Ajmerís Adhai din ka Jhonpra
K.D.L. Khan

Adhai din ka JhonpraOf all Indo-Islamic architecture of the 12th century, the mosque known as Adhai din ka Jhonpra near Ajmer in Rajasthan is the most important. This edifice of 1192 came up even one year before construction of Qutub Minar began in Delhi.It is called Adhai din ka Jhonpra, following an interesting anecdote. After the second battle of Tarain (1192) in which Shahabuddin Muhammad Ghori defeated and killed Prithviraj Chauhan, the victor passed through Ajmer. Ghori was so awed by the temples of the city, that he wanted them destroyed and replaced instantly. He asked Qutub-ud-din Aibak, his slave general, to have the needful done in 60 hoursí time (adhai din) so that he could offer prayers in the new mosque on his way back. Obviously such an edifice could not be built and instead his artisans built a huge brick screen in front of the biggest Jain shrine of the locality, so that Ghori could offer his prayers. That gave the place its name.

The mosque was eventually completed in eight years, by the end of the 12th century into one of the finest specimens of early mosques in India. People still offer prayers at the mosque.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) says that the name of the monument possibly derives from the fact that a fair used to be held there for two and a half days. Another tradition traces the origin of the name to the fakirs who made it their temporary abode when they visited Ajmer. Some Sufi savants, on the other hand, feel the name signifies the temporary state of manís life on earth.

This mosque was a Sanskrit college in the 12th century before Ghori destroyed it. Designed by Abu Bakr of Herat, the architect accompanying Ghori, the mosque is a grand example of early IndoĖIslamic architecture and is built from material taken from the destroyed Hindu and Jain temples and a Sanskrit college that existed there. It was almost completely built by Hindu masons, and supervised by Afghan overseers.

The edifice comprises a huge quadrangle covered from all four sides. Inside there is a screen wall with seven pointed arches. The mosque is entered through a simple gateway in the north, and on its right stands a ruined minaret. The gate leads to a stairway leading up to a small tower from where the muezzin (mosque official) called the faithful to prayer. The front fa`E7ade consists of a number of small arches built of yellow limestone. The main arch is flanked by six smaller arches of Arab origin wherein tiny rectangular panels allowed for a lighting system, a feature found in ancient Arabian mosques.

The archways are finely engraved with Kufi and Jughra inscriptions from the Koran. The mosque has 10 domes supported by 124 pillars. It is an architectural marvel with a seven-arched wall inscribed with verses form the Koran in front of the pillared hall. Even the ceiling is an extensively carved affair, below which is a pulpit especially constructed to deliver sermons. Thereís a tiny Sanskrit inscription on top of the main gate that reminds you of the actual origin of this historic monument.

The interior of the mosque is more like a Hindu temple, with a main hall supported by numerous columns. Three pillars are placed over each other while the roof is supported on square bays. The columns are of an uncommon design, heavily decorated and quite similar to Hindu and Jain rock temples. Their bases are large and bulbous, tapering as they gain height. Although the original pillars and the roof of the pre-Muslim structure were allowed to remain, many of the original carvings were defaced by the conquerors. Most of these artefacts are now in the local Rajasthan museum, including the panels containing fine inscriptions from two popular Sanskrit dramas, Harakeli Natak and Lalilta Vigraharaja Natak.

The credit for the restoration of Adhai din ka Jhonpra goes to archaeologists Alexander Cunningham and D. R. Bhandarkar in the first half of the 20th century. In their report they say: "The whole of the exterior of the mosque is covered up with a network of tracery so finely and delicately wrought that it can only be compared to a fine lace.

Cunningham described the exterior of the Jhonpra even more eloquently: "For gorgeous prodigality of ornament, beautiful richness of tracery, delicate sharpness of finish, laborious accuracy of workmanship, endless variety of detail, all of which are due to the Hindu masons, this building may justly vie with the noblest buildings which the world has yet produced."

In spite of its chequered history, the monument today looks forlorn with very little maintenance. ó MF