Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pushkar & Ajmer

About 80 miles (135 kms) southwest of Jaipur lies Ajmer, the most sacred of all Muslim places of pilgrimage in India. Supposedly founded by Aijpal in 1100 AD, Ajmer later became a twin Chauhan capital with Delhi. In 1193, its Muslim history began, when Prithviraj Chauhan lost Ajmer to Sultan Mohammed of Ghori. The Persian saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, who had come with Ghori, settled here where he preached and was later buried.

When Akbar captured Ajmer in 1556 he made it his military headquarters and visited the tomb on foot to pray for a son. The boon was granted and the fame of Ajmer was enhanced manifold. Large cauldrons were presented by Akbar that are till today filled with a rice and milk preparation weighing 6,720 kgs, which is distributed to the pilgrims and hangers-on at the shrine. Important monuments here are the large gateway built in the 13th century by Sultan Iltutmish of Delhi, the tomb of the water-carrier who saved Emperor Humayun's life, and the delicate white marble mosque of Shah Jahan.

Ajmer is well-known for a mosque that was hurriedly assembled from building material taken from a Hindu temple and possibly a Sanskrit University dismantled by Muhammad of Ghori. Not far from here is the pleasant sight of Ana Sagar, a lake constructed in the early 12th century. There are cool marble pavilions built by Shah Jahan and a circuit house constructed by the British.

Nine miles (14 kms) from Ajmer is Pushkar, considered high up in the hierarchy of Hindu places of pilgrimage. It is the site of a temple to Brahma, the Creator, of which there are very few. Here, every year, on the full moon of November, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gather to bathe in the sacred lake. This is the occassion for one of the largest cattle markets in Rajasthan where the abundance of color, jewelry, turbans and costumes has no equal.

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