This article has been extracted from
THE IMPERIAL GAZETTEER OF INDIA , 1908.
OXFORD, AT THE CLARENDON PRESS.
Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts.Many units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.
A large and important city in Rajputana, and the administrative head-quarters of the small British Province of Ajmer- Merwara, situated in 26 degree 27' N. and 74 degree 37' E., 677 miles north of Bombay; 275 miles south of Delhi, 228 miles west of Agra, 305 miles north of Ahmadabad, and 393 miles north of Khandwa, the four principal termini of the Rajputana-Malwa Railway. Population, (1872) 35' 111 ' ( 18S1 ) 48,735,(1891) 68,843, and (1901) 73,839: namely, males, 39,467; females, 34,37 2 Hindus numbered 43,622 in 1901 ; Muhammadans, 25,569 ; Jains, 2,483; Christians, 1,871; Sikhs, 193; and Parsis, 101.
The opening of the railway in 1879 brought with it a large influx of inhabitants, and since then the population has steadily increased. For the history of the city see Ajmer-Merwara.
Ajmer lies at the foot of the Taragarh hill. It has some well-built open streets, contains many fine houses, and is surrounded by a stone wall, now in disrepair, with five gates. The ancient town stood in the Indrakot valley, through which the road leads to Taragarh.
A small portion of the population, all Muhammadans, and known as Indrakotis, still reside at the entrance to the valley, immediately outside the Tirpolia Gate. The hill, on the summit of which the fort of Taragarh was built, towers in an imposing manner immediately above the city, commanding it at every point. It stands, with precipitous surroundings, at a height of 2,855 f eet above sea-level, and between 1,300 and 1,400 feet above the valley at its base; and it is partially enclosed by a wall some 20 feet thick and as many high, built of huge blocks of stone, cut and squared.
The hill fort was dismantled in 1832, and since i860 has been used as a sanitarium for the European troops stationed at Nasirabad and Mhow. Within it stands the shrine of a Muhammadan saint, Saiyid Husain, known as the Ganj Shahldan (' treasury ol martyrs ').
Ajmer is rich in buildings of antiquarian interest. The most important is the mosque known as the Arhai-din-ka-Jhonpra, or ' two and a half days' shed.' This, originally a Hindu buildings college, established by the Chauhan king Visaldev, is said to have been converted into a mosque by order of Muhammad Ghori, the legend being that, as he passed the college, he ordered that it should be ready for him to pray in on his return in two and a half days.
The pillars and roof of the college were permitted to remain, but the rest of the building was demolished and much of the carving on the pillars defaced. A facade of remarkable beauty was then erected, forming the front of the present mosque, which was surrounded by lolty cloisters, with a tower at each corner of the quadrangle. The cloisters have largely fallen in, and the surviving portion of the towers is very imperfect. The facade, however, and the mosque itself, are in good preservation, bavin- been extensively repaired during Lord Mayo's viceroyalty, while furtherrestorations were carried out in 1900-2.
The mosque is of about the same date as the Kutb Minar near Delhi.
The embankment of the Anasagar lake supports the beautiful marble pavilions erected as pleasure-houses by Shah jahan. Of the five original pavilions, four are still in good preservation ; of the fifth the remains are very scanty.
The embankment, moreover, contains the- site of the former hammam (bath-room), the floor of which still remains Three of the five pavilions were at one time formed into residences for British officials, while the embankment was covered with office build- ings and enclosed by gardens. The houses and enclosures were finally removed in 1900-2, when the two south pavilions were re-erected, the marble parapet completed, and the embankment restored, as far as practicable, to its early condition.
The Dargah Khwaja Sahib, wherein is the tomb of the Muhammadan saint Muin-ud-din Chishti, who died here about 1235, ' s another remark able building, and is an obyect of pilgrimage to Muhammadans from all parts of the country.
The annual number of pilgrims is about 25,000. The shrine also contains a mosque by Akbar, another by Shah Jahan, and several more modern buildings. The gateway, though disfigured by modern colouring, is picturesque and old. The shrine contains the large drums and brass candlesticks taken by Akbar at the sack of Chitor.
The saint's tomb, which was commenced in the reign of Shams-ud-din Altamsh and finished in that of Humayun, is richly adorned with gold and silver, but only Muhammadans are permitted to enter its precincts. A festival, called the Urs mela, which lasts six days, is held annually at the Dargah in the Muhammadan month of Rajab, at which the following peculiar custom is observed. There are two large cauldrons inside the Dargah, one twice the size of the other, known as the great and little deg. Pilgrims to the shrine propose to offer a deg feast.
The smallest sum for which rice, butter, sugar, almonds, raisins, and spices to fill the large deg can be bought is Rs. 1,000, while the donor has to pay about Rs. 200 more in presents to the officials of the shrine and in offerings at the tomb. The materials for the small deg cost half the sum required for the large one. After a gigantic rice-pudding of this description has been cooked, it is scrambled for boiling hot.
Eight earthen pots of the mixture are first set apart for the foreign pilgrims, and it is the hereditary privilege of the people of Indrakot and of the menials of the Dargah to empty the cauldron of the remainder of its contents. All the men who take part in the looting of the deg' are swathed up to the eyes in cloths to avoid the effect of the scalding mess. When the cauldron is nearly empty, the Indrakotis tumble in together and scrape it clean.
There is no doubt that this custom is an ancient one, though no account of its origin can be given. It is counted among the miracles of the saint that no lives have ever been lost on these occasions, though burns are frequent. The cooked rice is bought by all classes, and most castes will eat it.
The Ajmer fort was built by Akbar. It is a massive square building, with lofty octagonal bastions at each corner. The fort was used as the residence of the Mughal emperors during their visits to Ajmer, and was the head-quarters of the administration in their time and in that of the Marathas. The main entrance faces the city, and is lofty and imposing. It was here that the emperors appeared in state, and that, as recorded by Sir Thomas Roe, criminals were publicly executed.
The ground surrounding the fort has been largely built over, and its striking appear- ance is thus considerably impaired. The interior was used as a magazine during the British occupation until 1857; and the central building, now used as a tahsil office, has been so much altered that its original shape and proportions are difficult to trace and restore. With the fort the outer city walls, of the same period, are connected. These surround the city and are pierced by the Delhi, Madar, Usri, Agra, and Tirpolia gates.
The gates were at one time highiy decorated, but the Delhi Gate alone retains any trace of its earlier ornaments. In the older city, lying in the valley beneath the Taragarh hill and now abandoned, the Nur-chashma, a garden-house used by the Mughals, still remains, as also a water-lift commenced by Maldeo Rathor, to raise water to the Taragarh citadel.
The Daulat Bagh, or 'garden of splendour,' which was made by the emperor Jahangir in the seven- teenth century, stretches for some distance from the Anasagar embank- ment in the direction of the city. It contains many venerable trees, is maintained from municipal funds, and is a popular place of resort.
Ajmer is an important railway centre, and the local emporium for the trade of the adjoining parts of Rajputana. The locomotive, carriage, and wagon shops of the Rajputana-Malwa Railway are industries established here, which employ about 7,000 hands, while the whole of the earnings of the railway are paid into the Ajmer treasury. Several Seth trading firms have their head-quarters at Ajmer, with branches throughout Rajputana, and also in Calcutta, Bombay, and other principal cities of India. They act chiefly as bankers and money-lenders, and transact considerable busi- ness with Native States.
Ajmer has been a municipality since 1869. The municipal committee consists of twenty-two members, mostly natives. Its income in 1902-3 was Rs. 1,83,000, or Rs. 2-8 per head of population, the principal source of revenue being octroi.
The city derives its water-supply from the Foy Sagar tank, some 3 miles to the west of the city. It was built as a faminerelief work in 1891-2, the money being lent to the municipality by Government. The water is conveyed into the city and suburbs through pipes which are laid underground.
The capacity of the tank is 150,000,000 cubic feet and when it is full it holds, approximately, a two years' supply ofwater for the city, the civil station, and the railway workshops. When the water-level in the reservoir is below a certain depth, the water has to be pumped.
The Mayo College and the Government Arts college are the principal educational institutions. The former was established at the suggestion of Lord Mayo as a college where the sons of chiefs and nobles might receive an education to fit them for their high positions and important duties.
The endowment fund, subscribed by seventeen of the Rajputana States, amounts to about 7 lakhs of rupees, and the interest on this sum, added to a Government subsidy, forms the income of the college. Some of the Native States have built boarding-houses, while the Government of India presented the college park, comprising 167 acres and formerly the site of the old Residency, and erected the main building, the residences of the principal and vice-principal, and the Ajmer boarding- house. It also provides the salaries of the English staff. The foun- dation-stone of the college was laid in 1878, and the building was opened by the Marquis of Dufferin in 1885.
The main building is of white marble in the Hindu-Saracenic style. The Jaipur boarding-house stands apart, to the south of the main building, while the other nine boarding-houses are arranged in the form of a horseshoe, with the college in the centre of the base.
A fine marble statue of Lord Mayo, by Noble, erected from funds subscribed by British and native residents in Rajputana, stands in front of the main building. The college is administered by a council, of which the Viceroy is president, and the Agent to the Governor-General for Rajputana vice-president. The chiefs of Rajputana and the Political officers accredited to them are members of the council, and the principal is secretary. The English staff was strengthened in 1903, and now consists of a principal, a vice- principal, and two assistant masters.
The native staff has also been strengthened and improved. The college curriculum is not fettered by any prescribed code, but a course of studies is followed which experience has shown to be useful and practical. The total number of admissions from the opening of the college up to April 1, 1904, has been 359, of whom 88 are now on the rolls.
The total includes several chiefs both in and out of Rajputana, whence the greater number of boys come.
Ajmer possesses a Central jail, a large General Hospital, and two smaller hospitals. The United Free Church of Scotland, the churchof England, the Roman Catholics, and the American Episcopal Methodists have mission establishments here. It is likewise the head-quarters of a native regiment and of a Railway Volunteer corps.
There are twelve printing presses in the city, from which eight weekly newspapers (mostly vernacular) issue, none of which, however, is of any importance.