Khwaja Mu'inuddin Chishti probably came to lndia before the Turkish conquests which brought lslam sweeping across Northern lndia. A sufi, unlike the Muslim invaders, he came in peace. He devoted his life to the poor people of Ajmer and its region. He was strongly influenced by the Upanishads; some reports claim that he married the daughter of a Hindu raja.
His influence during his lifetime was enormous, but continued through the establishment of the Chishti school or silsila, which flourished "because it produced respected spiritualists and propounded catholic doctrines". Hindus were attracted to the movement but did not have to "renounce their faith" and Sufi khanqah (a form of hospice) were accessible to all.
Almost immediately after death Khwaja Mu'innuddin Chishti's followers' carried on his mission. The present structure was built by Ghiyasuddin Khalji of Malwa, but the embellishment of the shrine to, its present ornate character is still seen as far less important than the, spiritual nature of the Saint it commemorate;
(1143-1235) is the tomb of the
Sufi saint (also called "The Sun of the Realm") which was begun by Iltutmish and completed by Humayun. Set in the heart of the old town,
the main gate is reached on foot or by tonga or auto through the bazar.
The Emperor Akbar first made a pilgrimage to the shrine to give thanks
for conquering Chittor in 1567 to 1580 Akbar made almost annual
pilgrimages to Ajmer on foot from Agra, and the kos minar (brick marking
pillars at about two-mile intervals) along the road from Agra are
witness of the popularity of the pilgrimage route. It is considered the
second holiest site after Mecca. On their first visit, rich Muslims pay
for a feast of rice, ghee, sugar, almonds, raisins and spices to be
cooked in one of the huge pots in the courtyard inside the high gateway.
These are still in regular use. On the right is the Akbar Masjid (circa
1570); to the left, an assembly hall for the poor. In the inner
courtyard is the white marble Shah Jahan Masjid (circa 1650), 33 m long
with 11 arches and a carved balustrade on three sides. In the inner
court is the square Dargah (tomb), also white marble, with a domed roof
and two entrances. The ceiling is gold-embossed velvet, and silver rails
and gates enclose the tomb. At festival times the tomb is packed with
pilgrims, many coming from
abroad, and the crush of people can be overpowering.
The whole complex has a unique atmosphere. The areas around the tomb have a real feeling of community; there is a hospital and a school on the grounds, as well as numerous shops. As you approach the tomb the feeling of religious fervour increases as does the barrage of demands for donations - often heightened by the music being played outside the tomb's ornate entrance. For many visitors, stepping into the tomb itself is the culmination of a lifetime's ambition, reflected in the ardour of their offerings.
Nearby is the Mazar (tomb) of Bibi Hafiz Jamal, daughter of the saint, a small enclosure with marble latticework. Close by is that of Chimni Begum, daughter of Shah Jahan. She never married, refusing to leave her father during the seven years he was held captive by Aurangzeb in Agra Fort. She spent her last days in Ajmer, as did another daughter who probably died of tuberculosis. At the south end of the Dargah is the Jhalra (tank).
The Arhai-din-ka Jhonpra Mosque (The Hut of two and a half days) lies beyond the Dargah in a narrow valley. Originally a Jain college built in 1153, it was partially destroyed by Muhammad of Ghori in 1192, and in 1210 turned into a mosque by Qutb-ud-din-Aibak who built a massive screen of seven arches in front of the pillared halls, allegedly in two and a half days (hence its name).The temple pillars which were incorporated in the building are all different. The mosque measures 79 m by 17 m with 10 domes supported by 124 columns and incorporates older Hindu and Jain masonry.
Much of it is in ruins though restoration work was undertaken at the turn of the century; only part of the 67-m screen and the Jain prayer hall remain.
Akbar's Palace, built in 1570 and restored in 1905, is in the city centre near the east wall. It is a large rectangular building with a fine gate. Today it houses the Government Museum Sat-Thu 1000-1630, 3, no photography, which has a dimly presented collection of fine sculpture from sixth to 17th centuries, paintings and old Raiput and Mughal armor and coins.
Urs Festival at Ajmer
Urs Festival, commemorating Khwala Muinuddin Chishti' death in 1235, is celebrated with 6 days of almost continuous music, and devotees from all over India and the Middle East make the pilgrimage. Qawwalis and other Urdu music developed in the courts of rulers can be heard. Roses cover the tomb. The festival starts on sighting the new moon in Rajab, the 7th month of the Islamic year. The peak is reached on the night between the 5th and 6th days when 10s of 1000s of pilgrims pack the shrine. At 1100 on the last morning, pilgrims and visitors are banned from the dargah, as the khadims, who are responsible through the year for the maintenance of worship at the shrine, dressed in their best cloths, approach the shrine with flowers and sweets. On the final day, women wash the tomb with their hair, then squeeze the rose water into bottles as medicine for the sick.