A spiritual high

A spiritual high

Best of Ajmer

A spiritual high

My train chugged into the Ajmer railway station on a chilly morning. The city was freezing, but tea vendors were doing a brisk business. I sipped hot tea at a pavement shop in Pannigran Chowk, and headed towards the mausoleum shrine of Khwaja Sahib.

The shrine complex (Dargah-Sharif) — enveloped in thick fog — was decked in colourful lights, and it was a sight to behold. The sweet aroma of the fresh roses sparkling in pink fluorescent lights, and the fragrance of the incense sticks rising through the mist, gave me a feeling of having entered a heavenly abode. The entire atmosphere was charged with some soul-filled current, which every pilgrim experienced, but none could describe. The mellifluous call of the muezzin for the morning prayers wafted through the mist-coated shrine complex and the devout thronged to the Shahjahani Mosque.

I was sitting in the mausoleum shrine of Hazrath Khwaja Muinuddin Chishthi, popularly known as Khwaja Gharib Nawaz, the great Sufi saint who rules over the hearts of millions across the world, cutting across all barriers of caste, creed and religion. The steady stream of pilgrims — carrying desires in their hearts, and flowers and ritual offerings on their heads — was increasing with every passing minute. I saw many devotees rubbing their faces on the walls of the shrine, seeking blessings of the saint, with tears rolling down their cheeks, as no supplication made here with a true heart goes waste. Many qawwals were singing qawwalis in praise of the saint and their renditions charged the atmosphere.

In history

Ajmer, or ancient Ajayameru, is a true amalgam of rich Hindu, Jain and Islamic heritage. It was founded by Raja Ajay Pal Chauhan in the 7th century AD. Muhammad Ghauri conquered it in 1193 AD and made it a part of the Delhi Sultanate. It was later captured by the rulers of Mewar in 1365 AD, followed by Marwar in 1532 AD. In 1553 AD, Hem Chandra Vikramaditya (Hemu) conquered Ajmer. After Hemu’s death in the second battle of Panipat in 1556 AD, Akbar annexed and made Ajmer an integral part of his empire in 1558 AD. Both Jehangir and Shah Jahan held Ajmer in high esteem and organised royal darbars here. Ajmer was later passed on to the Marathas. In 1818 AD, the British asked the Marathas to cede Ajmer for Rs 50,000 and hence it became a part of the province of Ajmer-Marwar. In 1950, it became Ajmer State, which became part of Rajasthan on November 1, 1956.

The Mughal emperors held the Dargah-Sharif in high esteem, and remained attached to it in one form or another, and so did the other kings of the Delhi Sultanate. Akbar built Akbari Masjid in the shrine complex, and also presented a huge cauldron of 11-metre circumference to the shrine in 1571 AD. Prince Salim got a smaller cauldron built in Agra and presented it to the shrine in 1604 AD. Shah Jahan built the Shahjahani Mosque in pure white marble. The Phool Khana Masjid, originally built by Sultan Muhammad Khilji, was renovated by Jehangir, and repairs were undertaken on the orders of Aurangazeb. The Mughal Princess Jahan Ara laid out the Begami Dalan in 1643 AD, outside the tomb chamber, towards the eastern entrance. The 70-feet high huge entrance Nizami Gate (Usmani Gate) of the shrine, which opens towards the Dargah Bazar, was built by Mir Usman Ali Khan, Nawab of Hyderabad, in 1912.

After spending time in the shrine complex, I exited through the Nizami Gate, took a turn and walked a narrow alley for some distance. Colourful stores selling curios and photos of the shrine — interrupted by unhygienic shops selling red meat and chicken — flanked the way.

Rare sights

After crossing a huge medieval gate, I was at the steps of Adhai Din ka Jhonpra, a mosque built by Qutub-ud-Din-Aibak, the first Sultan of Delhi, in 1199 AD. There are many versions about how this building came to be known as Adhai Din ka Jhonpda. Some say that it was built in 2-and-a-half days and some say that a fair used to be held here for 2-and-a-half days! Be that as it may, the mosque is a wonderful specimen of Indo-Islamic architecture. Sultan Iltutmish beautified it in 1213 AD, with a screen pierced by corbelled arches. The pillared chamber is divided in to 9 octagonal compartments and has 2 small minarets on the top of the central arch. The 3 central arches are carved with Kufic and Tughra inscriptions.

I then decided to go around for sight-seeing. The first place on my itinerary was Akbari Quila, built by the emperor in honour of Khwaja Saheb in 1570 AD. It is a massive rectangular structure with 4 imposing bastions at the corners, an audience chamber in the centre, and a magnificent gateway towards the west. The Mughals used the audience chamber for accommodation during their visit to Ajmer, as well as for supervising military expeditions in Rajasthan and Gujarat. The British ambassador Sir Thomas Roe presented his credentials to Jehangir here on January 1, 1616. Jehangir would present himself to the people to hear their grievances every morning from the jharokha (window), above the main gate. The fort now houses the government museum, and is a treasure trove of antiques and artefacts.

My next stop was at Soniji ki Nasiyan, a Jain temple built in 1865 AD. Just behind this temple is the Swarna Nagari Hall that houses giltwood representations of scenes from Jain mythology. It is painted and decorated and its roots are covered with excellent glass mosaic work. It has illustrative representations of the birth of Rishabhdev or Adinath, first of the 24 Tirthankars.

I was keen on exploring the little known monuments of Ajmer, and headed to the Badashahi Haveli, a rectangular edifice supported by double colonnade with wide bracket capitals. Lofty square pillars of the verandah, and the heavy-cut stone chajjas (sun shades), with their massive ornamental brackets, are its main features.

Next, I visited the tomb of Abdullah Khan (Miya Khan), built by his son Sayyid Hussain Ali Khan, the minister of King Farrukh Siyar. Standing on a raised platform, this square-shaped building is made of unpolished white marble, with octagonal columns. The tomb is built in the centre of an inner square. At the 4 corners there are smaller piers and half columns, with cusped arches between them.

As the sun began to set, I took a leisurely walk at the Baradari in the backdrop of shimmering blue Ana Sagar Lake. Shah Jahan built 5 marble pavilions and a hammam (bath-house) over a large embankment here in 1637 AD. The third pavilion is the largest one and resembles the Diwan-i-Khas of the Red Fort in Delhi. The ground below the embankment known as Daulat Bagh, was laid out by Jehangir, and formed a pleasure garden for the Mughal emperors. I sat in the pavilion and relished two huge papads, watching Ana Sagar in all its splendour, even as droves of pigeons hovered above my head.

Attractions in Ajmer

 Akbari Quila: Akbar’s Fort now houses the Government Museum. The light and sound shows held in the evenings recreate the history of Ajmer.
 Mayo College: Famous educational institution of our country
 Pushkar: The famous Hindu pilgrimage centre, 12 km from Ajmer, comes alive in the Kartika month (around Nov / Dec) during the annual Camel Fair.

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