November 04, 2014

ADHAI DIN KA JHOPRA, AJMER

A SHOWPIECE OF EARLY ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE


One of the least well-known yet in my opinion, the most important monument in Ajmer from historical perspective is the Adhai Din ka Jhopra, also known as the Jama Altamash. As you come out of the shrine of Gharib Nawaz, take the Andar Kot road and walk past hotels and sweet shops navigating your way through the hordes of people to reach this monument. Unlike the Magazine, the entrance is shabby and is lined with beggars. Certainly, the ASI can do a better job here.

There are two prominent theories as to how this edifice got its name. The more popular one says that this Ghurid mosque was constructed within a span of two and a half days; the story goes that after capturing Ajmer following his victory over the forces of Prithviraj Chauhan in the Second Battle of Tarain AD 1192, Sultan Mohammed asked his deputy Qutub ud din Aibak to construct a mosque here so that he could offer namaz before leaving for Afghanistan. The general obliged and converted a university that stood at this site earlier into a masjid within dhai din or two and a half days. There is no way that such an impressive structure was erected in such a small time even if remains of temples were used for its construction. A different version to the above mentioned theory states that only the marble arch in the center of the mosque was completed in two and half days and the grand structure around it was built much later. A second theory which is far more convincing says that this place gets its name from an annual fair that was organized here in olden days that lasted for two and half days.

My own take on this unique nomenclature is something like this. While the mosque may have been well maintained initially during the era of the Delhi Sultanate, it seems that it fell out of use during the days of the later Mughals and the British. There is a possibility that during these years, the place was deserted and was only used for the annual fair. Considering the fact that the monument is located on the outskirts of the old city, may be the traders and the craftsmen who would come from nearby places to sell their stuff in the fair used to stay here in jhopras which in Hindi means 'hut' and can be equated to temporary residences. Of course, this is just what I am suggesting and there is no historical evidence to back it.

The confusion regarding the name apart, one thing that is clear is that the site was originally a Hindu temple dedicated to Goddess Saraswati. As such, it also doubled up as a Sanskrit university where knowledge of the Vedas and other religious texts were imparted to students. Though this claim has been refuted by some scholars, the large number of idols found here as well as the Sanskrit inscriptions discovered on the monument itself is ample proof of the origins of the structure. Many of the statues of Hindu gods that have been found here are now housed in the ASI Museum (Link). The construction of this place of learning is attributed to King Visaldeva - an early Chauhan king of Ajmer in AD 1150. In spite of searching on the net, I could not find much information regarding this ruler.

The Jhopra has been constructed on a raised platform and the steps leading to it are pretty steep. The main entrance is decorated with floral patterns and has certain intricate carvings that are worth seeing. As you walk towards the mosque, you will see a grand screen that consists of seven corbelled gateways. The one at the center is the tallest and the most beautiful in spite of the fact the two minars (columns) that erected on top of it have perished. You can clearly see inscriptions from the holy Quran engraved on it. This structure, the first of its kind in the country was added by Sultan Iltutmish in AD 1213 after occupying the throne of Delhi. The prayer hall that lies beyond it consists of small octagonal rooms have beautifully carved ceilings and are supported by about 70 towering columns, something which is rarely seen in India. Certainly, this place deserves to be amongst the most beautiful structures built during the time of the Delhi Sultanate. The walls around the monument are in ruins and there are remains of a tower from where the prayers were read by the muezzin.

The Adhai Din ka Jhopra is in fact a 'cousin' of the Quwwat ul Islam mosque located in the Qutub Minar complex in Delhi. The construction of both these masjids was started sometime between AD 1192 to AD 1198 i.e. at the dawn of the Islamic rule in India making them some of the oldest mosques in the country. Both of these magnificent structures are attributed to Sultan Qutub ud din Aibak, the viceroy of Mohammed Ghori in Delhi who declared his independence at the death of his master. Both have the iconic corbelled archways that were built by Sultan Iltutmish in the early thirteenth century. They have similar structure, probably because of the fact that they were originally Hindu temples that were later re-modeled as mosques following the defeat of the Rajputs. And most importantly, they are wonderful specimens of the early Islamic architecture.


USEFUL LINKS

(1) Dargah Ajmer - Ajmer Sharif (Link)

(2) ASI, Jaipur Circle - Adhai Din ka Jhopra (Link)


MORE POSTS RELATED TO AJMER

(1) Terracotta Wall Frames (Link)

(2) Akbar's Palace or the Magazine or the ASI Museum (Link)

(3) Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti's Dargah (Link)

(4) Anasagar Lake (Link)