The abandoned mansions of Sidhpur

Painted in pastel colours and neatly placed in rows, the mansions of Sidhpur in Gujarat are reminiscent of a glorious past. Not used by their Dawoodi Bohra owners anymore, these havelis with elements of European architecture are withering away with time

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Dawoodi Bohra mansions of Sidhpur: Relics of past

Dawoodi Bohra mansions of Sidhpur: Relics of past

The Sidhpur (also Siddhpur) town, around 103 km from Ahmedabad, is famous for its historic temples, water structures, and the abandoned mansions of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims. Situated on the left bank of the invisible Saraswati River in Patan, the town reached the pinnacle of prominence and glory during the reign of Gujarat's Solanki rulers.

During the rule of Solanki king Jaisingh Siddharaj (1094–1143), Dawoodi Bohra Muslims came to Gujarat from Yemen. They are a sect of followers of Islam who adhere to the Fatimi Ismaili Tayyibi school of thought. This sect originated in Egypt and later shifted to Yemen. In Gujarat, they settled in what is now Hasanpura or old Sidhpur on the banks of the Saraswati River. They were mostly traders and farmers and as the community grew, the seat of the sect was moved from Yemen to Sidhpur in 1539. 

Dawoodi Bohras flourished in Sidhpur for almost a thousand years. When India was struck regularly by famine in the late 19th and early 20th century, the community’s religious leader at that time, Syedna Abdullah Badruddin, advised the Bohras of Sidhpur to leave their hometown in search of better trading and earning opportunities.

A slice of Europe

A sect within Shia Islam, the Dawoodi Bohra community is known for trading and business acumen. As they travelled to other parts of the world for trade, their finances soared. 

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sidhpur 2
Mostly made of wood, the mansions have stuccoed facades, trellised balconies, & gabled roofs. Pic: Wikipedia

Alongside, during these trade travels, they saw the opulence and grandeur of Victorian architecture and replicated the same back home.

The small houses of Sidhpur became large mansions or havelis replete with features of European architecture, especially French and Italian influences.

These architectural elements have come to define Sidhpur’s aesthetic. Constructed primarily of wood, they boast stuccoed facades adorned with ornate pilasters, trellised balconies, and gabled roofs. The havelis have multiple windows and the row houses have three levels, including a basement which remains cool amid the scorching desert heat.

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Each mansion facade is painted in a soft pastel hue - from pink and lilac to lime green and peach, evoking a charming ambience. Every facade bears an intricate monogram inscribed in Latin, showcasing the initials of the proud homeowners. Not surprisingly, Sidhpur is often referred to as ‘a slice of Europe’.

Today, however, the town is almost deserted with only a handful of people living in the mansions.

Most havelis are under caretakers or occupied by distant relatives of original owners who have shifted out for better educational and entrepreneurial opportunities. 

The later generations moved to bigger cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Hyderabad, where they have carved a position of importance for themselves in fields beyond trade and business. 

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the initials of the proud homeowners
The initials of the homeowners are inscribed on each mansion. Pic: Wikipedia

But their ancestral havelis in Sidhpur are now reeling under the vagaries of time. The paint is chipping off, most structures are creaking and a lack of use has made most mansions a relic of the past. The streets are also deserted just like the opulent mansions. Sidhpur is, however, a destination for tourists who want to know more about the old town.

The Dawoodi Bohras are well-educated, thriving business people and well-to-do professionals in numerous fields. Despite their presence in Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and some other places, they consider Surat in Gujarat their base. India is home to over 5 lakh Dawoodi Bohras, the majority of whom live in Gujarat even today. But surprisingly, Sidhpur is not their preferred home anymore.

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