November 02, 2014

AKBAR'S PALACE, AJMER

THE ASI MUSEUM

The grand entrance to Akbar's Palace
Also known as the Magazine or the Daulat Khana or the Government Museum, the small and simple palatial complex in the heart of Ajmer was constructed by Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great in AD 1570. It is a well documented fact that the Akbar used to visit the dargah of Khwaja Mohinuddin Chisti each year, covering the last leg of the pilgrimage on foot. This palace served as his residence when he was in the holy town. His successors Jehangir too is reported to have stayed here; in fact, Jehangir used to make an appearance from the balcony each morning while he was in the city and address the concerns of his subjects. With the slow disintegration of the Mughal Empire following the death of Aurangzeb, the city fell to the Marathas who in turn sold it to the British in the early nineteenth century. The British used the palace to store their arsenal ground and hence it is also known as the Magazine. Finally, the complex was converted into a museum in October 1908 after the intervention of Lord Curzon and Sir John Marshall, the then chief of ASI.

A closer look at the gateway reveals distinct Hindu and Muslim influences
Located hardly a kilometer away from the Ajmer Railway station, Akbar's palace is a relatively small monument. Considering the fact that at least three Mughal Emperors - Akbar the Great and Jehangir lived here, the whole structure seems rather austere, dramatically different to the opulence that we associate the dynasty and its rulers with. Besides, I wonder how much of protection could the place provide especially during times of crisis as there are no big fortifications that once can see, say in the forts of Delhi and Agra. Luckily for the two rulers, the town remained calm during their reigns. Perhaps, the building was deliberately kept simple as a tribute to the Gharib Nawaz - the Sufi saint who lies buried here.

There are two gates to the complex, the outer one is grand and is one of the earliest structure where you can see a fine amalgamation of local Rajput and Islamic architecture in this region. The semi-octagonal shape and the curved doorways are features of Muslim architecture whereas the the balconies and the intricate latticework in the middle show a distinct Hindu influence. The palace is surrounded by walls on all four sides with watch towers constructed at the four corners. There are rooms along the wall where the exhibits are displayed; they are connected to each other by by small doors. At the center is a square structure with four rooms. I was amazed to see that it lacked a dome. I guess it was used by the members of the Royal family. It is supported by four pillars on each side that are tall and devoid of any major carvings. The entire place has been maintained well by the ASI.

The Mansion at the center
All people familiar with Indian history have heard the name of Sir Thomas Roe - the Englishman who secured the firman or the Imperial Order from Emperor Jehangir to set up a factory of the English East India Company at Surat. The first meeting between the Mughal ruler and the English diplomat is said to have taken place here. I wonder if Jehangir would have ever imagined, even in his wildest dream that just two centuries later, the Britishers would become the dominant military power in the Sub-continent, supplanting the Mughals and the Marathas. Besides, two out of the four sons of Emperor Shah Jahan - Prince Dara Shukoh and Prince Shah Shuja who participated in the fratricidal following the death of their father were born here. Dara, hailed by many as the 'Second Akbar' was defeated by the combined forces of Aurangzeb and Murad Baksh near the holy city in March 1659. He was captured a few months later and put to death. Meanwhile, Shuja was defeated by Auragnzeb's commander Mir Jumla in the east and he is believed to have been killed by tribals on way to Arakan.

The sculptures on display
Amongst the articles exhibited here, the best are the sculptures. Dating to as early as the Gupta period, one can find a large number of Gods worshiped in both Hinduism and Jainism elegantly carved on stones like basalt, granite and marble. The images displayed here have been collected from nearby places including Ajmer, Pushkar, Sikar, Osiyan and Sirohi. One part of the museum is entirely devoted to the Indus Valley Civilization where one can see replicas of the artifacts like the Priest-King, pottery and seals that have been unearthed in Harappa and Mohen-jo-daro. Another gallery showcases the arms and ammunition like swords and guns used in the battles by the Rajput as well as the Mughal army. One section contains a few inscriptions belonging to pre-Islamic era whereas paintings are displayed in another gallery. There is a collection of photographs at the center which displays photos of monuments in the vicinity besides depicting the life in this region. Overall, it is a must visit for all of us who are interested in history, especially that portion of the past relating to Mughals and the Rajputs.
From Left to Right - Pappa, Mummy, Bhabi & Da


USEFUL LINKS 

(1) Ajmer (The Official Website) - Government Museum, Ajmer: Link

(2) ASI, Jaipur Circle - Magazine Building: Link


MORE POSTS RELATED TO AJMER

(1) Terracotta Wall Frames (Link)

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

(3) Adhai Din ka Jhopra or Jama Altamash (Link)

(4) Anasagar Lake (Link)