From Anasagar Lake, we had taken a horse carriage and reached at the Delhi Gate. Area near the Delhi Gate was full of Car garages. Many families were dependent upon the income generated through parking charges taken from the visitors, who park their cars in their garages. Those parking were often jam-packed and only a skilled driver would be able to park and retrieve the car from there. My thoughts went to an era where people used to travel by horses, bullock carts or elephants. Many of those families, who now earn their livelihood through car parking, must be allowing camels, elephants, horse-carriages and bullock carts to be parked at their premises in olden days. Nothing would have changed, except the mode of transport.
Anyway, my car was parked much away from that crowded market place and we were standing in front of the Delhi gate, which had its own history. It was Akbar, who is credited with establishing a walled city in Ajmer. Delhi Gate was one of the gates in that walled city. I am actually curious to know a detailed account of Akbar’s travels to Ajmer. I really shuddered to imagine his journey of about 400 kilometers by foot. Walking 400 kilometers through the jungles and rivers could never be easy. It must have involved a huge convoy of attendants and family members too. How much time it would have taken for a convoy of that size to complete the journey?
With those thoughts, I entered through the Delhi gate. The distance of about 1 kilometer, from the Delhi gate to the massive gateway of the dargah, could only be covered on foot. VIPs, on some occasions, were allowed to take their cars upto the Dargah gate. The road, on both sides, was lined up with shops selling their merchandise of various kinds. The Dargah Market was established by Akbar. At that time, it was called as ‘Khas Bazar”.
The entrance to the Dargah was through three gates. First gate, which was reached from the market, was called Buland Darwaja. It was erected by Mahmud Khalji, sultan of Malwa. During annual Urs, a flag, called “urs flag” is hoisted on this gate. After crossing the Buland Darwaja, another smaller gate was situated. It was very artistically crafted. That second gate was called “Shahjahani Gate” in the memory of Emperor Shahjahan, who got it constructed. We crossed the first two gates and came across the third gate. It was called “Nizam Gate”. The last Nizam of Hyderabad had got it constructed in the year 1915 AD, i.e., 100 years ago. As we entered through this nizami gate, we found ourselves in the massive compound.
The rituals of laying of Shawls, offering flowers and burning incense sticks are generally accepted in the Dargah of Sufi saints. Those shops, situated in the dargah compound, were selling exactly the same items that were used there. Small balls made of Sugar-milk, which we call “Mukund-dana” or “Ilaichi dana” or “Meetha makhana” in Hindi were being sold as offering. Pink Rose petals and shawls were stocked for laying on the dargah. Handkerchief and skull-caps were being sold for their utility in wearing these on the head before entering on the dargah. Cotton threads, as we call “Moili” or ‘badhdhi” in Hindi was utilized in tying on the rails of the dargah as a symbol of a wish. Once the wish was granted, the person had to go there again to offer his gratitude.
In front of the Shahjahan’s mosque, the facility for ablution existed, for cleaning oneself before offering prayers. The Shahjahani mosque had both covered and open compound and very beautiful arches. It was the time for “Isha” namaj in the mosque and so it was filled with people.
It was a custom that no one could enter into the dargah with an uncovered head. Even the shoes had to be kept away. The shops selling the flowers and shawls are invariably the chosen place for keeping shoes. We had also kept our shoes and sandals in the shop from where we purchased shawls/chaddar and flower baskets etc. The shop-owner requested one of his relatives to take us to the dargah. That flower- boy must be around 25 years of age and hence was very agile. So, he was walking very fast. We tried to walk as fast as he could and in no time came in front of the gate of the dargah. Being the peak hour of the day, there was a maddening rush. There was only one gate to enter and to come out of the dargah. The flower-boy contacted one of the Khadims known to him and with his help, we could enter into the dargah even in the heaviest of rush. The khadim helped us in finding a place from where we could offer our prayers and laid shawls etc. It was difficult to stay there for a longer duration. The flow of the heavy rush of pilgrims was regulated by the Khadims, who ushered us out once the prayers were finished.
People believe that one has to visit the dargah of Nizamuddin Chisti (Delhi), Bakhtiyar Kaki (Delhi) and Salimuddin Chisti (Fatehpur Sikri) before he sets his foot on the dargah of Moinuddin Chisti. Second saying goes that no one can visit this place unless invited by the Khwaja. I had successfully followed the first saying and visited this place only after I had paid my respect to all the three others. Similarly, the suddenness with which we had planned this trip made me believe the second saying also.
Fatigue and the excitement of visiting the dargah of Khawaja Garib Nawaz at Ajmer had really put me into a state of daze for a while. But I sat in front of the dargah for a while and gained composure soon. In my mind, I said to the Khwaja that……“O Garib Nawaz! You allowed a wretched soul like me to step on your premises. For this act of kindness, I will ever remain grateful. Let my happiness, my sorrows, my joy and my pain be confined onto you. I need nothing else!” With a heart that was heavy with emotions and light with clearance of a long-term debt, I came out of the dargah.
Thereafter, I saw a big hall with a big chandelier. The flower-boy told me that the hall was used for addressing religious discourses by the senior-most khadim. It was also used by the group of singers who come here to sing quwwalis. At that time, in the right corner of that hall someone was taking the stock of the vegetables and grocery items which were brought there for preparation of “Niyaz” in the dargah. Besides that great hall, two big cauldrons, as we call “Deg” in Hindi, were kept. The bigger cauldron was situated right of us and the smaller one to the left. The flower-boy told me that the smaller one was donated by Emperor Jahangir and the Bigger one was donated by Emperor Akbar.
The Big cauldron was getting prepared for the cooking. The flower-boy told me that the Niyaz was a sweet vegetarian dish, prepared with rice as its main ingredient. The fire-wood for cooking was placed beneath the cauldron. The practice of niyaz had started from the time of Akbar. He used to get it prepared for about 5000 persons at a time. Few persons were personally served by the Emperor Akbar and his wives. Today, anybody can donate a prescribed amount to the trust and get the Niyaz prepared in his name. There Niyaz was always a vegetarian dish.
A glittering pavilion near the Sahjahani gate also caught my attention. Two words printed on the signboard were really were remarkable. These were ‘Gaddinasheen” and “Peerzada”. It means it was a seat of one of the direct descendants of the Khwaja Garib Nawaj. Later, I realized that many such descendants are still residing there.
Once we came out of the compound of Dargah, we wanted to go to the “Adhai-din-ka-jhopra”, which was nearby. There was hardly any time left as the sun ste had already happened. Still, we thought of giving it a try and reached there through various lanes and byelanes of the area. The guard was closing the gate. Due to persistent requests to the guard, I managed to gate-crash into the compound of “Adhai-din-ka-jhopra”. The guard kept shouting towards me to come out. It was also dark and visibility was very poor. So, I came out just after taking a vague picture of the “Adhai-din-Ka-Jhopra. It is said that after defeating Prithvi Raj Chauhan in the battle of Tarain in 1192 AD, the Qutabuddin Aibak converted the Jain temple into a mosque in less than three days.
Dissatisfied with my visit to the “Adhai-din-ka-jhopra”, I started roaming around the market. There we saw many shops selling a common sweet, mainly in round and beetle shape. One shop-keeper told me that it was ‘Son-halwa” or “Sohan halwa”. The Ajmeriites trace the history of Son-halwa from the time of Akbar and consider this city as the origin of this sweet. Now, this sweet is being made in many parts of the country and also exported to many countries in the middle-east.
Besides sohan-halwa, different types of “loban” powders were being sold in that market. Variations in their colours made us curious. Back in my childhood days, I remember that people used to sell green loban at a higher rate than the other colours as it was considered more powerful! The shopkeeper, however, informed me that different colours were produced just by adding the shades of normal or herbal colours. So, the secret of colours in the loban was out and we moved ahead to the next shop selling sling bags. When I saw these bags, made of chiseled wood and beads, I know for sure that those fancy bags might be favorites amongst the girls, who needed variations in their accessories every now and then.
There was another shop, where clothes in Bandhej prints were being sold. Bandhej is my all-time favourite. It feels so Indian. I think each woman must wear it at least once in her life time. In other words, there should be no woman, who could not enjoy this amazing cloth. We were in the land, where extraction of marbles and crafting it into various utility items has been in practice since the marble and its use was invented/explored. So, there were many shops selling marble items of kitchen and home use. Similarly, the wall-frames, wall hangings and other decorative materials with Islamic inscriptions were selling like a hot cake. When I saw a shop selling skull-caps, I could not resist stopping there and looking at those caps. They were of different kinds. Some were embroidered and some not. They were made of Woolen, Cotton, Silk and other textile materials. Due to their different shapes and materials, each one was making its own style statement.
In nutshell, the market at Dargah Sharif was excellent. I could have spent much more time there, if time permitted. Therefore, after spending some reasonable time in the market, we went to the municipal parking and retrieved our car. We had a hectic day. We had started from Jaipur in the morning and then visited so many points in Ajmer. At that time, we were feeling tired and hungry and desired to have our dinner and sleep for the night. Our night stay was situated at Pushkar, at a distance of around 12 kilometers.
The route to Pushkar went across the Anasagar Lake. In the darkness of night, the entire Ajmer city was looking very beautiful in its reflections. The gentle breeze coming from the lake was giving a very soothing effect on our tiresome bodies.
Thereafter, we reached “Hotel Sarover”, at RTDC hotel at Pushkar for the night halt.