We had come out to visit Mount Abu sometime in March 2010 but stopped over for two or three days at Ajmer. Ajmer was deeply ingrained in our consciousness as all my siblings had to clear matriculation examinations conducted by the Ajmer Board of Secondary Education.
In the 1940s and early 1950s we had no board of secondary education or a university in Central India. Based at Gwalior as we were it was the Ajmer Board that decided whether we were capable enough to clear the matriculation examinations and march on for higher education. Believe me, those examinations used to be tough and never was an occasion when one heard of mass cheating like we do today. Everything was straight and the examinations went off like clockwork in numerous centres in areas that were far away from Ajmer. From what happens these days, it seems, we were doing much, much better in those days that were devoid of information and communication technology.
A major city of the state of Rajasthan, Ajmer is virtually sitting on the Aravali Hills – the most ancient mountain feature of the country. The town’s origin is lost in the misty antiquity but it was ruled at one time by Ajaypal Chauhan, one of the ancestors of Rana Pratap. It came under the control of the Mughals after Emperor Akbar defeated Rana Pratap.
Ajmer is famous for the shrine of Sufi Saint Moinuddin Chisti. The age of Chisti’s Dargah is not quite known but it is recorded history that he was one of the predecessors of Hazrat Nizamuddin, another Sufi saint of the Chisti order, whose shrine is in Delhi. Akbar was such an ardent follower of Moinuddin Chisti that he used to walk down every year to Ajmer from Fatehpur Sikri near Agra – a distance of 132 kilometres – to pay his obeisance to the Sufi saint.
The Saint’s dargah is the most important site in the town. Located at the foot of Taragarh Fort the shrine is approachable through a network of narrow roads which is always crowded with devotees. In order to access the shrine we had to remove our footwear outside the Buland Darwaza to be kept by a devotee in a shop-like outfit. Even the camera had to be handed over to another keeper. Earlier, as I had read, cameras were allowed inside the shrine. Now, perhaps, after the 2007 blast cameras have been prohibited inside. Another, imperative was for all males to have the head covered. Instead of covering my head with hanky I opted for a Namazi topi.
The shrine is the final resting place of the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chisti. He was as revered by Akbar as he is revered by almost all Muslims across the world even today. It is said that one can visit the shrine only when the Saint condescends and permits you to do so, otherwise howsoever one might try, one wouldn’t be able to go there and pray. Something like this happened to Parvez Musharraf when he visited India as President of Pakistan for talks with his Indian prime minister. The things so transpired that he went back in a huff from Agra from where he was scheduled to visit the shrine at Ajmer. Despite being the head of an Islamic country and a guest of Indian Government he ultimately couldn’t fulfill his desire to visit the shrine.
Muslims from all over the world want to visit it when they come to India. A co-participant of mine from Pakistan in an international training course was desperate to visit Ajmer during his visit even though according to his passport entries he was not eligible go anywhere beyond Delhi. Pulling some strings at his Embassy, he succeeded to get permission for a day-long visit that was rather harsh on his body but, perhaps, soothing for the soul.
The shrine is quite like any other Muslim grave, though it has enormous historical value. Besides being hundreds of years old, it is well spread out with appealing natural setting. Faith in the Saint’s miraculous powers attracts large number of people despite the austere ways that are prevalent . Since we had nothing to ask for, we went and looked around, were happy to see chadars being placed on the grave by common folk who may have come over long distances rom far away places. It was a new experience as we had never been to Hazrat Nizamuddin where another saint of Chisti order lies restfully in Delhi and where we were located several times during my service career.
Moving around in auto-ricksaws I found some roundabouts quite interesting with a mix of modern and Rajasthani architecture. We saw Soni-ji ki Nasiyan Jain Temple, a temple, as Jain temples usually are, built of marble. We gave a miss to Mayo College and pushed instead to Pushkar about 15-odd kilometers away.
Pushkar is at a greater elevation than Ajmer. It is known for its numerous temples, especially the Brahma Temple and hence is a place of pilgrimage for Hindus. In addition, it is known for its cattle fare where around the month of October camels, horses and cattle are bought and sold. Pushkar reportedly changes into a colourful place during the fare as hundreds of thousands of people visit the place. The camels with their colourful knitted coverings, the Rajasthani women in their flamboyant saris and, not to be left behind, even the skies in the evening assume the crimson of the sun gives the place a surreal appearance. As by the time the fare commences monsoons wash the skies over Pushkar into pure azure and this is reflected in the pond along which there are well-built ghats. We happened to be there in the wrong season and, naturally, were not quite impressed. The waters in the pond had depleted and cattle were roaming free making the place somewhat disagreeable.
Pushkar is also a place of Rajasthani art and it is the seemingly unschooled who practice it with aplomb. We saw a couple sitting down on the main street drawing away on paper out of sheer imagination something that turned out to be exquisite. Their minds are so trained that no amount of disturbance on a public road is able to distract them.