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THE IMPERIAL GAZETTEER OF INDIA , 1908.
OXFORD, AT THE CLARENDON PRESS.
British Province, District, and city in Rajputana. See Ajmer-Merwara and Ajmer City.
By Geeta Nandakumar
India Harmony VOLUME - 1 : ISSUE - 3 APRIL, 2012
Life, food and mysticism – or the 'Eat, pray and Love' existence summed up by American author Elizabeth Gilbert, symbolises the experience of Ajmer and Pushkar. For, existential dilemmas melt away, as the call of the Divine and a deep humanistic resonance take over in Ajmer and Pushkar, lying cheek by jowl within a distance of 11 kms in Central Rajasthan. If the Sufi saint Khwaja Gharib Nawaz is a magnetic draw for devotees of all creeds and sects thronging the Dargah Sharief in Ajmer, there is a sea of humanity teeming the ghats of the divine lake and 400 odd temples at Pushkar, the holy abode of the creator of the Universe, Lord Brahma. Amidst sylvan settings, a virtual oasis of greenery in the stark desert landscape of Rajasthan, Ajmer and Pushkar glisten like gems. Surrounded by the hills of the Aravalli ranges and sparkling water bodies – the Anasagar lake and the Pushkar lake, a visit to the twin towns pulsating with life, is a sublime voyage.
Call of the Khwaja at the Dargah Sharief
Faith is all pervasive, as the devout pour into the Dargah Sharief in Ajmer, from every corner of the Indian subcontinent, putting forth their sorrows and praying for wish fulfilment with the impeccable credulity that the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti is still conscious and attentive, and can confer blessings upon people by acting as a channel for God's grace, even several centuries after his death. The shrine, which is the burial place of the Sufi saint, is known as the Mecca of South East Asia. A lot of miracles (karaamat) are attributed to the saint.
The reverence for this Sufi saint is explained easily from the words and the actions of the Khwaja Gharib Nawaz himself. For, according to him, service to humanity is the highest form of devotion to God, and not ecclesiastical rituals. “The highest devotion to God”, the saint remarked, was nothing but: "Dar mandgaan ra fariyad raseedan wa haajatbichaargaan ra rawa kardan wa gursingaan ra sair gardaneedan" (To redress the misery of those in distress, to fulfil the needs of the helpless and to feed the hungry)."
The saint from Persia, credited with introducing the Chishti Sufi order in South Asia, settled in Ajmer after he had a dream in which, The Holy Prophet Muhammad blessed him to come to the town in Rajasthan. After a brief stay at Lahore, he reached Ajmer and settled down here. Soon, he attracted a substantial following amongst the residents of the city, with his practice of "Sulh-e-Kul (peace to all)" concept to promote understanding between Muslims and non- Muslims.
The saint was courted by emperors and commoners alike in his lifetime to have their wishes granted. The Sufi saint's dargah in Ajmer has an unbiased ambience that is spiritually elevating, drawing millions from every caste, creed and sect and from every corner of the sub-continent and all parts of the world.
As one enters the precincts of the shrine, moving past the marble gateway built by Emperor Shah Jehan. and the massive gateways or Buland Durwaza built by Sultan Ghyasuddin Khilji of Mandoo, the sight of hundreds bowing before the mazaar in hushed silence, broken only by a harmony of whispers and prayers, makes one marvel at the body-sized patch of earth that commands such veneration. Around the mazaar is a golden railing donated by Emperor Jahangir and the crown at the apex is made of gold. The jewelled mazaar, covered with gold cloth, is protected by silver railings and a great dome above. Pilgrims stand outside the outer railing, and the khadims (hereditary shrine keepers) move in the space in between. The hush deepens despite the crush of the devout and the heaps of rose petals give off an incredibly strong scent that fills the room, adding to the atmosphere. The walls are paneled with velvet curtains, including one from Mecca.
It was during Emperor Akbar's reign that Ajmer emerged as one of the most important centres of pilgrimage in India. The Mughal emperor undertook an unceremonial journey on foot to Ajmer to wish for a son to be his successor. Akbar was the first Mughal emperor to visit the Dargah and he built the Akbari Masjid in the precincts in 1571 A.D. and it is a voluminous, red sandstone mosque, situated at the right side of the main entrance.
More than five lakh devotees belonging to different communities from the subcontinent attend the annual urs to mark the death anniversary of the Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Saheb at the dargah in Ajmer during the month of May (this year marks the 800th Urs and it is on May 27 and 28). It is a six-day long event beginning with the hoisting of a white flag atop the tomb and to anointing the mazaar with sandalwood paste and rose water. The air is filled with qawwalis and poetry in praise of the saint and devotees make evocative offerings or nazranas. And the sixday long fest culminates with the opening of the 'jannati darwaza' or gates of heaven. According to popular belief, one can ensure a place in heaven by crossing the gate seven times.
The air is thick with devotion and mysticism. At night, 'mehfils' (religious assemblies) are held in the large mehfil-khana. Presided over by the sajjada-nashin of the dargah, qawwalis are sung in praise of the saint and the hall is packed to capacity. The mehfils terminate late in the night with a mass prayer for eternal grace for Khwaja saheb in particular and peace for mankind in general. The shrine is a pillar of the philosophy of religious tolerance and cultural and social synthesis that has been the essence of India for centuries. The flowers laid on his grave come from the Hindu flower dealers of Pushkar, while most of the chadars to be placed at the shrine too are made by non- Muslim artisans.
Outside of the dargah, two massive cauldrons cook sweet rice garnished with dry fruits and condiments to be served as 'tabarrukh' or sanctified food to the pilgrims. At the time of the Urs, a busy bazaar springs up at the foot of the dargah. Flowers, embroidered prayer rugs, prayer caps and decorative chadars are among the many things to be found in the bazaar, apart from the usual souvenirs which make their way to fairs such as this.
The long line of culture and creativity beginning from the seventh century AD when Raja Ajai Pal Chauhan founded Ajmer is evident from the beautiful Ana Sagar lake constructed by Anaji and further embellished by Emperor Jehangir with the Daulatbagh Gardens. Then there is the marble pavilion by Shah Jehan, the Taragarh Fort, now in ruins, but, at one point of time known as the 'Ajai meru', or the invicible fort, Akbar's palace that houses a museum, Man Mahal along Ajmer's lake that housed Raja Man Singh, the exquisite 19th century Jain temple Nasiyan, the magnificent architecture of the Mayo College, a British legacy rated as one of the best public schools even today, the Foy Sagar lake and the Kishangarh miniature paintings – all of these add up to a veritable torrent of cultural embellishment.
Akbar ka Qila
A fort built by Mughal emperor Akbar and known to Akbar the ages that followed as ` ka Qila' was quietly renamed Ajmer ka Qila and Sangraha` laya' in 2015 merely on the verbal orders of a sub-divisional magistrate acting on the proposal of a Rajasthan minister.
No expert committee. No scrutiny by a panel of academics. Nothing. Except the whim of Rajasthan education minister Vasudev Devnani who has in the past expounded on cow dung offering protection against radioactivity and cows exhaling pure oxygen. The fort, built by the Mughal emperor in 1570, carried his name even when the Rathors, Marathas and the British ruled the land. The original name of the fort in Ajmer enjoys legal sanction from a gazette no tification of December 12, 1968, that states the title of the fort is Akbar ka Qila, or Magazine, or Daulat Khana. No amendment has been effected since then.
Not until Rajasthan minister Vasudev Devnani, who is also an MLA from Ajmer North, had an idea he thought historic: Propose to the administration that the name be changed to `Ajmer ka Qila'. The then sub-divisional magistrate, Harphool Yadav, consequently issued verbal orders that the name be changed. Officials then placed a plaque above the entrance that read `Ajmer ka Qila and Sangrahalaya'. The renaming surfaced after a letter in the last week of February by one Tarannum Chishti (identity not confirmed by police) threatened the minister, Devnani, with dire consequences if the name of the fort did not revert to the original.
Textbooks changed too
Major changes in textbooks in the state followed the 2015 renaming of the fort, including the education department dropping the suffix `the Great' that usually follows emperor Akbar's name. Repeated calls and texts sent by TOI to the director of the state Archaeological Survey of India, Hridesh Kumar Sharma, elicited no response. The building is a declared protected site under the Archaeological Survey of India as `Magazine building and Akbar Fort'.
Defending his decision, Devnani told TOI: “The renaming was done to respect the sentiments of the general public. This fort has always been named after the historic city of Ajmer, which has existed since the 9th century (AD), and nothing has been changed in the fort -the garden, arches, galleries etc.Above all, the structure has nothing which personally belonged to Akbar.“
History contradicts Devnani's claims.The oldest reference to this fort is found in the journal of Sir Thomas Roe, the ambassador of King James I of England to the Mughal court. When Roe asked emperor Jahangir at the fort in 1615 for a piece of land in the Deccan, he referred to the fort as `Akbar's palace'.A manuscript placed on a second entrance wall (on the right side) in `Hindvi' script reads `Akbar-Ki-Qila'. The script, in the old Devnagari, dates back 300 years.
Officials at the fort have repeatedly sought Hridesh Sharma's guidance regarding the new name on the board but have received no response. `Ajmer Historical and Descriptive', a book by jurist and academic Har Bilas Sarda, describes the building as the royal residence of emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, indicating the historical significance of this fort.