbing 2,830 feet from the foot of the hill. The
author was told that during navaratri or the nine days preceding dussehra,
Pavagadh is thronged by thousands of pilgrims. For those who can afford cars, it is easy
to drive upto Machi. Thereafter, for Rs. 37.00 one can ride a rope wayknown in Gujarati as
uran khatola. The last steps numbering about 240 again make tough climbing for the
aged devotees, some of whom hire a palki carried by men for Rs. 250 each. The
younger, or the poorer devotees, climb all the way.
Champaner was the premier capital of Gujarat before the rise of Siddhpur near Patan
under Siddhraj Jaisinh Solanki and his father during the 10th century. Champaner rose to
fame again when Muhammad Shah Begda, the son and successor of Ahmed Shah who,
incidentally, had renamed the city of Karnavati as Ahmeda early in the 15th century. Due
to shortages of water, Begda's successors had to move back to Ahmedabad. In the event,
Champaner ceased to enjoy its pre-emi-nence.
Over the last several decades, serious efforts have been made by non-governmental agencies
to excavate and revive the many glorious buildings that adorned the area. It is not widely
known why Muhammad Shah came to be called Begda. He had earlier conquered Junagadh in the
Saurashtra area of Gujarat. That was one gadh or fort. When he captured Pavagadh,
he had won two gadhs. In the Gujarati language, be means two, so maybe two
forts or Begda or begadha.
Going back to Champaner, its soil must be proud that it produced the
unusual person of Sahadev Joshi. He gave up his faith and became a Muslim in order to save
his matribhoomi or motherland, as well as his goddess Mahakali, from desecration
This is the only case of a person sacrificing, as distinct from changing, his religion.